New Glarus, Wisconsin, thinks quite highly of itself. You’ll find it described as Little Switzerland by a number of travel sites that try very hard to compare American cities to European destinations.
If you arrive in New Glarus expecting the Swiss Alps you may have yourself a bit of a WTF moment, but there’s a reason it was the destination of choice for Swiss immigrants back in the 1840s.
New Glarus reminded them of home.
Judge New Glarus, WI, for yourself with this complete guide to this little slice of Swiss heaven. At the very least, you won’t need a passport to get here…if you’re a U.S. citizen, obvi.
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New Glarus History & FAQs
What is New Glarus known for? New Glarus is known for resembling a Swiss village and as the home of New Glarus Brewing Company, Wisconsin’s most well-known beer brand.
Let’s explore the Swiss thing a little deeper.
New Glarus was settled by Swiss immigrants who came to the United States from the canton of Glarus in eastern Switzerland. They were escaping dire economic conditions after several years of bad farming conditions.
Fun fact: If you’re wondering what the heck a canton is just as I was, it’s basically just an area or region. There are 26 cantons in Switzerland.
As it’s a small world after all, the immigrants searched and searched for more hospitable conditions in the Midwest region of the country.
New Glarus wasn’t their first choice in terms of fertile land for farming — it was all wilderness at that time — but the rolling hills reminded them of their homeland.
They sent for more Swiss family and friends to join them in the Green County town and the rest is history in the form of Swiss architecture, foods, and cultural festivals celebrating its roots.
What is in New Glarus, WI? New Glarus Brewing, the Swiss Historical Village, and 16 cows on parade are all in New Glarus, WI. Much of the fun in this small town revolves around indulgent activities like drinking New Glarus beer and snacking on a variety of Swiss sweets.
Is New Glarus worth visiting? New Glarus is definitely worth visiting, especially if you’re anywhere near Madison. It’s an easy day trip from the capital city.
It’s still worth visiting all on its own, though, especially if you’ve also been to Switzerland? What’d you think, really?
Visit New Glarus: Logistics
New Glarus is a 40-minute drive from Madison, home to Dane County Regional Airport. You’re more likely to find cheap flights out of the Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport, although that’s a 2-hour drive from New Glarus.
Once you’re in New Glarus, you’ll need to either walk around town or drive from spot to spot. Much of the main sights are within walking distance from one to the next, so you might be able to get away without using a car for a good chunk of your visit. You’ll need to drive to much of the hiking and the brewery if that’s on your agenda, though.
Need a map of everything I’ll highlight here? Follow the Google link below:
Top Things to Do in New Glarus, Wisconsin
We had quite a bit of time in New Glarus on a summertime visit to the Wisconsin town, but shared our visit with Madison nearby. If you’re interested in a few Madison day trips during your own visit, expect the drive to take around 40 minutes from New Glarus, depending on where you’re going in Madison.
There’s plenty to do in New Glarus proper, though. Let’s take a look at my favorite New Glarus attractions and a few more we had to save for later.
Note: The Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus is permanently closed. There was apparently some kind of dramatic disagreement between the owners of the shop and the owners of the building. That’s all I know. If you see it on other blogs, don’t forget who loves you most.
Tour New Glarus Brewing.
Most visit New Glarus for New Glarus beer. If that’s what you’re after, I have a complete guide to our own visit to the New Glarus Brewing Company, including my thoughts on Spotted Cow. Check that post out below:
You don’t need to make any reservations to visit the brewery or to go on a self-guided tour. Just make sure you check hours before you go. The brewery is closed on nights and weekends yet somehow remains successful.
Go for a hike at New Glarus Woods State Park.
Our pick for some New Glarus hiking was New Glarus Woods State Park. (Need the address? It’s at W5446 County Highway Nn.) Bring your parking fee in cash as there likely won’t be anyone at the booth taking credit cards when you arrive. You don’t want to get evicted out of the forest! It was 11 USD for us non-residents during our visit.
We followed an abbreviated New Glarus Woods Loop Trail for our chosen trek with our pup. The full loop is 3.7 miles through hilly forest and meadows. Bring your bug spray, especially if you visit in the summer.
Visit the Swiss Historical Village.
Our visit to the Swiss Historical Village & Museum was brief, but only because we didn’t realize they started locking things up before closing time. That might’ve been unique to the day of our visit, as the staff seemed a little antsy for happy hour.
The village is an outdoor museum of old Swiss buildings with a separate exhibit space in the middle of the space on the history of the first New Glarus residents. If you’re not being shuttled out as quickly as we were, the gift shop has all kinds of fun Swiss tchtochkes to check out once you’re done with your historical tour.
In any case, it was a fun diversion for a bit of time but you don’t need to set aside hours to visit this one, even if you read every single word of every single intrepretive sign.
Taste-test Swiss treats at the New Glarus Bakery.
The New Glarus Bakery is small but mighty. Come early for fresh treats with international flavors like springerli, an anise cookie popular in both Switzerland and Germany.
They had fresh Basler Läckerli during my visit, too. That’s a Swiss biscuit that gets a little spice kick from the nutmeg and Kirsch liqueur used in its recipe.
Find all of the cows.
Whether you’re visiting with friends or on a family-friendly trip, you should try to find as many of the New Glarus “Cow Parade” statues as you can. The cows are actually Swiss imports, all painted in unique designs by artists around the region. If you want to make a drinking game out of it or something more innocuous, the New Glarus Chamber of Commerce put together a handy map for visitors.
Kimmy’s favorite was the Bernese cow dressed up in traditional Swiss folkwear. Find this one near the Sugar River Pizza Company and the Chalet Landhaus Inn. I liked Chuck the Cow. He sits atop Tofflers Pub & Grill in a leather vest and logos for the casual eatery.
Sip with a view at Bailey’s Run Vineyard and Winery.
Beautiful views, dry rosé wines, and reds made in bourbon barrels await at Bailey’s Run Vineyard. If you’re here for a tasting, you can only do that inside. We had our pup with us, so got full pours to take outside with us instead. Those vineyard views didn’t make me feel like I missed out on anything in the winery.
Meet the goats at Swissland Miniature Golf.
Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of mini golf. I am a huge fan of goats braying during a round of mini golf, posing all cute on their little house. We went after a decent rain, so had all 18 holes to ourselves.
If there’s no one in the booth when you arrive, you can grab clubs at the Chalet Landhaus Inn across the street. The goat residents will still be there when you return.
Stroll the Swiss Cemetery.
It may sound morbid, but I find historical cemeteries fascinating. The Swiss Cemetery has been on this land since 1845. In 1859, it was taken over by the Swiss United Church of Christ, at that time known as the Swiss Reformed Church. It’s still active today, so be respectful if you want to take a look at some of the old graves.
Learn about the local culture at the Swiss Center.
The Swiss Center of North America’s lovely garden and modest exterior points you to Switzerland. To Switzerland you will go if you’re interested in this deep dive into Swiss crafts, clothing, traditional paper cuttings, and genealogy records. The records here are what’s most impressive. The center’s board and staff have collected as many documents as possible that tell the Swiss emigration story in New Glarus from generations of locals in the community.
The center is free to visit, but call ahead to make sure it’s open to visitors and tours during your stay.
Eat some Swiss food.
When in Little Switzerland, you’ll want to eat some Swiss food. Unfortunately, the New Glarus Hotel Restaurant, one of the most iconic eateries in New Glarus, has closed permanently. They even had regular polka, people. Bummer. Fortunately, you still have quite a few options:
- Glarner Stube: This downtown New Glarus eatery is big on old world vibes and hearty platters of food. Expect bratwurst sandwiches, veal, Swiss meatballs, and the ultimate Swiss favorite, fondue. As with most eateries in Wisconsin, you can order a side of fried cheese curds with whatever you decide on as your main.
- Puempel’s Olde Tavern: We visited this casual bar and grill for our free tasters from New Glarus Brewing. (You get a coin with every beer purchase on brewery visits.) We ordered “fresh” cheese curds that I wish weren’t seasoned with Old Bay — who does that?!? — but the ambiance was very much old timey tavern. This is one of the oldest buildings in New Glarus, founded in 1893.
- Kennedy’s Ice Cream and Grill: Fine, ice cream isn’t technically a Swiss thing. It is a delicious thing, though, and if it’s as humid during your visit as it was on ours, you’ll want something to cool you down. Kennedy’s is a good spot for a casual lunch, too. They have a full menu of burgers and other sandwiches that you can take along with you.
With More Time in New Glarus…
There were a few things on our list that we just didn’t get to, whether that was due to random closures or our own poor planning. Check out a few more things to do in New Glarus with more time in this whimsical village.
Time your visit for New Glarus festivals.
New Glarus hosts a number of festivals throughout the year celebrating its Swiss heritage and basically everything else. Here are a few popular New Glarus festivals:
- New Glarus Beer, Bacon & Cheese: I feel like this one is self-explanatory. This annual summer festival invites guests to sample unlimited beer, bacon, sausage, and cheese in downtown New Glarus. Yep, I added sausage in there.
- New Glarus Oktoberfest: Is this Germany? No, it’s Switzerland. Actually, wait…it’s New Glarus. Close enough. The New Glarus Oktoberfest features live music, yummy food and beer, and whatever chainsaw carving entails.
- Swiss Historical Village Harvest Fest: The outdoor museum is likely already on your agenda. If you visit in the fall, you’ll be treated to demonstrations of traditional Swiss immigrant life. That includes cheesemaking, basket weaving, and a meet and greet with a Bernese mountain dog.
- New Glarus Christkindli Market: Christmastime looks predictacly adorable in New Glarus. Celebrate the start of the winter holidays with this outdoor Christmas market, complete with festive lights, caroling, and a visit from Santa himself.
- Heidi Folk Festival & Heidi Play: Every summer, the folks of New Glarus come together to watch the story of an orphaned Swiss girl who overcomes a variety of obstacles with all of her charms intact. Add food, vendors, and live music to round out this celebration.
- Wilhelm Tell Festival: Watch a live theater performance telling the story of Swiss independence at this family-friendly festival. The cast includes goats, so I’m not sure why we didn’t make this one happen. Goats are my favorite.
Ride the Sugar River State Trail.
If you’re traveling with your bikes, you can ride along the Sugar River State Trail all the way to New Glarus Woods State Park. The well-marked trail runs for nearly 22 miles along an abandoned railroad, which sounds pretty intriguing.
The Badger State Trail is another option. That one runs for 40 miles from Madison all the way to the Illinois border through all kinds of bucolic Midwestern landscapes.
Fun fact: You’ll run into this regardless if you’re riding the Sugar River State Trail.
It’s not really a walking path, although you can do it. Kimmy only did it for a few blocks before road noise distressed her.
Order some snacks at the Edelweiss Cheese Shop.
Cheese stops are usually my first stops wherever I am, so I’m not quite sure what happened here. I blame the beer. Don’t make the same mistake and order some legit Swiss cheese at the Edelweiss Cheese Shop on your visit.
The shop is technically in Monticello, but you’ll be picking up your cheeses from Puempel’s Olde Tavern in downtown New Glarus. (They closed their doors to in-person visits at the actual shop during the pandemic, but online ordering is still happening.) Start with the Edelweiss Emmentaler cheese, a milk cheese made in traditional Swiss copper vats.
Visit the Chalet of the Golden Fleece Museum.
This museum just east of the New Glarus School House Apartments was closed during the entirety of our visit. They’re open for walk-ins on weekends and private tours by appointment during the week, something we hadn’t planned for. Stroll by just for a view of the chalet-style exterior if you’re just as bad a planner.
If you’re lucky enough to visit inside, you’ll see a personal collection of heirlooms and souvenirs from world traveler Edwin Barlow. Barlow took dozens of trips across the ocean to destinations near and far, including Switzerland. Look for the secret spy ring on your visit and then tell me all about it.
Do some Swiss shopping.
All I mean by Swiss shopping is shopping for Swiss goods in Swiss shops. As we were nomadic during our New Glarus tour, we weren’t out there seeking a bunch of tchotckes to bring back with us. If you’re interested, though, there are all kinds of opportunities for you to do some shopping in New Glarus:
- The Bramble Patch: Browse a vast collection of Polish pottery and other treats like honey, maple syrup, and Dipstix.
- Kinderladen: If you’re traveling with little ones or want to bring something back for the kids, visit this shop for games, toys, books, and more.
- Sugar River Shoppe: Shop for women’s clothing, decorative items, and jewelry at this popular New Glarus gift shop.
Note: You may see Esther’s European Imports on some blogs promoting New Glarus shopping. Esther took her business online in 2021, so I’m not including it here!
Hotels in New Glarus, WI
I usually use Booking.com and Hotels.com for our hotel needs. If you’re looking for hotels in New Glarus, Wisconsin, you’ll need to stay outside of town unless you’re staying at the Chalet Landhaus Inn or the Swiss Aire Motel.
The good news is, small Wisconsin towns are only a short drive away from one another. Here are my top picks from Booking.com in nearby Verona:
- Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Madison/Verona
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Madison-Verona
- Hyatt Place Madison/Verona
My favorite Airbnb alternative these days is Vrbo. If you’re looking for something homier, check out these options in New Glarus proper:
- Guest Haus in the Heart of New Glarus
- Home Away from Home in the Quaint Village of New Glarus
- Quacksnest: Country in the Village
- Renovated Home Close to Downtown New Glarus
- Rustic Green County Log Home
Have you visited New Glarus? What’d I miss in my guide to Wisconsin’s Little Switzerland? Share your top tips with me in the comments!
Ready to Visit New Glarus?
Your Flight: I use a variety of tools to find cheap airfare, but if you’re looking to book during a particular period of time, especially during busy times (e.g. summer school breaks), you should use Skyscanner. It’s a great tool for when you’re more flexible, too, as it allows you to compare travel based on length of travel, departure date, etc. Scroll up for more tips on getting to and around New Glarus.
Your Accommodations: I usually use Booking.com and Hotels.com for our hotel needs. Both offer loyalty programs, and now offer listings that are more of the home or condo rental variety, which is great. If you’re seeking an overnight in New Glarus, scroll up for my top picks for accommodations in and around New Glarus.
Seeking even more wallet-friendly accommodations? Try Hostelworld. Their picks are heavily vetted and reviewed to offer you a safe experience on a budget.
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Traveling the Midwest? Here’s some more Wisconsin content:
- A Guide to Cave Point County Park Kayaking
- A Complete Guide to New Glarus Brewing
- A Cruise Guide for the Apostle Islands
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