Your Guide to a Great Visit to Grand Rapids

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Looking for a great Midwestern getaway, just a few hours from Chicago or Detroit by bus or train? Go on mini vacation in Grand Rapids, MI, the perfect destination to spend a day or a weekend! You’ll find so many fun things to do in Grand Rapids. Whether you want to explore nature at the gorgeous botanical gardens, try creative cuisine at local restaurants, appreciate art at one of the coolest festivals in the country, or sample the brews of Beer City USA, there is a great variety of Grand Rapids events and attractions, featuring everything you could want in a quick trip!

Stroll Through a Sculpture Garden

Start your Grand Rapids travel adventure by wandering through Frederik Meijer Gardens. This botanical garden is home to more than just plants – it’s also a world-renowned sculpture garden. Featuring works by Chihuly, Oldenberg, Rodin and many others in its permanent collection of over 200 sculptures, Meijer Gardens juxtaposes natural beauty with man-made artistry in a stunning environment.

The newest addition to Frederik Meijer Gardens is the Japanese Garden, which opened in 2015 after over 4 years in the making. The Japanese Garden features many traditional elements, including an authentic Japanese teahouse and zen-style garden, as well as native Japanese plants such as flowering cherries, Japanese maples, and bamboo. Sculptures are also located throughout the Japanese garden, so you will find a large “Long Island Buddha” and an untitled piece by Anish Kapoor (creator of the famous “Cloud Gate,” aka The Bean, in Chicago) among others as you wander through the landscape, complete with four waterfalls, be sure that you are in the Grand Rapids main point of interest at the moment!

A seasonal highlight every spring is the “Butterflies are Blooming” exhibition, the largest temporary butterfly collection in the country. Over 7,000 tropical butterflies are brought in to make the Tropical Conservatory their home for two months (from March 1 – April 30, 2016) and fly freely through the warm and humid space. If you’re lucky (and wear bright colors so you look like a flower), a butterfly might just land on you!

Try All the Beer!

Ok, not all of it, but you really shouldn’t make a visit to G-Rap without trying some of the local brews – beer tasting is definitely one of the best things to do in Grand Rapids! Founders Brewing Co. is probably the most famous brewery in GR, so it should be first on your list to stop in. From the All Day IPA to the Dirty Bastard scotch ale, Founders has a beer for any palate, and the brewpub is a fun place to hang out downtown for a pint…or several. But be sure to move on eventually to try one of the other awesome breweries in town.

Hopcat brews their own beer in small batches, but the real draw at Hopcat is the expansive selection of craft brews on tap from breweries both local and from around the world – well, that and the crack fries. Try them, and you’ll see why they’re called that!

Another favorite brewery for both visitors and locals alike is Brewery Vivant, an exceptional brewer of Belgian and French inspired ales. It’s housed in a former funeral home, which is actually a beautiful space, complete with stained glass windows. The food menu is incredible – perhaps you could go for poutine with a liege waffle for dessert?

And that’s just the beginning of the breweries! Still wonder if there are other best things to do in Grand Rapids? Continue to explore at HarmonyGrand Rapids Brewing Co.MittenPerrinElk, and so many more. Most offer growlers to-go as well, so you can take some GR beer home with you.

Eat Local

When you get hungry while traveling in Grand Rapids, you’ll want to make a stop at the Downtown Market. The highlight of this mixed-use space is the vendor hall, which features 24 local food artisans offering everything from prepared meals at Rák Thai to seafood to take home (or back to your hotel) at Fish Lads to specially-crafted spirits at Grand Travers Distillery and wine at Aperitivo. And don’t forget dessert from Love’s Ice Cream or Penelope’s Creperie. During warm weather, you can also find a farmer’s market set up right outside.

You also have plenty of wonderful restaurant options in Grand Rapids. For contemporary food with a cool crowd, try the Winchester gastropub, known for its elevated bar food, as well as an excellent brunch with a Bloody Mary Bar. Sister restaurant Donkey Taqueria features a fresh take on Mexican fare and creative cocktails, including many margaritas.

For a classic Grand Rapids meal, San Chez Bistro is a favorite for everything from its Cuban pork omelet at breakfast to the tapas and paella at dinner.  Another GR institution is Marie Catrib’s, a deli and cafe offering a wide-ranging menu with a Lebanese twist.

Immerse Yourself in Art

Every year from late September to early October, the city of Grand Rapids turns into one huge public art exhibit as it hosts the annual ArtPrize, “a radically open, independently organized international art competition.” Anyone can enter a work of art in the competition, so you’ll see everything from tiny paintings to huge sculptures, and any location in town can be an ArtPrize venue, so you can find pieces everywhere from outside in the Grand River to inside a local restaurant.

ArtPrize makes it easy to explore the city as you take in all the art. With detailed maps, specially designed ArtPrize Pathways, bus and bike transportation options, and a mobile app, you can easily plan what you want to see (and how to get there) or just meander and discover on the go. As you make your way around the town to take in the art, you will also get to see more of what makes Grand Rapids great, from galleries and theaters to restaurants and bars to parks and other outdoor spaces.

The competition results in two grand prize winners, one chosen by a public vote and one by a jury of experts. So while you enjoy the art, you can do more than just observe – be sure to choose your favorite and cast your vote!

This just scratches the surface of fun, often free, things to do in Grand Rapids at night and during the day! Book a ticket on Wanderu.com or by downloading the Wanderu app to get going to Grand Rapids and see all that it has to offer yourself!

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About the author
Kate Sedrowski

Kate Sedrowski

Kate Sedrowski is on a mission to spread delight while inspiring and encouraging people to travel. Her favorite travel companion is her teddy bear, and her favorite souvenir is the scar from the broken nose she got in a snowball fight in Québec City.
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