Summer festivals are staples of many small Iowa towns. Earlier this summer my mom and I traveled through the rolling hills of northeast Iowa to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nordic Fest.
While Decorah is a beautiful part of the state year-round, the area holds a special kind of magic come late summer. The annual celebration is filled with cultural heritage, unique performances, and delicious Norwegian delicacies. If you’ve never been to Nordic Fest, you’re sincerely missing out.
What to Do & See
There’s lots to see and do in Decorah during Nordic Fest. We toured the Vesterheim Norweign-American Museum to learn more about the area’s history and take a deep dive into Nordic culture. Afterward we wandered local art galleries and the attached gift shop in search of Norwegian-themed gifts for friends back home.
After wandering Decorah’s main stretch of shops and restaurants, we headed up the street to Winneshiek County Courthouse to watch some of the festival’s musical and dance performances. Did you know that the Nordic Dancers try out in third grade and dance with the same group for the next 10 years? It was awesome to see the new dancers perform alongside some of their seasoned alumni.
What to Eat
Arguably one of the best parts of Nordic Fest is the food. Start your day with a stop at Magpie Coffeehouse for a caffeine jolt and hearty breakfast. During the day there’s lots of food stands to sample from, but make sure you get your favorites early—lots of stands sold out before the festival was over! Obviously, lefse is a must, but make sure everyone knows you’re last in line.
A stop at Whippy Dip is also essential way to end your day. Bonus points if you eat your ice cream along the river while watching the festival’s annual fireworks display.
Where to Stay
We waited a little too long to book a hotel for this popular festival. So we ended up staying in the dorms of the nearby Luther College. While a slightly unusual solution, the dorm rooms (and the awkward communal bathroom situation) were well worth the $70 per night fee we paid up front. If you’re a better planner than me, Decorah also has a handful of adorable B&Bs and affordable hotel chains.
I would love to hear from you! Have you ever experienced Nordic Fest in Decorah? What was your favorite part?