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Grand Rapids Travel Guide

The best way to see all the sights.
Last Updated
:
January 29, 2024
by
Editorial Staff
Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA Downtown Skyline
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As self-proclaimed connoisseurs of affordable road trip vacations, allow us to make the case for Grand Rapids, Michigan as a criminally underrated gem. Sure, it doesn’t have the glitz and glam of NYC or the sunny beaches of LA. But what it does have is real midwestern charm coming out of its ears.

Nestled along the banks of the Grand River, this city has everything our fellow bargain travelers and we crave: scads of killer microbreweries and farm-to-table joints, indie coffee shops with 2-hour open mic nights, and mom n’ pop shops galore. We once found a store selling artisanal spices that’s only open on Leap Day—how quirky is that?!

Outdoorsy types can swim, kayak or tubing down the river when it’s hot. Culture vultures can tour the crazy impressive Frederick Meijer Gardens with sculptures lined up like it’s no big deal. Families can catch a show at the civic theater downtown or visit the zoo and children’s museum.

So leave your fancy pants back home and come as you are. Grand Rapids is gonna treat you right, we promise. Where else can you find this perfect combo of midwestern charm, artisan everything, and proper chill vibes for less than the cost of two Manhattan cocktails? Sold yet? Keep reading to start planning your trip!

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About Grand Rapids

Aerial View of Downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan during Summer
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If you’re planning a vacation in the Midwest, you should consider visiting the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Located on the Grand River, east of Lake Michigan, the city has a lot to offer its visitors. Its many attractions include the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which is home to multiple gardens and an art collection that includes works by Henry Moore. You can also visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which features artworks by Michigan artists.

The city is home to several colleges and universities, including Calvin University and Aquinas College. Grand Rapids also has several professional colleges, such as Grand Rapids Community College. It also has a zoo and 30 parks. Its population is about 1.1 million, and it is the fifth-largest city in Kent County.

The city is located 40 km east of Lake Michigan. It once had a set of rapids. At that time, the river was 610 feet higher than it is today, and ships could only pass up to its fall line. Aside from the river, the city is surrounded by steep hills and bluffs.

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Why Go to Grand Rapids

Historic Truss Bridge Grand Rapids, Michigan
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Grand Rapids is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. Here are four reasons why you should consider spending a few days in this Michigan city:

  • Grand Rapids is home to a number of art and history museums, making it the perfect place for culture lovers.
  • The city has a lively food and drink scene, with plenty of great restaurants and bars to enjoy.
  • Grand Rapids is located on the beautiful Grand River, making it a great spot for outdoor activities like fishing, kayaking, and hiking.
  • Finally, Grand Rapids is an affordable city to visit, with plenty of budget-friendly hotels and attractions.
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Best Time to Go

Aerial view of Grand Valley state university campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan
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The best time to visit Grand Rapids depends on what you’re looking for. Winters can be cold and rainy, but the spring and fall have pleasant temperatures. There’s also less snow, making this the perfect time for outdoor activities. In the spring, you can enjoy the tulips at Holland’s annual Tulip Time festival. You’ll also find great deals on accommodation and attractions.

If you love art, there are plenty of events to keep you busy. Every fall, Grand Rapids holds its annual Art Prize, an open art exhibition that features artwork from local and international artists. The artwork is displayed around downtown, where the community can vote for their favorites. This event draws people from all over the country and is a great way to experience downtown Grand Rapids.

For history buffs, Grand Rapids has a number of museums and historical attractions, including the Frank Lloyd Wright house. It is also a great place for families, as there are zoos and dedicated children’s museums.

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How to Get Around

Grand Rapids map
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One of the best ways to get around Grand Rapids is to take public transit. There are nearly 30 routes that run throughout the greater Grand Rapids area. Most of these routes stop within walking distance of your destination. Many bus lines have route numbers and operating times posted on the bus stops, so you can easily find the bus that suits your needs. There are also free transfers between Rapid routes; you simply need to ask the bus driver for a transfer ticket before boarding. The Rapid system runs 359 days per year with only a few exceptions, such as major holidays.

The city has numerous bike paths, parks, and historic homes to explore, so it’s easy to spend some time outside of your car. Bicycles are also a great way to get around, and you can ride Rapid for safe, environmentally friendly transportation. In addition, KCAD students get a free bus pass, which can help you get around Grand Rapids on two wheels.

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Best Restaurants

Restauarnt view of The Kitchen by Wolfgang Puck
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The restaurant scene in Grand Rapids is constantly changing, but some classic establishments have remained the same for years. There are also many new restaurants that are pushing the boundaries of dining experience with creative dishes and fresh take on classic favorites. This dynamic mix of restaurants contributes to a rich and varied dining experience. While national chains such as Wolfgang Puck Kitchen were not considered, local eateries were, and this list reflects that diversity.

Electric Cheetah: This restaurant serves delicious food that is prepared with natural and organic ingredients. The food here is not only fresh but also well-seasoned. Moreover, it boasts a wide selection of craft beer and root beer. Whether you want to order a pint of Michigan lager or a keg of craft root beer, the Electric Cheetah has something for every taste.

Grand Rapids has everything from cheap to expensive. From late-night snacks to fine dining, there is a variety of dining options to suit any taste and budget.

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Things to Do

Fallasburg Covered Bridge
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There are many things to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There is a vibrant arts scene that you can find in the downtown area. You can find sculptures, paintings, and more in galleries throughout the city. There is also a vibrant street art scene that can be found in unexpected places.

If you have kids, the Grand Rapids Zoo is a must-visit location. Kids will love the different activities they can participate in here, like zip-lining over the entire zoo. There are also camel rides, a tram ride to the second-highest hill in Grand Rapids, and swan paddleboat rides. You can also volunteer at the zoo, which depends on the contributions of around 200 volunteers to keep it open.

If you enjoy walking, Grand Rapids offers several scenic trails and walking paths. The downtown area is a pleasant place to walk around, and there are many bike paths that will take you around the city. You can even take a boat ride down the Grand River for a scenic view.

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Neighborhoods to Know

Grand Rapids city in Michigan
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There are several different neighborhoods in Grand Rapids to consider. Whether you’re looking to buy a new home or just want to know the area better, there’s a neighborhood for you. There are several neighborhoods to choose from, and each has its own appeal. For example, the West Side is a great place for a night out, and it’s been transformed into a hip, happening neighborhood over the past decade. There are now more restaurants, apartments, and retail along Bridge Street. There’s even a neighborhood association called West Grand, which is helping to strategically develop the area.

One important consideration when choosing a neighborhood is size. Many neighborhoods in Grand Rapids are smaller than others, which has its own benefits and disadvantages. For instance, living in a smaller neighborhood may be less expensive, but the pace of life may be slower.

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Weather

Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA downtown skyline
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If you’re planning a trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, then the weather forecast is important. This small city has moderate temperatures and moderate humidity. The most humid month is December, while the least humid month is April. You can also expect moderate winds. The average daily wind speed in Grand Rapids is 9.5 knots (10.9 MPH or 17.5 KPH), which is considered a gentle breeze. The maximum sustained wind speed is 17.7 knots during early to mid-April.

While temperatures in Grand Rapids tend to be fairly consistent throughout the year, they do drop in the late fall. From September to November, the temperature can drop to the mid-40s. To combat the cold, you should pack layers. In the fall, the city is dotted with beautiful fall foliage. If you want to see the leaves change color, the Grand Rapids visitor bureau has information on places where you can see them. You can also visit local pumpkin patches and apple orchards to enjoy the local autumn bounty.

The average high and low temperatures for Grand Rapids, Michigan are listed below. You can also find the average monthly count and average number of cold days.

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