Grand Rapids is the second largest city in the state of Michigan and lies next to the majestic Grand River that rages past in this beautiful part of the United States. The city is a haven for many things, but is especially worth a visit for anyone who is interested in art, as Grand Rapids has a wealth of art museums and galleries, as well as hosting annual art competitions, and even outdoor exhibits like a sculpture park.
If you prefer history to art, then this is also a great place to visit, as you will find museums as well as historical and cultural attractions in the form of vintage houses and monuments, including one house that was designed by the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. For anyone traveling with children, Grand Rapids is exceptionally child-friendly, and you will never be bored thanks to attractions like zoos and dedicated children’s museums. In short, whatever you are looking for, you will probably find it in this city, and you can easily spend a few days here or even longer if you want to explore everything on offer.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Grand Rapids:
1. John Ball Zoo
The John Ball Zoo is two miles away from the center of Grand Rapids and is known for having over 1,000 animals.
The zoo has been praised for its habitats which aim to mimic the natural environments of the animals as closely as possible, and the enclosures are also divided up into sections according to species, such as an aviary, a chimpanzee exhibit, and a petting zoo featuring farm animals.
As well as visiting the animals themselves, you can also enjoy exciting activities such as zip lining or riding on some of the resident camels.
2. Grand Rapids Art Museum
The Grand Rapids Art Museum covers 125,000 square feet, of which 20,000 square feet is dedicated to art galleries and exhibits.
The collections in the museum include a diverse range of pieces that stretch from the Renaissance period all the way through to contemporary art.
There are around 5,000 items on show here, so whatever your art tastes you should find something to enjoy.
As well as paintings, you will also find other mediums of art such as pencil drawings, photographs, and print work.
There are also other cultural events held here regularly such as musical concerts.
3. Fulton Street Farmers Market
If you are in town on a Saturday then make sure to head down to the Fulton Street Farmers Market which was first founded in 1922. The market is the oldest in the Grand Rapids area and usually attracts over 200 vendors every week.
Most of these are farmers from the local area and on Sundays the market is dedicated to artisans who sell an array of locally made handicrafts.
The market is mainly out of doors, although it is tented, and you can expect delicious home baked goods, breads, pastries, pies, jams, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables depending on what happens to be in season.
4. Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
For something a little different, come to this sculpture park which is known as one of the best cultural finds in the entire Midwest.
The campus of the park spans an amazing 158 acres and you will find waterfalls, a rock garden, and both tropical and indigenous plants here.
There are themed indoor gardens as well as four outdoor gardens and you will also find wetlands and forest lands here.
There are trails that will take you through the forests as well as a boardwalk over the wetlands that let you take in all the scenery from a different vantage point.
As for the sculpture gallery itself, you will find over 300 pieces here from some of the most famous sculptors in the world such as Rodin and Degas.
5. Grand Rapids Public Museum
The Grand Rapids Public Museum started out, amazingly, in 1854 and has been going strong ever since.
The museum spans three floors and you can learn about diverse themes here such as the culture of Michigan, history, and science.
There are over 25,000 pieces in the collections and you will find items ranging from fossils to classic cars.
The galleries here change regularly, so whenever you come you can be sure that there will be something new to pique your interest.
There is also a planetarium as part of the museum named the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium if you want to learn about the galaxy.
6. Blandford Nature Center
Sprawling over 143 acres in the city is the Blandford Nature Center where you will find a whole host of resident tigers on display.
As well as tigers you will find a plethora or other wildlife and plant life and this is an educational center with an emphasis on teaching visitors about the natural world.
There are trails all over the park as well as interactive exhibits that younger visitors are sure to love and that will help them to connect with the natural world around them.
7. Great Lakes Pub Cruiser
If you fancy eating and drinking while you are in town, then why not combine this with some sightseeing using a bike at the same time? If this sounds impossible, then it isn’t, all thanks to the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser which allows you to hop on a party bike which can seat up to 15 people at one time.
You can them pedal around Grand Rapids, stopping at various eateries on the way.
You can join a tour here that lasts from two to three hours depending on how many venues you want to visit, and this is a great way to take in the sights of the city while getting some exercise along the way.
8. Meyer May House
The Meyer May House was designed by prominent architect Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1909 for local businessman and clothing maker Meyer May.
Instead of being built in the traditional Victorian style, the house is in a Prairies style and has been lovingly restored over the years to resemble its former glory.
The house has collections of antiques that feature the original furniture and items that would have belonged to the Meyer family and is open to the public who can get an amazing insight into how people would have lived in years gone by in Michigan.
9. Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve
The Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve is a study facility that is designed for Calvin College students who are learning about the environment.
The emphasis here is on the preservation of the environment and the indigenous flora and fauna in Grand Rapids.
As well as being a training ground for students, the preserve is also open for the public to enjoy as a way of connecting local residents with the gorgeous greenery around them.
There are trails all over the preserve that will take you past lush foliage and wild flowers and there is also the Bunker Interpretive Center aimed at younger visitors.
10. Art Prize
If you are in the downtown area of Grand Rapids, then make sure you look around to see if the annual Art Prize contest is being held.
For 19 days every year, the center of the city is transformed into an open air art gallery as pieces of art work are submitted in the competition and displayed to the public.
Anyone can submit a piece and the outdoor gallery sprawls over three blocks in downtown Grand Rapids, and the competition is usually held around September or October time every year, so don’t miss it if you are visiting at this time.
11. Grand Rapids Symphony
Music lovers should not miss the chance to check out the Grand Rapids Symphony which features talented musicians from all over the local area.
The symphony also plays for the Grand Rapids Ballet Company and the Opera Grand Rapids, to give you an idea of how active it is in the area, and has been going strong since 1930 when it was first formed.
With over 400 performances per year, there should be something to see when you are in town, and the symphony performs in venues all over the city such as theaters, parks, and even churches.
12. Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum sits in one of the most beautiful venues in the city that dates from 1916. The museum building is something of an icon in the city in itself as the entire front is made from glass, meaning that you can take in all the action from the outside.
The learning facility is designed for those from the age of two until twelve and many of the exhibits here are meant to be interactive so as to promote learning through hands-on play.
Some exhibits to expect here include an amazing tree house, a replica farm, and a theater.
13. Brewery Vivant
If you like beer and want to sample a few cold ones when you are in town, then Brewery Vivant has all your needs covered.
The brewery is located in the East Hill part of the city which is in itself a historic neighborhood, and the emphasis here is on European inspired beers.
These include Belgian blends and you can tour the brewery as well as the adjacent pub which has been designed to mimic a Belgian monastery.
They also serve food here which is all French and Belgian inspired.
14. Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts
If you like art then think about heading to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids where you will find an array of innovative contemporary pieces that include a huge range of different genres.
Some of these include film, dance, live performance, painting, drawing, and music, and you will find the works of local, regional, and even overseas artists here.
15. Thornapple Pointe Golf Club
The Thornapple Pointe Golf Club lies along the idyllic banks of the Thornapple Pointe River and you can expect to see grassy knolls and picturesque hills all around you.
The area around the golf club is also made up of beautiful wetlands, but the course itself is pristine and features plush lawns that are well cared for to give you the best golfing experience possible.
Depending on your ability, there are a variety of golfing options to choose from here and up to date technology such as GPS and live scoreboards help to add to the luxurious experience of the golf club.