Pella, Iowa is one of the Midwest’s best kept secrets.
A historic Dutch settlement, about forty miles south of Des Moines, Pella offers a glimpse into the “old world” while providing a rich cultural experience to iPhone streaming visitors.
The first weekend of every May, the community of Pella puts on the three day Tulip Festival that is simply beyond words. I’ve attended many regional holiday events all across the United States in my travels, but Pella’s Tulip Festival truly takes the cake.
Before arriving in Pella, I did a little internet searching and was expecting just another Midwestern May Fest, with a crowd somewhere between your traditional county fair crowd and Veteran’s Day roll out. You can imagine my surprise when we rolled into town, only to find almost the entire town shut down to accommodate for the swelling crowd!
Good news: the locals had set-up extremely accommodating parking on the outskirts of town, with “shuttles” (luxurious tour buses) providing round the clock pick-up and drop-offs from the grassy parking lot to the tulip festivities.
I had several “must-sees” on my Pella list:
- Tulip Time Parade
- Molengracht Canal
- Wyatt Earp’s Boyhood Home
- Pella Historical Village
- Vermeer Windmill
Thanks to the great downtown layout, I was able to see everything on my list within just a few hours by walking around the historic district. Pella’s rich Dutch heritage is evident everywhere – and not just by the wooden shoes (At the 2010 Tulip Festival, over 2,600 people danced for more than six minutes to set the world record for the most people dancing in wooden shoes. Click here to watch the video – it’s amazing.). The enchanting Molengracht Canal, postcard like Dutch windmill, and endless supply of delicate tulips will transport you into a world far, far away (Holland, anyone?).
But beyond the incredible scenery and vibrant festival activities, one of the most impressive aspects of the Tulip Festival that I just couldn’t shake was the community’s dedication and enthusiasm for sharing their heritage with festival attendees. Thousands of local volunteers work tirelessly to turn their charming Midwestern village into a welcoming venue for camera toting, road weary tourists like myself, hoping to score an Instagram-worthy shot of their sea of tulips, along with a few bites of poffertjes (mini sweet pancakes) and vet bollen (hot raisin doughnuts). Pella’s residents’ warm, hospitable spirit and concierge-style accommodations made the Tulip Festival a wonderful experience for all ages of attendees.
Typically, after wrapping up a jam-packed road excursion – like my recent one to Iowa – that includes large crowds of people I’m “dog tired” and more than ready to make my way back to the farm for a little rest and relaxation. Pella, however, was one of the few exceptions. I wish I could have stayed for days. The food, the people, the tulips made 2017 Tulip Festival one of the most surprising highlights of my year. I can’t wait to return next year. The Frisian Farm (Gouda cheese), Pella Opera House, Tassel Ridge Winery, and Vermeer Corporation Museum are just a few of the must-see Pella attractions I plan on adding to my itinerary.