Located on the scenic Grand River, Grand Rapids is renowned for its food and brewery scene. But once you peel back the curtain, you’ll discover that Michigan’s second largest city is teeming with history and art.
The city’s opulent parks aren’t just a place to sit and relax. They’re laden with creativity and sculptures that have earned an international reputation. Between the breweries, travelers will discover carefully curated museums that will enthrall young and old alike.
It is a joy to explore all the fun things to do in Grand Rapids. Its welcoming community hosts an exciting range of events that showcase local culture and adds further context to its many captivating tourist attractions.
12. Grand Rapids Art Museum
From afar, the modern architecture of Grand Rapids Art Museum stands out among the downtown high-rises. The exceptional design is a certified green building, now home to over 6,000 pieces of art. These date as far back as the 1800s and cover an array of genres.
The expansive gallery space combines the museum’s permanent collection with a thrilling assortment of temporary exhibits to provide even return visitors with a fresh experience. In addition to the gallery, the museum houses an impressive library and archives. Here, you can discover a vast range of works, including some from the 15th century.
11. Robinette’s Apple Haus & Winery
Now a Grand Rapids’ institution, Robinette’s Apple Haus and Winery began as a humble farm in 1911. Over the next century, it has grown into a must-visit for couples and families alike. Whenever the sun is out, Robinette’s is an exciting place to be.
Having been handed down through the generations, the popular attraction has maintained its charm despite its rising fame. There is much to do here to keep everyone entertained, from exploring the orchards to sampling all the freshly picked produce. But be sure to leave room for their two-dozen types of beverages.
10. Heritage Hill Historic District
In the early 19th century, the first settlers arrived in Grand Rapids. They created the city’s original neighborhood, Heritage Hill. In 1968, in order to preserve this storied part of town, it became a historic district. The beautiful homes, who once housed many prominent figures, have since been protected.
Because of this, you can now explore the Heritage Hill Historic District and admire the 40 odd homes. These buildings have not only been saved, but continue to tell the story of the founding years in Grand Rapids. The experience will be a treat for history buffs and architecture hounds. The latter of which can admire the Italianate, Tudor and Georgian homes.
9. Grand Rapids Children’s Museum
In downtown, the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is a place for young ones to interact and learn about the world around them. Since opening in 1992, it has become a must-see attraction for families. As you walk towards the renovated building, you’ll see much of its entrance is glass. Once the kids peek inside and see all the fun, they’ll be even more excited to dive in.
The range of exhibits provide a black canvass for children to learn, experiment and create. Highlights of the experience include musical experiments (bring your earplugs), along with the bubbles and LEGOs room. While the “Little Grand Rapids” is also sure to be a hit.
8. Van Andel Arena
For live entertainment in Grand Rapids, Van Andel Arena is your one-stop shop. Before traveling to Michigan city, check ahead of time to see what events the arena is hosting when you’re in town. Van Andel has a capacity of 12,000 and attracts some of the best music stars all year round.
Home to the Grand Rapids Griffins, the arena is also the place to go for live sport. Playing in the American Hockey League, the Griffins play regular home games from October to April. You may also be able to watch college hockey and basketball. While major events, such as Disney on Ice, have made use of the rink to wow local crowds.
7. John Ball Zoo
Home to over 11,00 animals, the John Ball Zoo promises to be a blast for families as it has since 1891. Just out of downtown, reaching the zoo is a breeze. Upon arrival, you will find a range of suitable enclosures with plenty of activities for the animals to embark on.
Each section of the zoo, from the Budgie Aviary to the Treasures of the Tropics, is home to wildlife from around the world. Here, you can spot monkeys, lions, bears, and even penguins from afar. But for a more personal experience, guests can ride a camel or spend a night in the zoo, where you can camp under the stars with the sounds of animals all around.
6. Fish Ladder
Art is no stranger to Grand Rapids. In fact, it even formed a part of the city’s conservation work. The Fish Ladder is a concrete ladder comprising five steps that help salmon reach spawning grounds beyond the dam wall. A six-foot wall that had stopped not just salmon, but carp, trout and steelhead from swimming upstream.
Inspired by brutalist art, Joseph Kinnebrew developed this solution to solve the issue in 1974. But not only does it help the fish, the Fish Ladder also provides an interesting show for onlookers in the nearby park. Sit back on your picnic rug and watch the flurry of fish make their way up the steps on their way to the other side.
5. Grand Rapids Public Museum
Beginning as the Lyceum of Natural History in 1854, the Grand Rapids Public Museum has evolved over the years to tell the story of West Michigan. Across its three floors, you’ll venture on a journey to learn about the soul of the region. Through a series of immersive exhibits, the museum promises to entertain as much as it educates.
The Public Museum houses over 250,000 artifacts, but only a small amount are on display at any stage. They’re carefully chosen to curate a fascinating story that covers history, culture and science. Learn about local geology, fossils, the rise of cars and how it all affected the life and times of those living in western Michigan.
4. Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse
A major highlight of any experience at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse. Standing at 24 feet tall and emblazoned in bronze, the sculpture is an eye-catching sight. The original horse was commissioned by da Vinci in 1482 to honor the Duke of Milan’s father. However, the clay prep work was destroyed.
Now, more than five centuries later, da Vinci’s plans have been put to good use. The horse you see today is a faithful replica created by the renowned Nina Akamu, who has brought Leonardo’s vision to life for all of us to enjoy. Akamu actually created two of these sculptures, one for the garden and another for Milan, finally fulfilling the wishes of the Duke.
3. Meyer May House
Designed by the iconic Frank Lloyd Wright, the Meyer May House is considered one of the best preserved of his many famous prairie-style homes. Wright drew up plans for this house at the beginning of the 20th century and the forward-thinking architect drew bated breath from the surrounding community.
His typical low-pitched roof and ample natural light were on full display, allowing the Meyer May House to assimilate with the environment. Although the home contrasted greatly to the Victorian-era homes around Grand Rapids.
Now open to the public, visitors can explore the revolutionary home. The adorned rooms still feature the same windows and furniture from when the home first welcomed Meyer May. While the on-site film showcases the history of the home from start to finish.
2. Gerald R. Ford Museum
Although born in Omaha, Nebraska, former President Gerald Ford was raised in Grand Rapids. It was here, upon the completion of his presidency, that a library and museum was commissioned in his honor. The museum takes you on a trip back to his childhood spent in the surrounding neighborhoods. You can gaze over his old Eagle Scout clothes and awards along with the jersey from when he played college football.
A hearty focus is on his campaign, relationship with his wife and presidency. One of the highlights of the experience is a holographic journey. This allows you to stand alongside President Ford as you travel to major destinations around the world. Add in temporary exhibits from the Smithsonian Institute and you could easily spend an entire afternoon here.
1. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Grand Rapids may be more famous for its breweries, but visitors quickly discover that it’s a haven for art. Some of the most renowned sculptures on earth can be found at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The gallery comprises a beloved collection just shy of 300 pieces. These include works by Edgar Degas, Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore, three of the world’s top sculptors.
But equally captivating are the lush gardens on display. The bright colors draw you in upon entry before taking you on a delightful journey. Along the way, you’ll cross paths with a cascading waterfall that splits rows of rare and vibrant plant life. You’ll also discover five indoor gardens that make sure something is blooming all year long.