With a goal of making Grand Rapids, Michigan, a more winter-friendly city, the World of Winter Festival provides free outdoor art and entertainment for all ages. This Michigan winter festival certainly brings light and joy to the cold winter months while it typically runs from January through early March!
World of Winter Highlights
- 3 tips before you go
- A two mile walking route for viewing outdoor art exhibits
- Outdoor activities to add some extra fun to your visit
- Special events to enjoy at the festival
3 Tips Before You Go
1. Plan your visit around the level of daylight or darkness you prefer.
Although all the outdoor art can be viewed during the daylight, most of the displays really come alive in the dark. Use an online sunset tool like this one that shows the exact time of sunset and the last light on the day you plan to visit.
Visiting around sunset is a great strategy for the best of both worlds – seeing some displays in the lingering daylight and others against the backdrop of a dark sky.
2. Map out your path.
Review the World of Winter map of all the art exhibits beforehand so you don’t miss any of your favorites. For a ready-made plan, check out the 2.3-mile walking path our family took below.
3. Bundle up.
Winters in Michigan can be harsh, especially in the evening after the sun goes down. Our family of both adults and children all bundled up in snow pants, winter coats, boots, hats, gloves, and scarves to stay warm.
A Two Mile Walking Route for Viewing Outdoor Art
The majority of the outdoor art displays are grouped in two main areas – by the 555 Monroe Skate Park on the east side of the Grand River and along Ah-Nab-Awen Park on the west side.
If you want to see most of the main outdoor art exhibits in one trip, our family walked the 2.3-mile route outlined below. Our kids, ages 4 & 7, did surprisingly well with this distance in the cold, although they were definitely tired by the time we got back to the car.
Outdoor Art Walking Route
- Sixth Street Park (Manidoo Bawating)
- 555 Monroe Skate Park (Light Maze & You, Me, and a Butterfly)
- Grand River Edges Trail to Gillett Bridge (Submergence)
- Ah-Nab-Awen Park (Bunnies of Intrude & Trumpet Flowers)
- Grand Rapids Public Museum (Singing Tree & Crank Zappa Jellyfish)
- Blue Bridge (Massimals)
- Monroe Street (Kindness Machine) back to Sixth Street Park
Pro Tip: For a shorter walk without crossing the river, skip Sixth Street Park and 555 Monroe Skate Park and stick to Ah-Nab-Awen Park, the public museum, and the pedestrian bridges.
1. Sixth Street Park (Manidoo Bawating)
To start our Saturday evening adventure, we parked at Sixth Street Park. We arrived a little before 5 pm with plenty of parking available – one benefit of arriving early! After a few minutes of getting everyone bundled up in our winter gear, we were ready to explore in the 15-degree weather.
With a sunset time of 5:35 pm, it was fun to be able to compare what some exhibits looked like when we arrived in the evening light to when we left in the darkness.
Sixth Street Park features the Manidoo Bawating sculpture, which means “Spirit of the Rapids” in the indigenous Anishinaabemowin language.
With intricate designs of important cultural symbols, the Manidoo Bawating sculpture honors the Native American tribes who first lived and continue to live in the Great Lakes region.
Manidoo Bawating is most stunning in full darkness, with the shadow of the fire reflected upon the snow.
2. 555 Monroe Skate Park (Light Maze & You, Me and a Butterfly)
Right next to Sixth Street Park, you’ll find 555 Monroe Skate Park, which hosts the Light Maze and Butterfly art installations.
With an iridescent glow, the Light Maze is one exhibit that is just as striking during the day as at night. Reflective panels create winding corridors with a few dead ends that anyone young at heart will enjoy exploring.
You, Me, and a Butterfly
This multi-dimensional sculpture of a butterfly emerging from its cocoon is an interesting one to observe from various angles.
3. Gillett Bridge (Submergence)
From 555 Monroe Skate Park, we walked the Grand River Edges Trail along the water to the pedestrian Gillett Bridge. This is a stretch of about 0.6 miles, but it was a pleasant walk as the sun slowly set over the river.
Located on the actual bridge, Submergence is a must-see exhibit. With hanging lights that pulse along with a 12-minute musical journey, you have to walk through this light display to fully experience it.
4. Ah-Nab-Awen Park (Bunnies of Intrude & Trumpet Flowers)
After crossing over the Gillette Bridge, we strolled through Ah-Nab-Awen Park to see the next two impressive art exhibits.
Bunnies of Intrude (On display until January 31, 2022)
Five, towering inflatable bunnies dot the landscape of Ah-Nab-Awen Park in this whimsical installation. Created by an Australian artist, Bunnies of Intrude draws attention to the contradiction of bunnies – how fluffy, fairy tale creatures can also create serious environmental issues.
A kid favorite, this interactive display includes peppy trumpet beats and pulsing flower lights. Our kids got a kick out of running through the flower stems and pressing the buttons to influence the musical sounds.
5. Public Museum (The Singing Tree & Crank Zappa Jellyfish)
From Ah-Nab-Awen Park, we walked across Pearl Street to the outside of the Grand Rapids Public Museum to visit two more interactive art pieces.
The Singing Tree
Right next to the ice piano, the Singing Tree’s dangling lights flash in response to singing voices. As our family is not particularly skilled musically, we figured out the secret to the Singing Tree. Shouting random loud noises (mostly cheering and howling from our crew) up at the tree worked like a charm! The lights in the tree lit up a lot more than when we tried to sing off-key.
Crank Zappa Jellyfish
Made of upcycled plastic bags, straws, and water bottles, Crank Zappa Jellyfish is designed to educate and entertain. As you stand beneath the rippling neon light tentacles, it is enthralling to hear a cranky jellyfish voice humorously explain the importance of reducing our plastic usage to protect our planet.
6. Blue Bridge (Massimals)
From the public museum, we took the softly lit pedestrian Blue Bridge back across to the east side of the Grand River.
A family of five brightly colored wooden bears, Massimals is one exhibit that is better to visit during daylight. As this art installation does not include a lighted element, the daylight better highlights the artistic details.
7. Monroe Street (Kindness Machine) to Sixth Street Park
After crossing the bridge, we headed north (turn left) on Campau Ave NW. From here, the walk back to where we parked at Sixth Street Park is about 1 mile along festively lit hotels and restaurants.
With a short jog in the road, we went west (turn right) on Pearl St NW and then north (turn left) on to Monroe St NW for a straight shot back to the park.
Along the way, we came across the Kindness Machine installation in front of DeVos Place, which was a much-needed distraction for kids with dwindling energy.
An interactive display that promotes positivity, the Kindness Machine is a vending machine with varying levels of kindness challenges. Many are free and others are $1-$3.
We punched in our numbers for a free challenge and a teal envelope dropped down. Inside was a little note which encouraged us to say thank you to people in the service industries like waiters and grocery store employees.
After walking the rest of the way to Sixth Street Park, we made it back to our vehicle around 6:45 pm. In total, we spent about an hour and 45 minutes walking and exploring the art. We went home tired in the best way – from spending an evening full of adventures!
Outdoor Activities to Add Some Extra Fun to Your Visit
In addition to the outdoor art displays, these activities are available throughout the entire festival until March 6.
- Snowperson Building Contest: Build a snowperson in any downtown park and post a picture on Instagram or Facebook to potentially win prizes.
- Scavenger Hunt: Download the GooseChase app, create a team, and complete photo challenges and trivia questions.
Special Events Throughout the Festival
During the festival there are mixes of special one day or week-long events to look forward to, including:
- Pop-Up Performer Nights: Friday nights featuring an assortment of street performers around town
- Black History Walking Tours (various dates): Learn about remarkable African American people, places, and events in Grand Rapids
- Valen-ICE (February 11-18, 2022): A week-long display of dozens of ice sculptures throughout the city
If you are looking for a way to add some festive fun to a cold winter evening, the World of Winter Festival is sure to brighten your night!