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 runs from January through early March!
World of Winter Highlights
- 3 tips before you go
- 6 must-see World of Winter locations
- Special events to enjoy at the festival
3 Tips Before You Go
1. Plan your visit around the amount 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 for all of the art exhibits beforehand so that you don’t miss any of your favorites. For a ready-made plan, check out the highlights from our family visit below.
3. Bundle up.
Winter in Michigan can be harsh, especially in the evening after the sun goes down. Our family of both adults and children bundled up in snow pants, winter coats, boots, hats, gloves, and scarves to stay warm.
6 Must-See World of Winter Locations
While there are displays all throughout downtown Grand Rapids, the heart of the World of Winter exhibits tend to be located along these pedestrian bridges and surrounding areas:
- Blue Bridge
- Grand Rapids Public Museum
- Ah-Nab-Awen Park
- Gillett Bridge
- Lyon Square
- Calder Plaza
If you want to see most of the main outdoor art exhibits in one trip, our family walked along the route outlined below. Our kids, ages 5 & 8, did surprisingly well walking for an hour and a half in the cold, although they were definitely tired by the time we got back to the car.
An iconic spot for Grand Rapids photography, the Blue Bridge provides a picturesque location for showcasing lively art installations. The 2023 exhibits include:
- Angels of Freedom: Three sets of glowing angel wings and halos along the Blue Bridge make the perfect place for a photo op! We had fun practicing our angelic poses here.
- Massimals: A family of five brightly colored wooden bears, Massimals is a great exhibit if you visit during daylight hours.
Grand Rapids Public Museum
With a Grand River backdrop, the grassy areas surrounding the public museum often host art installations during World of Winter. In 2023, you’ll find:
- The Singing Tree: The Singing Tree’s dangling lights flash in response to singing voices or any random noises. Howling like a wolf lit up the tree the most out of any noises we made!
- Passage of Shadows & Light: Wander through a rainbow-lighted tunnel to experience winter whimsy.
The rolling hillside of Ah-Nab-Awen Park provides plenty of wide-open green space to showcase World of Winter art. The 2023 exhibits at Ah-Nab-Awen Park include:
- Tropical Tundra: Definitely a highlight for the youngsters! My kids could have spent hours watching and chasing the moving animal and jungle plant light projections under the Gillett Bridge tunnel.
- Starry Night: Crafted from hundreds of acrylic tubes filled with LED lights, this replica of Van Gogh’s famous Starry Night painting is so striking against the dark sky.
- Roaming Gnomes: This one wasn’t installed yet on our visit, but huge inflatable gnomes will be added for some festive fun in Ah-Nab-Awen park.
With lighted, curved archways accenting the Grand River, the pedestrian Gillett Bridge is another prime art spot at the World of Winter festival. In 2023, you can see:
- Talking Heads: Watching the ever-changing light patterns on these two giant head sculptures is mesmerizing.
- Messie the Grand River Monster: Colorful tentacles gently waving in the wind add a playful splash to the Grand Rapids skyline.
A brick amphitheater and walkway along the Grand River, Lyon Square makes a lovely stage for World of Winter art displays. In 2023, check out:
- Starlight: Adorned with celestial cutouts and a Van Gogh quote (“The sight of the stars makes me dream”), Starlight is right at home across the river from the Starry Night exhibit.
Featuring the iconic La Grande Vitesse sculpture, Calder Plaza provides another amazing location for art installations. Plus, several of the World of Winter special events take place here. Exhibits in 2023 include:
- House of Cards: This was my favorite 2023 display. Watching the towering stack of cards light up in time with the music was so much fun.
- Infinity Mountains: Walk through the mirrored panels and use the QR code to experience a virtual photo booth.
All in all, our family spent about an hour and 30 minutes walking and exploring the art. We went home tired in the best way — from spending an evening full of adventures!
Special Events Throughout the Festival
In addition to the outdoor art displays, these special activities and events add even more fun to your visit:
- Scavenger Hunt: Download the GooseChase app, create a team, and complete photo challenges and trivia questions.
- Pop-Up Performer Nights: Friday nights feature an assortment of street performers around town.
- Saturday Special Events: From a Fire & Ice show to a Human Hungry Hippo Tournament, Saturdays spotlight a wide array of unique events.
- Black History Walking Tours: Learn about remarkable African American people, places, and events in Grand Rapids on various dates.
- Valent-ICE: This is a week-long display of dozens of ice sculptures throughout the city.
Check out the whole World of Winter special events calendar to plan your visit.
A Unique Way to Spend a Winter Evening
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. Share your experience with us in the comments below!