Updated January 2023. Summer has arrived here in the Midwest and it is time to be outside enjoying every minute of it. Celebrate your heritage, dance the night away or relax while watching glowing hot air balloons.
We invited a few travel writers to share their favorites with us, here are the best Midwest summer festivals you won’t want to miss!
Summer Solstice Indie Music & Craft Beer Festival in Illinois
“The Summer Solstice Indie Music & Craft Beer Festival for music lovers is June 23th – June 25th. It’s one of my favorite events in the region. Excellent lineup and love the spirit of the festival organizers.
Sturgill Simpson and Norah Jones have played this in the past, it’s a great collection of alt-country and indie rock, paired with a great crowd, atmosphere, and setting on the Fox River.” Jim from Enjoy Aurora
The Des Moines Arts Festival in Iowa
“Des Moines is home to one of the Midwest’s largest arts festival. The Des Moines Arts Festival is held June 23th – 25th and features more than 100 artists, live music, a variety of artist demonstrations, and a large and engaging children’s zone with free activities.
There’s a reason why this festival won the coveted International Festivals & Events Association Grand Pinnacle Award for nine consecutive years!” Kim at Oh My! Omaha
Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
“If you’re a big music junkie, then Summerfest in Milwaukee is a music festival TRULY worth traveling for! Milwaukee is known as the “City of Festivals” so rest assured that we know how to throw an awesome party.
Summerfest really is the world’s largest music festival, bringing in 800,000 to 900,000 people each year during this 11-day event.
Summerfest beats Coachella by a long shot, which brings in (approximately) a mere 99,000 per day for the three-day event. From over 800 acts and performances total, there are plenty of free stages to enjoy with a general admission ticket.
Even if you don’t attend for a specific artist, there’s so much more to enjoy at this music festival from local Milwaukee and Wisconsin delicacies, to fantastic comedy acts, family activities, fireworks, and other special attractions and contests!
Summerfest Fun Facts that you may not know:
- Summerfest was initially started by Mayor Henry Maier after visited Germany’s Oktoberfest. He really wanted to throw a party.
- One of the first suggested names for Summerfest was “Juli Spaß” meaning July Fun in German
- Summerfest grounds were a former U.S. Army missile site, which held nuclear weapons.
- The Summerfest grounds almost became a Disney Theme Park.
Summerfest 2023 runs from June 22 – 24, 29 – July 1, and July 6 – 8th.” Miranda from Miranda Knudtson
Fair St. Louis in Missouri
“It’s an exciting summer in St. Louis as the newly renovated Gateway Arch grounds welcome back Fair St. Louis!
While the massive construction project was underway, the annual Independence Day festivities were moved to a temporary home in nearby Forest Park. Now that the beautiful new layout of the park is complete – visitors will enjoy a terrific new atmosphere. Added bonus – it’s also the debut of the brand Arch museum – part of the $380 million renovations. The fun runs July 2nd – 4th.
Related: Top 10 Things to do in St. Louis
Blue Ox Music Festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin
“Based in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Eaux Claires is a two-day music festival like you’ve never experienced before. Organized by Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner of The National, this festival began in 2015 and has since become a site for countless indie music collaborations.
What I love most about attending this festival year after year is that you never know who will show up on stage to collaborate! Don’t forget to also build in some time to explore the city of Eau Claire itself, which is full of cute shops, boutique hotels, and a gorgeous riverwalk.” Megan from Olio in Iowa
2023 Dates: June 22 – 24th.
Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin
“Deemed the best Renaissance Faire all over the country, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is our family’s most highly anticipated event. Get transported to the small town of Bristol, Wisconsin in the 1500s where you’ll find costumed actors singing, dancing, or even engaging in sword fights.
Fairies flit about and only interact with children. As you roam through the town, you’ll find entertaining shows (don’t miss the mud show or the real joust competition), market wares, kid-friendly rides and games powered by hand, and of course, ALL the food and drinks.
Any experience at the Ren Faire requires a giant turkey leg, cheese fritters, and mead. Trust me, you and the family will have such a merry good time!
The festival runs on weekends only from July 8th through September 4th. ” Cheryl from O the Places We Go
Swedish Days in Geneva, Illinois
“Swedish Days in Geneva, Illinois is an annual celebration of summer and all things Swedish honoring the region’s Swedish heritage. Swedish Days has all of the hallmarks of a fun summer festival including live music, carnival rides, food booths, a 5K, and more.
What makes Swedish Days unique is Sweden Väst featuring Swedish food, Swedish art, and gifts, Swedish cultural activities including folk dances, and a Maypole ceremony.
We especially enjoy the opportunity to visit the Viking Ship which was featured in Chicago’s 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to tour the ship, meet Viking interpreters and explore Viking artifacts. Swedish Days is in its 70th year and a great way to learn about Geneva’s heritage while having good old summer fun! This year’s event runs June 21 – 25, 2023.” Melissa from A Little Time and a Keyboard
Bix Festival in Davenport, Iowa
“The Bix Festival in the Quad Cities is one of my favorite Midwest summer festivals. The festival commemorates Davenport native and 1920’s jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke.
On the last Saturday of July, the Bix7 footrace draws competitive runners from all over the world, alongside casual walkers just there for the party.
The Jazz Festival then runs from August 3th – 5th at the Rhythm City Casino in Davenport, with three days of live music. This is one of the Quad Cities’ most popular festivals, so book your hotel rooms early!” Leigh from Campfires & Concierges
Other Fun Things to do in Illinois: Take a Ride on Route 66
Tugfest in LeClaire, Iowa
“The Tugfest is a lot of excitement and challenge for LeClaire, Iowa against Port Byron, Illinois. It began in 1987, with ten 20-member tug teams pulling with all of their strength on a 2,700-foot, 680-pound rope that spans the Mississippi River between LeClaire, Iowa and Port Byron, Illinois.
Each year the teams pull to see who will claim the breath-taking alabaster statue of a Bald Eagle in flight. Over 35,000 people view this spectacular and only tug-of-war across the longest river in the United States.
Tug Fest has been featured in travel, vacation magazines, television programming across the country and has received international notoriety on Germany’s “Inside the USA”, “Galileo XXL,” The Montel Williams Show, Discovery Channel’s “Wreakreation Nation”, and PBS television.
2023 Dates to be Announced. August 11th – 13th: Carnival wristband night is on Thursday, 5-10pm; $20 for unlimited rides. Parade and huge fireworks display on Friday evening. Saturday morning there is a 5K Run / 1 Mile Fun Run and kids’ tug is at 11am.
The main event, tug-of-war across the Mississippi River between LeClaire, Iowa and Port Byron, Illinois, is from 12:30-2:30pm on Saturday. $5 admission charge to the Levee on Friday and Saturday; kids 12 and under are FREE.” Cindy from Visit LeClaire
Irish Fair in St. Paul, Minnesota
“The Irish Fair of Minnesota is one of the nation’s most authentic Irish festivals and hosts over 100,000 visitors during its three-day run. Held in St. Paul’s Harriet Island Regional Park, the festival grounds feature stunning views of the Mississippi River and downtown skyline.
Activities include live music, a marketplace with over 60 vendors and artisans, traditional Irish foods, cultural sessions, dancing, an exhibit of native Irish dogs, and an outdoor Sunday Mass.
The best part? Admission is free! This year’s fair is being held from August 11th – 13th.” Stacy from Tangled Up in Food
Other Minnesota Road Trip Ideas: A Fun-Filled Weekend in the Twin Cities
Maha Music Festival in Omaha, Nebraska
“Omaha has, for as long as I can remember, been known as a great underground music scene. Home to Saddle Creek Records and the location of the Century Link, both give The Big O plenty of chances for phenomenal acts, musicians, and festivals to visit our city, one being the annual music Maha Festival, going on for over 10 years now! That Maha Festival is now simultaneous with “Summer,” “Omaha,” and “Great Music!”
Past festivals have featured Death Cab For Cutie, Dashboard Confessional, Modest Mouse and other great headliners.
This year’s festival will be at Aksarben Village on July 28 – 29th. In the past bands like Weezer as well as several local Omaha bands hit the stage.” Leanna from Well Traveled Nebraskan
Where else you should stop: Road Tripping Across Nebraska
I love this post, and it’s not just because I’ve lived in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Summerfest in Milwaukee continues to be my favorite festival. Wisconsin and Iowa state fairs are fantastic as well. You can get some interesting foods there.
Sounds like all of these festivals would be a hoot to attend. The indie music and beer festival sound amazing as does the Irish fair. The tug of war festival would be some fun. Seems like a great part of the USA to visit.
The Midwest is so undervalued. There’s so much to see and do during the summers. I’d love to drive across country and go festival to festival!
Sandy N Vyjay
These are some really rocking festivals to take your summer experience to another level. All of them seem to have their own unique character and charm. But if asked to choose we would love to head to Iowa for the Des Moines Summer Arts Festival. Another festival that riveted our attention is the Irish Fair in Minnesota, looks like a great event to get an immersive experience of Irish culture.
Really enjoy the diversity of festivities in this line up! I’ve always been a huge music festival fan, and I’m surprised I’m just hearing about Summerfest now…I must be getting old. But I would definitely love to hit that up and the tug fest sounds like something really unique.
We had great fun at the Chuckwagon festival at the Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City. The museum itself is awesome with cowboy art, history, TV memorabilia, Native American clothing and other displays – PLUS a huge gift shop! But if you go on the Chuckwagon weekend, there are authentic trail riding chickwagon teams serving up hearty and delicious campfire cooked food – everything from meaty cowboy beans to melt in your mouth peach kettle cobbler!! There are all kinds of activities for the kiddos too. Lassoing lessons and leather working are two of the more unique ones! Definitely one of the most fun vacation days you’ll have!!
Oooh! I’d love to see the Waterford Balloon Festival!! I bet the Bristol Renaissance Faire would be popular with my kids 🙂 Fair St. Louis sounds intriguing as well, I’d like to finally see the Gateway Arch close up!
Festival of Nations in St. Louis (August) is amazing! I recommend.
Thanks Jacquelyn! I never heard of that one so I’ll definitely have to look it up.