World of Winter: 11 Reasons to Visit the Midwest’s Largest Winter Festival

(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

By Lisa Green

January 5, 2023

The weather outside may be frightful, but World of Winter in Grand Rapids sure is delightful. Here’s a list of things to check out at the annual festival in 2023. 

MICHIGAN—Michigan’s second largest city is home to the Midwest’s largest winter festival. It’s the World of Winter festival in Grand Rapids.

The festivities started as an eight-day celebration at Rosa Parks Circle back in 2018, but nowadays they run a full two months and span the whole city from Jan. 6 through March 5. Here’s a sneak peek of what to expect:

House of Cards

  • Artist: OGE Group
(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

This art installation is designed to symbolize the curiosity and bold creativity of children, and to inspire them to take risks and in the pursuit of their goals. It is also about the collective structure of our relationships, with the hope that we all have a common goal with a network of support.

House of Cards features 128 light boxes featuring artwork from more than 45 artists, all made to look like playing cards. The artwork will also look different depending on the angle of the viewer—resembling a church from one side, and building blocks from another. 

Starry Night

  • Artist: Ivana Jelić and Pavle Petrović
(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

One of the most recognizable paintings in the Western art world will burst off the canvas and across 1,400 acrylic tubes illuminated by LED lights on a bridge near Ah-Nab-Awen Park. The electric lights—in a sort of contradictory way—are designed to remind viewers of the natural beauty of the night sky.

Angels of Freedom

  • Artist: OGE Group
(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

The Angels of Freedom display might be the best spot at World of Winter for a selfie—just don’t forget to use the hashtag #WorldofWinterGR. This large pair of angel wings near the Blue Bridge constantly changes colors, allowing viewers to pick a shade to match their own individual mood.

Talking Heads

  • Artist: Viktor Vicsek
(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

Using 4,000 individually controlled LED lights, this massive floating installation near Gillett Bridge from Hungarian artist Viktor Vicsek pays homage to non-verbal communication—featuring two large LED heads that interact and communicate with one another, as well as the guests who stop by to visit.

Roaming Gnomes

  • Artist: Amigo and Amigo
(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

This interactive art installation doesn’t start until February—but these not-so-little guys are worth the wait. Seven large gnomes will descend upon Grand Rapids, each in a different location across the city with their own personalities and poses to match. Can you find them all before they leave town?

Affinity

  • Artist: Amigo and Amigo
(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

Affinity is directly inspired by the neurons of the human brain and uses light and sound in an interactive format to represent different memories that be touched, heard and experienced in real time—sort of like the memory orbs in Pixar’s Inside Out. The installation won’t be open until Feb. 3, but with 112 points of interaction which light up in 62 different color combinations, it’s definitely one to be excited about.

Messie the Grand River Monster

(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

West Michigan’s own version of the Loch Ness Monster, Messie, has found a way to escape the Grand River before it froze this year—and take shelter inside the DeVos Convention Center. You don’t have to look too hard to find her. On a windy day, she may even pop out a tentacle and wave hello.

The Singing Tree

  • Artist: Limbic Media
(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

This exhibit comes alive at night—and responds to whatever sounds it might hear. Visitors can talk, sing, yell, and clap to see its branches flicker with vibrant bursts of light. Stop by on Jan. 20 to watch an ice piano performance by local vocalist Hannah Laine, and see all the pretty colors that come along with it.

Circus Wonderland

(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

Stilt walkers, fire breathers, and aerialists—all for free. On Jan. 7, performers from the Grand Rapids Entertainment Group will descend upon Calder Plaza for three hours of entertainment inspired by “The Greatest Showman.” The event will also feature plenty of food trucks, games, and much more.

Winter’s a DRAG

(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

Michigan Drag Brunch comes to Calder Plaza on Jan. 14. The family friendly, pop-up drag show features the Drag Brunch’s famous Brunchettes working the stage for five amazing hours, starting at 11 a.m. Visitors can also enjoy giant yard games and take photos in front of the crown-shaped ice sculpture.

Featured food trucks include Crepes by the Lakes, StreetChefShaw, Patty Manners and Dolce Mini Cakes, and Haggerty’s. Alcohol sales will benefit the AYA Youth Collective, a Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that supports young people facing homelessness. The show is free, but tips are encouraged.

Walking Tours

(Courtesy/Downtown Grand Rapids Inc.)

Tuesdays are a chance to learn a thing or two about Grand Rapids this winter. From Jan. 7 to March 1, Grand Rapids Running Tours is co-hosting one-hour walking tours for anyone willing to brave the cold. This year’s focus is architecture. Tours meet in the front lobby of the JW Marriott. 

No registration is necessary for any tour. Self-guided tours are also available.

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