A short three and a half hour drive from Kansas City, you’ll find two Iowa towns with magical holidays traditions and a rich Dutch history. Pella and Oskaloosa celebrate the start to the holiday season with a Dutch Christmas Market, a tour of homes, parades, shopping, and so much good food and holiday lights.
Make sure you save the date for next year, December 5-7 for Kerstmarkt and the Christmas Tour of Homes in Pella and the Lighted Christmas Parade in Oskaloosa on December 7.
Visit Pella anytime of the year to enjoy Dutch history and culture, Tulip Time, STEM activities for the kids and diverse culinary experiences. As another visitor of Pella said: “Come for the tulips, stay for the culture, and leave with memories that last a lifetime.”
Holiday Events in Pella, Iowa
The Kerstmarkt takes place in the Molengracht Plaza (based off a traditional Dutch canal). There are booths with craft vendors, traditional Dutch foods like stroopwafels, and drinking chocolate and mulled wine to enjoy. The three-day event also has craft workshops, musical performances (including clog dancing!), and visits from Sinterklaas himself. At night, the whole area is lit up by Christmas lights and feels even more festive.
This year’s tour of homes had four stops. We only had time to visit two of them, the Tuttle Cabin and Sunken Garden Park behind it and the house at 201 Utrect Laan. The path from Tuttle Cabin is lit and leads down to the Sunken Garden Park. We were able to go inside the festively decorated windmill. The home on Utrect Laan had a different theme in each room and was meticulously decorated for the holidays. We were definitely feeling the holiday spirit after our tour.
While shopping in downtown Pella, we happened upon the Festival of Trees and went inside to warm up. There were themed trees, wreaths, and garlands on display and being auctioned to support local charities. Highly recommend stopping in to enjoy the decor.
Parade to Welcome Sinterklaas
This is a short and sweet parade. People dress in traditional Dutch outfits and Sinterklaas arrives on a boat with his white horse. Read more about the story of Sinterklaas here. We loved this parade at the heart of Pella by the Tulip Toren.
Where to Eat in Pella
Dutchfix – 621 Franklin Street
We specifically went to Dutchfix to try their poffertjes which are like tiny pancakes with special toppings on them. We got one of their holiday specials with nutella and strawberries. They were DIVINE. They have many different varieties to choose from as well as a whole menu of other Dutch specialties.
Liberty Street Kitchen – 705 E 1st Street
This restaurant is in the center of the Kerstmarkt and they take reservations so you can be sure to get a table. We enjoyed Shirley Temples, their popular wedge salad, and I had chicken parmigiana and my daughter had her favorite – a cheeseburger. The kids menu is $8 for an entree, side, and a drink, a great value!
Vander Ploeg Bakery – 711 Franklin Street
There are so many pastries to choose from at this bakery! My favorite was the classic S shaped Dutch letter. The fried apple pie was a close second. Other classic Dutch pastries are hankies, puff pillows, creme horns, bankets, and strudel sticks. I am currently regretting that I didn’t ask for one of everything in the case.
Windmill Cafe – 709 Franklin Street
We popped in for a quick breakfast before the Sinterklaas parade. We made sure to order their famous French toast. They serve breakfast all day and were voted best breakfast in town.
Shopping in Downtown Pella
There are so many adorable shops and I wish we’d had time to visit all of them! Here are three of our favorites:
Pella Paperie – 836 Main Street
You’ll find planners, stationary, pens, stickers, puzzles, and cards galore here. There’s also a great selection of gifts for children.
The Curiosity Shop – 622 Franklin Street
This bookstore has a little bit of everything. There’s home decor, games, puzzles, bird feeders, Christmas ornaments, and more. Make sure you go down to the basement where there’s a cozy couch and a spot to play checkers.
Wild Bramble – 707 Franklin Street
The brightly colored window display beckoned us to this shop. They had a wall of candy, party supplies, ornaments, jewelry, and so many gifts and stocking stuffers to choose from. My daughter picked out cute necklaces for herself and her sister.
Holiday Events in Oskaloosa, Iowa
Not only can you see the buildings in the square “painted with lights”, but there is a dancing lights show every evening where the lights are synchronized to music. We spent some time in the gazebo in the center of the square where we could enjoy the 360 degree view of the lights. The parade starts at 7 p.m. and ran a little over an hour. We were glad we had hand warmers but wished we’d brought warmer boots and a blanket, too. The vehicles and floats and marching bands were all lit up with Christmas lights, and it was a really unique and festive parade.
Where to Eat in Oskaloosa
Breadeaux Pizza – 215 A Ave E
You can get French crust pizza or opt for traditional crust. Their cheese sticks and breadsticks are also amazing.
Jaarsma Bakery – 201 A Ave E
This is another Dutch bakery (also has a location in Pella) where you can get Dutch letters and other delicious pastries.
Smokey Row Coffee – 109 S. Market Street
This is more than just a coffee shop. We had dinner here while waiting for the parade to begin. They have an extensive food menu as well as a kid’s menu. They also have a long list of drinks and plenty of seating.
Shopping in Downtown Oskaloosa
Book Vault – 105 S. Market Street
This is such a fun bookstore. There are several old vaults throughout to explore, home decor and gift items for sale, and an upstairs children’s section. We wandered around for a long time and the employees were really friendly and helpful.
LuRoo & Co Boutique – 115 S. Market Street
This boutique has lots of cute clothing and accessories as well as holiday gift items. I snagged a cute winter hat.
Penn Central Mall – 200 High Ave. W
We happened upon a craft fair on the day we visited with lots of booths to visit with local makers. There was also a spot to visit and take a photo with Santa! There are many stores inside this mall and it’s adjacent to the downtown square. Rosso & Wine is a new store in the mall with wine and Italian goods available.