If you couldn’t tell from its creative and lively atmosphere, Grand Rapids is a college town. Over a dozen colleges and universities call the city their home, bringing with them a multitude of young students, like me! I'm a proud Laker, and frequenting Grand Valley State University's downtown campus has made me fall in love with the city even more. 

Since moving here four years ago, I’ve learned that when you’re a transplant to a city, you very quickly figure out your favorite things to do and places to see. I’ve been in Grand Rapids long enough that I am always eager to share my newfound love of it with those who matter the most. Don’t worry about your capacity to host your guests, either. Grand Rapids offers a variety of hotels and places to stay

If you’re still new to the city, the task of planning a weekend for your friends and family to visit may seem daunting. For that, I’ll let you in on a little tip. I suggest that you follow a simple rule of eat, play, repeat (and don’t be afraid to try something new!). I have found that you should always capitalize on the food and drink scene when hosting visitors, and then layer in activities your guests will find entertaining. Here are some of my can't miss choices:

ArtPrize 2023 - Raining Wisdom by Abdoulaye Conde (elephant mural). Photography by Nick Irwin.

Although ArtPrize occurs during the summer months, some of the art remains up all year long, like the winner of the 2023 festival featured above.

Photo by Nick Irwin for Experience GR. Artist: Raining Wisdom by Abdoulaye Conde

Festivals & Events

For times when your friends and family are not planning on visiting for a specific reason, like move-in day, homecoming, or graduation, popular festivals and special events in Grand Rapids are very enticing to guests, all year long. I usually use them as a carrot, so to speak, to get my friends and family to make the trip! Plus, these events can easily fill up a majority of your weekend agenda. The city's biggest happenings include: 


Long before I even lived in Grand Rapids, I was a frequent attendee of the renowned ArtPrize festival. Nothing is better than late summer in Grand Rapids, except perhaps viewing magnificent art in Grand Rapids in late summer!

Restaurant Week

If anything, I’m a foodie at heart. Restaurant Week might be the most exciting event to me that Grand Rapids hosts. The limited-time deals and menu offerings are the highlight of this 10-day November event. Of course, whenever I try new foods, I drag along my friends and family to also play food critic.

Christkindl Markt

Based on a traditional European Christmas market, the Christkindl Markt is a novelty for many, including my own friends and family. Get in the spirit, warm up with delicious snacks and treats, and browse the unique vendor stalls.  

World of Winter

After the holidays, winter has only just begun, and can make life seem a little dreary. In Grand Rapids, however, this means that World of Winter will soon make its debut. The interactive art installations are the perfect distraction from the intense cold and darkness that the winter months bring.


Wealthy Street Bakery

If there are no events to keep your group busy, there are plenty of other places around town to show off. A favorite pastime of my sister and I has to be grabbing a pastry or coffee, or even lunch, from Wealthy Street Bakery. We always seem to find ourselves there! No complaints from me, though. Their rotating selection of coffees and lattes, alongside their sandwich and pizza menus, always hits the spot. Plus, the bakery is in a prime location- perfect for shopping or strolling about the trendy Uptown neighborhood.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park is the perfect spot to explore the great outdoors in both the summer and winter.

Photo by Nick Irwin for Experience GR

Millennium Park

A recently discovered favorite of mine, Millennium Park is one of Grand Rapids’ best hidden gems. Everyone knows about the gorgeous beaches on Lake Michigan, but those are nearly an hour away from downtown and are best enjoyed when a full day is dedicated to them. Millennium Park, however, is only 10 minutes away from downtown, and equally as enjoyable. It’s a great place to spend some time outside, and in the summer, get some sun and cool off in the water.

Downtown Market

The Grand Rapids Downtown Market is the easiest lunch or dinner option when out and about with a large group of people. When they say there’s something for everyone, they mean it! You might find yourself circling the food hall trying to decide what restaurant best sparks your interest. From Mexican and Mediterranean to American, Thai, and more, you’re guaranteed a delicious meal from any of the vendors.

Antique Shopping

On the other side of the highway from the Downtown Market, sits a very large warehouse, which has been repurposed into three antique stores. These stores are massive and packed full of treasures both big and small. It’s very easy to lose track of time while shopping at Warehouse One, Century Antiques, or Lost & Found, but it’s a fantastic activity for your shopping-loving friends.

Festival of the Arts in Downtown Grand Rapids

Head downtown and check out the seasonal activities at Rosa Parks Circle, like ice skating in the winter or concerts in the summer.

Photo by Nick Irwin for Experience GR

Explore Downtown

If none of these suggestions sound like something you would enjoy, you can’t go wrong with just heading downtown and exploring. Sometimes the best plans are spontaneous! You might even find some hidden gems. When I’m downtown, my favorite places to stop by are Rosa Parks Circle and the Grand Rapids Art Museum, both of which host great activities in the summer and winter. When I’m hungry, you can find me at Beacon Corner Bar or Two Beards Deli.

Attend a Sports Game

I wouldn’t particularly classify myself as a sports lover, but nothing compares to the excitement of a game, especially when attending with friends and family. If the game doesn’t go so well, at least I know I will be in great company. Plus, I’m a sucker for concessions! Grand Rapids is home to multiple teams, including baseball, basketball, hockey, and volleyball. Make it a whole outing by grabbing dinner beforehand.

The List Goes On

There’s plenty to do in the greater Grand Rapids area, so don’t sweat it if you still haven't firmed up your weekend plans. In fact, you might even find yourself planning multiple weekends so you and your friends and family can get the proper Grand Rapids experience! For the next time you’re hosting visitors in town, check out some more of my favorites, including a tour of one of the city’s many breweries, lunch at The Knickerbocker, a visit to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, breakfast at Wolfgang’s Restaurant, and more!