Things to Do in Minneapolis and Saint Paul

what to do Minneapolis St. Paul biking
Biking along the East River Road of the Mississippi offers views of downtown Minneapolis.

This post, originally published in 2018, was updated in January 2020.

If you are looking for things to do in Minneapolis and St. Paul, you’re undoubtedly taking into account the time of year. What to do in the Twin Cities in the summer might differ quite a bit from what to in winter! Let’s just point out that the average July high temperature is 82 F, and the average high in January is 22 F. Yes, that means below zero temperatures are not uncommon.

However, as locals know and visitors discover, most attractions in Minneapolis/St. Paul are viable all year. The Twin Towns top lists of foodie cities, music cities, theater towns, museums and visual arts centers, kid-friendly attractions, professional sports support, and free outdoor fun. Just look for your interests, and you’ll find fun for all seasons.

But just for good measure, we’ve added a special post to help you find things to do in Minneapolis in winter.

What to See and Do in Minneapolis

Visitors may be drawn to the Twin Cities initially for a specific conference or event. But it's well worth extending travels to take in some of the towns’ top attractions: fine dining, museums, arts and theater, shopping, free and family entertainment options, outdoor activities around the chain of lakes. Here are some highlights, according to Travel Past 50. We're partial to the Twin Cities, having lived and worked here for decades.

Minneapolis St. Paul
Peering out from the Guthrie Theater facade facing the mill district on the Mississippi River, downtown Minneapolis.

Live Theater and Performing Arts

The Twin Cities are known for their abundant theater and high quality arts and culture audiences. Minneapolis and St. Paul are  cited as having the second most theater seats per capita in the country, after New York. That’s not exactly true, but if you go out to see a show, you'll get a good feel for the town. In addition to the Guthrie Theater (now with three stages), we love to see whatever is playing at The Jungle in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood. Or hop over to Mixed Blood Theatre on the West Bank, always innovative despite its old fire station digs.

Broadway shows regularly find their way to Minneapolis, showing at one the three venues of Hennepin Theatre Trust. (Jujamcyn, the giant theater production company, was founded in Minneapolis. And it helps that Twin Cities-based corporations like 3M, Honeywell, Target, Cargill, General Mills, Best Buy, Medtronic, etc., have historically been solid supporters of the arts.) Hennepin Theater Trust’s State, Pantages and Orpheum Theatres host concerts, comedy and lectures.

Also in downtown Minneapolis, the Minnesota Orchestra performs in its newly renovated Orchestra Hall, and presents other performers, too. For dance performances, the Twin Cities features The Cowles Center space, built specifically for dance, the Northrop dance series on the University of Minnesota campus, and O’Shaughnessy Auditorium at St. Catherine University. (The Twin Cities arts scene is boosted by the many good colleges and universities in its midst.) If that’s not enough, head to Walker Art Center’s multi-purpose stage for dance or theatrical performances.

In St. Paul, the Ordway Theater presents the Minnesota Opera season along with an array of other performances, and Actor’s Theater remains one of the top professional theaters in the city.

Minneapolis St. Paul
Holy cantilever! The Minneapolis Public Library designed by Cesar Pelli.

A Twin Cities Music Tour

While the Twin Cities have earned their share of Grammy Awards for work recorded here (from producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis to the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra) let's honor musicians by getting out to hear live music! (We won't bore you with a list of Minnesota bred stars. Did I mention Bob Dylan, Hüsker Du, The Replacements, Dessa, or Prince?)

These businesses are Twin Cities institutions and deserve attention for both historic perspective and a healthy dose of what’s current.

Paisley Park in suburban Chanhassen was the recording studio, sound stage, and home to Prince. After his death in 2016, it was opened for tours, guided only. New galleries offer a fascinating  and personal look at the musical genius from Minneapolis.

The Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis. World famous for jazz and any other imaginative live music, any night is sure to be good, except when they are closed for private events.

In St. Paul, cozy up with cocktails for tasty tunes at Vieux Carre. It’s under the same management as The Dakota.

Also, of course, there’s First Avenue, made famous by Prince’s Purple Rain movie, but bursting with history from all genres. 7th Street Entry is its sister stage, around the corner and down below.

Other top music venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul include The Armory, the Turf Club, The Palace Theater, the Fitzgerald Theater, and Cedar Cultural Center. In the summer, there are frequent free concerts at the Lake Harriet Bandshell.

Don’t miss The Electric Fetus, 2000 4th Ave S, Minneapolis. The music store is a throwback to the days when the three largest record distributors in the world were right here, and every record store was a head shop. It’s not a coincidence that Prince stopped into The Fetus and the Dakota–two Twin Cities music institutions–the week he died.

Downtown Minneapolis: a traveler in my hometown
From the observation deck of the historic Foshay Tower in our home town.

Walking Tour: Art and Architecture Minneapolis

Holy cantilevers! An art and architecture renaissance in Minneapolis in the early 2000s inspires visitors to walk about and gawk. Our free walking tour starts at the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Allow plenty of time, then linger on the sweeping pedestrian bridge connecting the garden to Loring Park, the western gateway to downtown Minneapolis. Loring Park is especially great in the summer, hosting the Twin Cities Pride festivities and an annual Loring Park Art Festival.

All roads through downtown lead to the Mississippi River. Pass landmarks Peavey Plaza at Orchestra Hall, or Target Field (Twins baseball), or Target Center (Timberwolves), or the US Bank Stadium (grrrr, Vikings). Eventually you'll find more cantilevers drifting over the river. Notable overhangs: The Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, and The Guthrie Theater, 818 S 2nd St. (both downtown), and the Weisman Art Museum (Frank Gehry, architect), 333 E River Pkwy, Minneapolis, on the University of Minnesota campus.

At the river, you'll see the historic Stone Arch Bridge (now a pedestrian crossing), some old locks, the original milling district, and further upriver, the Hennepin Avenue bridge. Down river is the new 35W bridge, built after the alarming collapse of the previous bridge on that site. We who live near the river tend to “walk the bridges,” creating circle routes of varying distances.

The St. Anthony Main district on the east side of the river (opposite downtown Minneapolis) is a good place to stop for refreshments and a view of the city, with people jogging along the river parkway in the foreground.

Attractions Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden beside Walker Art Center was renovated in 2017 and is better than ever.

Here’s our list of recommended stops in the downtown Minneapolis area for small bites of history and culture:

Mill City Museum A great little history museum that tells the story of the flour mills and Minneapolis’ place in the country’s immense agriculture and food industries.

Guthrie Theater The Guthrie, founded in 1963, moved to the riverfront in 2006. Whether you go to a play or not (chances are good something will be running on one of the three stages) plan to visit the building. The Yellow Box and the Bridge to Nowhere are thrilling features, and the lobby environs may just draw you into a longer stay. Architectural and backstage tours are available.

USBank Stadium It’s big and ugly from the outside, but I was duly impressed with the interior spaces, the light, and the creature comforts of Minneapolis’ newest stadium. You can take a tour, or you can consider visiting during other public events, like high school football tournaments, home shows, or Monster Jams. USBank Stadium hosted Super Bowl LII in 2018 and the X Games for the past couple years.

Foshay Tower The classic 1929 ‘skyscraper’ was the tallest building in Minneapolis until 1972. It’s still the classiest. Do enter the lobby to see the elevator doors, or check in with the W Hotel for more access to the observation deck and a sweet little museum about the fate of Mr. Wilbur Foshay. Plan to refresh yourself at Prohibition Bar on the 27th floor.

Orchestra Hall and Peavey Plaza Minnesota Orchestra's home was built in 1974 and renovated in 2013. The outdoor event space adjacent to Orchestra Hall, Peavey Plaza, is being updated again, too. We’ll see how it ties into the new Nicollet Mall scheme.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden Originally created in 1988, the renovated garden reopened earlier this year. You could call it a hidden secret of Minneapolis if it weren’t right out in the open. To walk amongst the creations and spaces is to discover something personal and public at the same time. We like the combination of surreal and abstract sculptures with traditional anthropomorphic works. Think of the Sculpture Garden as a giant welcome mat for Walker Art Center, which is now capping off its latest renovations, not to be confused with the 2005 addition of a new building.

A bit off this track, but not by far is The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Of the two big art museums, MIA gets my attention more these days than the Walker because they’ve upped their game in photography, contemporary art and design, and still rule the roost in special exhibits, Asian art, and the Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School rooms.

downtown saint paul reflection
Reflections of downtown Saint Paul. An artful combo of the old and the new.

Exploring Downtown St. Paul

Many St. Paul spots are included throughout this post. But if you are centered there, be sure to get out to see these highlights. (Note: Light rail from the airport or Mall of America goes first to Minneapolis and then requires a change to get to St. Paul. Doh.)

To capture St. Paul's pulse, visit either Rice Park or Mears Park. Rice Park is located in the heart of downtown Saint Paul and is home to many festivals and events throughout the year, including the iconic St. Paul Winter Carnival. The park features a beautiful fountain and is surrounded by the Saint Paul Hotel, Landmark Center, The Ordway and the Downtown Central Library. Mears Park, home of the the annual Twin Cities Jazz Festival, anchors the artsy Lowertown district, filled with good bars and restaurants.

We urge visitors to wander through the historic Union Depot and, in season, enjoy a St. Paul Saints baseball game at CHS Field, also home to some cool Winter Carnival events.

St. Paul's big draws are Xcel Center (Minnesota Wild hockey), the Ordway Theater (opera, etc.), and The Fitzgerald Theater which isn’t too far from Minnesota Public Radio headquarters. In years past, Garrison Keillor and a bunch of other public radio personalities were here, even if there is precious little graffiti saying so.

Downtown St. Paul has the corner on specialty museums. If history is your thing, there's the Minnesota History Center. We never tire of the Minnesota Children's Museum, and everybody likes to mix it up at the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Omnitheater there.

Uphill from downtown St. Paul is the Saint Paul Cathedral and the Minnesota State Capitol. The latter, a Cass Gilbert-designed classic, provides interesting free tours. We recommend lingering in the Cathedral Hill district (around Selby and Dale), the old stomping grounds of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Visit the Commodore Hotel bar, and an all-around historic and pleasant place to pass some time.

things to do in Minneapolis
The birthplace of Minneapolis on the Mississippi River at St. Anthony Falls is also the best place to take a walk.

Twin Cities Bookstores and Neighborhoods

The Twin Cities have always been known as a major literary market. It's inspiring here for readers and writers thanks to The Loft Literary Center and the Playwrights' Center. Minneapolis is home to award-winning publishers Graywolf Press and Coffee House Press, among others. So it's no surprise that indie bookstores are still active and admired–and are key to exploring some of the Cities' best neighborhoods.

In my old Kenwood neighborhood, just a couple blocks from Lake of the Isles, is famed Minnesota author Louise Erdrich’s bookstore, Birchbark Books at 2115 W 21st St, Minneapolis. It’s cozy and intriguing and doubles as a nice gift shop specializing in Native American artists, gardening, and sustainable Indigenous harvesting. While you're here, pick up a signed edition of Louise's newest book, Future Home of the Living God. Or go for one of my favorites, The Roundhouse.

Nearby is the popular Uptown neighborhood centered on Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue. It's full of restaurants and bars, a couple movie theaters, apartments,  and a changing landscape of shops. One of the mainstays is Magers and Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Ave, for used and new books and frequent author appearances.

In Northeast Minneapolis, for true-blue indie spirit, go to Eat My Words bookstore, 214 13th Avenue NE.  The Northeast neighborhood, still young and chill, grows bigger and busier by the month. Find various hubs near Eat My Words along 13th Avenue; around East Hennepin and First Avenue Northeast just across the river from downtown Minneapolis; and also in and amongst art buildings like Northrup King, where studios and galleries open up to the public Saturdays and every first Thursday of the month.

In Saint Paul, Midway Books, 1579 University Ave W., anchors the busy intersection of Snelling and University Avenues and right on the Green Light Rail Line. It houses a great selection of literature, philosophy, photography, and art books, good for hours of browsing and sure-fire finds to take home. This Midway neighborhood is evolving with the introduction of the new Allianz Field, home to Minnesota's United Soccer Club.

We’re partial to the well-staffed Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul (formerly owned by noted raconteur Garrison Keillor). Macalester College, just across Snelling Avenue, lends vitality to this neighborhood.

For children's books, we love Red Balloon Bookshop on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue (another nice shopping district), or the marvelous Wild Rumpus in the lovely Linden Hills neighborhood of Minneapolis.

minneapolis morning stone arch 4
Early morning view of downtown Minneapolis from the Stone Art Bridge over the Mississippi River.

Touring Minneapolis by Bicycle

On wheels or on foot, circling Minneapolis’ lakes is a ritual–maybe daily, weekly or just seasonally–but still a ritual. Holiday weekends are ideal for biking, because lots of people have left town to drive “up north” to “the lake,”–classic Minnesota jargon for getting the hell out of town. Either circle the lakes or ride along Minnehaha Creek to Minnehaha Falls Regional Park, part of the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

Or, quite scenic and less crowded, ride the Mississippi river roads from Minnehaha Falls north to the University of Minnesota campus and downtown. The East River Road will give you yummy views from high above the river. The West River Road takes you right down to water level. I'm also a fan of the Theodore Wirth Parkway trails, where it's hard to believe you're still in the city. These are all part of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway System, with more than 50 miles of bike trails. Bring some cash. Seasonal restaurants at Lake Calhoun and Minnehaha Park attract long lines for beer and fish tacos. Dogs are welcome.

Minneapolis restaurants Young Joni
Young Joni exemplifies the eclectic food and creative flair of the Twin Cities restaurant scene. Photo by The Restaurant Project.

Food and Restaurants in Minneapolis St. Paul

Don’t underestimate the culinary scene in the Twin Cities. It’s not all tater tots and Jucy Lucys. Beyond tasty walleye fish dinners and wild rice soup, there’s an extraordinarily creative and diverse restaurant community. Just one example is the eclectic fare at Young Joni, owned by James Beard award-winning chef Ann Kim. Dozens of other Twin Cities restaurants can stack up their awards and bragging rights: the loyalty of locals.

In summertime, the essence of local produce is displayed in all its glory at various Twin Cities farmer markets.  In winter, browse through the enclosed Keg and Case marketplace in the former Schmidt Brewery in St. Paul.

Downtown Minneapolis
A classic Manhattan cocktail at Prohibition Bar, located on the upper floors of the Foshay Tower, built in the 1920s.

Featured Minneapolis St. Paul Restaurants

We’ll single out just a few places we frequent, updated periodically. For more recommendations from classic to trending restaurants in Minneapolis St. Paul, see Meet Minneapolis or Visit St. Paul websites for mouthwatering ideas.

Pig Ate My Pizza In northwest suburb Robbinsdale, PAMP serves up great food, their own brews,  a porch, the coolest servers around, and a deliciously unusual Sunday Funday brunch buffet.
Morrissey’s 913 W Lake St, Minneapolis, is our Irish pub du jour. It's near everyone’s home in bustling Uptown. (Morrissey’s is also just across the street from local landmark Bryant Lake Bowl, where you can also grab a bite, see some experimental theater, and yes, bowl a few lines.) Try the signature Belfast Burger.

Getting Around Minneapolis St. Paul

A word of caution to visitors. Even with the light rail system which runs between the downtowns of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and from Downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America and the airport, public transport in MSP is sub-optimal. To see the town, get on a bike or get your hands on a car. Uber or Lyft work pretty well, cabs not so much. Bus coverage is thorough, but erratic. The essence of the Twin Cities is in the parks and boulevards, the neighborhood corners, and in the tending to gardens and sidewalks. In other words, you'll want to go where light rail transit isn't. Sorry.

If you're visiting Minneapolis St. Paul in the wintertime, check out our ideas for fun ways to enjoy winter, both indoors and in the great outdoors. Fun Things to Do in Minneapolis St. Paul Winter.

stone-arch-bridge-night what to do in minneapolis
The Stone Arch Bridge at night, as seen from the Guthrie Theater.

Bonus: A Definition of the Famed “Minnesota Nice”

In 2008, we published the Secrets of the City Guide to Minneapolis-St. Paul. It was handy and opinionated. Most fun to read were the introductions by some favorite local writers: Neal Karlen, Brad Zellar, and, representing St. Paul, the late Nick Coleman. Here’s an excerpt, for example, from Neal Karlen’s essay, “The Interesting Culture of Minnesota Nice.”

The nice woman at the Sons of Norway…explained the ethos behind Minnesota Nice using the word janteloven: the overwhelming credo here of don’t-get-too-big-for-your-britches or be the blade of grass that dares stick out atop the lawn and thus be mowed down.
“…The B-side of Minnesota Nice is a hellish underworld where pitchforks are thrust into victims from behind with a wink, handshake, and goodbye smile in exchange for ruining your life.
“…Unfortunately, in Minnesota, it is infinitely harder to tell when another is lying, because virtually no one looks anybody in the eyes, even during sex.”

The guidebook is long out of print. But we're still inclined to brag about our towns to visitors, and offer our idiosyncratic and arts-centric take on what to do in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Have fun discovering the nooks and crannies.

Our dear friends at Travel Writers Radio could barely shut me up as I introduced Minneapolis to an audience in Melbourne, Australia, and beyond. Listen to the interview below.

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20 thoughts on “Things to Do in Minneapolis and Saint Paul”

  1. Spend the day ice skating. Visit the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. Explore Minnesota’s parks on snowshoe. Visit an art museum. Indoor or ice climbing. Build a bonfire and roast s’mores. Go ice fishing. Treat yourself to some maple taffy.

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  2. I love the Twin Cities but haven’t been there in winter. This makes me feel like I’m missing so much. We don’t get much winter here in So. Cal! (and that from a gal who lived in SE Alaska!)

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  3. Oh my good, Gus is so cute. I like bowling and l wasn’t very good at ice skating. I used to do it as a teen growing up in Boston when the Charles River would freeze up. It sounds like there’s plenty to do to keep busy :-).

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    • I haven’t bowled for decades, but the idea popped up when I was asking around for suggestions for the story. Now I better give it a try! Skating on the Charles River sounds so picturesque…back then when it froze!

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  4. My husband would love a place like Minneapolis in winter where you can skate on natural ice outside. It just doesn’t happen here in the Netherlands much anymore. I, on the other hand, do not deal well with cold. I’d let him skate to his heart’s content while I visit the museums you’ve listed!

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  5. It’s warm enough for us Canadians! I would like to go for a skate, then tea and the bookstore and finish out the day with some wine by the fireplace at W.A. Frost. Great list!

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  6. Great list for your home town. I live in southeast PA where it is somewhat warmer-or at least not as much snow, but still feel like I become a hermit during winter. I should develop a similar list for our area and then actually use it to get out.

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  7. I’m not a fan of cold weather, which is why after spending most of my life in New England I finally moved to South Carolina. However, one thing that I miss is ice skating and the Lake of the Isles looks like the perfect place! FYI, you forgot to mention the upcoming Super Bowl in Minneapolis — GO PATRIOTS! (What can I say? You can take the girl out of New England, but you can’t take New England out of the girl!) ;)

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    • Well, I can commiserate, since the Vikings didn’t even get to the Super Bowl. Most people around here took that to mean we could enjoy hosting and viewing without the pain of…yes, losing the big one again.

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    • Yes, it’s still a good book town, even though our most recent update had to allow for the closing of Micawber’s Bookstore. I should note, too, that Minneapolis and St. Paul (and Hennepin and Ramsey counties) have great library systems.

      Reply

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