Winter visitors to the Twin Cities are warned about Minnesota’s famous cold temperatures and severe wind chills, and never handed a list of things to do in Minneapolis in winter. Visitors are usually here for business reasons–a major sporting event, a convention, a recording session–not because they’re wanting to trudge through snow or slip on ice. Respectfully, we locals steer them toward enclosed shopping malls or usher them through our maze of skyways. But that’s no way for out-of-towners to get to know the people or the attitude of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Truth be told, Twin Citians wish for maximum cold and snow during major events to show off this hearty metro area. Locals want visitors to experience the outdoors and find fun things to do…other than heavy drinking or hiding under a blanket until spring. Residents, resourceful and determined, know it’s necessary to engage our minds, bodies and, yes, even social skills in order to fight off cabin fever craziness.
Here are some insider tips for things to do in Minneapolis and St. Paul in winter, to embrace the cold and snow like a local and uncover the inscrutable side of the Twin Cities psyche.
1. Visit Mill City Museum
Start at the Mill City Museum to understand how and why Minneapolis was established here on the upper reaches of the Mississippi River. In the ruins of one of the old mill buildings, exhibits highlight the transportation of grain to the area, the processing and packaging of flour, and the use of the river’s St. Anthony Falls to power the plant. This milling district spawned General Mills and Betty Crocker and jump-started the vibrant Minneapolis advertising industry. Mill City Museum, which appeals to history buffs, kids, and bakers, offers worthwhile views of the river and the old Stone Arch Bridge.
2. Ice skate on Lake of the Isles
Bundle up and you’ll understand how important fresh air is to the locals, no matter the month. In Minnesota, “the land of 10,000 lakes,” Minneapolis is defined by its own chain of lakes. Wisely, early city organizers declared all lakeshore be publicly held, so the lakes are ringed with paths and parkland. Enjoy a circuit around Lake of the Isles (closest to downtown), Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun) with its Uptown energy, or Lake Harriet in a sedate south Minneapolis neighborhood. Each is about 3 miles around.
Lake of the Isles features a skating rink and warming house. All Minneapolis parks with rinks offer free loaner skates on a first-come, first-served basis. Theodore Wirth Park provides even more winter equipment rentals and groomed trails.
3. Go Green: Indoor Parks
Sometimes the best medicine in winter is the sight of greenery and the scent of flowers. The Como Park Conservatory is a popular spot to revitalize the winter weary with a variety of indoor gardens, rare floral species, and free concerts.
4. Browse Birchbark Books
Minneapolis and St. Paul take pride in their independent bookstores and publishers, and local authors merit their own celebrity status. Act like a local and check out a bookstore and its neighborhood retail district. Where there are books, there is coffee nearby, along with creative local shops. Start with Birchbark Books in the historic Kenwood neighborhood, owned by award-winning author Louise Erdrich. Staff recommendations are great, and the shop also sells some cool Native American gifts.
5. Shop Ingebretsen’s
This Scandinavian shop has served locals and visitors with an eclectic inventory since 1921. Part butcher shop, part gift and clothing store, this Lake Street store is a bit of a museum unto itself. Pick up gift items like lingonberry jam, cookie cutters, or home décor. Or find supplies for the sort of projects that keeps Minnesotan’s occupied during the long winters: wood carving, needlework, or baking.
6. Bend and Flex: Yoga or Bowling
To avoid cabin fever–that cooped-up feeling that comes with winter confinement–Twin Citians do their darndest to move, stretch, socialize, and avoid going insane. Yoga? Try the candlelight flow at Nordeast Yoga in the popular Northeast Arts District, where you’ll be rewarded with some nice restaurant options later (Erte, Young Joni, The Anchor Fish and Chips). Or get out and bowl while you enjoy a beer. Bryant Lake Bowl in the LynLake neighborhood is popular for its food and live entertainment. Memory Lanes in south Minneapolis is a classic.
7. Do a Target Run
What could be more local than losing track of time inside a Target Store? The corporate headquarters–and one of the first urban prototype stores–are in downtown Minneapolis on Nicollet Mall. Target employs some 26,000 folks in Minnesota, and finds high brand loyalty among those who remember the retailer’s local roots in Dayton’s Department Store. Find your gloves and scarves here, not to mention snacks, shampoo, and batteries. Stock up in case of a blizzard.
8. Wander into the Guthrie Theater
The Guthrie Theater, one of the first regional resident/repertoire theaters in the country, can also be credited with inspiring the abundance of professional theaters across the Twin Cities. Even if you aren’t going to catch a play while you’re in town, the Guthrie allows you to experience its spectacular architecture, including the cantilevered “bridge to nowhere” and the yellow box, both of which provide dramatic views of the Minneapolis riverfront. (Check out what’s showing at a couple of our favorites: The Jungle Theater and Mixed Blood Theatre.) Inside the Guthrie, Sea Change restaurant and oyster bar is a popular place to escape our Midwest cuisine and winters.
9. Thaw out in a museum
Get away from it all–the winter, the football, the daily news–by browsing through one of the world class museums in Minneapolis St. Paul. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Walker Art Center, The Museum of Russian Art, and Weisman Art Museum are among our favorites. For something more quirky (and another slice of Twin Cities history), visit Bakken Museum, named for Medtronic founder and Minnesota native Earl Bakken. The Bakken focuses on medical instruments and discovery, including electricity and magnetism.
10. Pull up a chair
There’s nothing better than beating the cold with a happy hour or meal with friends. Possibilities abound, of course, but for pure welcoming atmosphere on a winter’s day, try W.A. Frost. The historic building on St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s one-time stomping grounds, features exposed brick, fireplaces, and a cozy wine cellar, all good backdrops to tasty food and cocktails. Their sister property is the famous Commodore Bar, also associated with F. Scott and beautifully restored to its prohibition era glory.