Once known as “The Flour Milling Capital of the World”, the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the second largest economic center in the midwest United States behind only Chicago. The larger of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Paul, Minneapolis sprawls across both sides of the Mississippi River, the longest river in the United States and fourth longest river in the world. The city’s twin, St. Paul, is the Minnesota state capital.
In addition to being a global city with the fifth highest concentration of Fortune 500 companies in the world, the city also has twenty lakes, many creeks and waterfalls, and a plethora of nature parks. Whether you are visiting for the shopping in one of the largest malls in the world, the world-class sporting events, or the nature and outdoor activities you will quickly fall in love with the diverse-culture of Minneapolis.
When To Go:
While Minneapolis is truly wonderful throughout the year, you should consider the reason for your visit before choosing a season to travel. From June to September the outdoor activities are in full-swing, no pun intended for the many golfers seeking the city’s prime courses. Fishing is a year round sport in Minnesota, but the best lake fishing season runs July to October.
Winter (November-March) boasts many fine activities including Alpine and cross-country skiing, ice fishing, skating, and snow machining, yet these months are considered the off season. Sadly, because the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport is a major airport hub, and the influential business market runs through all seasons, you will likely not find a great reduction in fares or hotel accommodations even in the midst of winter.
What to do while in the great city of Minneapolis:
Mall of America
Just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, The Mall of America is the 2nd largest mall in North America second only to the Edmonton Mall in Canada, and is currently undergoing renovations and additions to double its floorspace. Though not the largest by physical space, its annual visitor numbers top 40 million people which is the most of any mall in the world.
The Mall of America can currently host 520 stores, 50 restaurants, and a plethora of attractions. It is divided into four distinct sections. The first section is home to Nickelodeon Universe the largest indoor theme park in the United States. Nickelodeon Universe has roller coasters, a log-water ride, many photo opportunities with characters like Sponge Bob and Dora, and an 18-hole miniature golf course. Also in area 1, Sea Life Minnesota is a vast aquatic tunnel featuring over 5,000 sea creatures including sharks and sting rays. There is even a place for hands-on interaction with aquatic life. This level also has LEGO, and the Hard Rock Cafe as well as several stores. The second zone features sit down restaurants and shopping. Zone 3 has two food courts, another mini golf course, an interactive CSI experience, and the largest authentic Star Trek display ever shown in public. Zone 4 is the entertainment level with a comedy club, Hooters, and several theaters.
While the many entrances to the Mall of America are heated, the mall often runs its air conditioning even in the midst of winter because of the heat generated by patrons and the efficiency of the massive skylights featured in the mall’s roof structure. The warm interior makes the shopping a truly year-round event and offers a great place to go on frigid winter days. It also means that you need to dress in layers when you visit in the winter so you don’t roast.
Getting to and from the mall is quite easy. Most of the local hotels offer free shuttle service to the mall and back, and the transit points for the bus and train near the mall are the busiest in the entire state. If you are driving, there are two multi-level parking lots that can accommodate over 12,000 vehicles.
The Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
First opening in 1927, and currently the fifth largest modern art museum in the United States, the Walker Art Center is one of the world’s top contemporary art museums. The Walker has garnered international acclaim for its use of audience engagement. Housing a solid collection of art from the entirety of the 20th and 21st centuries along with a full range of moving-image art, the center also features dances, poetry, and music concerts. Embracing the truly modern, the center has an entire online art collection. The center’s 17 acres include buildings and beautiful parks.
Learning about the art is almost as important as the art itself. The center hosts many programs for families, the community, the general public, and is open for many tours.
Sitting across the street from the art center is the
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
The 11 acre sculpture garden has been called the “crown jewel” of the park system. With 40 permanent displays any many more transient pieces from other galleries, the garden is one of the largest urban sculpture gardens in the nation. The highlight of the garden is the delightful Spoonbridge and Cherry fountain. The garden also included the Cowles Conservatory with seasonal horticulture displays including vast displays of varied orchids, ponds, walkways, and a 22 foot sculpture “Standing Glass Fish”. A bridge connects the garden to nearby Loring Park where you can enjoy a picnic lunch.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
This free museum can trace its history to 1889. The largest art museum in the city, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts has a permanent collection of over 100,000 pieces that span over 5,000 years of world history. In addition to works from Africa, the Americas, and Oceana, the museum boasts one of the largest and most complete Asian art collections in the country which can be viewed alongside such European masters as Cranach, Chardin, Manet, Koehler, Van Gogh, and Pissarro.
If you love art, this museum is an absolute must-see. Not only are the displays incredible, but you can’t beat the price!
The Weisman Art Museum
Located on the campus of the University of Minnesota, the Weisman Art Museum
is one of the more modern art museums having only opened in 1993. Overlooking the Mighty Mississippi, the iconic building is one of the most recognized structures on campus.
A double-faced piece of art boasting walls of brick on one side and wild, dramatic steel facades on the other, the museum truly stands out. Inside, its 20,000 images and pieces range from European modernists like Cezanne, Picasso, and Kandinsky to pieces of Korean furniture, hand-painted ceilings, and Warhol pop art.
The Museum of Russian Art
Set in a restored church, The Museum of Russian Art houses a collection of Russian and Soviet art that is mostly from the 19th and 20th centuries. It is a small, but fantastic museum that is more than worth a visit as it is the only museum in North America devoted to presenting and preserving Russian art. Along with their permanent displays, the museum has traveling displays from other top museums and collectors around the world.
A continuing lending relationship has been established with the State Museums in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.
In addition to the exquisite displays of Russian artistry, the museum hosts lectures, seminars, and social events that highlight Russian art.
Theater and Performing Arts
Minneapolis is the second largest live theatre venue in the United States behind only New York and the third largest theatre market behind only New York and Chicago. If you are a fan of theatre, then Minneapolis is the city for you. Check out troupes and companies such as Jungle, Mu Performing Arts, Brave New Workshops, Penumbra, Illusion, and Minnesota Dance Theatre among dozens of others.
The largest theater in the area is the Guthrie Theater with its three stages. The complex overlooks the Mississippi River and was founded as an alternative to Broadway. Other theaters in Minneapolis worth a visit are the Orpheum, State, and Pantages. The Shubert Theater joined with the Hennepin Center for the Arts and is now known as the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts. This center is the base for more than a dozen performing arts groups.
Minneapolis hosts the Minnesota Fringe Festival which is the United State’s largest non juried performing arts festival.
The Minnesota Orchestra has been described by the New Yorker Magazine as “the greatest orchestra in the world”. The Grammy nominated orchestra plays at Orchestra Hall.
Minneapolis is considered one of the most literate cities in the world. It is also a mega-center for printing and publishing. Open Book is the largest literary and book arts center in the United States. Exhibits and teaching are focused on traditional writing crafts as well as contemporary arts.
The center is comprised of Milkweed Editions, the Minnesota Center for Book Art, and the Loft Literacy Center. If you have tired of the traditional tourist stops, try a piece of true culture and “check out” the Minneapolis book scene.
St Patrick’s Day
If you are fortunate enough to be visiting over the St. Patrick’s Day holiday, you need to put on your finest greenery and head downtown for one of the longest running and most decorated St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in the nation.
Don’t worry about looking silly or standing out in the crowd, over 100,000 others will be parading down 5th street with you. When you’re done marching, be sure to stop by O’Gara’s or The Liffey for some Irish fare. Granted, you will only get in if you get there before noon.
Minneapolis is home to several professional sports teams and many top ranked collegiate teams. The Minnesota Vikings are the state’s American football team, the Minnesota Twins represent the state in Major League Baseball, the Wild is the state hockey team, the Timberwolves play NBA basketball, and the Minnesota United FC bring futball, or soccer, to the state. Minnesotans love their sports and take the subject of their teams very seriously.
A new, state-of-the-art $1.1 billion stadium is being constructed and is scheduled to open in July 2016. It has already been selected to host the Superbowl in 2018.
If you are a sports fan, regardless of the time of year, you will have at least one sport to watch if you are in the area and should definitely catch a live game.
Minneapolis has the best-financed, best-designed, and best-maintained park system in the United States. Architecture is adapted to geographical landmarks, parkways are linked with lakes, and parks are found in abundance. It is no wonder that the state of Minnesota has the highest number of bicyclists and cross-country skiers per capita in the nation.
The Chain of Lakes, seven lakes and Minnehaha Creek, are all connected by way of paths that can be used for biking, running, or walking. The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway hosts over 52 miles of bike and hiking trails. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area connects many regional parks.
The oldest public wildflower garden in the United States is the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary. The garden and sanctuary are located within the impressive Theodore Wirth Park which is 2/3 the size of New York’s Central Park. Minnehaha Falls in Minnehaha Park is 53 feet high and one of the most popular parks and attractions in the city.
The extensive and well-maintained system of tracks and trails led Runner’s World Magazine to declare the Twin Cities as one of the top cities in America for runners. The Twin Cities Marathon in October brings in over a quarter million spectators to see this prestigious Boston Marathon and USA Olympic trial qualifying race.
If you love to picnic, hike, bike, skate, ski…be in the outdoors, don’t let the big city image of Minneapolis fool you. You can find someplace to escape and enjoy the outdoors within a few minutes drive. You may come for business, but you’ll want to stay because of the pleasures.
It is not uncommon to see an airport carousel covered in golf bags when collecting your luggage in Minneapolis. Not only do the locals love to golf and take their clubs with them when they travel, but Minneapolis is a golfing destination for many traveling to the area. Couple that with the number of business travelers who try to schedule in a round of golf between meetings and it all starts to make sense.
Minneapolis has five golf courses within the city, and a short few moments drive outside the city limits, you will find nationally ranked courses like Hazeltine, National Golf Club, and Interlachen Country Club. Several of these courses hold national and international golfing events. Is it any wonder that Minneapolis is home to more golfers per capita that any other major city in the United States?
Stone Arch Bridge
The only bridge of its kind on the Mississippi, the Stone Arch Bridge is a grand piece of functional art made of granite and limestone. Stretching 2,100 feet across the river, the bridge is comprised of 23 arches.
Dating back to 1883, the structure was once a railroad bridge. Today, it is used by vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and those on Segway tours. The bridge offers the best view of St. Anthony Falls. Each June, hundreds of musicians and artists gather round the bridge for the Stone Arch Bridge Festival.
St. Anthony Falls
What was once the only natural, major falls on the Mississippi River, the St. Anthony Falls are now a concrete spillway used as part of the lock and dam structures controlling the river’s water. A 1.8 mile self-guided trail runs along the river’s bank near the spillway. The trail, complete with signs and historical facts explaining the historic significance of the area, makes for a great afternoon hike.
The Mississippi River used to be known for the majestic paddle-wheel ships that ran up and down its muddy waters from its source near Minneapolis to its terminus in the Gulf of Mexico. Authors from Mark Twain to Edna Ferber told the tales of these amazing ships, the people that steered them, and those that journeyed upon them.
Take a delightful journey through history as you travel the Mississippi River on the spectacular Minneapolis Queen. The paddle-wheel replica offers private and public tours and leaves from the historic Minneapolis riverfront. This tour is not as stunning as the tours in St. Louis or New Orleans, but if you have never been on a paddle-wheel boat on the Mississippi River then it’s worth the experience.
Minnesota History Center
The Minnesota History Center is the headquarters of the Minnesota Historical Society. The building holds both a museum and library and sports an amazing view of the St. Paul Cathedral and the Minnesota State Capitol. It is a major part of the local education scene with over 75,000 students visiting each year. The center is home to more than 1 million artifacts and a state-of-the-art conservation laboratory. It hosts both permanent and changing exhibits.
The museum itself is geared more toward children than adults with interactive exhibits and hands-on displays, but adults who still have a little kid left in them will have a good time, too.
In the summer, the center sponsors free outdoor concerts and dances.