This blog post has been a long time coming! Not only is Minneapolis my hometown (born and raised in the 612), but it is also one of my absolute favorite cities in the world. This summer I’ve done my best to really get out and explore this amazing place that I get to call home—and being a tourist in your own city is a whole lot of fun!
The Twin Cities (or just “the Cities”) is the nickname for the two largest cities in the state of Minnesota: Minneapolis and St. Paul. While St. Paul is the state capital, Minneapolis is where it’s at (and the larger of the two cities). Diverse, artsy, active, and lively would be my best descriptions of Minneapolis now. The green spaces, the lakes, and the wide variety of things to do means that you definitely won’t get bored!
Having lived here for 24 years, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on Minneapolis. I’ve got a lifetime of knowledge! So where do I take people when they visit Minneapolis? What places are the top “must-sees” ? I’ve probably put more time, effort, and love into this blog post than any other post I’ve written on this site. Narrowing down everything to only 25 things is really hard! Especially since I made a special effort to only include things with a Minneapolis address. So without further ado, here are the top 25 things to do in Minneapolis:
1. See Minnehaha Falls
This 53-foot waterfall is located smack dab in the middle of a big city—it’s one of the last parts of Minnehaha Creek before it empties out into the Mississippi River. The waterfall was immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Song of Hiawatha,” even though he had never even seen it! Make sure to walk around down below the falls on the trails. If you visit during winter, you’ll be in for a real treat—the cold weather causes the falls to freeze over into a huge wall of ice!
2. See the Cherry and Spoon at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Unfortunately, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is currently under construction, meaning you can’t see the Cherry and Spoon really at all, and if you do catch a glimpse of it, it’s probably surrounded by piles of dirt. But the sculpture, one of the symbols of the city, will remain permanently at its location. The official title is Spoonbridge and Cherry, and you just can’t come to Minneapolis without seeing it.
3. Celebrate Minnesota’s great musicians
Have I mentioned that Minnesota is awesome?! Because it is. Two of our most beloved hometown boys are Bob Dylan and Prince, who are honored in little ways across the city. Check out the Bob Dylan mural in downtown (Hennepin Ave. and 5th Street), the Prince mural in the Uptown/Lowry Hill neighborhood (Hennepin Ave. and 26th Street), or the music venue First Avenue in downtown, which posthumously honored Prince by painting his star gold.
4. Visit the Basilica of Saint Mary
The Basilica of Saint Mary is an imposing piece of architecture in downtown, visible from the nearby highway. It was declared America’s first basilica in 1926—way to go Minneapolis! It’s arguably best known for hosting the Basilica Block Party, one of the biggest music festivals of the year. While you’re in the area, don’t miss Loring Park, a beautiful park with a big lake right in downtown!
5. See downtown Minneapolis’ architecture up close
There are a lot of really beautiful buildings in downtown Minneapolis, so I highly recommend hitting the streets and wandering around! Some of the most noticeable buildings are the Central Public Library, the IDS Center, the Wells Fargo Center, the Capella Tower, the Foshay Tower (more on that below!), and Minneapolis City Hall. While Nicollet Mall is currently under construction, don’t miss the statue of Mary Tyler Moore that is housed in the Tourist Information office right now.
6. Visit the Foshay Tower observation deck
The Foshay Tower was formerly the first skyscraper and tallest building in Minnesota until 1972, and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is one of my absolute favorite things to do in downtown Minneapolis, there are amazing views of from the observation deck! There’s a small museum about the building’s history on the top floor. It’s open 11:00am-5:00pm, closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and costs $8 for adults or $5 for students.
7. Walk the skyways
Minneapolis has the largest skyway system in the world—covering 69 full city blocks over 11 miles! The skyways mean that it’s possible to walk all over the city in climate-controlled comfort. So if you’re wandering around downtown in the elements, get inside and do it in comfort!
8. Drink Grain Belt
Okay, so technically Grain Belt Premium (named America’s Best Cheap Beer in 2013) is brewed by Schell’s, which is located about 2 hours away in New Ulm. But it really is symbolic of the city, and you can’t come to Minneapolis and not drink Grain Belt! Grain Belt Nordeast is my favorite beer—so cheap, so good. Enjoy.
9. Walk across the Stone Arch Bridge
The Stone Arch Bridge is one of those iconic Minneapolis symbols. It is the second oldest bridge over the Mississippi River, was completed in 1883, and functioned as a railroad bridge across the river. Today it’s pedestrian/bicycle only, but still remains the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi.
10. Explore St. Anthony Main
Located on the east side of the river by the Stone Arch Bridge, St. Anthony Main is one of my all time favorite neighborhoods in Minneapolis. You can catch a movie at the old St. Anthony Main movie theater, join the crowd for brunch at Aster Café, or wander around the area surrounding the Mississippi River and St. Anthony Falls. Make sure to check out Water Power Park, and go down the path for Lower Trail to get great shots of the Stone Arch Bridge from below.
11. Visit the Guthrie Theater and Gold Medal Park
Considering that the Twin Cities are second only to New York City in live theater per capita, it would be a shame not to see a show. The Guthrie is one of the best in the city, but you can visit even if you’re not attending a show! It’s completely free to head up to the Endless Bridge, which hangs out over the street. Gold Medal Park, located right next to the theater, is where you’ll find the I-35W Bridge Memorial, honoring the 13 victims of the bridge collapse (during rush hour traffic) that occurred on August 1st, 2007.
12. Eat a Jucy Lucy at Matt’s
If there’s one thing you need to eat in Minneapolis, it’s a Jucy Lucy from Matt’s Bar. While it looks like just a regular dive bar, the line (usually out the door) says otherwise—Matt’s is home to the original Jucy Lucy, a hamburger made with cheese inside the patty. It was featured on the TV show Man Vs. Food, and President Barack Obama even ate here on a visit in 2014! There’s some controversy about where the Jucy Lucy originated—but I firmly believe it came from Matt’s, and they certainly do it best. Be careful with your first bite, the cheese is so hot it can burn you! Matt’s is cash-only, but there’s an ATM inside.
13. Drink at Surly (or any craft brewery)
Minneapolis has become craft beer crazy, with so many new breweries springing up and inundating the scene with lots of good beer! So while you really do need to drink at a craft brewery (many of them have taphouses), I recommend drinking at Surly, to pay homage to the brewery that changed Minnesota’s craft beer game forever. At the urging of Surly (and many more breweries!), the “Surly Bill” was passed in 2011, making it legal for brewers to sell pints of their own beer on site in Minnesota. Surly also does excellent food! And while you’re in the area, make sure to check out the Witch’s Tower, the water tower in Prospect Park that looks like a witch’s hat.
14. Get your culture on at any of Minneapolis’ many museums
Minneapolis has loads of different museums, so you’ll have no problem finding one that takes your fancy. My favorites are the Minneapolis Institute of Art (which is free!), Walker Art Center, the American Swedish Institute, the Museum of Russian Art, and Mill City Museum.
15. Eat your way through the Midtown Global Market
Minneapolis is a melting pot of many different cultures and ethnicities, and nowhere is this more obvious than at the Midtown Global Market. With stalls featuring food from Mexico to Vietnam, Morocco to Italy, Scandinavia to the Middle East, you’ll have trouble choosing what type of food to get. My favorite is the gyro from Holy Land—especially when combined with a beer at East Lake Craft Brewery. There are lots more vendors with crafts and gifts in addition to food, and regular market stalls for all your grocery needs!
16. Catch a baseball game at Target Field
Head over to Target Field to cheer on the Minnesota Twins and root, root root for the home team! The stadium is full of options for eating and drinking, and has a gorgeous view of the downtown skyline. Try to go on a Wednesday, when it’s Dollar-Hot-Dog Day!
17. Shop in Uptown
Uptown is some of the best shopping in Minneapolis—it’s where people come to see and be seen. Although it ain’t cheap, you’ll find lots of brand names here, along with smaller, local shops. The Calhoun Square mall is located at W. Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue, but there’s tons more stores along Hennepin in either direction. Don’t forget that there’s no sales tax on clothing and shoes in Minnesota!
18. Explore the Chain of Lakes
As the City of Lakes, you really can’t visit Minneapolis and not spend time at a lake. The Chain of Lakes is generally comprised of Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, and Lake Harriet. You can rent canoes, kayaks, paddleboats, paddleboards, and more at Lake Calhoun (the biggest) and make your way around on water! If you’re visiting in winter (aka it’s cold as all hell), you should still check out the lakes to see them covered in a blanket of snow! And if you’re looking for fancy houses, take a drive around Lake Calhoun or Lake of the Isles to see some of the nicest in the city.
Minneapolis is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country. In 2010, it was named the top city for bicycling in the nation! So no matter where you bike, you seriously have to bike somewhere on a trip to Minneapolis. NiceRide has bike kiosks literally all over the city, making it easy to pick up a bike, ride around, and drop it off at your end location. Some of the most popular bike trails are the Midtown Greenway, the Chain of Lakes, the Cedar Lake Trail, and the West and East River Parkways.
20. Hang out in the Park
Minneapolis is one of the greenest cities in the country—all Minneapolis residents live a maximum of 6 blocks away from a city park. During the summer, the park board shows movies in the park, completely free of charge—just bring your own blanket or chair! Many public parks also have wading pools to cool off in the heat, and in winter some have ice skating/hockey rinks. There’s plenty to do outside when the weather’s nice!
21. Hang out at Boom Island Park
Boom Island gets a spot on this list for it’s amazing view of the downtown skyline. While there are tons of great parks in the city, Boom Island has tons of space and a great vibe for just hanging out and spending time outside. Boom Island Park is also a nice gateway for exploring more of Northeast Minneapolis, the hipster-loving, diverse community neighborhood that is affectionately referred to as “Nordeast.”
22. Enjoy a burger + malt at Annie’s Parlor
While Matt’s might be famous, Annie’s Parlor in Dinkytown (near the University of Minnesota campus) is hands down my favorite place for burgers. Treat yourself to a bacon cheeseburger and hot fudge malt, you’ll thank me later.
23. See US Bank Stadium
Wondering where all my tax dollars went? Look no further! This giant building, designed to look like the front of a ship, opened this August (2016) as the new home of the Minnesota Vikings football team. You can go on a tour of the stadium, or try to catch a game!
24. Be a student for the day at the U of M
The University of Minnesota is the eighth largest college in the country, and one of the biggest in the Midwest. You can pretend to be a student for the day by checking out some of the beautiful buildings, especially on the East Bank campus. The Weisman Art Museum and the Bell Museum of Natural History are also worth a visit while you’re on the campus.
25. Capture “the shot” of Minneapolis
There are a million beautiful shots of the Minneapolis skyline. But my personal favorite, the classic photo you want to capture, is the view of downtown over highway 35W on Franklin Avenue. It’s a classic for a reason—it’s a beautiful view!
BONUS: Mall of America
Technically the Mall of America is located in the suburb of Bloomington, and not in Minneapolis proper. But as the largest shopping mall in the country (by number of stores) and one of the top tourist attractions in both Minnesota and the Midwest in general, it’s one place you can’t miss! There’s an aquarium (Sea Life) and an amusement park (which although today is called Nickelodeon Universe will forever be in my heart as Camp Snoopy), as well as movie theaters and enough places to shop and eat that you’ll never have to leave—there’s 520+ stores to keep you busy!
Check out my post on St. Paul here!
Over to you! What are your favorite things to do in Minneapolis?!