Downtown Minneapolis has never been such an accessible place to visit, with the Metro Blue light rail seamlessly linking passengers from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to downtown. Step out in Nicollett Mall station, which has become a hub for the city’s rapid transformation, and is home to numerous theaters, hotels, and restaurants. From here, you’ll find yourself in the heart of Minneapolis’ shopping and entertainment district, packed with fun things to do. Hop on a bike, explore the city’s Skyway network (indoor covered footbridges that connect one building to the next), or meander down to the banks of the Mississippi River. For more on what to do in Minneapolis, check out the tips below.
Where is Minneapolis?
Minnesota’s largest city hugs the Mississippi River and sits adjacent to St. Paul, the official state capital. Together, Minneapolis and St. Paul form America’s famous “Twin Cities.” One of the northernmost metropolises in the country, Minneapolis drops to an average low of 8ºF in January, though summers are typically warm and sultry.
Attractions in Minneapolis
Minneapolis has quietly emerged as the Midwest’s culture capital, blending top-notch museums, eye-catching public art, and a unique string of performing arts spaces. You won’t be at a loss for what to do in Minneapolis as you navigate the city’s most sought-after points of interest.
Start with a visit to the Mill City Museum, an impressive exhibit explaining the city’s origins as a flour milling capital. Set directly on the waterfront—on the site of the mill's original building, which was built in 1880 and in produced enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread in its heyday. Be sure to peek inside the test kitchen during a baking demonstration—if you’re lucky, they’ll be serving up brownies hot out of the oven.
Over at the Walker Art Center, a nationally renowned contemporary art museum, there are several floors of exhibits, a James Beard Award-winning restaurant, and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a collection of bizarre and inventive sculptures—many of which are interactive, and kid-friendly—spread over 19 acres of landscaped park space. The centerpiece, of course, is “Spoonbridge and Cherry,” a whimsical fountain shaped as a giant spoon with a cherry on top.
If you’re hoping to catch a show while you’re in town, you’ve got plenty of places to choose from. First Avenue has been a landmark live-music venue since the early 1980s, when Prince featured it in his movie Purple Rain. Now, the former bus depot, which stays open til 3 a.m. most nights, hosts rock, soul, and funk acts from around the world. Meanwhile, the Dakota Jazz Club is the go-to for all subgenres of jazz; more music and dance can be found at the Cedar Cultural Center; and the Brave New Workshop has been offering its unique brand of satire comedy since 1958, making it the longest running improv theater in the country.
Minneapolis events and festivals
During the Great Northern Festival, held over a 10-day period in late January, Minneapolis shows just how festive it can be, despite the plummeting temperatures and frozen-over sidewalks. The seasonal bash is actually a trilogy of three separate festivals: the Loppet Ski Festival, which highlights cross-country skiing, the Winter Carnival (outdoor saunas!), and the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships, where locals show off their skills on Lake Nokomis, just 15 minutes from downtown.
In July, the Basilica Block Party gives locals and visitors alike the chance to party down inside America’s oldest basilica. Proceeds from the two-day event go toward restoring and preserving the gorgeous, block-wide cathedral, which welcomes live music by acts such as Brandi Carlile, Gavin DeGraw, and The Shins.
If you’re in the mood for something more laid-back, the Uptown Art Fair, held at the beginning of August, has emerged as one of Minneapolis’ largest organized outdoor events. Along Hennepin Avenue, food vendors, art booths, and several beer gardens set up shop, allowing attendees to browse jewelry, ceramic art, paintings, and photography at their leisure.
In town for July 4th? Get to the center of the action in downtown Minneapolis, host to one of the nation’s largest fireworks displays. Each summer, 250,000 spectators show up along the Mississippi waterfront to enjoy the stunning fireworks (which feature a choreographed dance performance), plus food trucks, and delightful views of the historic Stone Arch Bridge; for another scenic viewing spot, head to Lake Calhoun for BBQ and kayaking.
Shopping around Minneapolis
It’s almost impossible to plan a trip to the Twin Cities without a shopping detour at the Mall of America. Attracting over 40 million visitors a year, the enormous entertainment complex has become practically synonymous with a vacation to Minneapolis. There are more than 500 shops to peruse—plus Nickelodeon Universe, an aquarium, and a miniature golf course. Visitors can stay at the adjoining Radisson Blu or JW Marriott hotels to maximize their time here.
A 5-minute walk from downtown, the North Loop neighborhood has become one of Minneapolis’ shopping districts to watch, thanks to creative young studios setting up shop in former warehouses. Askov Finlayson offers contemporary menswear aimed at outdoors-y types while The Foundry contains artfully selected home-decor items, from lint brushes to leather messenger bags. At Lolë, women's activewear is stocked alongside summer dresses.
It’s all about international cuisine at Minneapolis’ best places to eat, where you’re as likely to find a classic American diner as the traditional cuisine of, say, Sweden (a high number of Swedish immigrants settled in the city in the late 1880s). To get a true sense for just how global the food scene is here, head to the Midtown Global Market. The original structure opened in 1928 as a Sears store, and now as an international food hall with 22 countries represented, it allows travelers to sample the flavors of Vietnam, East Africa, India, and more, all under one roof.
Most Romantic Restaurant: Bachelor Farmer
Cheap Eats: Mickey’s Diner
Best Jamaican Restaurant: Pimento Jamaican Kitchen
Best Vegan Restaurant: Herbivorous Butcher
Best Brunch Restaurant: Hell’s Kitchen
Best Japanese Restaurant: Ramen Kazama
Bars and Nighlife in Minneapolis
For a city that loves festivals and dancing as much as Minneapolis does, it’s no surprise the city has a solid lineup of bars, cocktail lounges, and beer taverns to choose from. On Saturday night, the place to be is Marvel, a sophisticated cocktail bar hidden in the basement of Bachelor Farmer. Every other day of the week, you’ll find locals getting rowdy at The Local, a downtown Minneapolis watering hole that prides itself as pouring the “largest volume of Jameson Irish whiskey” of any bar in the world. Another easy favorite is Buster’s on 28th, which offers bison burgers, hand-cut fries, and a prime selection of craft beer.
Easy Day Trips From Minneapolis
Paisley Park, the former home of Prince, has quickly become a favorite getaway for out-of-towners, who are willing to make the 30-minute drive from downtown just to be in the presence of pop greatness. Because the Minneapolis-born singer actually lived, worked, and performed here, visitors come face-to-face with Prince’s original framed platinum albums, Grammy awards, and multiple recording studios—indeed, the guided tours feel eerily like you’re walking through the mind of the artist himself.
Where to Stay in Minneapolis
A thriving city with an expanding number of cultural, sports, and culinary offerings, downtown Minneapolis offers more than a few great places to stay. For those seeking something upscale, Minneapolis’ top luxury hotels are the Hotel Ivy, which sits in an elaborate building constructed as a church in 1930 church, as well as the AC Hotel Minneapolis Downtown, and Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown. Slightly more intimate is the Hewing, a prominent Minneapolis boutique hotel with richly accented suites and a rooftop jacuzzi.
If you’re traveling on a budget, and looking for something more affordable, downtown Minneapolis has you covered there, too. The recently opened Radisson RED Minneapolis is tech-forward 124-room property with free high-speed WiFi and a sports bar in the lobby. Right across from the convention center, there’s Hilton Garden Inn Minneapolis Downtown, while nearby the Best Western Plus Normandy Inn & Suites comes with an indoor pool and an on-site restaurant.