20 Top Things to Do in the Twin Cities
Twin Cities' fun
More than 18 million visitors find their way to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul every year, drawn by a place that touts outdoor fun as much as culture and cuisine. The area (population: 3.2 million), once known for its flour mills and Mississippi River ports, has a knack for welcoming the novel, while also preserving the best.
Click or tap to learn about some of our favorite things to do in the Twin Cities, from shopping on Grand Avenue in Saint Paul to exploring Minnehaha Falls Park halfway between the two downtowns. Want to share your favorites? Leave a comment below.
Pictured: The Cathedral of Saint Paul, as seen from the golden horse statues at the top of the Minnesota state capitol building.
- Photo courtesy of Walker Art Center.
Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
The Walker Art Center was the first public art gallery in the upper Midwest when it was established in 1927. Today, housed in a larger center that opened in 2005, it's a world-class destination for viewing contemporary art and media. Next to the center is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, one of the largest urban sculpture parks in the country; the garden will reopen in summer 2017 after a complete renovation. (612) 375-7600; walkerart.org
- Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis
The Twin Cities theater scene owes much to the internationally acclaimed Guthrie Theater, founded in 1963. World-famous English director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, searching for a Midwest city in which to establish a professional theater, chose Minneapolis.
More than 50 years later, the Guthrie is more successful than ever. Now in a new home on the banks of the Mississippi River, the Guthrie offers classic works and a dash of contemporary plays. Four restaurants offer a variety of dining choices, and a variety of tours— including backstage, architectural and self-guided-- round out the Guthrie experience. guthrietheater.org
Minnehaha Falls Park
With 193 acres, limestone bluffs and river overlooks, this park—halfway between the two downtowns—ranks as one of the most popular (minneapolisparks.org). See a summer concert in the Minnehaha Falls Park bandstand, pack a picnic to enjoy while watching the falls, or take a relaxing walk or bike ride on the bike/pedestrian trail. The seasonal Sea Salt Eatery is good, too; try the fish tacos (612/721-8990).
Mill City Museum
The world's largest mill -- the Washburn A. Mill -- ground enough flour in a day to make 12 million loaves of bread. The Minneapolis building now houses the Mill City Museum, which re-creates old-school flour production days with period equipment, railroad cars and a floor-by-floor tour in a giant freight elevator. The glass elevator rises from the rubble of Mill Ruins Park, with the iconic Gold Medal flour sign overhead. millcitymuseum.org
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
Take a trip through the tropics and seasonal flower shows at the conservatory, then see the giraffes, a sea lion show, gorillas and a polar bear at the zoo. This century-old attraction has drawn generations of visitors. It’s technically free, but a $2 to $3 donation is requested. comozooconservatory.org
Built in 1910, this 1,058-seat Saint Paul icon is Minnesota Public Radio's largest studio and site of A Prairie Home Companion. The theater also hosts a variety of other programs, including Minnesota Ballet performances, movie parties and musical performances. fitzgeraldtheater.publicradio.org
- Photo Courtesy of Grand Avenue Business Association
You can spend an afternoon along this Saint Paul street, grabbing lunch at one of the locally owned restaurants, shopping at the boutiques or getting spa treatments. Grand Avenue (grandave.com) runs for 30 blocks, with beautiful old homes and the campuses of Macalester College and University of St. Thomas adding to its charm. Favorite destinations for visitors include Cafe Latte, a cafeteria-style deli known for its three-layer chocolate turtle cake (cafelatte.com).
The architect of the U.S. Supreme Court, Cass Gilbert, designed this 1905 stunner in Saint Paul. Among the State Capitol's impressive features: the quadriga, or golden horses, on the exterior of the building. Designed by Daniel Chester French (sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial) and Edward Potter, the figures are made of copper and covered with gold leaf. Interior access to the capitol is limited until a $270 million renovation is completed in 2017, but visitors can take self-guided or cell phone tours of the grounds (mnhs.org).
Families pack the downtown Minneapolis stadium to cheer on the Minnesota Twins while savoring local fare like polish sausages from Kramarczuk's. Kids 14 and under get a thrill from running the bases after Sunday games. minnesota.twins.mlb.com/min/ballpark/
- Photo Courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
A stunning recent expansion showcases highlights of an enormous collection, with nearly 80,000 works that span over 5,000 years of human history. The renowned Asian art collection is a must-see, as well as the European exhibit and the Modern and Contemporary galleries (pictured at left). Pick up a brochure for a self-guided tour of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, or join a public tour. Admission is free (artsmia.org).
- Photo courtesy of Mall of America
Mall of America
More than 40 million people visit the Mall of America, 10 miles south of Minneapolis, each year (mallofamerica.com). The nation's biggest mall has more than 500 stores, dozens of restaurants, an indoor amusement park, an aquarium and a butterfly garden.
A little planning before your outing will ensure you're not overwhelmed. Go to the mall's website for information on store locations, hours, parking, events and promotions -- and a handy coupon book. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes, and leave your coat in the car (the mall is 70 degrees year-round).
Science Museum of Minnesota
On the Saint Paul riverfront, engaging permanent exhibits mix with top traveling shows and breathtaking Omnitheater movies. (800) 221-9444; smm.org
- Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis
An 11-block pedestrian thoroughfare in downtown Minneapolis balances big-city feel with hole-in-the-wall discoveries. Highlights of Nicollet Mall include The News Room restaurant, Dakota Jazz Club and a seasonal farmer's market. Orchestra Hall, home of the Minnesota Orchestra, hosts a variety of musical performances (minneapolis.org).
Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway
Minneapolis has more parkland acres per capita than any other major city in the United States. Take a green tour on the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway. This 50-mile route loops through tree-lined neighborhoods and past rivers, lakes, woods and waterfalls. Explore destinations such as the Chain of Lakes Park along the way (minneapolisparks.org).
Weisman Art Museum
Frank Gehry's gleaming silver building houses the University of Minnesota's collection of more than 20,000 objects, including numerous pieces of American modernism. Free admission. weisman.umn.edu
- Photo courtesy of Minnesota Tourism
Minnesota State Fair
Billed as "The Great Minnesota Get-Together," the Midwest's most popular fair draws more than 1.7 million people over 12 days in late August and early September. Fair foods like mac and cheese cupcakes, maple bacon funnel cakes and stuffed Italian meat loaf on a stick mean that it'll take a lot of walking among the livestock barns and carnival rides to burn off the calories! mnstatefair.org
- Photo courtesy of Visit Saint Paul
Minnesota History Center
At this playful, kid-friendly museum, visitors can grab a hard hat and walk through a re-created Iron Range mine with loud hands-on drill simulators — or crank up a Model T, pretend to ride a streetcar, pull or push a pioneer's hand plow and sit in a tipi to hear a Native American artist talk about his culture. And those experiences are just in the Then Now Wow exhibit. Other permanent and temporary exhibits offer guests more hands-on fun and history. minnesotahistorycenter.org
Minnesota Children's Museum
Kids could spend the day in these seven Saint Paul galleries, including a seasonal rooftop area that encourages art exploration. Each gallery in the Minnesota Children's Museum is geared towards creating an interactive environment for kids 6 months to 10 years old (though adults may be entertained, too). Babies and toddlers can explore the Habitot of forest, caves, prairies, and ponds, while older kids create storms and crawl through an oversized anthill in Earth World. mcm.org
Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and Minnesota Opera perform at this newly expanded space, which also presents touring Broadway productions. ordway.org