Things to do and see in the City of Lakes: sites, attractions, bars, and restaurants
Minneapolis is the largest city (population 387,000) in the Midwestern state of Minnesota and a twin city of the nearby Saint Paul, the state capital. The name comes from mini, the Dakota Sioux word for “water,” and polis, Greek for “city.” Minneapolis is nicknamed “City of Lakes” due to a large number of wetlands and lakes in the area (22 within the city limits alone).
Thanks to the abundance of lakes, the presence of the Mississippi River, and numerous well-preserved parks, Minneapolis is an attractive destination for outdoor recreation and one of the greenest cities in the USA. There are 200 miles of biking, hiking and cross-country ski trails. The Chain of Lakes district encompasses five city lakes, surrounded by parkland and connected by 12 miles of paths.
In addition to nature enthusiasts, Minneapolis can also satisfy those looking for quality dining, arts, and entertainment. The city is an up-and-coming foodie destination, attracting talented chefs. The Twin Cities combined have the largest number of theater seats per capita outside New York. Performances, festivals and sporting events can be enjoyed throughout the year.
Here are Jetting Around’s suggestions for exploring Minneapolis, both the downtown area and diverse neighborhoods.
BEST MAJOR ATTRACTIONS
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
The 11-acre garden features over 40 works of art, including the famed Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture. The Walker Art Center across the street, considered one of the top contemporary art museums in the country, operates the park’s educational and artistic programs. Free tours are operated May-August.
The Garden is connected by a footbridge over the expressway to Loring Park, a large green space in the southwestern corner of downtown. Despite noise from the expressway, both parks have a peaceful vibe and offer excellent views of the city skyline.
Loring Park also features bike lanes and pedestrian paths, and there are several restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood.
Nicollet Mall & Hennepin Avenue
The two streets form the retail, dining, and cultural center of downtown. On Nicolett Avenue you will find upscale stores and many dining options (outdoor cafes line the street in warm months). Hennepin Avenue is a significant entertainment hub. It is often referred to as the Hennepin Theatre District due to a high concentration of performance venues, such as the historic Orpheum Theatre and State Theatre. The street was featured in the movie Purple Rain.
Since its opening in 2006, it has received numerous design awards and accolades. It features three stages, a restaurant, bars, and a cantilevered lobby (“Endless Bridge”) that opens into a riverview terrace. The interior is at times lit up in red and blue, creating a cozy and sophisticated ambiance.
The critically-acclaimed theater stages regional and international productions, as well as many Shakespeare plays. Its history dates back to 1963, when it operated in a different building and location.
Read more about the Guthrie Theater in Hangouts.
This former railroad crossing on the Mississippi is the only one of its kind on the river. Built in 1893 using granite and limestone, it is 2,100 ft. long by 28 ft. wide and has 23 arches.
The bridge was opened to foot and bike traffic in 1994 and offers panoramic views of Saint Anthony Falls.
The cobblestone, historic street on the east side of the Mississippi River has riverfront dining, entertainment, and picnic areas. It was the main street of the town of St. Anthony, before it merged with Minneapolis.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Midtown Global Market
The public market in the Phillips/Powderhorn area houses a mix of specialty grocers, ethnic restaurants, cafes, and vendors selling jewelry and handicrafts. It also hosts a farmer’s market and community events, such as cooking classes and music performances. Among the various food items are Salvadoran pupusas, Mexican pastries, Scandinavian candy, and Vietnamese sandwiches. Parking is free up to 3 hours (with validation).
Uptown and Lyn-Lake
Located southwest of downtown along West Lake Street, these two neighborhoods offer diverse dining and entertainment options.
The hip Uptown near lake Calhoun has bookstores, coffee shops, modern restaurants, abundant bars, high-end shopping, and two theaters (Lagoon and the historic Uptown). The funky Lyn-Lake, to the east of Uptown, is a place for ethnic cuisine, late-night bowling (Bryant Lake Bowl), and innovative art performances.
Minneapolis is home to the University of Minnesota, located east of downtown, on both banks of the Mississippi River. The area is home to book and music stores, restaurants, theaters, and nightlife venues.
Twin Cities tour
A fast and efficient way to see many attractions in both Minneapolis and St. Paul is by bus. Metro Connections operates an informative 3-hour Twin Cities Highlights Tour and has several convenient pick up/drop off locations (downtown hotels, Mall of America). Some of the points of interest are the Guthrie Theater, Chain of Lakes, historic Mount Curve neighborhood, State Capitol Building, and Minnehaha Falls. Fees: $35 adults, $32 seniors, $28 students, $25 children 6-12.
An easy way to explore Minneapolis is via Nice Ride Minnesota, the Twin Cities’ bike share program. It was introduced in 2010 and currently has over 1,300 bicycles and 145 self-serve stations. In order to rent a bike, you need to purchase a subscription ($6 for 24 hrs) and then pay any additional trip fees ($1.50 up to 1 hour, $4.50 up to 1.5 hours; the first 30 minutes are free). Credit cards are accepted.
Baseball at Target Field
The modern ballpark (built in 2010) has views of the downtown skyline, local craft beer at many concession stands, and a roof deck with a fire pit.
Private and public tours are available.
FOOD & DRINK
It is easy to eat well in Minneapolis at every price point. There are a number of award-winning restaurants and ones that use locally-sourced ingredients.
Restaurants & Bars
> Hell’s Kitchen downtown is an affordable and delicious option for breakfast, weekend brunch, and late-night fare. In spite of its location is the basement of a corporate building, the restaurant feels cozy with exposed-brick walls and red decor.
Reservations are recommended, but if you see a long line at the door, don’t let it discourage you – the service is fast and efficient. If you go to Hell’s Kitchen for brunch, try their homemade chunky peanut butter, lemon-ricotta hotcakes, or bread pudding. ($$)
> Spoonriver, located next door to the Guthrie Theater in the Mill District, specializes in modern American cuisine made with local, organic ingredients. The restaurant serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch, and has a full bar. Spoonriver’s owner, chef Brenda Langton, has long been a promoter of fresh food and cooking and in 2006 founded the Mill City Farmers Market. ($$)
> Haute Dish in the North Loop area is a comfortable and spacious bar and restaurant serving upscale Midwestern cuisine.
The front room features a large bar on one side and tables on the other; there are more tables and several booths in the back area. Wood furniture, red table lamps, exposed brick walls, and photographs showing Minneapolis life contribute to the restaurant’s inviting feel. Weekend brunch and late-night dining available. ($$$)
> Matt’s Bar in South Minneapolis is known as one of two bars in the area to have invented Jucy Lucy, a cheeseburger with cheese placed inside the patty, rather than on top. The no-frills place dates back to the 1950s and is cash only. ($)
> Dunn Bros Coffee is a coffeehouse franchise that began in 1987 in St. Paul. It opened its second store fours years later on Lake Street in Minneapolis. Today, the company has presence in several states, mostly Midwestern, but remains committed to being “a point of community connection, not just another chain retail establishment.” Dunn’s coffee is roasted in-store in small batches. ($)
Saint Paul, located about 13 miles southeast of Minneapolis, is worth a visit for its historic river town charm, restored riverfront, and walkable downtown.
The city’s main square, Rice Park, and nearby Landmark Plaza feature bronze statues of characters from the long-running American comic strip Peanuts. They were made as a tribute to the series’ creator and St. Paul native, Charles M. Schulz.
Other places of interest include the Minnesota State Capitol, modeled after Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, and Summit Avenue, filled with historic houses, including the Governor’s Mansion. The Minnesota Historical Society operates 90-minute weekend walking tours of the neighborhood ($10 adults, $8 seniors/students, $7 children).
- Downtown Minneapolis has 8 miles of skyways, an above-ground system of pedestrian walkways connecting buildings, shops, and restaurants. These climate-controlled footbridges are especially useful in winter months. Since they are owned by individual buildings, opening and closing times may vary by skyway.
- Many parks in Minneapolis have separate lanes for bicycles and pedestrians. Watch for signs, as locals generally obey the rule.
- Meet Minneapolis | City by Nature – the official Convention and Visitors Association
- Minneapolis City Pages – news, events, and reviews
- Pulse of the Twin Cities – a weekly alternative newspaper, focused on arts and entertainment
- Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport
I would like to thank the Convention & Visitors Association for their assistance and the following businesses for hosting me: Metro Connections, Guthrie Theater, and Best Western Plus The Normandy Inn & Suites downtown.
All opinions in the guide are entirely mine and recommendations are based on my own experiences in Minneapolis.
All photography by Jetting Around
About the Author (Author Profile)Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.
Sites That Link to this Post
- My ten favorite things about the USA : Jetting Around: City Travel Blog | October 23, 2012
- City Guide: Minneapolis, Minnesota | World Travel List Trip Rambler | December 18, 2012