Outsiders often associate the Twin Cities with funny accents, cold weather, and maybe the Target bullseye logo. Surprisingly, these clichés are partially true. Minneapolis, the City of Lakes, and St. Paul, its sister city—together known as Minnesota’s Twin Cities—is the coldest major metropolitan area in the nation.
The local modes of speech, especially in rural areas, still bear the influence of the Germans and Scandinavians who settled here in the late 19th century. What’s more, the area holds many blue-chip corporations, including General Mills, Target, 3M, and United Health.
However, the Twin Cities also makes for a dynamic and lovely getaway destination for locals, budget-minded tourists, and frugal business travelers.
Alongside the thriving art scene, these cities also feature a lot of natural attractions and unique food and beverage options. Whether you are planning a quick in-and-out weekend or a longer vacation, there are plenty of things to do in the Twin Cities.
To help you out, here are some great ways to spend your time in the area.
• Historical Sites
Though the Twin Cities don’t have the extensive array of historic pedigrees of Baltimore or Boston and preserved cores, Minneapolis and St. Paul date back around 200 years. The experiences these cities shared in the past are reflected in the numerous historic sites and districts spread across the region.
1. Swede Hollow
Situated on the eastern end of St. Paul, Swede Hollow is part historic preserve and part park.
While most of the original structures are gone, the area once served as a wretched and densely populated slum for Northern European and Scandinavian immigrants during the 19th century.
The neighborhood was abandoned after 1950 and was never electrified or connected to St. Paul’s plumbing system.
2. Wabasha Street Caves
The Wabasha Street Caves are mines excavated during the 19th century that once used to serve as an epicenter of mafia and gang activity in the Twin Cities.
Currently, it serves as a historical attraction that helps you catch a glimpse of the Prohibition-era gangsters. A 40-minute tour of the caves and complex runs $8 per adult.
There is also a longer St. Paul Gangsters bus tour that hits the other local sites popular with Prohibition-era gangsters and costs $27 per adult.
3. Summit Avenue
Divided into parts by tree-studded medians and stretching over four miles from downtown St. Paul to the western edge of the city, Summit Avenue boasts the country’s largest and continuous stretch of Victorian architecture.
The houses downtown are much older, with the grandest residences built before the 20th century. When the weather is nice and calm, it’s worth spending a few hours taking a leisurely stroll or bike ride down the Summit’s entire length.
• Arts, Entertainment and Culture
From top-notch museums to grand cathedrals, stunning concert venues, and fine theaters, the Twin Cities has all the cultural highlights you would expect from a large metro area.
Even better, you will find some unexpected gems here, like the extravagant ode to consumer capitalism—Mall of America—, and the all-night city art festival—The Northern Spark.
4. Northern Spark
An all-night cultural festival that attracts numerous people every year, Northern Spark covers multiple venues in Minneapolis proper.
Musical performances and art installations entertain the crowd while many bars and restaurants stay open late, offering night-only specials to celebrate the occasion.
Northern Spark is free to attend, but individual exhibits and participating venues might sometimes charge admission. The festival usually happens on Friday and Saturday before the summer solstice.
5. Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA)
A popular world-class art museum, MIA rests as an impressive neoclassical structure south of downtown Minneapolis.
The galleries here highlight a broad range of fine art from human history— from ancient China to Mesopotamia, the European Renaissance, and the recent American movements.
While the comprehensive permanent collections are free to visit, special exhibitions might cost extra.
6. Walker Art Center
Situated west of downtown Minneapolis, the Walker Art Center primarily focuses on more contemporary and edgier art than MIA.
A lot of programs—lectures, short-term exhibitions, and live performances—are held here on evenings and weekends, making it a must-see if you are into sculpture and installation art. Admission costs $15 per adult.
• Neighborhoods and Local Points of Interest
The Twin Cities is home to numerous unique neighborhoods, most of which have a charming aura of their own. If you have a day to spare, choose a few of these exciting areas to visit.
7. Uptown/ LynLake
Minneapolis’s trendiest district, Uptown, and the adjacent LynLake area features a seemingly endless stretch of upscale galleries, hip venues, name-brand shops, and pricey eateries.
However, there are some affordable attractions here, including the Bryant-Lake Bowl—a relatively inexpensive hybrid bowling alley/dance/restaurant hall—, and LynLake Brewery, featuring a rooftop deck with splendid views of downtown Minneapolis and rarely charging over $5 for weekend shows.
8. North Loop
Earlier known as the Warehouse District, the North Loop located northwest of downtown Minneapolis is a dynamically gentrifying stretch of industrial buildings and old warehouses.
You will want to avoid the space around Target Field on game days when the nearby streets come alive with fans. Otherwise, feel free to take a ride on the Cedar Lake Trail, spend a few hours strolling the surface streets, or enjoying a pint at lively Fulton Brewing Company.
Stillwater is one of Minnesota’s oldest towns—a beautiful and well-preserved river port on St. Croix, a few minutes’ drive north of Afton State Park. Being an affluent neighborhood, dining, and shopping here tend to be quite pricey.
However, strolling along the riverfront here costs nothing and is a great way to explore the back streets and catch a glimpse of the manicured lawns of the hillside estates.
The Twin Cities might not be the most glamorous, most prominent, or historically significant city in the United States. However, it is definitely a pleasant place to be, especially in winter.
With the perfect combination of friendly inhabitants, laid-back atmosphere, culturally significant attractions, and the great urban park system, Twin Cities won’t fail to surprise you.
Regardless of what you have on your agenda when you visit or relocate, it’s hard to imagine a better place for a fun and budget-friendly lifestyle.
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