Minneapolis, the largest city in Minnesota, often gets overlooked. It’s considered ‘flyover worthy’ by some and ‘too cold’ by others.
Despite the stereotypes, the city won bids to host big events. U.S. Bank Stadium hosted Super Bowl LII in February 2018. ESPN’s X Games are repeatedly held in Minneapolis and the NCAA Final Four was here in April 2019. And you don’t get those big ticket events by just applying. You need to have culture.
As a native Minnesotan who has lived in Minneapolis proper for years, I have a list of tips you’ll want to know about the City of Lakes before you plan a trip.
It’s easy to get downtown Minneapolis from the airport.
Your best and cheapest way to get from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to downtown Minneapolis is by light rail. Operated by Metro Transit, light rail trains run frequently throughout the day and most of the night. Currently, peak time rides cost just $2.50 one way; $2.00 outside of rush hour. You’ll be able to catch the train from either Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 at MSP. If you’re heading downtown, you will take the blue line train northbound.
Since I first published this article in 2017, car sharing services like Lyft and Uber finally figured out how to get travelers to and from the airport. A $6 airport surcharge is now gone. The queue for drivers waiting to be matched is closer to the arrivals doors than it previously was. The airport is adding signage so you can get to the car sharing pickup zone faster (note: it is a bit of a walk). At the zone itself, they created ‘Door A’ and ‘Door B’ to help spread things out. Typically, a ride from the airport to downtown Minneapolis in a Lyft will set you back around $20-25. Since the drivers have to wait off-site, secure your ride BEFORE you get close to the pickup zone. I hit confirm when I walk out of the gate area.
Hotels are quickly popping up in downtown Minneapolis.
Thanks to the Super Bowl, Minneapolis saw a boom of new construction, especially when it comes to hotels. The Hilton Minneapolis is the largest hotel in Minnesota and in 2017, finished a complete renovation to their lobby, resulting in a much improved, more open concept, dragging it out of the early 1990s.
For something more boutique, look at the Hewing Hotel, which opened late 2016. The former warehouse in the North Loop neighborhood has completely unique rooms with vibes of “the north.” From the patterns on the wallpaper to what you’ll find in the mini-fridge, the Hewing lives Minnesota luxury.
Like the Hewing, the Hotel Ivy is on the more luxurious end and gets high remarks.
I’ve had good luck at the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, located just a block off of Nicollet Mall. Their rates are cheaper.
If you’re coming to town for something at the Minneapolis Convention Center, consider the Hilton, the Hyatt Regency or Hotel Ivy, as they’re all attached to the hotel by skyway (keep reading for more on these sidewalks in the sky).
Minneapolis and Saint Paul aren’t conjoined twins.
Saint Paul, Minnesota’s capital city, is separated from Minneapolis by the Mississippi River. However, if you’re planning a trip from downtown to downtown, it’s not a simple walk across a bridge. There’s a 12 mile trip by car, and a light rail trip will take over 45 minutes. However, don’t let that stop you from taking a trip over to the Capital city.
Never pay more than $6 for parking downtown Minneapolis weeknights or weekends.
I repeat this message to people who live in the Twin Cities, too. There’s a huge scam when it comes to what is being charged for parking downtown Minneapolis. If you’re headed downtown after 4:00 p.m. on a weekday or on a weekend, please don’t pay more than $6 to park. Seriously. You’ll frequently see event rates for $10 or $12. The $6 after 4:00 p.m. and all day weekend lots are located near 8th Street and LaSalle Avenue. Another ramp, attached to the Crown Plaza Hotel at 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, charged me $4 when I headed downtown for a Sunday evening dinner, and there happened to be a concert that evening at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Be on high alert with meters. Minneapolis meters run by zone. On one side of a street, meters might have a two hour limit, and on the other side, you can park there for eight hours. Some end at 6:00 p.m., others go until 10:00 p.m. If you are within a mile or so of U.S. Bank Stadium, you’ll hit meters following event parking rates. Right before I found that ramp for $4, I was at a meter asking me to pay $25 to park on the street.
Summers are epic. And in the best way possible.
Mid-June to Labor Day is the perfect time to visit Minneapolis. The Twin Cities, along with surrounding suburbs, plan a plethora of outdoor events. A big highlight is the Minnesota State Fair, a 12 day event ending on Labor Day.
If you like to bike or run, check out The Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. Both Minneapolis and Saint Paul have their own routes, which take you along the river and through parks. (The Minneapolis route is much more established, so start there). Trails are well-marked, too.
And you can’t forget Minnesota is the “land of 10,000 lakes” (actually, there are 11,842 lakes which are 10 or more acres). Minneapolis is home to many lakes featuring beautiful views of the downtown skyline. Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun) in the Uptown neighborhood is your best bet for time on the water, sunbathing, hammock-lounging and people watching.
Skyways are a blessing and a curse.
If you’re walking around on street level in downtown Minneapolis or Saint Paul and notice it’s a ghost town, look up. Both cities feature miles of skyways which shield Minnesotans from rain, snow and more importantly, cold. There’s another world on the skyway level, including businesses with second level locations you wouldn’t see from the outside (Starbucks, Chipotle, etc).
I love the skyways because they are a great way for downtown workers to leave their winter coats at their desks and walk three buildings over to get lunch. The biggest issue I have is that they’re not visitor-friendly, especially on the weekends. Downtown Minneapolis doesn’t regulate the skyways; the individual building owners do. The effect: they don’t have consistent hours — some don’t even open on Sundays. If you stay near the Convention Center, you’re fine, but don’t venture further north of the IDS Center.
During the 2016 Vikings season, the Minnesota Vikings and downtown businesses created a route spanning the skyways across downtown. The problem: not all the business owners caught that memo, meaning locked doors and a waste of time. I still don’t recommend the Vikings’ skyway route on game day as they haven’t figured it out.
Some Minneapolis business owners and citizens are calling for the end of the skyway. They claim it makes downtown look less populated. I’m not calling for their end, but they definitely need some regulation.
Looking for something to do when you’re in Minneapolis? Check out what’s happening at these venues:
- Target Field is the home of the Minnesota Twins and is a beautiful MLB stadium
- Target Center hosts many concerts and shows in addition to being the home for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Lynx (it reopened in 2017 after a major renovation)
- U.S. Bank Stadium is the Minnesota Vikings home field; they offer tours of the stadium
- First Avenue was featured in Prince’s movie Purple Rain and hosts concerts and dance parties nearly every night; you’ll get in for free on your birthday, even if the show is sold-out
- Orchestra Hall recently got a new look and is home to the Minnesota Orchestra
- In addition to conferences, the Minneapolis Convention Center also is the venue for major events open to the public including the Twin Cities Auto Show and the Minneapolis Home + Garden Show
- On the north end of downtown, you’ll find the gorgeous Stone Arch Bridge which links downtown with Saint Anthony Main
- The Guthrie Theater offers one of the most intimate theater experiences in the country with it’s ‘theater in the round’ type feel
- Hennepin Theatre Trust operates the Broadway on Hennepin series which brings nationally touring shows to Minneapolis
Looking for a place to eat? Here are my best bets:
$$$ — make reservations for all these spots
- 4 Bells
- The Bachelor Farmer
- Bar La Grassa
- Bar Lurcat
- Butcher & The Boar
- Erté & The Peacock Lounge (in nearby Northeast Minneapolis)
- Spoon and Stable
$$ and $
- 508 Bar + Restaurant
- Angel Food Bakery
- Brit’s Pub (head up to the roof for lawn bowling and look up for yet another deck)
- FireLake Grill House and Cocktail Bar
- The Freehouse
- Hell’s Kitchen
- Hen House Eatery
- Red Cow
If you need to plan a dinner in a private setting at a restaurant, check out my guide.
You’ll want to talk like a Minnesotan, and I don’t mean sounding like a character in Fargo. Get a list of Minnesota lingo here.