Who would have guessed that Minneapolis was the cultural center of the Midwest? Often named the ‘Minne Apple’, this Minnesotan metropolis boasts a world of fine art galleries, museums and theater performances that rival cities across the US. More than 18 million people visit the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul each year. St Paul is more known for it’s political power and wealth, which has left its roots in posh mansions, elegant architecture and historical buildings that are worth a look around. Minneapolis, on the other hand, offers a more laid back vibe, and a diverse selection of arts and cultural attractions. For this reason, it has grown to be the most popular tourist hub, between the two cities. In part, this boom is thanks to The Mall of America–the largest shopping mall that exists in North America. This colossal giant offers three stories of shopping on any budget, all centered by a fun and unique experience–the Nickelodeon indoor theme park.
The City of Lakes, better known as Minneapolis, is home to over 10,000 lakes. To capture this picturesque city on the water at its best, slow the pace to relax along the hiking trails or take a canoe out over the Lake of the Isles. It’s about a 7 hour drive from Chicago (400 miles), 3½ hour drive from the Wisconsin Dells (215 miles), 9 hours from Mt. Rushmore (600 miles), 9½ hours from St. Louis (560 miles) and a 7 hour drive from Kansas City (436 miles).
Top 11 Attractions
1. The Mall of America – Located in the suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota, just 15 minutes from downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, the Mall of America is a grand sight for a ‘shop til you drop’ experience. As one of the most visited tourist destinations in the world at over 40 million visitors a year–the Mall of America trumps that of the city of Minneapolis itself. It comes in at #1 on our list of America’s Largest Malls. It draws people from across the country to delight in the selection of name brands and great deals. Mall of America features – 520 stores, 50 restaurants and attractions galore, including Nickelodeon Universe, the nation’s largest indoor theme park, and the American Girl store. Even better, there’s no sales tax on clothing or shoes!
Take the kids to Nickelodeon Universe!
2. Como Park Zoo & Conservatory – Located in the heart of St. Paul, its mission is to inspire our public to value the presence of living things in our lives. The zoo was established in 1897 with the donation of three deer and has grown to feature 25 animal habitats with orangutans, gorillas, giraffes, lions, tigers and many more. The conservatory opened in November 1915 and occupies one full acre under glass, managing six indoor gardens and three outdoor gardens and annually manages 50,000 plants from 1,684 separate species. We rank their Japanese garden at #8 on our list of the 15 Best Japanese Gardens In America. The Como Town amusement park is also on-site, featuring nearly 20 attractions; individual tickets can be purchased, though an unlimited ride wristband is $19.95. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory is open 365 days a year and admission is free of charge, though a nominal suggested donation of $3 for adults and $2 for children is kindly accepted.
3. Minneapolis Institute of Art – This art institute boasts collections of the modern and ancient worlds. See the works from the past masters that give fine art such resounding names, such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Titan and Matisse. Explore the interior galleries with a total of 5,000 years and over 80,000 pieces of fine works and decorative arts that are sure to stun. The permanent collections also include a 2,000-year-old mummy, works of the European masters in architectural and decorative arts, paintings, sculptures and a comprehensive photography exhibit. Allow 2 hours to see it through to the end. MIA is free of charge! Though, keep in mind speciality exhibits may have a nominal fee.
4. Mill City Museum – Discover the history of the flour industry in the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flower mill. This Mill is what makes Minneapolis famous with quite the experience of fun facts and history of the city. It’s one of over two dozen such Minneapolis mills. This museum re-creates old milling techniques with period equipment, railroad cars, and interactive exhibits. Visitors also learn the impact of the nation’s first high-quality, finely milled flour that helped shape the gastronomy of the Twin Cities and that of the entire country. Allow 1 hour to see it all. Admission is $11 for adults and $6 for children.
Talk about a view!
5. Minnesota State Capitol – The capitol is crowned by the world’s largest unsupported marble dome–modeled after the one Michelangelo created for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and dating back to 1905. Step inside to admire its marble stairways, chambers, halls and priceless oil paintings. Admire the interior with a guided tour and see the fine architecture, stenciled ceilings, granite and marble additions that decorate the interior with sheer elegance. The green courtyard out front makes for a great place for a relaxing stroll with the sight of the dome to crown the top of the capitol. Allow 1 hour to enjoy the tour. Admission is free.
6. Science Museum of Minnesota – Before you get the assumption of the common stereotypical boring science museum and decide to read below to the Water Park of America, we invite you to give the fun, yet educational, science museum a second look! They have hands-on exhibits that introduce visitors to natural history, science, and technology, with highlights including the Human Body Gallery, navigating a virtual towboat down the Mississippi River and a collection of fossils and prehistoric specimens. In warm months check out EarthScapes Mini Golf, which is designed to teach earth surface dynamics. Allow 2 to 3 hours. Admission to exhibits is $11 for adults and $8.50 for children.
7. Water Park of America – Located right next door to the Mall of America, it is recognized as the tallest indoor water park in the U.S. Who can resist the thrill of the water-slides or the steady flow of the lazy river all year round? Young children love the Fort Snelling Zero-Depth Activity Pool along with the Northern Lights Arcade, while the wilder crowd can showcase their skills at the Cascade Falls FlowRider or explore the 7th and 10th floor body slides. What makes this place such a great stay is that you will never have to leave the hotel! General admission is $39.95, while those who come earlier or later in the day can get in for just $32.95.
8. Bell Museum of Natural History – Established in 1872, discover animal species from all over the world at this incredible museum. It is small in size but big in focus. Exhibits include lichens, insects, mammals, vascular plants, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fungi and fish. Admission is $6 for adults and children. Admission is free for all visitors on Sundays.
It’s located on the campus of The University of Minnesota, with over 50,000 students–and two other museums that are worth a look if you have the time–The Katherine E. Nash Gallery and The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum. They are currently in the process of planning a $36 million move for the Bell Museum to go from The University of Minneapolis to the University of Minnesota St. Paul.
9. Minnesota Zoo – This 485-acre zoos is home to “Russia’s Grizzly Coast,” where animals and and habitats of Russia’s eastern wilderness finds its habitat. Don’t miss out on an array of North American animals, including wolves, bison, pumas, and wolverines, as well as exotic mainstays like tigers, camels, dolphins, and monkeys. Sit back and relax for a grand IMAX show in the theater, and be sure to catch the monorail for easy navigation of the grounds. Allow at least 2 hours to see it all. Admission is $13 for adults and $8 for children. The monorail is $4.
10. Cathedral of Saint Paul – This cathedral was built in 1915 on the highest point in the city, yet it still stands tall and remains one of the largest churches in the country. This building is fashioned in a classic Renaissance-style and boasts a newly restored 175-foot-high copper dome, massive rose windows, and rich exterior of granite-and-travertine construction. Complete with six chapels and marble columns, mosaics and gold leafing throughout the interior–the Cathedral of Saint Paul brings the glories of European splendor to the US. Discover the marble replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta–a famous sculpture which depicts the body of Jesus in the arms of Mary. Allow 30 minutes. Admission is free but donations are welcome.
11. Historic Fort Snelling – This historic site commemorates the old fort built here within the wilderness in 1819 by Colonel Josiah Snelling and his troops. Fort Snelling opened the passage for homesteaders, and now this living history museum allows you to step back in time for a unique firsthand experience. Costumed guides perform a living history reenactment during the summer months, helping to re-creating the activities of everyday army life during the 1820s. Allow 1 to 2 hours to catch a glimpse of history at this old fort. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children.
The Cheesecake Factory – Since first opening in Beverly Hills in 1978, these restaurants have become well known for their fun atmosphere, huge portions and wide variety of entrees. They offer nearly forty varieties of cheesecake, with some that are only offered seasonally. These include: Key lime cheesecake, Chocolate Chip Cookie – Dough cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake (available from October – holidays), Pineapple Upside-Down Cheesecake, and after thanksgiving they even have a peppermint Bark Cheesecake!
Buca di Beppo – Owned by Planet Hollywood, Buca di Beppo specializes in immigrant Southern Italian food. They originated here in Minneapolis and have grown to have 92 locations. Vintage photographs cover the walls, in fact each restaurant is said to have more than 2,500 pictures. The food is served family style, where each item is shared among the dinner party. A select number of locations have a lunch menu, with individual-sized portions. All restaurants have a Pope table, a large table in a room to itself, with a bust of the pope in the center. Most locations also have a room right across from the kitchen, where you can watch them cook – chefs even come over and talk to you and even let you sample dishes.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. – Owned by the people who own Rainforest Cafe. Since 1996, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has been entertaining guests with a charming down-home style that’s a hit with eaters around the globe. Their menu offers a number of items for the shrimp lover in all of us. Boasting creative seafood dishes inspired straight from the movie Forrest Gump and a fun family atmosphere, Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. will have you running to the nearest location you can find! Although that movie came out around 20 years ago, this popular restaurant never fails to delight. Located on the third floor of The Mall of America.
The 5-8 Club – Perhaps you saw them on the Travel Channel’s Food Wars or Man Vs. Food. They are home to the legendary Juicy Lucy burger, the inside-out cheeseburger with the cheese in the middle of the meat. The cheese becomes super-heated when the burger is cooked, making it where the cheese keeps the meat from drying out. It was invented sometime in the 1950s by either the 5-8 Club, or Matt’s Bar, both in south Minneapolis. Try both places and let tell ’em Taylor sent ya! Let us know which is your favorite!
Rainforest Cafe – Step into this indoor jungle and discover one of the most realistic indoor rain forests ever created, complete with cascading waterfalls, lush vegetation, tropical rainstorms, beautiful aquariums, trumpeting elephants and wild animatronic gorillas, jaguars, and elephants. A “thunderstorm” goes off every now and then, where the “”animals” go wild and thunder and lightning appear to sound off in a dramatic yet exciting experience. The menu includes a wide variety of options, including pastas, seafood, salads, sandwiches and pizzas. Order their “volcano” sundae and they start yelling “volcano” and make quite a spectacle! Pick up a souvenir on the way out at their large, iconic gift shop. Located inside the Mall of America – this is the chain’s original location. They have since grown to have dozens of locations across the world. Located on the first floor.
St Paul Grill – Those in St. Paul who are looking for an elegant atmosphere and a thick, juicy steak. Enjoyed with a satisfying selection of award-winning wines, rare skotches, cognacs and whiskies. It is often considered to be the best restaurant in town, as it has been featured in USA Today, The New York Times, Conde Nast and Midwest Living. Dinner steaks and chops range from $18.95 all the way to $60.95. They offer a much lighter lunch selection, which offers a $7.95 mixed greens salad all the way up to a $28.95 Sea Bass, Miso marinated over Baby Bok Choy, Shiitake Mushrooms and Roasted Red Peppers.
2.5 Star- Best Western Kelly Inn (Prices from $107 to $119) – Located in St. Paul, this inn is older and nothing really extraordinary but does offer a clean and safe facility that is welcome to families and pets. Downtown attractions are less than a mile away. They have an indoor pool, health club, restaurant and some rooms even have whirlpools and scenic views.
3.5 Star- Radisson Bloomington Hotel by Mall of America (Prices start at $149 a night) – Located across the street from the Mall of America and adjacent to the Water Park of America, this hotel offers convenience, nice rooms, and exclusive water park packages that are only available to hotel guests.
The Water Park of America
4 Star- Radisson Blu Mall of America (Prices from $128 a night) – Enjoy the sleek and sexy new Radisson, which recently opened in 2013. With 500 rooms, an indoor pool and, a skybridge that connects directly to the Mall of America (the only hotel with this feature), this hotel is quickly becoming an area favorite. Enjoy 24-hour room service and a fully equipped fitness center. The hotel is a short drive from the state capitol in downtown St. Paul and minutes from the heart of downtown Minneapolis via the Metro Transit Light Rail commuter system. Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport is less than five miles away. An in-house restaurant promises “regional Minnesota cuisine inspired by the flavors of real burning wood,” and it is the second Blu in the States, after the flagship Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel Chicago and a third in Philadelphia.
4 Star- Le Méridien Chambers Hotel (Prices range from $225 all the way up to $1,000) – This luxurious Minneapolis hotel is dubbed as the “country’s finest luxury art hotel.” Over 200 pieces of original contemporary art are on display, including sculptures and video installations, with the hotel offering 60 guest rooms throughout five floors of two historic buildings. Located in the heart of the warehouse district; valet parking is $24.