The name “Minneapolis” means “The City of Lakes”, referring to the city’s 22 natural lakes. It is a mashup of the Indian Dakota word “minne” which means water, and the Ancient Greek word “polis” which means a city-state.
Being the largest city in Minnesota and along with neighboring Saint Paul, it forms the urban core of the Twin Cities region, the third largest metropolitan area in the American Midwest after Chicago and Detroit.
Note: Smoking is prohibited by Minnesota state law at all restaurants, bars, nightclubs, workplaces, and public buildings. Violating the ban can result in a misdemeanor charge and a $300 fine.
Things To Do In Minneapolis
Minneapolis on the surface seems like a pretty but rather quiet tourist destination. If you properly do your research though, there is plenty to do.
The museums, natural parks and waterfronts, huge malls, shopping districts, and nightlife zones should give you several options no matter what your age.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is one of the largest urban sculpture gardens in the country. It has 40 permanent art installations (some of them gigantic) and several other temporary art pieces that are moved in and out periodically.
Walker Art Center
The Walker Art Center, near Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, is a multidisciplinary contemporary art center in Minneapolis.
The museum’s permanent collection includes over 13,000 modern and contemporary art pieces including books, costumes, drawings, media works, paintings, photography, prints, and sculpture.
Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) is one of the largest fine art museums in the United States. It features an encyclopedic collection of approximately 80,000 objects spanning 5000 years of world history.
Its collection includes paintings, photographs, prints & drawings, textiles, architecture, and decorative arts.
There are collections of African art, art from Oceania and the Americas, and an especially strong collection of Asian art, called “one of the finest and most comprehensive Asian art collections in the country”. The Asian collection includes Chinese architecture, jades, bronzes, and ceramics.
Note: As a major, government-funded public museum, the Institute does not charge an entrance fee, except for special exhibitions, and allows photography of its permanent collection for personal or scholarly use only.
Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum
The Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum is an art museum located on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. The building is one of the major landmarks on campus.
Often called a “modern art museum,” with over 25,000 image collection featuring Marsden Hartley, Alfred Maurer, Charles Biederman, Native American Mimbres pottery, and traditional Korean furniture.
The Museum of Russian Art
Housed in a former church in Southwest Minneapolis; the focus of the museum is on 20th-century Russian art and a strong collection of Soviet-era art.
Mill City Museum
The museum chronicles the development of the flour milling industry in Minneapolis; the city was the world’s leading producer of flour around the turn of the 20th century.
Stone Arch Bridge
The Stone Arch Bridge is a former railroad bridge crossing the Mississippi River at Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis. It is the only arched bridge made of stone on the entire length of the Mississippi River. It is the second oldest next to Eads Bridge.
The structure is now used as a pedestrian and bicycle bridge.
Note: 117 Portland Avenue is the general GPS address of the historic complex.
Saint Anthony Falls
Saint Anthony Falls or the Falls of Saint Anthony, located northeast of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota, was the only natural major waterfall on the Upper Mississippi River.
Named after the Catholic saint Anthony of Padua, the falls is the birthplace of the former city of St. Anthony and to Minneapolis when the two cities joined in 1872 to fully use its economic power for milling operations. From 1880 to about 1930, Minneapolis was the “Flour Milling Capital of the World”.
Today, the falls are defined by the locks and dams of the Upper Saint Anthony Falls, just downstream of the 3rd Avenue Bridge, and the Lower Saint Anthony Falls, just upstream of the I-35W Saint Anthony Falls Bridge.
Points of Interest
- Mall of America – the largest mall in the United States and the 12th largest in the world. (Note: Minnesota has no sales tax on clothing)
- Nickelodeon Universe – an indoor theme park inside the Mall of America. The park features roller coasters, among numerous other rides and attractions, and is the largest indoor theme park in the United States.
- Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium – inside Mall of America, a 300-foot-long curved tunnel through 14 feet of water to view over 4,500 sea creatures including sharks, turtles, stingrays, and many more. The Aquarium also offers special events such as sleepovers, scuba diving, snorkeling, and birthday parties.
- Minnesota Zoo – is in nearby Apple Valley
- Valleyfair – an amusement park that’s within an hour’s drive in nearby Shakopee.
- Stillwater – a beautiful, historic town about an hour away that has the highest number of celebrity sightings per capita in the state.
- Minnesota Arboretum, Chaska – nature explorations year round. The third Monday of the month is FREE.
- Pine City – an hour’s drive north of downtown. It’s a great glimpse of small-town Minnesota life.
- State Parks – Minnesota has many well-kept state parks for those who like to camp and fish.
- Duluth – the gateway to the North Shore, great for camping, boating, vacationing
- Lutsen – 5 hours from Minneapolis; has the best skiing in the region with cheap ski/stay packages
The city has a vibrant theater scene that incorporates all levels of theatrical engagement. Large theaters are clustered in Downtown, the West Bank, and Uptown, with smaller venues dotting the rest of the city.
The Guthrie Theater is the regional theater for the state of Minnesota, crafting high-quality productions with local talent, as well as bringing in artists from the wider professional theater circuit.
Organizations like The Playwrights’ Center have made the Twin Cities a nationally-renowned center for new work, while companies like Mixed Blood Theatre Company, Jungle Theater, Penumbra Theatre, and Ten Thousand Things Theater, Theater in the Round, among others, have created a local theater scene with diverse, high-quality offerings.
Lake Street is also home to the Heart of the Beast Puppet theater, which offers family-friendly shows Saturday mornings, and a variety of other unique puppet shows through the year.
They also host the Mayday Parade the first Sunday in May. If you want to see the community feel of Minneapolis, it’s a great event!
No discussion of getting around Minneapolis would be complete without mention of the Skyway. Covering most of an approximate 7×7 block region of central downtown, the Skyway is a series of public pedestrian spaces on the 2nd floor of downtown buildings connected by enclosed bridges between buildings.
It is possible to walk through most of downtown and never go outdoors, a real advantage during winter. Additionally, the Skyway allows you to bypass stoplights and quickly move through the city.
Beyond the core region, the Skyway reaches about 12 blocks in the north/south direction and 8 blocks east/west. The Skyway is home to multiple restaurants, stores, shops, and malls.
Hours vary slightly, but most buildings are open noon-6 PM Sunday, 6:30 AM-9 PM or 10 PM M-F and 9:30-8 PM on Saturday.
Lakes and Parks
Minneapolis has many beautiful lakes and riverfronts that are clean and well maintained. Most of them can be reached by car, and with the proper permits, can be used for camping. Above all, this can be delightfully cheap.
In the park, you can enjoy the nature and walk, bike, swim or paddle around the chain of lakes running north to south along the western side of Minneapolis proper.
Some are connected by lagoons and creeks which eventually spill into the Mississippi River at the famed Minnehaha Falls, the inspiration of Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha”.
Minnehaha Park is a city park in Minneapolis and home to Minnehaha Falls and the lower reaches of Minnehaha Creek. Minnehaha Creek connects Lake Minnetonka in the far west suburbs with the Mississippi River, running through Lake Nokomis and other small lakes along the way.
These are all part of the Minneapolis Grand Rounds, a 40-mile loop around the city begun over a century ago during the nation’s first grand movement to toss the “Keep Off the Grass!” signs into the dustbin of history.
Each of the Chain of Lakes has a walking path and a one-way biking/skating path. At least one path is kept clear even during the snowy winter month, and it is possible to use the paths almost every day of the year.
Cedar Lake has three public beaches, and is accessible by canoe, rowboat, or kayak by its connecting lagoon to Lake of the Isles and, by extension, Lake Calhoun. It is also the only one of the Chain of Lakes where private property actually fronts the lake.
Lake of the Isles
Lake of the Isles has bird sanctuaries on its (officially off-limits) islands, and a public skating rink, with a warming house, is groomed in the winter months. Check the newspaper; you may get lucky and catch a world-class speed-skating competition here.
Its shores also feature some of the best climbing trees in the city, particularly for those who carry a short rope ladder in their pack. Although residents can lease rack space for their rowboats, canoes, or kayaks, there is no public boat rental.
Boats rented or launched from Lake Calhoun can access Lake of the Isles via the lagoon which flows under Lake Street. There are also no public swimming beaches.
Lake Calhoun, also known as, Bde Maka Ska is the largest lake in Minneapolis, and part of the city’s Chain of Lakes. Surrounded by the city’s park and circled by bike and walking trails, it is popular for outdoor activities.
Lake Calhoun also has several public beaches, including volleyball nets on the South Beaches.
It also has a rowboat and canoe rentals (and lessons) and sailboat lessons.
Lake Harriet also has boat rentals. Lake Harriet’s features include a bandshell at which numerous local and regional talent perform, and has included the Minnesota Orchestra, among others.
It has several public swimming beaches, a marina, and is arguably the most popular and crowded lake among local residents for swimming, boating, walking, biking, and organized family and group celebrations.
Lake Nokomis has several beaches. It should be noted that, in Minneapolis, a public swimming beach is identified by at least a small stretch of sand, and at least one lifeguard during midday hours. Lake Nokomis qualifies. It also has public boat access for canoes, kayaks, and sailboats.
Several convenience stores and a grocery store are nearby on Cedar Avenue if you need to make a run for that item you forgot on your picnic.
Tower Hill Park
In Southeast, Minneapolis is home to the venerable Witch’s Hat, the Prospect Park neighborhood’s 1914 water tower. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and offers may be the best (if not the broadest) view in the city on the one day per year that its observation deck is open.
Music in Minneapolis
Minneapolis has one of the most vibrant and independent music scenes (punk, folk, club, jazz, classical, house, reggae, hip-hop, etc.) in the country.
The city is probably most famous for its purple pop wonder, Prince, but also has bands such as Soul Asylum, The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Atmosphere, and Hüsker Dü.
Note: Check out CityPages for listings throughout the cities. In the summers the Mpls Park and Rec sponsor a variety of family-friendly, local music groups in the parks.
Downtown Minneapolis is also home to the internationally renowned “First Avenue”.
First Avenue is famous for setting for the film Purple Rain and for the silver stars that cover the outside of the building.
The venue is split into three:
- Mainroom – hosts national and international touring bands (usually punk, indie, and hip-hop)
- 7th Street Entry – hosts local and less-known touring bands
- Record Room – a small dance lounge primarily used for DJ’s and smaller dance nights
Also, in the Downtown area, you have:
- Fine Line Music Cafe
- Dakota Jazz Club
- Lee’s Liquor Lounge
The West Bank contains:
- Cabooze – a biker bar featuring mostly classic rock-type music
- The Red Sea
- Hexagon Bar – in nearby Seward neighborhood
Uptown and Lyn-Lake have places like:
- Famous Dave’s – local and national blues acts
- Dulono’s – bluegrass and folk nights
Northeast has some great venues scattered around, most notably:
- Terminal Bar
- 331 Club
In Dinkytown, you have:
- Varsity Theater – an elegantly decorated theater
- Kitty Cat Klub – a college band favorite
The nightlife, in general, can be vibrant in several areas. The Warehouse District is great for clubbers, Dinkytown is good for college party-goers, Uptown is good for those with a bit more money, and Northeast is great for dive bar aficionados.
Minneapolis is not the 24-hour city that New York is, but bars close at 2 AM so that is still plenty of time, especially if you find a party to go to afterward.
Minneapolis certainly accommodates those seeking a good drink, a tendency which certainly compliments the alcohol culture endemic to the Upper Midwest.
There are over a dozen Irish, German, or British pubs, such as The Local, Black Forest Inn, Brit’s Pub, Gastoff’s, O’Donovan’s or Kieran’s.
Local dining, clubs, pubs, and bars, in general, compete for the best Happy Hour specials. It’s a good idea to pick up a City Pages or to do an internet search to find the best deals.
The Twins play at Target Field and the Timberwolves and Lynx at Target Center, both of which are located in Downtown Minneapolis. The Vikings have recently moved into the new U.S. Bank Stadium, also in Downtown Minneapolis.
Minneapolis is home to:
- Minnesota Twins (Major League Baseball)
- Minnesota Vikings (National Football League)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA basketball)
- Minnesota Lynx (WNBA basketball)
The games can be very exciting and each of the teams has a strong fan base.
The Twin Cities have an NHL hockey team, the Minnesota Wild, but they play next door in Saint Paul at the Xcel Energy Center.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers are the college sports teams for the University of Minnesota, and their venues are naturally near the U of M campus in Southeast Minneapolis.
Internet cafes are nonexistent in Minneapolis. Many coffee shops offer free wifi, but very few will have computer terminals.
The Hennepin County Library has computer workstations with internet access at all of their locations. Access to a computer is on a first-come, first served basis, and reservations can only be made in person.
Out-of-town visitors will need to obtain a temporary internet pass from a librarian. The library also offers unlimited wireless internet access (no pass needed). See district articles for specific locations.
The city of Minneapolis maintains a number of free wifi hotspots throughout the city.
Best Time To Visit
With neither mountains nor large bodies of water nearby to moderate the climate, the Twin Cities experience extreme temperatures at both ends of the scale.
Winters in Minneapolis can be very cold, while summer is often warm to hot and frequently humid. Snowfall is common in the winter, with at least a few blizzards occurring within the season. Thunderstorms with heavy rainfall occur during the spring, summer, and autumn.
The winter cold from December to March can be brutal to the unaccustomed body, with temperatures often dropping below zero. The summer heat from June to September can also be harsh, with temperatures sometimes reaching into the nineties or above, with high humidity.
Spring and autumn can be pleasant, with temperatures ranging between the forties and seventies, but during particularly rough years weather-wise those two seasons may either start late or be cut short.
How Safe Is Minneapolis
Dial 911 for emergencies and 311 for non-emergencies.
As with any major American city, keep your eyes open and your wits about you. Crime is relatively low in most parts of Minneapolis that you’re likely to visit, but is not unknown. Crime in the US in general while being notably more common than in most of Europe has been steadily decreasing in recent decades and is notably lower than in e.g. most of Latin America.
Be wary of the Near North, Camden, and Phillips communities, particularly at night. Violent crimes can occur and unfortunately have occurred in all parts of the city.
As in all other cities, these crimes receive a disproportionate amount of attention from local media. These tragic events, however, are typically not random so they will probably not impact your visit. You are more likely to be a victim of crimes of opportunity.
When traveling, do not leave any items that can be quickly converted to cash in plain view in cars or unattended at restaurants and other public areas. These crimes can and do occur in all areas, especially where you would have your guard down.
When you take in the great park system or travel to the unique urban shopping destinations ensure that all valuables remain with you or are secured out-of-view in your vehicle.
Also if you are going to secure your valuables in a vehicle, make sure you store them prior to arriving at your destination. Thieves are experts at watching people store valuables in the trunk and then striking when they leave.
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September 16, 2018 1:43 pm