North Dakota’s capital is filled with Great Plains culture and state landmarks, all easily accessible thanks to the city’s approachable size and layout.
Bismarck boasts a long history, the tallest building in the state (the North Dakota State Capitol Building) and the second largest population in the state, following Fargo. Though the Lewis and Clark Expedition crossed its lands decades before, the city was ultimately founded by European Americans in 1872, on the Missouri River. The railway town’s growth kicked into high gear when gold was discovered a few years later.
Now, Bismarck is one of the fastest-growing small cities in the United States, but you might not know it based on a quick drive through the town. Like many Midwestern and Great Plains cities, Bismarck features a somewhat sleepy, still-rediscovering-itself downtown and an expansive suburbia, filled with stand-alone restaurants, shopping malls and attractions. As such, a car is a necessity when visiting, as is a plan ahead of time: here, you’re less likely to find a serendipitously amazing travel experience just wandering around. We’ve got you covered.
Bismarck is not only a desirable spot to stop for road-tripping travelers making their way westward, but also a speck of classic Americana in the middle of what many might call fly-over country. Whatever your reason for visiting, here’s where to stay, play and eat during your time in Bismarck.
Things to Do
The Dakota Zoo (602 Riverside Park Road) is easily one of Bismarck’s top attractions. As the largest zoo in the state, this 90-acre facility houses hundreds of animals across more than a hundred species. Train tours for the zoo are available to learn more about the zoo’s threatened and endangered residents, such as the Bengal tigers, black-footed ferrets, tamarins, lemurs and grey wolves, among others.
Another one of Bismarck’s main attractions is Fort Abraham Lincoln (4480 Fort Lincoln Road, Mandan). The site was the 7th Cavalry headquarters and last command post for General Custer ahead of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Currently, the park includes a partial fort reconstruction, as well as a reconstruction of a Mandan tribe village. If you visit during the summer, you can explore on your own or catch a tour of the grounds, which include the museum and nature trails.
Dive further into North Dakota’s history at the North Dakota Heritage Center & State Museum (612 East Boulevard Avenue). Expanded in time for the state’s 125th anniversary of statehood, the museum includes four galleries and thousands of artifacts across multiple exhibits. Learn all about the state’s unique history, from its geologic past, early peoples and roles in significant U.S. events to its current culture.
The National Buffalo Museum (500 17th Street Southeast, Jamestown) is further out into the metro of Bismarck but is well worth a visit when you’re exploring the area. If you’re stopping in Bismarck as part of a larger road trip across the United States, this will be where you’ll likely spot some of your first bison (if you’re driving westward). Anyone familiar with U.S. history will know the impactful role bison have played, particularly when it came to relationships between Americans and native tribes, but the museum tells a more in-depth story of this magnificent animal’s cultural and historical significance.
Many travelers use Bismarck as a base for exploring other areas of North Dakota that don’t offer the same level of travel amenities, such as hotels and restaurants. Two other state attractions that you’ll find many Bismarck visitors either on their way to or coming from include Theodore Roosevelt National Park (201 East River Road North, Medora) and the Enchanted Highway (607 Main Street, Regent). The former is an awe-inspiring landscape filled with wildlife, from prairie dogs to wild horses, and the latter is a man-made art tour that takes travelers on a 32-mile journey through rural South Dakota, with stops at larger-than-life metal sculptures.
Accommodations in Bismarck are limited, with no local properties. The Bismarck Ramkota Hotel (800 South Third Street) is part of the regional chain that serves Great Plains destinations in both of the Dakotas. The hotel serves many business travelers due to its convenient conference rooms, and families enjoy its expansive indoor waterpark.
Otherwise, travelers’ best bet would be to stay at their favorite international chain in the suburban areas of the town. Options with convenient accessibility and budget-friendly rates include IHG’s Staybridge Suites (2801 Gateway Avenue), a Wingate by Wyndham (1421 Skyline Boulevard) and the Ramada Bismarck Hotel (1400 East Interchange Avenue).
Like a Local: Restaurants, Bars & Cafés
The Starving Rooster (512 East Main Avenue) lives on the footprint of the once-upon-a-time Altman and Taylor Tractor Company. The story goes that the company’s threshing machine was so good at its job that it left no grain behind; thus, the roosters couldn’t eat any threshing leftovers. Now, the restaurant leaves no diner hungry, with its menu of sandwiches and pizzas, accompanied by select cocktails and beers.
Bistro 1100, An American Cafe (1103 East Front Avenue) is set in a historic carriage house and offers a Euro-style environment with an American menu. Expect traditional steakhouse fare, including steaks, seafood and other proteins, served alongside starches and veggies like mashed potatoes and rice. Mammoth salads and plates of pasta are also available.
Specializing in German cuisine, Bismarck Ale Works (1100 Canada Avenue) celebrates the region’s heritage, with fine local ingredients and high-quality beers. The menu is extensive and includes plenty of comfort food to get one through those long, brutally cold and snowy North Dakota winters. Think jaeger schnitzel, goulash and pot pie.
If you prefer Italian fare, you may enjoy the downtown eatery Anima Cucina (101 North Fifth Avenue). The build-your-own charcuterie board is not to be missed, particularly when complemented with a glass of wine. Once diners have had their fill of finger foods, they can move on to heartier entree options including steak, seafood and, of course, plenty of pasta.
Continuing the international theme is Blarney Stone (408 East Main Avenue), a lively Irish pub also set in downtown Bismarck. The Bismarck outpost is one of the brand’s three locations and is named after the famed Blarney Castle and Blarney Stone in Ireland. You won’t find a better Belfast breakfast or Dublin dinner in all of North Dakota.
Down Home General Store (214 East Main Avenue) offers a range of gifts and home decor items, inspired by the owner’s 30 years of experience. The downtown boutique stocks jadeite homeware, locally-made purses and country-chic items for every room in the house.
A family-run business, Boutique 23 (201 West Main Avenue) is full of fashionable choices for both women and men, alongside select home decor items. In honor of the founder’s son, who passed away in 2010, the boutique carries a special clothing line called BE Grateful, HAVE Faith.
Lula B. Boutique (301 East Broadway Avenue) is a growing boutique brand that sells an array of goods for the modern gal. Think tops, bottoms, graphic tees, dresses and accessories, perfect for mixing and matching to create a complete outfit. Here, find well-made, fashionable reminders of your North Dakota explorations.