United States

The best festivals and fairs in Minneapolis and Minnesota

by Paul Joseph  |  Published December 15, 2020

The largest of America’s Great Lake states bordering Canada and Lake Superior, Minnesota matches its beautiful natural landscapes with several urban centres that brim with commercial and cultural activity. The most well-known are the “Twin Cities” of Minneapolis and the state capital of Saint Paul, where visitors will find an impressive array of top class museums, shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.

The Royal Parade at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival (Photo: Apehanger via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

A huge number of festivals and fairs take place in Minnesota every year, with the city of Minneapolis at the heart of its busy annual calendar. If you’re planning a trip to the Midwestern state and would like to take in one of its popular events during your stay, we’ve picked out 20 of the best to look out.

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

Now in its 135th year, this annual carnival celebrates Minnesota’s favourite season of the year – winter. Legend has it that the festival began in 1886 in a bid to prove wrong two East Coast reporters who claimed that “Minnesota is another Siberia, unfit for human habitation”. Today, thousands flock to the city for ice fishing tournaments, ice sculpture parks, carnival music, rides and the annual parade. The carnival takes over the city but the biggest attractions, including the Saint Paul Scavenger Hunt, can be found in Rice Park.

LOCATION Venues throughout Saint Paul DATES 28 January-7 February 2021

Saint Paul Winter Carnival

An ice palace lights up the night sky during the Saint Paul Winter Carnival (Photo: Joe Haupt via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Spring Festival, An Arts and Crafts Affair

Crafters after some inspiration should head to the annual Spring Festival in Shakopee. Every year hundreds of the nation’s finest artists and crafters set up stalls at Canterbury Park to showcase and sell their handcrafted works. It’s well-reputed too – Sunshine
Artist Magazine has voted it one of the top 100 shows in the country. As well as shopping opportunities, the expo also features entertainment, hourly gift certificate drawings, festive food and lots more family fun.

LOCATION Canterbury Park, Shakopee DATES 9-11 April 2021

Spring Festival, An Arts and Crafts Affair

Busy crowds at the Spring Festival (Photo: Spring Festival, An Arts and Crafts Affair)

Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival

One of the longest-running and most anticipated film festivals to be found anywhere in the country, the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF) attracts more than 40,000 visitors every year. Held over seventeen action-packed days each spring, the MSPIFF brings more than 250 international independent films from more than 70 different countries to the Twin Cities for a movie extravaganza.

LOCATION St. Anthony Main Theatre, Minneapolis DATES 13-23 May 2021

Blaine Festival

This popular community celebration has kicked off the summer with a special weekend of family fun for more than 50 years now. The annual three-day event features a packed programme of carnival rides, petting zoos, magic shows, bandstands, car shows and karaoke contests. Be sure not to miss the good natured ‘Not So Ugly Dog Contest’, with special prizes for the Best Owner Look-Alike and Not-So Ugliest Dog.

LOCATION Aquatore Park, Blaine DATES 5-7 June 2021

Blaine Festival

A stage performance at Blaine Festival (Photo: Blaine Festival)

Winstock Country Music Festival

Nashville may take the undisputed title of Country Music Capital, but fans in the Upper Midwest need not despair if they can’t get down south for a dose of Country music. The Winstock Country Music Festival is a premier outdoor Country music and camping festival that draws crowds of 15,000 visitors every day. The event often scores an impressive lineup with headliners including Luke Combs and Darius Rucker. The festival takes place at the festival grounds, and visitors can opt to camp on-site to ensure they don’t miss out.

LOCATION Winsted DATES 18-19 June 2021

Winstock Country Music Festival

The audience poses for a photo at Winstock Country Music Festival (Photo: Winstock Country Music Festival)

Stone Arch Bridge Festival

This annual festival offers everything a good family-friendly weekend should – face painting, live music, food trucks, an arts market, beer sampling from local breweries. But what really marks it out from the crowd is the setting. The festival takes place at one of the city’s most iconic landmarks – the Stone Arch Bridge – and offers unrivalled views of Minneapolis across the river. Nothing beats an early summer evening on the riverfront.

LOCATION Water Power Park, Minneapolis DATES 18-20 June

Twin Cities Pride

Fly the flag for equality and celebrate the large LGBTQ+ community in Minneapolis-St. Paul at The Twin Cities Pride. The annual celebration is the third largest Pride festival in the United States. A line up of diverse events – including the Pride Stride – take place ahead of the main parade, which draws crowds of more than 400,000 every year. Loring Park tends to host the biggest of the events, including the Pride Family Fun Day and the Pride Festival. The latter features over 400 exhibitors, fireworks and four stages that have hosted esteemed artists such as The Pointer Sisters, Adore Delano and The Phoneix Philosophy.

LOCATION Loring Park, Minneapolis DATES 26-27 June 2021

Twin Cities Pride

A festival-goer waves a rainbow flag at Twin Cities Pride (Photo: Tony Webster via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

International Festival

Worthington is one of the most diverse communities in the region, and proud of it too. For the past 27 years, the city has celebrated its rich heritage with an International Festival. The two-day celebration features talent contests, live music and dishes from around the globe. Acts from previous years have included Scandinavian ensembles, Quinceanera demonstrations and Maqam performances. That’s just a snippet of what’s on offer, from a city whose population represents 80 different countries.

LOCATION Nobles County Government Center lawn, downtown Worthington DATES 9-10 July 2021

International Festival

Elaborately dressed revellers at the International Festival (Photo: International Festival)

Minneapolis Aquatennial

With 22 lakes, wetlands, the Mississippi River, creeks and waterfalls, Minneapolis is not a city short on water. Given that the city owes so much of its economic growth to this defining characteristic, it makes sense that a whole festival should be dedicated to it. The Aquatennial began in 1940 and has grown into a multi-day outdoor event featuring parades, cooking competition, marathons and live music. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of water-based activities too, like spectating the brave balancing acts at the Twin Cities Water Ski Show. Don’t miss the fireworks, which have been voted in the top five annual fireworks displays in the United States.

LOCATION Venues across Minneapolis DATES 21-24 July 2021

Minneapolis Aquatennial

Crowds gathered along the banks of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis to watch the Minneapolis Aquatennial fireworks show (Photo: Dan via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)


Those after some serious barbeque action won’t want to miss out on RibFest!, though vegetarians may feel a little left out. For 27 years this annual festival has celebrated the revelry of rib-eating, luring the best Ribbers from across the United States to the city of Mankato. Participants can compete for the winning title in Best Ribs, Best Pulled-Pork and People’s Choice categories, judged on sight, smell and taste. Head to the Vetter Stone Amphitheater to find the juiciest joints in the country. Past winners include Porky Chicks and Big Boned BBQ.

LOCATION Vetter Stone Amphitheater, Mankato DATES 5-8 August 2021

Minnesota Fringe Festival

The third-largest fringe festival in North America, the Minnesota Fringe Festival has been going for nearly 30 years. The self-described “artistic disruptor” aims to connect adventurous artists with adventurous audiences – and succeeds. The event fills more than 50,000 seats every year, featuring the work of more than 1000 artists spanning 20 genres. From modern twists on classic-tales to mime performances to political satire, the Minnesota Fringe is a rip-roaring festival that audiences return to year after year.

LOCATION Venues across Minneapolis DATES 5-15 August 2021

Minnesota Fringe Festival

A Bollywood dance scene at the Minnesota Fringe Festival (Photo: Alex Wohlhueter via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Swift County Fair

Appleton is home to heaps of popular festivals all year round, but the Swift County Fair is the most famous. Every year in mid-August, hundreds of visitors descend upon the Swift County Fairgrounds for carnival rides, beer gardens, live entertainment and the notorious demolition derbies. Visitors from further afield can even camp at one of the festivals 128 full electric sites. The city of Appleton is also fondly referred to as the ‘Home of Honored Veterans’, due to the renaming of every single street and avenue
after fallen war heroes in 1947.

LOCATION Swift County Fairgrounds, Appleton DATES 18-22 August 2021

Swift County Fair

A band performs at the Swift County Fair (Photo: Swift County Fair)

Minnesota Renaissance Festival

What ho! A festival that transforms a city in the southwest of downtown Minneapolis into a 16th Century ‘European village’? Sounds like it shouldn’t work on any level – and yet. The annual event, founded in 1971, draws more than 300,000 visitors every year. More
than 250 merchants (artisans) are invited to the realm to sell their wares, along with fire breathers, falconers and jousters. Some 16 live entertainment zones provide live music and dance acts, while the eight dining areas boast food fit for a king.

LOCATION Shakopee DATES 21 August – 3 October 2021

Minnesota Renaissance Festival

A fierce jousting battle at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival (Photo: Apehanger via Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0)

Minnesota State Fair

If you find yourself in Saint Paul at the end of August, it’s impossible to avoid the Minnesota State Fair – and nor will you want to. This is the largest state fair in the United States by average daily attendance and has run almost every year since its creation in 1854. Every year thousands congregate in the fairgrounds for carnival rides, music, more than 500 food stands, lumberjack contests, pageants and parades. Don’t miss the decades-long tradition of the sculpting of the ‘Princess Kay of the Milky Way’ out of a 90-pound block of salted butter.

LOCATION Minnesota State Fairgrounds, St Paul DATES 26 August -6 September 2021

Minnesota State Fair

A horse drawn carriage circles an arena at the Minnesota State Fair (Photo: Nicholas Wadler via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Lac Qui Parle County Fair

This annual fair has taken place since 1873 and is fondly referred to as ‘the little Minnesota fair’. Highlights of the four-day festival include beer gardens, carnival rides, the Minnesota State High School Rodeo and a Demo Derby with $8,000 up for grabs for the winner. Other, more unusual activities include the diaper derby, vegetable races and rabbit shows. Visitors can also enjoy live entertainment from local artists, as well as local food stands serving up everything from foot-long hotdogs to deep fried Oreos.

LOCATION LacQui Parle County Fairgrounds, Madison DATES 9-12 September 2021

Harvest Moon Festival

Every year around 15,000 visitors head to Ely, a small city in St. Louis, to celebrate the autumnal equinox. The three-day festival is filled with arts and crafts, food and live entertainment. Around 125 local artisans set up stalls to showcase and sell their art,
with demonstrations from local craftsmen, book signings from local authors and musical storytelling for children. The festival takes place every year on the first weekend after Labor Day, at Whiteside Park. There is no charge for admission.

LOCATION Whiteside Park, Ely DATES 10-12 September 2021

Harvest Moon Festival

A traditional performance at the Harvest Moon Festival (Photo: Harvest Moon Festival)


Another entry for the city of Appleton in Swift County, this time in honour of its namesake. The fun-filled three-day festival features a car show, a flea market and a parade, as well as a Miss Appleton and Little Appleton beauty pageant. Throughout the weekend, visitors can also enjoy live music performances, kids inflatables, baking contests, art exhibits, a big BBQ feed, and plenty more.

LOCATION Swift County Fairgrounds, Appleton DATES 17-19 September 2021

Tri-State Band Festival

More than 2500 students from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota participate in the Tri-State Band Festival in Luverne, which is the longest-running festival of its kind in the region after running for more than 70 successful years. The parade travels along Main Street, with students judged on their pageantry, choreography, regimentation and musicianship. The circuit lasts for roughly three hours and usually features around 29 participating bands.

LOCATION Venues across Luverne DATES 25 September 2021

Tri-State Band Festival

Trombone players march in unison at the Tri-State Band Festival (Photo: Tri-State Band Festival)

Montgomery Torchlight Parade

For the people of Montgomery, the countdown to Christmas starts with the Montgomery Torchlight Parade. The annual parade travels along 1st Street in Historic Downtown and culminates in a spectacular firework display in the South. Theparade features around 50 Christmas-decorated floats and a much-loved Medallion Hunt. Local schools compete to design a symbolic button each year, and the winning design is used as the theme for a float and replicated for souvenirs.

LOCATION Downtown Montgomery DATES 2 December 2021

Montgomery Torchlight Parade and Fireworks

Fireworks light up the night sky at the Montgomery Torchlight Parade(Photo: Montgomery Torchlight Parade)

Women’s Art Festival

The Women’s Art Festival provides a welcoming and inclusive space for female artists to show and sell their creations to the local community. Local artists ranging from first time exhibitors to experienced professionals are welcome to showcase their works. The
festival was founded in 1992 by Sue Zieke with a just a handful of artists and has since grown to feature more than 130 artists. Now one of the Twin Cities’ favourite holiday shopping events, the festival also features live music from female performers throughout the day and locally women-owned food businesses.

LOCATION Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center, Minneapolis DATES Each December