12 Unique Things to Do in Duluth

by Paul Joseph  |  Updated May 25, 2022

Perched on the banks of Lake Superior in Minnesota, set against rocky cliffs and pristine forests, the port city of Duluth is teeming with great things to see and do.

An exhibit at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum (Photo: Lake Superior Railroad Museum)

One of Minnesota’s most scenic cities offers endless opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, from watersports to walking trails to fishing. It’s also blessed with plenty of man-made attractions, including some great museums and other cultural venues. If you’re planning a trip to Duluth and are looking to put together an itinerary for your stay, here’s our pick of  12 unique attractions you won’t find anywhere else.

Visit a fascinating museum

Thanks in large part to Thomas the Tank Engine, anything to do with trains tends to send kids into raptures. But it’s children and adults alike who flock enthusiastically to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, which offers one of the richest historic experiences in railroading available anywhere. Housed in a beautiful French Chateauesque building in Duluth’s Historic Union Depot, the museum has a huge collection of original trains on display, plus an assortment of disused railroad equipment including steam, diesel and electric locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, dining cars. There’s also a miniature recreation of downtown Duluth as it was in the early 20th century.

506 West Michigan Street / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm

Created to preserve and honour the memory of Major Richard I. Bong, America’s leading Ace of all time, who piloted a P-38 Lightning through more than 200 missions over the Southwest Pacific in World War II and destroyed 40 enemy planes, the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center is a fascinating and beautifully presented local history museum. On display are a variety of war relics and military vehicles, as well as a restored P-38 Lightning plane, that tells the story of Bong, along with other local war veterans and the wider contribution of the twin port area to World War II.

305 East 2nd Street, Superior / Mon-Sat 9am-5pm / Sun 12pm-5pm

Home to part of the world’s largest private collection of original manuscripts and documents, Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum is spread across several US locations, each a veritable goldmine of historical treasures. Among the documents to have made their way to the Duluth outpost down the years include Egyptian sandstone carvings and ship models, Bob Dylan’s handwritten lyrics, and the world’s first ever baseball card. The venue’s 50-foot rotunda also plays host to regular concerts and other events.

902 East 1st Street / Tues-Fri 10am-4pm Sat-Sun 11am-4pm Closed Mon

An exterior view of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum (Photo: Warren LeMay via Flickr)

Attend a fun-packed festival

Featuring world class performers, food vendors serving up delectable ethnic delicacies, and talented artisans displaying their wares, the Bayfront Reggae & World Music Festival is one of the most eagerly awaited events on Duluth’s cultural calendar. Taking place on the banks of Lake Superior, the festival celebrates and promotes cultural equality through reggae and international music, drawing huge numbers of revellers to Bayfront Festival Park  each year.

Bayfront Festival Park / July each year

Usually taking place on Duluth’s waterfront, but temporarily moving 28 miles northeast to Two Harbors along the shore of Lake Superior, while the Duluth site undergoes a renovation, the hugely popular Festival of Sail features an impressive fleet of majestic ships hailing from around the world. The event has something for everyone needing a Tall Ships fix, from onboard tours to day-sails and a grand parade of sail. There are also vendors, artisans, food, music, entertainment and a craft beer garden, plus special events including curated craft whiskey and beer tastings aboard the ships.

Bayfront Festival Park / August each year

A huge and historic sailboat out on the water at the Festival of Sail (Photo: Festival of Sail)

Embark on a scenic road trip

For an excursion out of Duluth, the North Shore Scenic Drive is one of America’s finest road-trips. Starting in the city’s waterfront Canal Park and ending in Grand Portage in Cook County, the drive offers 142 miles of dramatic views of the beautiful and rugged shoreline of Lake Superior. Ambling northeast out of Duluth, the scenery just gets better and better as you pass the majestic Sawtooth Mountains, waterfalls, cliffs, and beaches. There’s also the chance to stop in charming shore towns along the way.

Marvel at exotic marine life

The only aquarium in the U.S. that focuses on freshwater exhibits, the Great Lakes Aquarium is one of Duluth’s most popular family attractions. Featuring tons of interactive exhibits and re-created habitats, the three-story waterfront aquarium houses over 200 different species of fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals that reside within the Great Lakes basin and other freshwater ecosystems. Highlights include the Unsalted Seas exhibit, which showcases large lakes of the world and the animals that call them home.

353 Harbor Drive / Mon-Sun 10am-6pm

A colourful resident at the Great Lakes Aquarium (Photo: Sharon Mollerus via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Step aboard an historic lake freighter

Another Duluth landmark with a fascinating back-story is the S.S. William A. Irvin, a giant vessel that was once the flagship of the U.S. Steel company’s Great Lakes fleet. In addition to its prestige as a workhorse of the seas, the Irvin was also used as an upscale transport ship for company guest who were wined and dined among the oak panes and brass railings of the lavish dining room. The ship was retired in 1978 and today sits in Duluth Bay as a part of the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, performing a myriad of roles including museum, haunted attraction and theatre venue.

350 Harbor Drive

Admire Duluth from up high 

Visitors keen to see Duluth from a truly unique vantage point can enjoy panoramic views of the city and Lake Superior on this short but oh-so-sweet scenic helicopter tour. During the 9-11 minute flight, you’ll get to marvel at the sights below while your pilot provides live running commentary, pointing out notable attractions as you soar through the sky. Among the landmarks you’ll pass during the trip will be downtown Duluth, Enger Park and Tower, and the Aerial Lift Bridge.

Book at Viator

A Duluth and Lake Superior helicopter tour guest poses for a photo mid-flight (Photo: Lake Superior Helicopters / Courtesy Viator)

Explore an art fair

One of the region’s most cherished cultural events, the outdoor Park Point Art Fair near the shores of Lake Superior dates all the way back to 1970. Each year the event attracts arts lovers from far and wide who come to admire and purchase visual works by 120 juried artists working in clay, photography, painting, printmaking, mixed media, sculpture, fibre, jewellery, wood and glass. Run by volunteers and free to enter, the fair also features arts demonstrations and workshops, live music and entertainment, plus food vendors selling everything from BBQ and gyros to kettle corn and ice cream.

Park Point Recreation Area / June each year

Check out a mysterious coastal landmark

Located close to the Duluth shoreline on Lake Superior, the true story behind the concrete structure known as Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum is a perpetual source of dispute. Perhaps the most likely is that offered by the local tourism authority which gave rise to the landmark’s nickname. It’s claimed that the structure was the foundation of an unloading dock built by local businessman Harvey Whitney in the early 20th century, but that an abandoned project to build an adjoining harbour rendered it obsolete. Nonetheless, today it remains a striking feature on Duluth’s coastal landscape, and in the summer months attracts visitors who swim out to sunbathe on it or dive from the top.

The old sand and gravel hopper known as Uncle Harvey’s Mausoleum (Photo: sawdust_media via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Walk in the footsteps of a music icon

On 24 May 1944, Robert Dylan was born in Duluth’s St Mary’s Hospital. Little did anyone know at the time that he would go onto become the city’s most famous former resident. Today Dylan’s Duluth legacy is honoured by Dylan Way, a commemorative project designed to mark the performer’s 65th birthday back in 2006. It saw 30 streets signs across the city direct pilgrims along a 1.8-mile pathway that runs through downtown, connecting some of the area’s most significant landmarks, many linked to the man himself. Among them are Dylan’s former home and an exhibit showcasing some of the songs, memorabilia, and other aspects of his life.