15 Unique Things to Do in Minneapolis

by Paul Joseph  |  Published March 15, 2023

Minnesota’s largest city, Minneapolis is packed full of great things to see and do, making for a memorable midwestern travel adventure.

An exhibition room at the Walker Art Center (Photo: Sharon Mollerus via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Not only the biggest, but also the state’s most populous city, Minneapolis brims with activity, thanks to its impressive number of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques and cultural venues. But it is the abundance of water that surrounds the city that makes it a veritable geographical wonder – with more than a dozen lakes, along with wetlands, creeks, waterfalls, and the iconic Mississippi River all on the city’s doorstep. If that’s piqued your interest, let us pique it further with 12 of the most unique attractions the city has to offer.

Take in some art culture

Minneapolis has a thriving arts scene and at its beating heart is the internationally acclaimed Walker Art Center. Over two decades after opening, it has grown to become one of America’s premier art venues, home to multiple galleries of modern and contemporary art, as well as playing host to a busy programme of visual arts and design exhibitions by both emerging and established artists. There are also regular dance, theatre and music performances, plus film screenings.

725 Vineland Place / Weds & Fri-Sun 11am-5pm Thurs 11am-9pm Mon-Tues Closed

Another of the city’s most renowned cultural venues is the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Housing over 80,000 works of art spanning some 5,000 years of world history, the museum boasts one of the finest and most wide-ranging art collections anywhere in America. Works on display include paintings, photographs, prints, drawings, antiquities, decorative objects and textiles. Among the highlights are notable examples of indigenous African sculpture and Southeast Asian religious art, as well as paintings by European masters such as Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse and Bacon.

2400 3rd Avenue South / Tues-Weds & Sat 10am-5pm Thurs-Fri 10am-9pm Sun 11am-5pm

The American Swedish Institute is one of the region’s leading museums and cultural centres, offering arts and culture experiences centered around learning, reflection, and collaboration. Explore the historic Turnblad Mansion, Minnesota’s only castle – a must-see gem on the National Register of Historic Places. Discover Nordic art and craft and immerse yourself in exhibitions and collections of Swedish American culture and history. Learn about a variety of art, handcrafts, food, and language programs and more through workshops and events for all ages. Finally, browse unique items in the gift shop and dine at the award-winning restaurant FIKA Café featuring a seasonally inspired New Nordic menu.

2600 Park Avenue / Weds-Sun 10am-4pm Closed Mon-Tues

Immerse yourself in natural history

Minnesota’s official natural history museum, the Bell Museum is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the state’s rich and diverse natural environment. Situated within the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus, the museum is home to a digital planetarium, high-tech exhibits, wildlife dioramas, outdoor learning experiences, and plenty more, all laid out in an immersive and interactive way. Visitors can journey through space and time, and get up close and personal with 10,000-year-old fossils, living plants and animals in the hands-on Touch and See Lab.

University of Minnesota,  2088 Larpenteur Avenue West, St Paul / Weds-Sun 10am-4pm Closed Mon-Tues

A young visitor gets a closer look at Earth at the Bell Museum (Photo: Bell Museum)

Attend a fun-packed festival

A city summer staple for three decades, the Minnesota Fringe Festival connects artists with audiences through open, supportive forums for free and diverse artistic expression. The festival together with dynamic year-round programming serve as an artistic disruptor for local and national artists – to take bold risks, develop new ideas, and hoist themselves to the next rung of their artistic ladder. The festival itself fills tens-of-thousands of seats with audiences viewing works by more than 1,000 artists across a variety of venues.

Venues across the Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood / August each year

A Minnesota Fringe Festival audience standing in line for a show (Photo: Alex Wahlhueter)

Featuring a vibrant selection of artwork from over 150 local and regional exhibiting artists, the Powderhorn Art Fair is one of the highlights of Minneapolis’s cultural calendar. Taking place in the city’s eclectic and artsy Powderhorn neighbourhood, the annual event has been held for over three decades and each year introduces new and exciting events and activities including a series of immersive art installations, a family zone, and more. Artists at the fair represent some 20 artistic mediums and prices vary, ensuring there’s something for everyone, from art lovers to seasoned collectors to first-time buyers.

Powderhorn Park / August each year

Visitors peruse a stall at the Powderhorn Art Fair (Photo: Powderhorn Art Fair)

Set against the stunning tree-lined backdrop of Loring Park’s beautiful ponds, walking paths and formal gardens, Loring Park Art Festival brings the work of 140 juried, visual artists to this unique oasis at the edge of downtown Minneapolis. The family-friendly, two-day event features strolling musicians, stage performances, kid’s art activities and plenty of delicious festival fare. The festival is coordinated by Artists for Artists, a partnership of experienced artists, mission is to provide fine art and fine craft in a variety of styles and prices with the goal being “something for everyone.”

Loring Park, Downtown Minneapolis / July each year

Stalls by the waterside at the Loring Park Art Festival (Photo: Loring Park Art Festival)

Join a guided city walking tour

One of the best ways to get to know a city is by traversing its streets on foot, taking in the sights, sounds and smells as you go. And you can enhance this experience by doing all of this in the company of like-minded travellers and an expert guide. This walking tour passes by many of the city’s main landmarks, attractions and places of interest, with your guide on hand to regale you with fascinating facts and stories along the way. Why is Minneapolis considered one of the best cities for bikes? Why is the St. Anthony Falls in the Mississippi River important to the city’s natural landscape? All will be revealed over two fascinating hours.

Book at Groupon

Marvel at some magnificent outdoor sculptures

Directly outside the Walker Art Center (see above) are 11 acres of pristine parkland dotted with more than 40 remarkable sculptures. Combing a tranquil setting with these visually compelling works of art, the free-to-visit Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is a captivating place to explore. As well as the outdoor sculptures on display, on the west edge of the garden is the Sage and John Cowles Conservatory, a modern, angular glasshouse that contains a giant glass fish sculpture by legendary architect and designer Frank Gehry.

725 Vineland Place / Mon-Sun 6am-12am

An eye-catching carving on a lake at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (Photo: Paul VanDerWerf via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Visit an urban waterfall

Waterfalls are almost always associated with the wilderness rather than urban settings, but in Minneapolis this trend is well and truly bucked. Easily reachable by road from downtown Minneapolis, the Minnehaha Falls comprises a mesmerising 53ft-long waterfall set against a backdrop of river overlooks and limestone cliffs in Minnehaha Regional Park. Attracting pushing a million visitors each year, the falls are one of the area’s most popular attractions and adorn many a postcard sent back home to envious family and friends.

Cascading streams of water at Minnehaha Falls (Photo: Eli Duke via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Catch some live music at a legendary venue

If you’re only going to go for one night out in Minneapolis, then you’d do a lot worse than First Avenue. Housed in an old depot, this nationally famous rock venue and tiny bar have hosted (and sometimes launched) a huge number of now-established acts since opening their doors back in 1970. Acclaimed names to have performed here down the years include Joe Cocker, Tiny Turner, Frank Zappa, The Kinks, B.B. King, Rod Stewart, The Ramones, Prince, and U2.

701 North 1st Avenue

Escape the city hubbub at a park

Offering the ideal respite from the hustle and bustle of the city is Lake Harriet Bandshell Park, a scenic expanse of green public space that hosts a variety of lakeside activities as well as summer movies and concerts at the eye-catching castle-inspired bandstand. There are paved biking and walking trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, two lake beaches, and a fishing pier, as well as the opportunity to get on the water on a boat, kayak, or paddleboard. Each January, the park is also the scene of the Lake Harriet Kite Festival.

4135 West Lake Harriet Parkway / Mon-Sun 6am-10pm

Discover exotic marine life

Situated 11 miles south of downtown Minneapolis in Bloomington, the Mall of America is a vast shopping complex housing not only a huge number of retail stores but also several entertainment attractions. Among them is Sea Life, where visitors can discover marine animals from around the globe including giant sharks, sea turtles, sawfish, stingrays, and plenty more through a range of immersive exhibits. Highlights include a recreated rainforest offering the chance to get close to caiman crocodiles, poison dart frogs, and piranha fish.

SEA LIFE at Mall of America, Level One, Mall of America, 120 East Broadway East Side, Bloomington / Mon-Weds 10am-7pm Thurs 10am-8pm Fri 9am-8pm Sun 10am-6pm

Book at GetYourGuide

Visitors at SEALIFE take a selfie in front of a fish tank (Photo: SEA LIFE Aquarium at Mall of America / Courtesy GetYourGuide)

Traverse the world’s largest skyway network

Among Minneapolis’s many claims to fame is the lesser-known honour of the city being home to the largest, contiguous skyway system in the world. Originally designed to alleviate congestion on the streets in the early 1960s, today the walkways connect 80 city blocks as they meander more than 9 miles. Visitors keen to see this remarkable network for themselves can do so by booking on to a Skyway Walking Tour, which lets them navigate downtown’s unique architectural landscape via this historic and record-breaking grid of interlinked corridors. Tours run for around 2.5 hours.

Book at Viator

Check out a magnificent bridge

Most bridges around the world serve a merely utilitarian purpose, but a select few elicit significant attention beyond the admiration of structural engineer geeks. One such crossing is the Stone Arch Bridge, one of Minneapolis’s most distinctive landmarks. A former railroad bridge that crosses the Mississippi River, the 19th-century structure attracts a steady stream of visitors who come to admire its stunning architecture and the breath-taking views it affords of the downtown skyline.