Two Ideal Days in Minneapolis
Minneapolis might be known for its cold winters and nice people, but its multicultural metro area has a lot more to offer than snowplows and handshakes. It's where music legends Prince and Supersonic got their start, is home to myriad hike and bike trails, and boasts a mall so large it has multiple roller coasters inside. From its world-renowned theaters and art museums to its edgy breweries and music venues, the eastern half of the Twin Cities offers a multicultural experience that takes a lot of visitors by surprise.
If you only have a couple days to explore the city, it can be tough to know where to start. Whether you're in town for work, family, or simply to explore, this hour-by-hour guide includes a selection of the best iconic sites, historic treasures, breathtaking views, and trendy hotspots in the Minneapolis area so you can relax and make the most of your stay.
2 p.m.: Check into your hotel. Named one of the best hotels in Minnesota by U.S. News and World Report, Loews Minneapolis Hotel is a 251-room luxury hotel located near First Avenue and the Target Center, and by several mass transit options, like the light rail and Greyhound stations. Accommodations include complimentary wifi, as well as a gym, fitness center and spa. Despite its elegance, the hotel is also extremely family-friendly, with free activity books for kids at check-in, as well as strollers and car seats available for use during your stay. You can even bring your pets.
Or if you're looking for something trendy with the same level of elegance, try Aloft Minneapolis. This boutique hotel near the Guthrie in the Mill District offers stunning views of the Mississippi River as well as a free cocktail hour every evening. A cool feature offered by the hotel is SPG Keyless entry, which allows you to check in, find out your room number, and even unlock your door all from your smartphone. It's also extremely pet-friendly. Dogs stay free—no deposits necessary.
3 p.m.: After you’ve freshened up, head over to the Walker Art Center. The art museum’s diverse galleries feature thousands of pieces across a wide array of visual and media arts. Beyond standard oil paintings and photography, the collection includes books, costumes, and multimedia projects, as well as live performance art and videos.
Afterward, meander through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Adjacent to the Walker Art Center, the garden is known for its iconic pieces like Spoonbridge and Cherry and is open every day of the year from 6 a.m. to midnight. Tickets to get inside the Walker Art Center are typically $10-15 for adults, but the sculpture garden is always free.
6 p.m.: Eat dinner at Butcher & the Boar. This combination of smokehouse and steakhouse is one of the best in the city, with food prepared using local ingredients and served in massive portion sizes that are perfect for communal dining. In addition to the smoked meats and delectable sides, the restaurant also offers well-made craft beer and barrel bourbon.
8 p.m.: Catch a show at First Avenue. This live music venue is the epicenter of Minneapolis’ music scene and well-known for hosting some of the biggest names in music history. Two performance spaces are housed in the same building, each catering to different audience sizes and acts. You might recognize the larger of the two—the Mainroom—from the cult-classic music film Purple Rain, but the 1500-person room often hosts big-name acts to sold-out crowds.
The smaller space, 7th St Entry, features local bands every night of the week and is where some now-famous musical acts got their start, including Prince, Semisonic, and Atmosphere. The venue often hosts megastars and can sell out quickly, so be sure to book your tickets ahead of your trip to see who will be in town and grab your seats. With its rich history and deep roots in America's music scene, seeing a show at First Avenue is a must for avid music lovers.
9 a.m.: Grab brunch at the Hen House Eatery. This downtown Minneapolis cafe serves up healthy morning eats all day long—all made from fresh and locally sourced ingredients. In addition to oats and berries, the menu also boasts omelets with quinoa and goat cheese and tiramisu pancakes with pure maple syrup.
10:30 a.m.: Work off breakfast by spending the morning wondering through the Historic Mill District in Minneapolis’ Downtown East neighborhood. Named after the many industrial flour mills set up along the Mississippi River, the quaint district is speckled with preserved and renovated mills, as well as an old railroad depot and a modern farmers market.
The cornerstone of the district is the Mill City Museum. Built on the ruins of what was once the world's largest flour mill, the museum chronicles more than just the history of grinding grain. Exhibits tell the story of Minneapolis itself and the many industries that relied on the Mississippi River and nearby St. Anthony Falls.
1 p.m.: Grab lunch across the river at Afro Deli. This fast-casual restaurant serves up a range of delicious menu of African-, American-, and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, with a special nod to the city’s large Somali population. Everything is prepared halal and made fresh to order. Be sure to try the Somali steak sandwich. The lovechild of a panini and a cheesesteak, the spicy, seasoned beef is smothered in cheese and onions and served on crunchy focaccia bread.
3 p.m.: Cross the Stone Arch Bridge on foot into Downtown West. The historic structure was built in 1883 as a railroad crossing and later converted to a pedestrian and bike path connecting the east and west banks. Despite the crisp winters, Minnesotans love to get outside—even in the heart of the city. This busy walk-and-bike path links Dinkytown (the area near the University of Minnesota) with the cultural hub of the Historic Mill District. In addition to its ease and convenience, the bridge reminds locals about the beautiful views found along the river year-round.
The Mighty Mississippi isn’t the only great view from the bridge. The crossing also offers a great glimpse of St. Anthony Falls. A visitor center is located near the West Bank of the bridge, and tours of the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam are available on a limited basis.
5 p.m.: Grab an early dinner at Sanctuary, an upscale eatery near the Guthrie Theater. Everything about the restaurant—from the desserts to the decor—is beautifully crafted, and that same attention to detail is evident in the flavors as well. If you're visiting during the week, treat yourself to the Chef's five-course tasting menu. The entire meal costs just $35—or around $50 with the wine pairings—and is the best way to experience the chef's favorites.
Or for a more casual bite, check out Day Block Brewing Company. The brewpub is one of the best places to get craft beer in the city and is known for its bold brews and thin-crust pizzas. All pies are made from scratch and combine a unique assortment of flavors. Several are nods to other beloved cuisines, like the Banh pizza made with Vietnamese pork, or the Greek goddess featuring olives and feta.
7:30 p.m.: Catch a show at the Guthrie Theater. This Tony award-winning theater is the jewel in the crown of Minneapolis’ performing arts scene. Live shows featured at the facility include ones based on classical literature, as well as more modern pieces. Every year around the holidays, the theater presents "A Christmas Carol," and while the script might stay the same, new directors breathe new life and interpretation to Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale from one year to the next.
Minneapolis: Day Three
8 a.m.: Eat breakfast at the Lowry. This Hennepin Avenue restaurant in Uptown serves up modern American brunch staples with an upscale twist. Try the avocado toast—it comes with crab cakes—or the peanut butter waffle with vanilla custard. If you have kids in tow, order the Mickey Cake, a buttermilk pancake in the shape of Mickey Mouse just like mom used to make.
10 a.m.: Go to Midtown Global Market for lunch. Housed in an old Sears building, this massive public market features a cultural array of food, crafts, and arts from more than 40 area businesses. From handmade Hmong clothing to Cambodian-Thai fusion food to African drum lessons, the market showcases the rich diversity of the Minneapolis area. Live music and other performances happen most weekends, as well as some times throughout the week.
Walk through the various stalls to do a little shopping, and when you've worked up an appetite, grab some small bites from a variety of vendors for a multicultural—and extra delicious—lunch.
1 p.m.: Afterward, take a tour of Surly Brewing Company before heading out of town. One of the best (and best-known) craft breweries in the Minneapolis area, Surly offers guided, behind-the-scene tours of its destination brewery every afternoon. There you'll see the brewhouse, fermentation cellar, and packaging hall, as well as taste some samples in a souvenir glass. Note: If you book online, you won't be able to sign up the same day as the tour. If you decide last minute to tour Surly, you'll need to sign up in store.
If you have a little free time before your flight, get in some steps at the Mall of America (MOA). When it opened its doors in the early '90s, the MOA was the biggest mall in the country and one of the largest in the world. Its coolest attractions include Nickelodeon Universe (formerly Camp Snoopy), an indoor amusement park complete with multiple roller coasters, a miniature golf course, and myriad rides and games. The mall also houses the Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, which features a 300-foot-long curved tunnel that surrounds you in a colorful array of sharks, stingrays, and schools of fish.
The mall is just a few minutes away by light rail to the Minneapolis airport terminals, and easily accessible from 494, making it a great last stop before leaving Minneapolis... for now.