Minneapolis and its neighbor, St. Paul, might not sound exciting to veteran travelers, but these Minnesota cities have more to offer than you might think. The Twin Cities frequently rank as some of the best cities to live in in the United States and provide everything from a thriving art scene, beautiful nature, a flurry of outdoor activities, and more. If you're looking for a great way to spend some time in this metropolis without spending a dime, we've rounded up our 15 favorite free things to do in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
This internationally-renowned museum opened its doors in 1915 and is one of the largest museums in the U.S. The Beaux-Arts building holds nearly 80,000 works of art, including of the country's most comprehensive collections of Chinese art. Admission is always free.
Hang Out at One of Minneapolis's Beautiful Lakes
A day at the lake is always free—just don't forget a picnic lunch and some sunscreen! Minnesota isn't called the Land of 10,000 Lakes for nothing. Minneapolis has a chain of lakes—Lake Calhoun, Harriet, Isles, and Cedar—for you to visit, each with its own distinct character. Lake Calhoun, also called Bde Maka Ska, is among the most popular for swimming, with water-goers often just setting up their towels on its grassy banks.
Tour Saint Paul's Breweries
Saint Paul's first brewery opened in 1848, and the town hasn't stopped since. Today, more than 10 breweries are operating in town, and many offer free tours. While it's not entirely free, Summit Brewing offers tours for $5 that include a flight of four 7 oz. beers.
Each February (or late January), Minneapolis hosts the Loppet Urban Cross-Country Ski Festival. All events are free, and you can watch everything from skijoring (skiing with a dog running in front of you) to speedskating. The nighttime Luminary Loppet, which includes ice music on frozen instruments, an ice forest, and more, is always among the most popular events.
The Minnesota State Capitol hosts free guided tours seven days a week. Tours cover the entire Cass Gilbert-designed building, which is the second-largest self-supported marble dome in the world. You'll learn about the recent restoration of the original 1905 murals and paintings, and, if the weather's nice, you'll even get to visit the golden horses atop the building's roof.
Visit the Cathedral of St. Paul
The Cathedral of St. Paul is a stunning European-style cathedral overlooking downtown St. Paul. The cathedral is the vision of Archbishop John Ireland and architect (and devoted Catholic) Emmanuel Louis Masquery. The design is in the Beaux-Art style and was inspired by Renaissance cathedrals in France. All are welcome to worship, and it's free to visit the cathedral when it's not being used for services.
Visit the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary
Visit the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, a peaceful garden in Minneapolis. Each area of the garden displays a different habitat, and the garden's website keeps visitors abreast of what's blooming when. Visit during spring to see stunning displays of bluebells and trout lilies, or summertime when spectacular sunflowers show off. More than 60,000 visitors tour the garden each year; the garden also offers free, regularly scheduled birding walks and nature hikes at the garden from spring through fall.
Visit St. Paul City Hall
Visit St. Paul City Hall to marvel at the glamorous art deco interior and the large marble Vision of Peace statue, a Native American bearing a peace pipe. The building was dedicated in 1932 and while the exterior is distinctly American (built from Indiana limestone and Wisconsin black granite), the interior channels a Parisian-inspired Art Deco style. Architecture buffs will love touring this unique example of a Depression-era building.
Visit Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is free on the first Saturday of the month and Thursdays after 5 p.m. The garden, which opened in 1988, is home to several iconic works from the Walker Art Center, including the gigantic Frank Gehry Standing Glass Fish, and the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture.
See Tropical Flowers in Bloom
See tropical flowers in bloom all year-round at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in Como Park, a glass structure that's home to some of the world's most rare tropical plants. The star of the conservatory's collection is a corpse flower, which emits a pungent odor when it's in bloom. In summer, admire the adjacent Japanese Gardens.
Visit a Nature Center
The Twin Cities is home to a few different nature centers for visitors to enjoy: Eastman Nature Center in Dayton, Harriet Alexander Nature Center in Roseville, Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul, Maplewood Nature Center, and Wargo Nature Center in Lino Lakes all preserve wild areas for families to enjoy. Nature center buildings offer free admission to their exhibits and activities for children. Many also organize regular family-friendly nature events and hikes.
Gaze at the Stars
Gaze at the stars during free astronomy night at the University of Minnesota's physics department or one of the department's traveling Universe in the Park summer programs. Public nights are always free, but beware that viewing isn't possible if the sky isn't clear. The university's summer program visits various state parks around the metroplex from June through August. It typically runs Friday or Saturday night from 8:30 p.m. through 11 p.m.
See a Free Concert at the Ted Mann Concert Hall
See a free orchestral, band, choral or jazz concert at the Ted Mann Concert Hall, performed by students from the University of Minnesota's School of Music. These recitals include a variety of instruments, ranging from flute to piano, and are always free and open to the public. Tickets are not necessary.
Take a Day Trip to Taylor Falls
Go on a day trip to the town of Taylors Falls, where you can see the Franconia Sculpture Garden, fascinating geological formations at Interstate State Park, and historic buildings in the city's downtown area—it's home to the cutest public library you'll ever see.
Hunt for Fossils at Lilydale Park
Visit Lilydale Park in St. Paul, which has caves and kilns remaining from its days at St. Paul's brickyards, and even more ancient history—it's a popular fossil-hunting ground. Buying a permit is necessary if you want to remove fossils, but it's free to look for them.