To most Americans, spending winter months in the Twin Cities might seem daunting. But for the resilient residents of Minneapolis-St. Paul, it's a grand opportunity to go ice skating outside, sled in the snow, strap on some skis, or hurl snowballs. On top of all the winter fun you can have on your own, there are also festivals, live music, events, and hockey games you can plan on attending. If you'd rather enjoy the winter from inside, there are many other fun things you can do in Minneapolis-St. Paul to make this time of year special while staying warm.
In 2021, some businesses and events may be closed, so be sure to check the official organizer's website for the latest details.
If you like cross-country skiing, you can find several different trails in many large parks and gardens throughout the Twin Cities. In Minneapolis, Theodore Wirth Park has 25 kilometers of trails for beginners to advanced and a two-kilometer lighted trail for evening skiing, and the Columbia Golf Course also has several miles of trails. In St. Paul, Fort Snelling State Park has 12 miles of scenic trails with river views and Como Park has some of the best trails in the Metro area. Near the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum is a very scenic place to ski or you can check out Lebanon Hills Regional Park in Eagan, Minnesota.
If you're not one to get out on skis yourself, you might still enjoy the City of Lakes Loppet, a cross-country skiing festival, with races and a torchlit event through Minneapolis. In 2021 the festival takes place on January 30 to 31 and February 6 to 7.
Fish on the Ice
If you want to try ice fishing, you can go to a resort and join others on the ice or hire a guide, but it's also a simple activity to do on your own if you've got a fishing pole, a license, and something to cut a hole in the ice.
Every winter, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources hosts "Take a Kid Ice Fishing Weekend." Residents can fish without a license when accompanied by a child age 15 or under. Participating state parks provide all the gear and coach families through everything like drilling holes and preventing them from freezing over. This year's event will take place from January 16 to 18, 2021.
Have Fun at the Winter Carnival
The Winter Carnival, held in St. Paul in late January and early February, is the major winter event in the Twin Cities. The Winter Carnival features ice and snow sculptures, traditional Minnesotan foods, and a grand parade through downtown St. Paul. The winter carnival runs from January 28 to February 7, 2021.
Usually, there are three parades: the Moon Glow Pedestrian Parade, the Grand Day Parade, and the Vulcan Victory Torchlight Parade. There are also other events like an ice-fishing tournament and a drive-thru ice sculpture park. Most events are free, open to the public, and will take place in downtown Saint Paul, near Rice Park and Landmark Center, as well as at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds.
Find Free Fun at Holidazzle
Holidazzle is a Minneapolis tradition, and you can expect a Minneapolis-centric experience that includes well-known local businesses and products. This special event that draws in many to see the lights and listen to festive music typically runs from Thanksgiving until Christmas in downtown Minneapolis. Enjoy prepared food and beverages, packaged food, merchandise, free music, and other festive entertainment for all ages. Holidazzle brings family-friendly programming to Loring Park and everything is completely free.
Bowl a Few Frames
Have some fun at bowling alleys like Memory Lanes and Bryant Lake Bowl, where the hipsters and "Big Lebowski" fans go, or neighborhood places like the retro RanHam Bowling Center, which offers cheap bowling and is located in the basement of the same building as The Nook Bar, which is home to one of the best Juicy Lucy burgers (a cheeseburger with the cheese inside the meat) in St. Paul.
The Great Lakes region has long been a major player for American beers, but Minneapolis is quickly gaining prominence as one of the best towns in the United States to find a great, small-batch brew. From brewpubs to beer halls, more and more restaurants are choosing to fill their taps with only small-batch, locally brewed beers. If you're looking to sample the best of what area breweries have to offer, check the Minneapolis-St. Paul craft beer scene. You can visit the Summit Brewery in St. Paul on selected Saturdays and the Surly Brewery in Brooklyn Center on selected Friday nights. In 2021, the usual roster of brewery events may be canceled.
Minneapolis-Saint Paul has several great venues full of seasonal cheer and decorations like the Bentleyville Tour of Lights in the northern city of Duluth. There are some neighborhoods and suburbs like Summit Avenue and Plymouth that are well-known for their annual displays as well. Or, you can travel to the cute-as-a-button town of Taylor's Falls, about an hour north of the Twin Cities. Here, you'll find an annual, three-day Lighting Festival on Thanksgiving Weekend, with parades, reindeer, music, food, and entertainment.
When it's just too cold for the kids to spend a lot of time outdoors, the Minnesota Children's Museum is a wonderful interactive museum in downtown St. Paul dedicated to entertaining and educating children up to 10 years old. There are several permanent galleries at the Minnesota Children's Museum, and one or two traveling exhibitions. In 2021, the museum is open but you'll need to reserve tickets in advance.
Walk the Skyways
In downtown Minneapolis, you don't always have to brave the cold air to get from building to building. Just make sure you stay in a downtown hotel with access to the Skyway System. The system connects corporate offices, bars, restaurants, bakeries, hotels, government services, retail, gyms, grocery stores, liquor stores, banks, doctors, dentists, masseurs, pharmacies, hair and nail salons, dry cleaners, live theaters, three pro sports facilities, a church, art exhibits, and the list goes on. The skyways do have closing hours, so be sure to check the schedule and plan accordingly.
Take in a Game
Minneapolis-St. Paul is home to both professional sports teams and popular collegiate sports. There is basketball, football, baseball, ice hockey, and soccer. The Twin Cities have been an epicenter of the U.S. stadium-and-arena boom, constructing five major sports facilities since 1990. The stadiums are all located in the downtown area and it's easy to walk in between them. The newest is Allianz Field, a 20,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium located in St. Paul about halfway between the two downtowns. In 2021, it may not be possible to attend a sporting event in person.
Tour the Art Museum
The Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) is an art museum with a collection of over 90,000 artworks that span six continents and 5,000 years. The museum's many departments include Arts of Africa and the Americas, Contemporary Art, Chinese, South, and Southeast Asian Art, Decorative Arts, Japanese and Korean Art, Photography, and more. Among the collection, keep your eye out for works by Rembrandt and Van Gogh. Free one-hour public tours are offered daily, and timed ticket reservations are required for all guests.
See Icy Minnehaha Falls
The Minnehaha Falls is a 53-foot tall waterfall in Minnehaha Park. Minnehaha Creek flows through Minneapolis and on the way, the creek plunges over an unexpected precipice creating Minnehaha Falls. It's one of Minneapolis' most popular parks in the summer, and worth a visit in the winter when the falls freeze into a dramatic wall of ice. The falls are located four hours southwest of the city, about 240 miles away.
First Avenue is a Minneapolis icon. Once the downtown Minneapolis Greyhound bus depot, the building was renovated to become a live music venue that has seen performances by Prince and other great artists. You'll find all genres of music playing here and even if you're not going to a show, you shouldn't miss a chance to snap a photo with the wall of stars painted outside the building. In 2021, many live events are being canceled or postponed so be sure to check the calendar for the latest details.
Savor a Juicy Lucy
When you visit Minneapolis, one of the first things everyone will insist you try is the Juicy Lucy Burger. This regional twist cooks the burger with the cheese inside the patty, causing delicious molten cheese to ooze out of every bite. The Juicy Lucy—also known as a Jucy Lucy—was invented sometime in the 1950s by either the 5-8 Club, or Matt's Bar, depending on whom you ask. The two bars in south Minneapolis have a rivalry going about who invented the iconic burger, so the best thing to do is try both and decide for yourself who has the culinary credentials to be the official home of the Juicy Lucy.
Shop at Mall of America
Fifteen minutes south of the city, Bloomington, Minnesota is home to the biggest shopping mall in the whole country—Mall of America. Here you'll find hundreds of shops and restaurants, as you would expect, but also unexpected attractions like a theme park, an aquarium, and even a wedding chapel. It's easy to spend all day here and because Minnesota has no sales tax on clothing, the mall is a popular destination for out-of-state travelers who will often stock up on a whole season's wardrobe before flying home.
In this snow-loving part of the country, you can trust that the locals know all the best sledding spots in town. The city parks of St. Paul have more hills than Minneapolis, with 15 designated sledding spots to the two in Minneapolis (Columbia Park Golf Course and Theodore Wirth Regional Park). If you want the biggest thrill, Battle Creek Park in St. Paul has a very steep hill sure to enthrall brave sledders.
Ride in a Carriage
There is nothing that completes a magical winter day, especially a romantic one, like a horse-drawn carriage ride through the snow. Check out The Hitching Company, which offers a one-hour Mississippi River Grand Carriage Tour or a half-hour Mississippi River Carriage Tour. Both tours take you by famous Minneapolis landmarks like the skyline and Nicollet Island, so you can bundle up and enjoy the sights through the streets of Minneapolis.
Take in Roller Derby Thrills
Local roller derby teams Minnesota RollerGirls and North Star Roller Derby skate and give each other black eyes for your entertainment all winter long. With names like Banger Sisters, Delta Delta Di, Kilmore Girls, and Violent Femmes, you can envision what the derby is all about. If you've never seen roller derby, it's an all-female, all-out war on roller skates and a really exciting sport to spectate. In 2021, both roller derby leagues suspended their seasons.
Watch the Pond Hockey Championships
The U.S. Pond Hockey Championships are held at Minneapolis' Lake Nokomis every year in late January. The event brings thousands of players and fans together for a weekend of fun and fierce competition. In the past, the event has drawn out up to 300 teams and welcomes players of all ages and skill levels—just in case you want to get a team together. The tournament was cancelled for 2021, but will resume from January 21 to 30, 2022.
Go Back in Time at the Mill City Museum
Minneapolis was originally a mill town, first processing timber before becoming the largest flour-producing city in the nation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. You can see a glimpse of that period at the Mill City Museum on the bank of the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis. The Minnesota Historical Center took charge of the remains of the building after it burned and a museum was built inside the remains, making it one of the most authentic places to learn about the history of Minneapolis. In 2021, the museum is temporarily closed.