Minnesota Holiday Planning Guide
Deriving its name from the Dakota word for "land of sky-tinted water," Minnesota is a land of pristine lakes, pockets of dense green forests, and sprawling prairieland. Spend your Minnesota vacation exploring the state's diverse landscapes for endless outdoor activities and a chance to see some of the area's national monuments, or take a trip to the bustling St. Paul-Minneapolis area, a network of commerce and cultural attractions, including the famous Mall of America.
Places to Visit in MinnesotaMinneapolis
: Offering a great combination of urban vibes and outdoor attractions, the state's largest city is unmistakably one of the places to visit in Minnesota.Saint Paul
: The state capital, Saint Paul offers many sightseeing opportunities and is another place not to miss on your vacation in Minnesota. Together with Minneapolis it constitutes the Twin Cities' metropolitan area, which is one of the largest in the United States.Duluth
: Sitting on the shore of Lake Superior, Duluth is Minnesota's largest port. The city combines stunning natural surroundings with vibrant urban neighborhoods, enriched by a bustling cultural scene.Voyageurs National Park
: With its pristine nature and countless waterways, this park is a true haven for kayakers, canoeists, fishermen, hikers, and everyone else looking for an outdoor adventure.Bloomington
: Just a short drive outside Minneapolis, the city of Bloomington features a selection of scenic parks and outdoor areas, as well as some of the best shopping options in the Twin Cities area.Grand Marais
: A quaint lakeside town in northern Minnesota, Grand Marais is a renowned artists' retreat and a perfect destination for nature lovers.Rochester
: Minnesota's third-largest city, Rochester is great place to experience the state's urban side without the hustle and bustle of the Twin Cities. The city is also home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic.Lanesboro
: Widely renowned as one of the most charming small towns in the state, Lanesboro is also a popular base for outdoorsy visitors coming to explore the nearby countryside. Lanesboro's rich cultural scene is definitely something you wouldn't expect from a town of only several hundred residents.
Things to Do in Minnesota
Popular Minnesota Tourist AttractionsMall of America
: Find everything you need and go on a shopping spree of a lifetime at one of the world's largest and busiest shopping malls.Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
: One the most popular tourist attractions in Minnesota, this complex is a real treat for any nature lover visiting Saint Paul. Nickelodeon Universe
: Located at the heart of the Mall of America, this amusement park provides fun and rides for the whole family.Minneapolis Institute of Art
: Housing everything from the works of old masters to Oriental jade sculptures, this museum is the highlight of any art lover's vacation in Minnesota.
Mayo Clinic: This clinic doesn't only have the reputation of one of the best medical centers in the whole world, but it also features amazing architecture and an extensive collection of artwork that you shouldn't miss. Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
: Displaying over 40 works of art, this large park is one the main Twin Cities landmarks. Canal Park
: Favored by both Duluth residents and the city's visitors, this scenic park is a great spot for a stroll by the lake, a bike ride, or a visit to some of the numerous shops and restaurants.Minnesota's North Shore Scenic Drive
: Experience Minnesota's nature in all its glory on this scenic route along Lake Superior.Mill City Museum
: Take a journey through the history of Minneapolis and Minnesota at a museum housed inside what was once the world's largest flour mill.SEA LIFE Minnesota
: From sharks and sea turtles, to alligators and sea horses, come face-to-face with hundreds of aquatic creatures at Bloomington's famous aquarium.
Planning a Minnesota Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Minnesota with Kids
Minnesota's landscape, varied attractions, and widely available amenities make the state a good choice for a family vacation. The cities of Minneapolis
and Saint Paul
, as well as other parts of the Twin Cities area offer a bit of everything, from shops and amusement parks to outdoor activities, and are a great addition to any traveling family's Minnesota itinerary. One of the state's main attractions is its pristine nature. Voyageurs National Park
might be Minnesota's only national park, but you can augment your sightseeing schedule with a selection of state parks, like Itasca State Park
, where both kids and adults can have a great outdoor adventure.
Things to Do in Minnesota with Kids
The selection of activities that both you and your kids can enjoy during your trip to Minnesota greatly depends on the destinations you choose. If you prefer the urban settings of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region, include Science Museum of Minnesota
and Twin City Model Railroad Museum
on your trip planner. Don't miss the chance to visit Bloomington
, excite your kids with a tour of SEA LIFE Minnesota
, and thrill the family with rides and games at Nickelodeon Universe
. Even at Minnesota's urban core, the family can have outdoor fun at places like Lake Harriet
Outside the major cities, Minnesota's nature is the perfect setting for families who enjoy activities like camping, fishing, hiking, and biking. Another vacation idea in Minnesota for families with children is to visit the state's numerous zoos, where nature lovers of all ages can see and interact with animals from all over the world.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Minnesota
Most urban areas in Minnesota either feature a reliable public transportation network or are small enough to easily explore on foot, but outside the towns and cities a car remains arguably the best way to get around the state. Keep in mind that an extensive tour of Minnesota requires a great deal of driving, with the state's size approximately the same as that of the United Kingdom. Luckily, Minnesota offers enough interesting places for short day trips, which means that you don't have to tire the kids with long drives to distant attractions.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Minnesota
Cuisine of Minnesota
In addition to enjoying typical American specialties, trying some of the local dishes is definitely one of the many authentic things to do in Minnesota. As evidenced by their names, many regional specialties came with immigrants from Germany and Scandinavia. Start your meal with a raw salmon appetizer known as gravlax, and follow your main course with some lutefisk (cod soaked in lye and lefse)--traditional Scandinavian flatbread. Top the meal off with a couple of krumkakes, Norwegian waffle sweets popular in Minnesota. Stemming from their German roots, sauerkraut and sausages are also a big part of Minnesotan cuisine. If you're looking for a truly authentic taste of Minnesota, try hotdish--a traditional casserole dish. The locals are also known for enjoying a good beer at a local brewery, such as August Schell Brewery
. Those interested in wine can enjoy tasting experiences at wineries like Carlos Creek Winery
. Minneapolis serves as not only the gastronomic capital of Minnesota, but also one of the top gastronomic destinations in the United States, offering local dishes and specialties from the four corners of the world.
Shopping in Minnesota
Synonymous with shopping in Minnesota, Mall of America
offers an impressive selection of shops that can satisfy all tastes and budgets. This mall remains one of the main tourist attractions in Minnesota, as well as one the nation's prime shopping destination, attracting millions of visitors every year. In addition to many smaller malls, Minnesota's cities also feature numerous outlets and boutique shops where you can find great bargains on fashionable clothing, electronics, and souvenirs. Those on the lookout for antiques can browse through numerous shops in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region, while art lovers can find a selection of galleries selling works by local talent throughout the state. To experience local culture and buy the freshest local produce, head to Minneapolis Farmers Market
or St Paul Farmers Market
, ranked among the most popular places to visit in Minnesota.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Minnesota
History of Minnesota
For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, Minnesota was inhabited by indigenous people, with some of the oldest human remains in the state dating back to around 7000 BCE. Lakes rich with fish and an abundance of natural resources allowed early communities to flourish. The oldest metal tool discovered on the American continent was found in Minnesota. Over the centuries, different cultures living along the banks of the Mississippi and the Great Lakes followed one another and influenced each other, culminating with the Eastern Dakota branch of the Sioux people, the predominant inhabitants of Minnesota when the Europeans arrived. While few monuments from this period remain in the state, Pipestone National Monument
, one of the most important Native American cultural sites in the area, still stands and it is the place to see in Minnesota for anyone interested in pre-European history.
While several theories about the contacts between the Norse seafarers and the Minnesota natives persist, the first confirmed Europeans to reach Minnesota were the French in the second half of the 17th century. Around the same time, Native Americans of the Ojibwa tribe moved to the area around Lake Superior and established trade connections with the French, using fur and timber as their main commodities. Trade between the locals and the Europeans expanded over the next century, and European exploratory missions continued to probe deeper inland. No serious colonization took place before the American Revolution. After America gained its independence, the government sought to secure its control over the northern Minnesota lands, and Historic Fort Snelling
was built as the first major American outpost in the future state of Minnesota.
Treaties with the Native Americans and the military presence at the fort quickly encouraged settlers to move in, and the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul quickly became major urban centers. By 1849, Minnesota gained the official status of a US territory, and less than a decade later it acquired its statehood. Following the 1862 Dakota War, Native Americans were expelled from the state and large numbers of new settlers moved in. Among these new Minnesotans, many of which came from Germany and Scandinavia, was a British doctor William Worrall Mayo--the founder of the Mayo Clinic.
The modern history of Minnesota is mainly one of success, with the state excelling culturally and economically and the Twin Cities becoming one of the nation's biggest hubs of business, art, and education. Plenty of preserved buildings and locations throughout the state offer great opportunities for historical sightseeing in Minnesota, while museums like Minnesota History Center
safeguard the state's heritage and proudly display it to visitors.
Landscape of Minnesota
When you hear that one of Minnesota's nicknames is the "State of 10,000 Lakes," you might think it's an exaggeration--in fact, it's nothing if not an understatement. With almost 12,000 lakes and thousands of streams and rivers, the largest of which are the Mississippi and Red River, Minnesota's landscape is dominated by bodies of water and waterways. With so much water, it's not a surprise that Minnesota's land is very fertile. The northern section of the state is densely forested, while the southern part is marked by prairie grasslands. At 701 m (2,301 ft), Eagle Mountain is the state's highest point and a great destination for a hiking holiday in Minnesota. Thanks to the activity of receding glaciers, the rest of Minnesota remains largely flat. The majority of the state's population lives in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, leaving the visitors with huge areas of untouched nature to explore and enjoy.
Holidays & Festivals in Minnesota
In addition to the all-American holidays like the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, the communities all over Minnesota stage a number of local celebrations and festivals. With more than a century-long tradition, the Winter Carnival in Saint Paul
is one of the most colorful festivals in the state, marked with parades and ice sculptures adorning the city. A great addition to a summer Minnesota tour is a visit to the city of Moorhead
and its Scandinavian Hjemkomst Festival, which rekindles the spirit of the Middle Ages and celebrates the local Scandinavian heritage. A real treat for music lovers is the Bayfront Blues Festival, an open-air event that takes place every August in Duluth
. If you're in the Twin Cities area at the end of August, make sure to stop by the State Fairgrounds and have a blast at one of the largest fairs in the United States.
Minnesota Travel Tips
Climate of Minnesota
Minnesota's climate is distinctly continental, characterized by four seasons, each with its own meteorological features. Summers tend to be warm and humid, with frequent thunderstorms. These can provide a welcome break from the heat, as long as you find a dry place to get away from the rain. With the amazing spectacle of nature changing colors from green to golden, autumn remains arguably the best season for a Minnesota vacation. If you visit in the winter, expect heavy snowfall and low temperatures that often fall below the freezing point. Springtime brings warmer temperatures and sunnier days. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, as tornado season starts in late spring and lasts throughout summer.
Transportation in Minnesota
All roads in Minnesota seem to lead to the Twin Cities, and the area is without a doubt the transportation hub of the state. The entire area is well-covered by good roads and a reliable public transportation. Several other cities in the state, such as Rochester and Duluth, also feature wide public transportation networks. While almost all counties in the state have some form of public transportation, in smaller communities this is usually not the case.
The United States is a country of cars, and when it comes to intercity travel, Minnesota is no different than the rest of the nation. Several intercity busses and train lines do exist, but they're not as widespread or as convenient as most travelers would like them to be, and the best way of taking a tour of Minnesota is by driving a private car.