10 of the best things to experience while visiting Minnesota

K.C. Dermody

Written by Justin Mewse

February 2024

Embark on a journey through the Land of 10,000 Lakes and discover the myriad of wonders that make Minnesota a treasure trove of experiences. From the glistening waters that define the state’s picturesque landscape to the vibrant urban tapestry of Minneapolis, this guide unveils 10 of the best things to experience in this enchanting state.

Admiring the view at Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area - Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development/Bob Webster

1. Lake Superior

Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in North America, holds a commanding presence with its vast expanse. Anchored in Duluth, which boasts the world’s largest inland seaport, the lake is a hub of maritime trade. The North Shore All-American Scenic Drive from Duluth to the Canadian border offers a picturesque route, showcasing the lake’s rugged beauty. For adventure enthusiasts, the Superior Hiking Trail provides an immersive experience from Duluth to the Canadian border, allowing hikers to explore diverse terrains. Lake Superior, with its grandeur and scenic allure, invites visitors to witness the bustling port, embark on a scenic drive, or hike through its pristine wilderness.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

2. The Music Scene

Paisley Park, the home and recording studio of the late genius Prince, offers insightful tours that provide a glimpse into the artist’s creative sanctuary. The Prince Tour allows visitors to explore self-guided or escorted stops where Prince lived and played in Minnesota, creating a personalised journey through his musical legacy. The iconic First Avenue Nightclub, featured in the film Purple Rain, remains a cornerstone of the Minneapolis music scene, hosting nightly live performances. The musical influence extends beyond Minneapolis, with numerous live music clubs scattered throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Celebrating its native son, Bob Dylan, Minneapolis boasts a mural by the renowned Brazilian artist Kobra. The vibrant Minnesota music scene further thrives with a multitude of clubs and festivals, including the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth and WeFest Country Music in Detroit Lakes, showcasing the state’s rich and diverse musical heritage.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

3. Voyageurs National Park

Voyageurs National Park, situated on the Canadian border, stands as a unique gem in the National Park System, being the only water-based national park in the United States. Recognised as an official Dark Sky Park, the location offers unparalleled stargazing opportunities, allowing visitors to marvel at the celestial beauty of the night sky and even catch a glimpse of the mesmerising northern lights. One distinctive way to explore the park is through houseboat rentals, a popular and accessible option as no license is required. Navigating the pristine waters, visitors can immerse themselves in the park’s scenic beauty, tranquil lakes, and diverse wildlife, creating an unforgettable experience in the heart of the North Woods.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

4. Mall of America

Mall of America stands as the epitome of shopping and entertainment, holding the title of the largest complex of its kind in the United States. Boasting over 500 stores, 50 restaurants, and 13 movie screens, the mall offers an expansive array of retail and dining options. Adding to its allure, Mall of America features Nickelodeon Universe, the nation’s inaugural indoor amusement park, providing a thrilling experience for visitors of all ages. The SEA LIFE Aquarium within the mall showcases a diverse collection of fresh- and salt-water fish, adding an educational and immersive dimension to the shopping experience. For those seeking adventure, Fly-Over America offers a unique flight simulation ride, complete with wind, mist, and scents. Moreover, Mall of America provides an extra perk for shoppers with tax-free options on clothing and shoes throughout Minnesota, making it a comprehensive destination for retail therapy and family entertainment.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

5. Scenic Byways

Minnesota’s scenic byways offer a breathtaking journey through the state’s diverse landscapes, with a total of 22 designated routes. These roadways are defined by their regionally outstanding scenic, natural, recreational, cultural, or historic, providing travellers with a rich tapestry of experiences. Notably, the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway in Minneapolis/St. Paul stands out as one of only two urban scenic byways in the United States, offering a unique blend of city and nature. Whether traversed by bike, car, or on foot, these scenic byways provide an immersive exploration of Minnesota’s beauty, inviting travellers to appreciate the state’s natural wonders, cultural heritage, and historical landmarks along these carefully curated routes.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

6. Minneapolis & St. Paul’s Arts and Culture

The dynamic arts and culture scene in Minneapolis and St. Paul is a vibrant showcase of creativity and expression. From live theatre that spans Broadway touring shows to local comedy troupes, the Twin Cities offer a diverse range of theatrical experiences. The internationally renowned Minnesota Orchestra not only graces local stages but also performs on a global scale, showcasing the city’s musical prowess. St. Paul boasts the distinction of housing the only full-time professional chamber orchestra in the United States, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, adding a unique and refined dimension to the classical music scene. Minneapolis is home to the Walker Art Centre, a prominent modern art museum celebrated across the nation. The city further embraces accessibility to the arts with numerous concerts and theatres offering free admission, including the Minneapolis Institute of Art with its impressive collection of 90,000 artifacts and the Weisman Art Museum, designed by the legendary Frank Gehry. Beyond these cultural landmarks, community theatres and musical performances throughout the state contribute to the rich and inclusive arts tapestry of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

7. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, nestled in northern Minnesota, offers an enchanting landscape characterised by a series of 1,000 interconnected lakes, linked by short portages, creating a haven for canoe enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Notably, the area prohibits motorboats and motor vehicles, preserving its pristine and tranquil environment. Sharing its border with Quetico Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada, the wilderness extends its reach across the international boundary, adding to its allure. Adventurers seeking a seamless experience can rely on numerous full-service outfitting companies, which provide canoes, tents, and camping equipment at various entry points, facilitating exploration of this pristine wilderness. To ensure the preservation of this natural treasure, permits are required in advance of entry, allowing visitors to revel in the untouched beauty and serenity of this area.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

8. Native American Heritage

Minnesota’s rich tapestry of Native American heritage is woven through the presence of eleven sovereign indigenous nations, including seven Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) and four Dakota nations. In fact, the state’s name derives from the Sioux word meaning ‘cloudy water’. The state is home to significant sites that embody the cultural legacy of these nations, such as the Pipestone National Monument in southwestern Minnesota, known for its sacred red pipestone quarries. In northeastern Minnesota, the Grand Portage National Monument preserves the history of the Ojibwe and fur traders, highlighting the region’s pivotal role in the fur trade era. The Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post stands as a premier State Historic Site, showcasing the history and traditions of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. About 30 minutes from Minneapolis, the HoCokata Ti Cultural Center at Mystic Lake serves as a vital gathering space, fostering cultural exchange and understanding. Throughout the state, traditional Powwows celebrate Native American heritage, with one of the largest gatherings occurring each August at Mystic Lake, offering a vibrant showcase of dance, music, and community.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

9. Mississippi River

The Mississippi River in Minnesota showcases its diverse charm, starting at Itasca State Park near Bemidji, where Lake Itasca marks its humble origin. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, city sightseeing paddlewheel boat tours offer a unique perspective, while cruises by Viking and American Cruise Lines provide insights into historical wonders. St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis adds a natural spectacle as the only waterfall along the Mississippi. For road trip enthusiasts, the Great River Road All-American Scenic Byway spans almost 700 miles, revealing the river’s wonders. From tracing its beginnings to exploring urban landscapes and natural wonders, the Mississippi River in Minnesota offers a multifaceted and captivating experience.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

10. Wildlife Centres

Minnesota’s wildlife centres showcase the state’s commitment to preserving and educating about its diverse fauna. The National American Eagle Center in Wabasha, situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, stands as a haven for the iconic bald eagle, offering a unique opportunity to observe and learn about these majestic birds. In Ely, the North American Black Bear Center provides insight into the lives of black bears, while the International Wolf Center delves into the fascinating world of wolves, emphasising the importance of conservation. The Mississippi River, with its fly zone hosting over 1,000 species of birds, serves as a critical habitat for avian biodiversity. Together, these wildlife centres contribute to Minnesota’s dedication to fostering a harmonious coexistence between humans and the remarkable wildlife that inhabits the state.

Peace Bridge, Calgary - Travel Alberta

Explore the Best of Minnesota With These Recommended Tour Itineraries

Delta Airlines operate daily, direct flights from London Heathrow to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) – so you’ll now have even more time to explore the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”!

15-Day Land Of 10,000 Lakes

Embark on a breathtaking two-week self-drive tour exploring the vibrant twin cities of Minnesota, the serene beauty of Voyageurs National Park, and the majestic allure of the Mississippi River.

From £1,935pp

Operated by America As You Like It

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  • Stay three nights in the ‘Twin Cities’ – Minneapolis and St. Paul, located on the Mississippi River in Minnesota
  • Music fans can tour Paisley Park – Prince’s former home and recording studio. In the evening, catch some live music including First Avenue, the nightclub that Prince featured in his movie Purple Rain
  • Visit a classic American stadium to catch a game and soak up the infamous atmosphere
  • Experience Duluth’s thriving social scene with museums, art galleries, breweries and distilleries
  • Drive the North Shore Scenic Byway for stunning views of Lake Superior
  • Take to the lakes at Boundary Waters Canoe Reservation Area for a gentle paddle through the wilderness
  • Explore the nation’s only water-based national park, Voyageurs National Park and witness the magic of the northern lights
  • Enjoy active pursuits at Itasca State Park, home to the Mississippi River Headwaters

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  • 14 nights accommodation
  • Car rental
  • Return international flights
  • ATOL protected

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11-Day Minnesota Wildlife By Motorhome

This truly is a tour for those wanting to get close to nature and view an abundance of wildlife, including eagles, wolves and black bears.

From £1,575pp

Operated by North America Travel Service

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  • Visit the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden and the adjoining Walker Art Centre
  • Tour Minneapolis by bike – rated top bicycling city in the US by Bicycling magazine
  • Head to Mall of America – boasting 520 stores, 50 restaurants and attractions galore, including Nickelodeon Universe, the nation’s largest indoor theme park
  • Take a paddlewheel cruise on the Mississippi River
  • Enjoy Itasca State Park’s 100 lakes, 32,000 acres and walk across the mighty Mississippi as it starts its winding journey 2,552 miles to the Gulf of Mexico
  • Explore Wilderness Drive past the 2,000 acre Wilderness sanctuary
  • Camp at Bear Head Lake State Park, recently voted America’s favourite park in a nationwide campaign sponsored by Coca-Cola
  • Enjoy some fun activities at the Wolf Centre including night-time howling with the wolves!
  • Explore the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on a day canoe trip, a 1.09 million acre wilderness area within the Superior National Forest
  • Drive some incredible scenic routes including the Great River Road and Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway
  • Visit the National Eagle Centre in Wabasha

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  • 1 night hotel accommodation
  • 10 days c19 motorhome rental, insurance and mileage
  • Return international flights
  • ATOL protected

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21-Day Lakes, Wilderness And The Wild West

Enjoy an enriching three-week self-drive journey, traversing the captivating North Shore Scenic Byway, tracing the source of the Mississippi River at its headwaters, and discovering the cultural heritage preserved at Pipestone National Monument.

From £2,458pp

Operated by America As You Like It

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  • Get your history, art, culture, music and culinary fix in Minneapolis and St. Paul
  • Catch some live music including Minneapolis’s First Avenue, the nightclub that Prince featured in his movie Purple Rain
  • Take a riverboat sightseeing tour or head out on a guided Segway tour
  • For incredible views over Spirit Mountain, Lake Superior, St Louis River and Duluth, head to Spirit Mountain Adventure Park
  • Make a stop at Gooseberry Falls State Park or visit Split Rock Lighthouse
  • Hike the forests and paddle the lakes of Voyageurs National Park
  • Enjoy a range of activities such as ATVs or cycling by the banks of the Mississippi River
  • Spend a leisurely day exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota
  • Explore South Dakota’s gold rush town of Deadwood and the dramatic scenery of Badlands National Park

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  • 20 nights accommodation
  • Car rental
  • Return international flights
  • ATOL protected

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7-Day Minnesota: The Land Of 10,000 Lakes

Named one of the ‘Best Places to Travel in 2023’ the secret is out – Minnesota is an untapped mine of amazing experiences.

From £1,995pp

Operated by Bon Voyage

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  • Explore the dramatic urban settings of Minneapolis and St. Paul with their fantastic skylines, architecture and amazing water views
  • Imagine seeing the Minnesota Vikings play American football or a Minnesota Twins baseball game – the stadiums alone are worth the visit
  • Shop til you drop at Mall of America in Bloomington
  • Head out of the city to the shores of Lake Superior and spend time in the birthplace of Bob Dylan, Duluth
  • Discover the Native American history of quaint Bemidji
  • Stop in Pequot Lakes for a quintessential small town America lunch
  • Explore St. Cloud’s Barden Park Historic District

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  • 6 nights accommodation
  • Car rental
  • Return international flights
  • ATOL protected

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