The City of Lakes, Minneapolis, and its sister city, Saint Paul, are known as Minnesota’s Twin Cities. Together, they form the largest metropolitan area in the state and make for a lovely getaway destination. Besides a thriving art scene, these cities boast a host of natural attractions and a lively and inventive food and beverage scene. But don’t worry if you don’t relish spending a bunch of money while on vacation — there are plenty of free things to do in the Twin Cities as well.
Here are some great ways to amuse yourself in the area without spending a dime.
1. Take A Brewery Tour
Some of the nation’s best craft breweries are located right in the heart of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. And even better? Numerous microbrewing operations offer free tours.
Excelsior Brewing Company sits on Lake Minnetonka in the western metro area, about 30 minutes away from downtown Minneapolis by car. The brewery offers free half-hour tours on the weekends — no reservations required. Call ahead before making the drive, though, especially if you are with a group of 10 or more.
The beloved Surly Brewing Co. offers free tours at its Minneapolis facility Wednesday through Sunday. The Brooklyn Center location offers occasional free tours as well — just check online for availability beforehand.
At both of these breweries, free parking is available on-site.
2. Visit The Minneapolis Institute of Art
One of the nation’s largest museums, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, offers free admission to visitors. Be sure to pay special attention to the museum’s collection of Chinese artwork, which is considered to be one of the finest in the United States. Additionally, there are almost 80,000 works of art to view, so plan on spending some time here. Please keep in mind that some special events and exhibitions may not be free. Parking ranges in price from $5 for less than an hour to a full day for $12.
3. Spend Some Time On The Lakes
As previously mentioned, Minneapolis is known as the City of Lakes, and there are numerous pretty bodies of water that visitors can enjoy free of charge. Brownie Lake, Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Bde Maka Ska (formerly Lake Calhoun), and Lake Harriet are all viable options, and they’re all connected via the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. These lakes offer walking and biking trails, swimming spots, picnic areas, cross-country ski trails, hockey rinks, fishing piers, playgrounds, archery, sporting fields, and more. Be mindful that not all of the parking options are free.
4. Marvel At The Cathedral Of Saint Paul
In nearby Saint Paul is the beautiful Roman Catholic Cathedral of Saint Paul, which serves as the seat of the archdiocese of the area. Free guided tours are offered Tuesday through Friday at 1 p.m. They are popular, too — the historic landmark generally hosts more than 200,000 visitors each year. Guests can expect an hour-long tour and free parking on-site at this more-than-100-year-old beauty. Masses are offered at the cathedral, and visitors are free to attend. Please keep in mind that many will donate $2 for the tour — that is the suggested donation amount, though the tour is technically free.
5. Catch A Concert At The Ted Mann Concert Hall
This pretty concert hall is located on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, which overlooks the scenic Mississippi River. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra offers plenty of free family night events. Plus, students from the university’s school of music often offer free recitals with first-come, first-serve seating. Both free and paid parking options abound on and near the urban college campus.
6. Visit The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory
Located inside the 400-acre Como Park, the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is one of the last remaining Victorian-style glass-covered gardens in the country. It features half an acre of gardens underneath a large domed enclosure. Be sure to check out some of the conservatory’s rare tropical plants as well as the famous corpse flower. The Japanese gardens can also be accessed for free and are adjacent to the dome. While admission is always free, there is a suggested donation amount of $3 at this beautiful spot in Saint Paul. According to the website, “guests are invited to make a voluntary donation to help care for the plants and animals.”
7. Shop Till You Drop At The Mall Of America
The southern suburb of Bloomington, Minnesota, is home to one of the area’s most famous free attractions, the Mall of America. This shopping center is the largest in the country (in terms of total area) and is free to explore and walk around. More than 500 shops that sell everything from clothes to home goods to specialty items call the mall home. And while a mall may seem like an odd addition to a list for travelers, the more than 40 million people who visit the mall each year would disagree. The Mall of America was built on the site of the former Metropolitan Stadium, where the Vikings (football) and Twins (baseball) used to play. Anchor tenants include Nordstrom and Macy’s. Travelers can enjoy easy public transit to the mall or free public parking.
8. Check Out The Walker Art Center
An internationally renowned contemporary arts center, the Walker Art Center is free every Thursday night from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on the first Saturday of each month. Keep in mind that the Thursday-evening activities are more geared toward young people, while Saturdays are focused on family-friendly programming.
The Walker Art Center is also home to one of Minneapolis’s most recognized landmarks, the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture. The piece is the star of the Walker’s Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, which is always free to visit. The garden is the largest urban sculpture park in the world. If you’re lucky enough to be visiting over the weekend, take advantage of the free guided tours of the garden offered on Saturdays and Sundays at noon. Parking near the museum will likely cost a little money, however.
9. Stop By The Minnesota State Capitol And The Saint Paul City Hall
Saint Paul is the capital city of Minnesota. The pretty Minnesota State Capitol boasts the second-largest self-supported marble dome in the world. There’s no charge to visit, and free guided tours are offered daily. During the 45-minute tour, you’ll get to see the restored 1905 murals and the famous golden horses.
The nearby Saint Paul City Hall is another great free stop in the Twin Cities. This art deco building is a prime example of Depression-era architecture and is home to a statue called Vision of Peace.
Both free and paid parking options are available near these attractions.
10. Explore The Historic Mill District
This charming neighborhood, located on the National Register of Historic Places, used to be home to numerous flour mills along the Mississippi River. At one point, Minneapolis produced the most flour in the world due to the natural power of the water, and the city was known as the flour-milling capital of the world. Today, the district is home to renovated historic buildings and Gold Medal Park. If you’re in town between May and October, you can wander the Mill City Farmers Market on Saturdays. Consider walking to the nearby iconic Stone Arch Bridge, too.
11. Experience Nature At The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden And Bird Sanctuary
Ensconced within Theodore Wirth Regional Park is the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary. The garden receives more than 60,000 visitors each year, all keen to see the 500+ plant species and 130+ bird species it has to offer. Additionally, there are picnic areas and shelters and hiking trails. Please note that it is not free to park in the lot located near the site.
12. Get Global At The Midtown Global Market
For a meaningful cultural experience, look no further than the Midtown Global Market. The market features more than 50 merchants, from specialty food vendors serving food from all over the globe to vendors offering cooking classes, unique handmade goods, and beauty services. It’s free to explore, but obviously, any purchases you make won’t be free! The prices are very reasonable, however, and there are often free family-friendly events. This cool spot exists to “promote the economic, social, and cultural assets of Minnesota and celebrate the healthy foods, arts, crafts, and other aspects of [Minnesota’s] diverse heritage,” according to the website. Paid parking is available close to the market.
13. Hunt For Fossils At Lilydale Regional Park
Last on our list of free attractions in the Twin Cities is Saint Paul’s Lilydale Regional Park. This area is known for two things: its fossils and its history as the former Saint Paul Brickyards. While the aforementioned fossils can’t be taken out of the park, they can be enjoyed there along with the park’s hiking and biking trails, bird-watching opportunities, fishing spots, sports fields, boat-launch area, and kayaking. Lilydale offers more than 600 acres of forested floodplain and both free and paid parking options.
It’s clear that the Twin Cities have tons to offer budget-conscious visitors. From pretty outdoor areas to noteworthy museums, Minneapolis and Saint Paul are home to plenty of free attractions.
Want to spend more time exploring the Land of 10,000 Lakes? Check out some of the quirky festivals Minnesota has to offer, or go on a burger crawl or boozy beverage tour of the Twin Cities.