There’s more to the Twin Cities in the winter than just snow! Check out a sampling of the ample family activities to choose from.
Despite the cold weather, you’ll still see plenty of runners, bikers (many have super-thick bike tires that help them through the snow) and walkers out and about along the downtown streets, and various parks that run along the historic Mississippi waterfront. Consider bundling up and taking the path in Minneapolis that runs from the Hennepin Avenue Suspension Bridge down to the riverfront and walking along the St. Anthony Falls Heritage Trail down to the Stone Bridge Arch and Mill Ruins Park. The air is crisp, the paths are kept clear, and the small frozen waterfalls make for constantly changing natural art to see along the way.
The Mill City Museum, also located along the Mississippi riverfront, is “built into ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill,” according to the Minnesota Historical Society. The museum gives tours that explore the history of the industry and the town, as well as history of the waterways. There are demonstrations (as well as tastings!) in the Baking Lab.
At this time of year there are many winter festivals, offering activities including ice carvings, snow sculptures, ski runs, snowplow competitions and more. “Ice Castles” are a sight to see—although depending on the year, you may have to head to the suburbs to see them. (Locations change annually.) Originally started by a father who wanted to create some icy fun for his children, these brightly lit ice castles are now made of approximately 30-million-pounds of ice. They include archways, paths and towers for you to walk around and through. Weekends are the peak times to see them and there can be more than an hour wait. To avoid lines, visit on weekdays or at night between 8p and 10pm. Purchase tickets online in advance to save wait time as well, and note the ticket price is cheaper on weekdays.
If you don’t want to brave the cold, the city’s famous Skyway System is like a giant-human-habitrail. Enclosed, climate-controlled, pedestrian walkways connect buildings to other buildings over the span of more than 60 blocks and eleven miles. Inside of many of those skyways you’ll find free art exhibitions, pop-up shopping and food stands. If this is your first time visiting, be prepared to consult a map!
The Twin Cities area is known for its theater and arts scenes—with locals calling it the “Minny-Apple”. In Minneapolis, there’s a clear intersection of Broadway and the “Hennepin Way” with a selection of theaters and performances that’s said to be second only to New York’s Broadway scene. A sampling of shows for the family includes Oliver, Annie, Disney’s Beauty and The Beast, The Sing-Off On Tour, and Shen Yun Performing Arts. For adults, Pippin, Once, Jersey Boys and Kinky Boots are just some of what’s on the playbill. Most of the theaters are within walking distance of each other, and there are some shows you may possibly be able to see in advance of them heading to New York.
Especially for the Kids
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is a free, kid-friendly spot. And attached to it is the Children’s Theater Company—putting on shows geared to both children and adults. As a bonus, there’s not a bad seat to be had at most shows.
The Minnesota Children’s Museum is located in downtown St. Paul. Using the concept of learning through playing, the museum provides plenty of interactive exhibits for children ages 2-10. Be sure to check out the “Creativity Jam” in which children and adults have a chance to “explore, manipulate and re-imagine objects” and craft your own object story as you discover and invent new ways to use the objects.
Head to the Library
The Minneapolis County Library, completed in 2006, is considered architecturally pleasing, and features energy efficient measures in its design including substantial daylight allowed into its spacious rooms through massive glass windows, and a rooftop garden. It’s easy to get there by public transit with a light rail stop just feet from the front door. There’s a Dunn Bros Coffee spot in the building, programs for children and adults, and the somewhat unique “Teen Central” with the Best Buy Teen Tech Center—allowing teens only– into a cool looking area that lets them, “use new technologies with help from other teens and adult mentors and then share their work with other teens across the globe.” The technology offered includes tools for making music, videos, digital photography, graphic design, programming and more.
Don’t Forget the Mall of America
While I typically would hate to recommend visiting a mall over seeing the local sites, this mall may be an exception in winter months. You can now take Light Rail service straight from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America, an uber-popular tourist destination. The Mall itself houses more than 400 stores and is visited by more than 35 million visitors a year. It also features “Toddler Tuesdays”, Nickelodeon Universe, Star Trek: The Exhibition, Sea Life Minnesota Aquarium, Lego, Barbie “The Dreamhouse Experience”, American Girl, CSI: The Experience and plenty more that caters to the entire family.
So don’t stay holed up in your hotel–make sure to get out and about when visiting the Twin Cities during the winter months–regardless of the weather!