When you’re planning a vacation, there is no shortage of incredible destination options. If you’re looking towards Minnesota, you will be delighted to know that there are tons of fun things to do in “The North Star State.” If spending time in nature and the outdoors is on your agenda, Minnesota is known as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” so it won’t disappoint.
With that said, the culture and diversity of Minnesota are equally vast. In Minnesota, there is something for everyone. Let’s dive into this beautiful state and discover the best things to do in Minnesota.
1. Travel the North Shore Scenic Drive
Near Duluth, the North Shore Scenic Drive is absolutely one of the best things to do in Minnesota. Travel along Lake Superior’s north shore from Duluth all the way to Ontario, Canada’s Thunder Bay. While on this route, you will see several different state parks and attractions. Some of them include Grand Portage State Park, Split Rock Lighthouse, and Tettegouche.
Along with the state parks and attractions, you will also enjoy the soothing and majestic scenery of rocky cliffs and waterfalls, along with the largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior. Along your way, you can stop to enjoy mountain biking, fishing, or boating, all of which are easily accessible along the route.
2. Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and the International Wolf Center
To visit the vast Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, you will go through the Northern Minnesota town of Ely. Departing out of the water-bound region, you can take canoe day trips or spend your nights seeing the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights).
While in Ely, you can also experience close encounters with wolves at the International Wolf Center, which is home to wildlife that includes not just wolves, but also moose and bears. Learn the natural history of these animals and observe a resident wolf pack. The Superior National Forest covers over three million acres.
3. Catherdral of St. Paul
In the early 1900s, the imposing St. Paul Cathedral was built in St. Paul, Minnesota. Today, it is known as the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul and is a beloved pilgrimage site for worshippers. The building is designed in Classical Renaissance style and the huge interior can accommodate about 3,000 people.
The cathedral is an active place of worship and is open for much of the day to the public. You can take a tour, but these are discouraged during holy services and masses. The cathedral offers one-hour guided tours Tuesday through Friday.
4. Check Out the Grand Marais Art Scene
One of the best things to do in Minnesota is to check out the art scene. Tucked away in one of Lake Superior’s natural harbors, Grand Marais has an exceptional artistic community. The area is a haven for local artists and craftsmen and much of their influence is inspired by the beauty of Lake Superior and the surrounding natural resources.
You can explore the shops and art galleries at Sivertson Art Gallery and buy beautiful one-of-a-kind items for your home, or just window shop. In fact, you can even sign up for art classes if you feel creatively inspired while you’re there. There are great restaurants nearby when you’re ready for dinner.
5. Minneapolis Institute of Art
Every year, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA) hosts more than 700,000 visitors. The best part is that admission is free, and visitors are able to enjoy a variety of art and attractions. The museum collection has more than 89,000 pieces of art and the temporary and permanent exhibits span the globe.
From ancient artifacts to American modernism, this museum has it all. Visitors to the museum particularly enjoy the Korean and Japanese art, along with the collection of decorative textiles and art. Also housed there is the Doryphoros, one of only four surviving Roman copies of this ancient Greek sculpture.
6. Paddle at Voyageurs National Park
During the years of the fur trade, the Voyageurs National Park area was important because French-Canadian Voyageurs spent their lives traveling through these waters in giant birch bark canoes. Today, you can enjoy traveling the same routes by boat and by land, and you can even camp at the Wooden Frog Campground, widely considered to be one of the best campgrounds in Minnesota.
This is a backcountry park and can be accessed mostly by air or water. Because of this, it’s an excellent place for boating and canoeing, as well as enjoying other pursuits in the outdoors.
7. Visit the Minnesota State Capitol Building
The Minnesota State Capitol Building was constructed between 1896 and 1905, and it was recently renovated to restore the building’s historic structure to its original glamour. Repairs were done to the marble on the exterior along with restorations to the furnishings on the interior.
You can take a guided tour of the capitol building every day of the week, and you can go on self-guided tours of the second “Grand” floor, the Rotunda, and the Governor’s Reception Room. When you visit the main entrance on the exterior, you will see The Quadriga, a golden four-horse chariot statue.
8. Munsinger Clemens Garden
Next on our list of best things to do in Minnesota is Munsinger Clemens Garden. If your idea of a relaxing vacation includes a stroll through a beautiful garden, you can enjoy the Munsinger Clemens Gardens in St. Cloud. Some of the most beautiful summertime delights in Minnesota are on display at the gardens, which features about 80,000 annual plants.
Within the beautiful setting are trees, swings, benches, ponds, and fountains galore. These gardens are known for their more than 1,000 rose bushes, and the gardens have an all-white garden that is solely devoted to white flowering shrubs and flowers. Every Sunday, visitors can enjoy Music in the Gardens. There is also an annual Art Fair in the Gardens that is very popular.
9. Visit Rochester’s Downtown Peace Plaza
If you’re in the Rochester area, you don’t want to skip a visit to the Rochester Downtown Peace Plaza which is definitely on our list of best things to do in Minnesota. The plaza is near the Mayo Clinic and is a place that is pedestrian-friendly with quick access to everything in the downtown area. You can enjoy the first-class restaurants, fashionable boutiques, and huge civic assembly space.
Even better, there is a sprawling network of underground walkways and skywalks that spread all throughout the downtown area. The underground parts are particularly nice during the cold winter months.
10. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
One of Minnesota’s most beloved attractions is the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. If you’re looking for a full day of fun things to do in Minnesota, and fun for the entire family, you’ll find the zoo to be a great budget-friendly option. Both the conservatory and zoo are free to enter. They do encourage donations if you can afford them.
The zoo has several different animals from all over the world, including monkeys and polar bears. A favorite part of going to the zoo is feeding the giraffes, who eat romaine lettuce right out of people’s hands. The zoo will soon be finished with a $20 million expansion that will house penguins, octopuses, and otters.
11. Take a Boat Tour at Voyageurs National Park
The area of Voyageurs National Park is massive, and the best way to enjoy all of its majesties is by water. The park operates boat tours with five different cruises, which vary in length between 1.5 and 6.5 hours. The tours take in all of the popular highlights, including Little American Island’s gold mining ruins, Ellsworth Rock Gardens, Kettle Falls, and Harry Oveson’s Fish Camp.
National park rangers lead the tours and provide a running commentary on the cultural, historical, and natural features of the park. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to see some bald eagles in their nests and other wildlife.
12. Visit the Historic Congdon Estate
Appreciate great architecture and amazing views from one of the best things to do in Minnesota. Glensheen Mansion in Duluth has 39 rooms and sits high atop the bluffs that overlook the lake and the city. The Congdon Estate is Minnesota’s most visited historic home. A 20th-century mansion, the home has more than 20,000 square feet of living space and at one time, it housed the family of Chester Congdon, a noted philanthropist and industrialist from Duluth.
This estate was one of the first to be equipped with modern amenities that were very novel at the time. While there, be sure to take the time to stroll the gardens on the meticulously landscaped estate, which is a full 12 acres.
13. Shop at the Mall of America
If shopping is one of your favorite things to do in Minnesota, you must visit the world-famous Mall of America. It is located in the suburb of Bloomington on the outskirts of St. Paul. When the mall opened in 1992, it was one of the U.S.’s largest malls. The mall boasts dozens of restaurants and more than 500 shops. The facility also includes hotel accom]modation, theaters, and other popular amusements.
Every year, more than 400 events happen at the mall. These range from Minnesota Viking fans celebrations to dance parties, and several different “stan and shop” packages are offered at nearby hotels.
14. Tour the Science Museum of Minnesota
In St. Paul, you can tour the world-renowned Science Museum of Minnesota. The museum offers visitors a hands-on experience where they can walk underneath a dinosaur, learn about the human body, board a towboat on the Mississippi River, and participate in an Experiment Gallery where they can create their very own tornados.
The museum has an impressive exhibit of dinosaurs and you can see the reconstructed remains of one of the only four Triceratops in the world. While there, go ahead and check out the recreated life-size scenes of dinosaurs hunting. You can also see an Egyptian mummy.
15. Split Rock Lighthouse State Park
When you drive 20 miles northeast of Two Harbors, on Lake Superior’s North Shore, you will encounter the Split Rock Lighthouse. This park is home to the Split Rock Lighthouse, a lighthouse built in 1910 to protect boats shipping on Lake Superior. You can tour the foghorn building, tower, keeper’s house, and lighthouse.
In the area, there are also several options for hiking, and you can go through pebble beaches, forests, and enjoy excellent viewpoints of the shoreline. In the winter, the trails are designated for fat tire biking. Also available is a cart-in campground.
16. Visit the American Swedish Institute
Minnesota has a strong Swedish history, and that is evident in everything from the food to the architecture of the area. In Minneapolis, you can visit the American Swedish Institute to understand the importance of the Swedish immigrants’ contribution to the state. The institute has the historic Turnblad Mansion, as well as the Nelson Cultural Center.
The Turnblad Manion was commissioned in the early 1900s by Swan Turnblad. While there, you can also enjoy some traditional Swedish food at a restaurant, as well as view an array of Swedish glass, fine art, Swedish tile stoves, and textiles.
17. Camp at Itasca State Park
Itasca State Park is the oldest state park in Minnesota and encompasses in excess of 32,000 acres of lakes and wildlands, including the Mississippi River headwaters. There are endless outdoor recreation opportunities and visitor favorites include fire towers, hiking trails, and visiting the old-growth Red Pine forests.
One of the most fun things to do in the park is drive or bike along the one-way Wilderness Drive and Bike Route. The route makes a loop through the park’s mainstay and has plenty of trailheads and parking areas along the route. You can camp at backpack-only campsites, or enjoy a stay in cabins or lodges.
Conclusion: Best Things to Do in Minnesota
Whether you’re visiting the lake areas of North Country or the cultural beauty of St. Paul, you will soothe your soul and delight your senses in Minnesota. Enjoy!
After you have an amazing outing at any one of the best things to do in Minnesota, please share your experience. We’d love to hear from you!
Ready for more Minnesota advice, info, and guides? Whether you’re a local or a passerby, discover the best of Minnesota that our great state has to offer!
Looking for some warm weather recommendations? Discover spring and summer in Minnesota for best destinations, travel recommendations, small (and big!) town events, and more!
Looking for more autumnal activities? Then visit our Minnesota Fall page to find inspiration for sweater weather fun!
- About the Author
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.