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12 Things to Do in Minneapolis in Winter: A Local’s Guide

As snowbirds fly south for warmer weather, Minnesotans strap on their boots, zip up their jackets, and revel in the ice and snow.

Tourism isn’t just for the summer, and the folks in the Twin Cities know that better than anyone. While many cities across the country turn into ghost towns when faced with ice and snow, Minneapolis gears up for its most vibrant season of the year.

So, skip that overpriced vacation to the beach and hit the great city of Minneapolis like a true local this winter! Keep reading as we share the top things to do in Minneapolis in winter.

A view of the Minneapolis skyline during winter. Things to do in Minneapolis in winter.
View in Minneapolis in wintertime.

1. Art Shanty Project Minneapolis

The Art Shanty Project may very well be one of the most unique winter events you’ll ever have the opportunity to experience. Every year, on the weekends between January 20th and February 11th, the icy landscape of Lake Harriet turns into a stunning canvas for local artists.

Inspired by pop-up ice fishing shanties, artists transform the lake into a colorful village of unique structures filled to the brim with exciting performances and dazzling art projects.

Thousands of local residents from Minneapolis and Minnesota alike flock together for this unmissable event every year to celebrate the importance of local artists and public art as a whole. Admission is completely free of charge, although guests are welcome to make cash donations to support Minneapolis’ vibrant local art scene.

2. Buck Hill Snow Tubing

No matter how many years young you are, it’s hard to beat the thrill of rocketing down an icy slope on a tube or a sled.

Buck Hill takes sledding to the next level. Buck Hill’s slopes are well-manicured and designed specifically for tubing. In case you don’t have your own tube or sled to bring along, rentals are reasonably priced and can be shared among family members. There’s even a conveyor belt to take you up the slope, so you can keep sledding down the slopes again and again without having to drag your tube uphill!

Perfect for sledders of all ages, Buck Hill might just be the most overkill sledding experience out there. (And we can’t get enough of it!)

3. Minneapolis Institute of Art

Need to warm up a bit before heading back out into the ice and snow? The Minneapolis Institute of Art hosts over 80,000 incredible works of art dating as far back as 4,000 years ago. And get this: museum admission is 100% free.

Summer, winter, spring, or fall, the Minneapolis Institute of Art is a must visit if you find yourself in the Twin Cities. With all the museum has to offer, you’d be hard-pressed to see everything in a day, so make sure to plan ahead!

If you happen to have any budding art lovers in the family, the second Sunday of every month is family day! Art fanatics young and old can enjoy hands-on activities, live performances, storytelling, and gallery hunts – all free of charge.

4. Minnesota Zoo

While many Zoos across the country close down for the winter, the Minnesota Zoo comes to life as some of its colder weather critters become more active in the winter climate. The Northern Trail section of the park is an absolute must see during the winter months as many of the Zoo’s native animals soak up and play in the newly fallen snow.

If you get too chilly taking in the sights of the caribou or bison, don’t worry! There’s plenty of heated indoor dining, as well as balmy indoor environments for the zoo’s tropical residents. Just make sure to buy tickets in advance, as tickets are purchasable online only.

5. Swedish Institute Christmas Festival

Once heavily populated by Swedish, Danish, Finnish, and Norwegian immigrants, Minneapolis has grown into an incredibly diverse city where folks of all backgrounds come together to enjoy the state’s deeply rooted Scandinavian traditions each winter season.

From November to January, the American Swedish Institute brings together artists, performers, and local community partners to the stunning, historic Turnblad Mansion. Decorated to the brim, the American Swedish Institute is a fantastic place to explore Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage and enjoy the holiday season.

If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in town on December 2nd and 3rd, the institute hosts the Julmarknad, one of the nation’s largest holiday markets, inspired by Sweden’s famous winter bazaars. With musical performances, crafts, handmade artisan goods, and traditional Scandinavian festival foods, the Julmarknad is one of Minneapolis’ favorite winter activities.

6. Ice Skating on the Lake of the Isles

What’s winter without a little bit of ice skating? Lake of the Isles Park has long been locals’ favorite ice skating spot. The lake itself is wide, open, and perfect for ice skating beginners and experts alike.

In case you want to get involved in a good pick up game of ice hockey, the park offers a separate rink specifically meant for pickup games. Just be warned, it’s a popular state pastime!

While the park does offer some free of charge skate rentals, they can be limited and occasionally worn down, so you may be best off taking your own pair of skates along with you.

Not much of a skater but still want to get out on the ice? Every year on February 3rd, Lake of the Isles hosts the Luminary Loppet, transforming the Lake of the Isles into a luminary spectacle of over 1,000 glowing candles. No skates required!

7. Lake Harriet Kite Festival

A yearly favorite among locals in Minneapolis, the Lake Harriet Kite Festival is a spectacle to behold. Hosted on the last Saturday of January, hundreds of kite enthusiasts take advantage of the wide open, frozen lake to fly their kites high in the sky.

All guests are invited to bring along their own kites and are welcome to purchase kites from a number of vendors around the lake. This free of charge event is chalk full of yard games, campfires, smores, and is the perfect excuse to get outdoors in the wintery weather.

The real crown jewel of the event, though, is getting to witness the Minnesota Kite Society’s massive, stunning kites soaring overhead. These pros are friendly, passionate about their kites, and may even show you a trick or two!

8. Cross Country Skiing

Ranked as one of the finest in the country, Minneapolis’ public park system goes above and beyond in providing affordable access to winter activities for locals and tourists alike.

In conjunction with the Loppet Foundation, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board carves out stunning and well-maintained trails all winter long.

Public ski trails can be found within: Theodore Wirth Park, Columbia Golf Course, Hiawatha Golf Course, and the Chain of Lakes.

While you are permitted to bring your own ski gear, ski trail passes are required for access to any of the public trails. Passes are extremely affordable and offer access to all of the Twin Cities’ exceptional trails and can be purchased online. Tickets can be purchased for both the entirety of the season and for a single day.

Don’t have a pair of skis yet but want to give this popular local sport a try? Equipment bundles can be rented from The Trailhead in Theodore Wirth Park.

9. Minneapolis Skyway

Originally built in 1962 to allow for easier access between two downtown office buildings, the Minneapolis Skyway has expanded over time to cover over 80 blocks of downtown Minneapolis.

While the Skyway was initially built to lighten up foot traffic on Minneapolis’ busy downtown streets, it has since become a fantastic way for locals to get around the city, protected from frigid winter temperatures.

Nearly 10 miles in length, the Minneapolis Skyway is an exceptional way to see some of the best the city has to offer. Accessible from dozens of buildings downtown, the Skyway is open to the public completely free of charge.

10. Mall of America

Located 20 minutes south of downtown Minneapolis, the Mall of America is the largest shopping mall in the United States. Coming in at nearly 3 million square feet, this huge playground offers a bit more than just shopping.

The Mall of America features 250 stores, two hotels, spas, a movie theater, an aquarium, escape rooms, and even a full-sized amusement park!

Whether you’re a big shopper or not, this massive mall is definitely worth the visit.

11. Ice Castles in Long Lake Regional Park

Escape to a fairytale land of castles, archways, secret passages, and tunnels at Ice Castles. Starting in November, 20+ ice sculptors and artisans arrive in Minneapolis to meticulously craft these stunning structures for all to enjoy.

Within the castles, you’ll find slides, sculptures, and even a tubing hill! All of which are included in the price of admission.

If you’re looking to really chill out, there’s even a frozen pub to grab a drink or two!

Thrill seekers, social media influencers, and art appreciators alike can all find something to enjoy at Ice Castles, making it a perfect spot for families and organization outings alike

12. Minnehaha Falls

Only a little over ten minutes from downtown, Minnehaha Falls is a stunning, 53 foot waterfall flowing into Minnehaha Creek which flows through the city of Minneapolis. Come late December, the falls completely freeze over, producing a stunning wall of cascading ice for nature lovers to enjoy.

A view of Minnehaha Falls mostly frozen in the winter.
Minnehaha Falls in the winter.

While there is a quick access stairwell to the top of the falls, more adventurous hikers can take the 2.1 mile round trip trail leading to the bottom of the falls for a truly exceptional view of the icy cascades.

Just make sure to pack a comfortable pair of boots and a warm jacket!

Wrapping Up Things to Do in Minneapolis in Winter

A snowy city park scene.

Winter in Minnesota is no joke. Whether us Minnesotans like to admit it or not, it’s cold up here! But with all the stunning natural beauty our great state has to offer, and all of the incredible culture in the Twin Cities, we don’t let the freezing temperatures coop us up!

The residents of Minneapolis make the best of what we’ve got and take the winter by storm. You might even hear some of us say it’s the best season of the year! So, join in on the fun and come visit the great city of Minneapolis this winter!

Need some suggestions of where to stay during your trip? Check out our article on 14 of the Best Hotels in Minneapolis.