After spending a the first parts of my road trip exploring the sites in Niagara Falls and Milwaukee, I headed to Minneapolis. I put the city on my itinerary for a simple reason: two of my close friends from college both live there and rave about it.
I had visited once before, in the summer of 2014, when one of these friends got married (and had the most amazing adult summer camp wedding). But I only got to spend one night in Minneapolis proper. During that visit, I hung out downtown, ate from some amazing food trucks, ran into a parade, visited a super speak Target (Target is headquartered in the city), and drank amazing beer at a local brew pub. While a short trip, I got enough of a taste to see how freaking cool a city it was and I needed to explore more.
The drive to Minneapolis from Milwaukee was a pleasant one. I listened to more David Sedaris, stopped to marvel these gorgeous rock formations on the side of I-90, and basked in the joy of fluffy clouds and green fields dotted with wildflowers.
Since I was staying with good friends, I ended up doing some cool things I wouldn’t have planned to do on my own. One of the best surprises about Minneapolis was how many of these activities were free-even the local art museum had free admission!
Here are five free (and fun!) things to do in Minneapolis:
See the Views from the Guthrie Theater
The main draw for us was to visit the Endless Bridge, which is a cantilevered deck hanging over the back of the theater that has amazing views of the Mississippi river and the surrounding factories and the Stone Arch Bridge. Standing still and taking in the fresh air and the panoramic views was invigorating. The view is so picturesque it would be a shame not to bring your camera along. I snapped my favorite selfie of the whole road trip there.
For views of downtown Minneapolis, there’s a yellow observation room that overlooks downtown. We skipped this because I needed to get my friend back to his house by a certain time, but the pictures from this room look spectacular.
Another option would be to get a drink at the bar or see a show, which would be a great time, but this building and views can be enjoyed without spending a dime.
Explore the Minneapolis Institute of Art
I had just been to the Milwaukee Art Museum, so I almost skipped the Minneapolis Institute of Art (MIA), but I’m so glad I didn’t! We took advantage of the free admission and late Friday hours to wander the galleries in the early evening.
Some of the highlights for me were the galleries on China, South, and Southeast Asian art, a documentary on the traditions of the Miao people, galleries that juxtaposed historic and modern Native American art, and the Contemporary art collection.
The museum also features some great Frank Lloyd Wright installations and models.
This is a first rate art museum, one that I would have gladly paid an entrance fee to attend. The fact that there is no cost of admission opens it up, and there were teenagers running around excitedly from work to work that might not have had access if there was a charge. My visit here, combined with my stop at the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City a few days later, really got me thinking about the intersection between great urban art institutions and the less affluent members of their communities. Minneapolis is doing a great service to its people by making the museum accessible to all. This is definitely a topic I want to think about more.
From a photography perspective, I was able to take flash-free pics of everything I wanted (we didn’t go into the traveling exhibit, so I don’t know about that). There are also great downtown views and a Chihuly chandelier at the entrance as well.
People Watch at the Midtown Global Market
After visiting the museum, my friend suggested we grab dinner at the Midtown Global Market. I was a little hangry when we first got there, but once I took care of that with an awesome sandwich from Manny’s Tortas, I looked around at how cool this place is.
It might feel like cheating to put this place on a list of free activities, because there are stalls of delicious food and cool shops. And, I obviously partook of a delicious dinner. But there’s no entrance fee, and it’s a great place to walk around and see the sights even if you choose not to eat or buy a thing.
When we were there, a bad was playing and children were dancing as part of their Family Friday series, described as:
Family Fridays feature music and free family-friendly activities for all ages every week. Bring your kids and experience the Midtown Global Market as a family.
Whether d0ing some window shopping or the real thing, there are food stuffs, goods made by the Hmong people, Viking paraphernalia, and local craft beers. It was a beautiful and vibrant place to spend the evening.
Pick a Lake to Play In (or Near)
Minnesota is known as the the land of ten thousand lakes (although Wikipedia claims its actually over fifteen thousand), and it’s almost impossible to visit without spending time in or near a lake. We took a drive by some of the lakes in the Chain of Lakes Regional Park, specifically Lake Calhoun. There were people walking, biking, swimming, sailing, canong and playing. Even permits to host small parties at the lake beaches in this park are free!
There are many other lakes and parks in Minneapolis to take advantage of during a visit. America has an amazing park system, from National Parks down to state and municipal parks. Spending some time outside in Minneapolis, especially in the summer, doesn’t have to cost any money to have an amazing time.
And of course, there’s always the Mississippi river front to enjoy. Whether its photographing the falls of St. Anthony or taking a self-guided walking tour, there’s a lot of ways to enjoy the outdoors along the river.
The self-proclaimed “City of Lakes” lives up to it’s name and works hard to make sure the lakes are accessible to everyone.
Minneapolis is a cool looking city. There are mill signs towering above rooftops, grain silos, and art deco skyscrapers. I didn’t have much time to spend walking around downtown on this trip, but on my last trip I spent the morning walking around looking at the gorgeous buildings. This time we drove through the beautiful theater district and got a look at the newly completed Bob Dylan mural. A little time immersed in the city’s urban districts feature great architecture and great vibes in the summer. In winter, the skyways between bridges allow you to explore the indoors without having to brave the harsh Minnesota cold.
Minneapolis is a blast to visit, with great eats and natural beauty. Because of the ease of accessing fun things to do that don’t cost anything, it was the most economical stop on two week road trip, even if you discount accommodations since I stayed with friends.
Do you know any other cool things to do in Minneapolis that don’t cost a thing? If so, please post tips or questions below!