Is Minneapolis a big city?
And if so, how big is it, exactly?
You’d think this would be a straightforward and easy question to answer, BUT… like most things Minnesotan, the real answer is a little more complex.
As a long-time Minneapolis local who’s lived in numerous other big cities, I thought it’d be worth sharing an honest interpretation of the numbers.
But first, how big is Minneapolis? (By Population)
Minneapolis has a population of 429,954, according to the most recent U.S. Census Data from April 2020.
This makes it the largest city in the state of Minnesota and the 46th largest United States city, as measured by population.
But wait! Minneapolis is just one half of the “Twin Cities” along with its next door neighbor, St. Paul.
According to the same April 2020 Census data, St. Paul had a population of 311,527. This makes St. Paul the 63rd largest United States city.
If you add St. Paul’s population to Minneapolis, you get a combined Twin Cities population of 741,481. (After all, they do call it the Twin Cities for a reason!)
This combined population number would actually make the Twin Cities the 18th largest city in the United states, barely beating out Denver (population 715,522) and Seattle (population 737,015) but not quite as large as San Francisco (population 873,965) according to Wikipedia’s ranking of U.S. Cities by population size.
Minneapolis Population Size, considering the entire Twin Cities metro
Maybe an even more accurate way to measure the real size of Minneapolis would be to include not just St. Paul, but the overall metro population.
After all, the Twin Cities has many easily accessible suburbs that certainly play into the feel and character of the city. I mean, any local will tell you that Richfield, Minnesota, located just 11 minutes from downtown Minneapolis, is so close to downtown that it still feels like it’s part of the city. And heck, the Mall of America is probably our city’s largest tourist attraction, yet it technically sits in Bloomington, even though that’s less than 15 minutes from the heart of downtown Minneapolis.
When you consider this, the 2020 Census calculated the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area with a total population of 3,690,261. (Source)
This makes the Minneapolis/St. Paul/Twin Cities metro the 16th biggest metro area in the United States.
Compared to other metros, Minneapolis/St. Paul is just larger than Tampa (3.2 million) and San Diego (3.3 million) but barely smaller than Seattle (4.0 million) and Detroit (4.3 million).
How big is Minneapolis? (By Physical Size)
The official borders of Minneapolis are roughly 11 miles long by 5 miles wide, resulting in a land area of 53.97 square miles, according to the U.S. Census.
Interestingly, that total doesn’t even crack the biggest 150 United States cities by area.
Of course, this is another case where Minneapolis being one-half of the Twin Cities makes it look smaller, at least on first glance, than it actually is.
St. Paul, by land area, is about 5 miles from North to South and about 10 miles from East to West, resulting in a total area of 51.98 square miles, according to Census data.
If you combine St. Paul’s land area to Minneapolis’s land area, you get a combined Twin Cities area of 105.95 square miles.
This would make the Twin Cities the 110th largest U.S. City by land area, about the same size as places like Sacramento, California (98.6 square miles) Salt Lake City, Utah (110.3 square miles) or Savannah, Georgia (106.8 square miles).
That said, our hypothetical Twin Cities combination is still notably smaller than most of the places consider “big cities” such as New York City (300 square miles) Dallas (339 square miles) or Chicago (227 square miles).
A Local’s Opinion on Whether Minneapolis is a “Big City”
So, is Minneapolis a big city?
That depends on who you ask, or as you can read above, what you measure.
To someone born and raised in New York City, Minneapolis might feel like a small town. At the same time, someone from rural Kansas might find themselves completely overwhelmed by the size of Minneapolis and the combined Twin Cities.
Here’s my take
And keep in mind that this is coming from the perspective of a guy who was raised in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, moved out to rural western Texas for a few years, and then spent a multi-year stint exploring Denver, Colorado before eventually settling down in Minneapolis/St. Paul.
To me, Minneapolis “feels” like the perfect sized city. As I mentioned in my article about the pros and cons of living in Minneapolis, Minneapolis has all those big city amenities without a lot of the negatives that plague other, bigger cities. Minneapolis boasts delicious food, a bustling job market, and world-class hospitals, yet it doesn’t suffer from the endless urban sprawl of places like Houston or Dallas, nor the extreme congestion of places like San Francisco or Chicago.
Instead, Minneapolis traffic usually isn’t too bad. You can go out to eat downtown and find a place to park without wanting to give up on life completely. And you can find yourself on the far east side of St. Paul and still drive to Minneapolis’s westernmost attractions in about 30 minutes.
Plus, because of the crazy story about the founding of Minneapolis, the city didn’t really come into its own until after The Civil War, which meant that the downtown areas were mostly designed around the rise of the automobile. As a result, the city itself doesn’t have the ultra-compact feel that you’ll find throughout the biggest pre-colonial East Coast cities, like Boston or Philadelphia.
I’d also add that the nature of the “Twin Cities” lends itself to fitting in your own personal Goldilocks-zone. If you’re craving downtown hustle, then you’ll probably enjoy Minneapolis. If you prefer city amenities but prefer a smaller, more neighborhood environment, then St. Paul (and it’s generally smaller size and slower pace) is right next door.
Final Answer – Is Minneapolis a big city?
So, final answer: Minneapolis is definitely a big city. Add in its St. Paul neighbor, it’s one of the biggest cities in the United States.
That said, among those big cities, Minneapolis would probably be considered a “Medium Sized” city. But for this long-time local, that’s just perfect.