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A First-Hand Comparison of Denver vs. Minneapolis, After Living in Both Cities for Years

living in denver vs. minneapolis

A few of you might remember that before I moved to Minnesota and became a passionate Minneapolis blogger, I was a Denver local.

It’s true!

For 3+ years after college, I called Denver home. I worked near downtown and spent a fun chapter of my life exploring everything I possibly could in the city and around the state of Colorado.

Eventually though, life had me moving again. This time from Denver to Minneapolis.

Safe to say, I had a lot of questions about Denver versus Minneapolis. And while I found lots of stats and data, finding a true local’s perspective wasn’t easy. Apparently, the overlap of people who’ve lived in both places is a pretty tiny niche!

So if you’re considering moving from Denver to Minneapolis, or even just curious about which city is best for you, then you’ll enjoy today’s comparison!

(PS – For even more info like this, you can check out my article about the pros and cons of living in Minneapolis.)

Size – Minneapolis Metro vs. Denver Metro

Population wise, both cities feel about the same size to me.

And that’s backed up by stats, too – Denver metro is about 3.2 million people while Minneapolis is nearly identical, at around 3.6 million people. That said, while Minneapolis is technically bigger, I always thought Denver felt noticeably more crowded. Apparently, that can be measured too – Denver reports 3,000 people per square mile versus 2,600 in Minneapolis.

In any case, the result is true city living in either place. In both downtown areas, you’ll find towering skyscrapers, plenty of city amenities, and just enough hustle and bustle for “city life.”

Head out to the suburbs, and both places also have plenty of well-developed, decently populated suburban areas.

Traffic

This is one area where Minneapolis really pulls ahead.

In Denver, traffic can get really bad. The highway system feels very limited. For example, if you want to get downtown, you really only have one option. Want to head to the mountains? Again, just one option. Airport? One option.

In many cases, Denver’s highways get congested at all hours of the day, leaving you no other option except bumper to bumper chaos.

Minneapolis on the other hand seems to have a much more developed and spaced out highway network. No matter where you want to go in the city, it seems there’s multiple highways to get there. It’s not perfect, but compared to most metro areas, traffic is really pretty good. And it definitely flows much, much smoother than Denver.

Weather

Ah… the big one.

No bones about it. In my opinion, Denver definitely has better weather than Minneapolis.

There’s something about Denver’s weather that makes it awesome. Denver just never seems to get too hot or too cold. Instead, locals get treated to a nice sampling of all four seasons.

Denver also has a really dry climate, which I always thought made for some beautiful days. Minneapolis isn’t humid compared to say, some southern or eastern U.S. climates, but it’s still slightly more humid than that crisp desert air Denver enjoys.

That said, Summer and Fall are absolutely beautiful in Minneapolis, and I actually prefer these seasons over their Denver counterparts. On average, it seems Minneapolis is about 10 degrees cooler than Denver during these months. Summer days above 90 degrees seem rare, whereas I remember Denver definitely getting its fair share of 95+ degree heat waves.

But then there’s winter…

Denver vs. Minneapolis Winters

I won’t sugar coat this. Winter in Minneapolis is worse than Denver. A LOT worse.

Minneapolis is legitimately one of the coldest big cities on planet earth, and that bone chilling cold usually lasts from November all the way through April.

During these months, Minneapolis often gets hit with some truly brutal cold snaps, where temperatures plummet and stay well below zero. By comparison, I remember subzero days in Denver being pretty rare and never lasting very long.

Snow is also a lot more of a factor in Minneapolis. While Minneapolis and Denver receive about the same amount of total snowfall, Minneapolis snow is a totally different animal than Denver snow.

Denver enjoys really sunny winters which helps melt any snow really fast. (I remember tons of times where Denver got blasted by a huge snowstorm in the morning, and I was out enjoying a dry, sunny day by the afternoon.) By comparison, Minneapolis winters are so cold and dreary that the snow never seems to melt. Instead, it just piles up and up, so winter in Minneapolis definitely feels a LOT more like an arctic winter than Denver.

Minneapolis vs. Denver – Cost of Living

According to BestPlaces.net, the cost of living in Minneapolis is about 17% cheaper than living in Denver, overall.

The big savings comes from Housing, which their stats say are 37% cheaper in Minneapolis vs. Denver.

According to their data, the only categories which Minneapolis is more expensive than Denver are:

  • Utilities (4% more)
  • Miscellanous items (5% more) – which includes entertainment, restaurants, repairs, etc.

Based on my experience living in both cities, these stats definitely sound right.

For me, living in Minneapolis has definitely been cheaper than living in Denver, mostly because of the big housing savings.

When I moved from Denver to Minneapolis, I found a two bedroom apartment in the city for the same price of the small one bedroom apartment I had been renting in Denver. Not only was the Minneapolis apartment bigger, but it was nicer, too.

Eventually, I bought a house in Minneapolis for a price that was literally half of what my friends in Denver were paying.

So I can report first hand that Minneapolis’s housing is definitely cheaper than Denver. And since the average person spends most of their money on housing, this is a huge difference in the cost of living.

That said, the one category that these stats never seem to consider is taxes, and Minneapolis definitely has higher taxes in most every category than Denver.

Income taxes are the biggest difference. Income taxes in Minneapolis range from around 5 to 10 percent, while Denver income tax falls under Colorado’s flat income tax rate of about 4.5 percent. Depending on how much you make, this can be a BIG difference in how much money you take home.

Aside from taxes and housing, in my experience the price of most other things is pretty similar between the two cities.

Job Opportunities

Another factor you need to consider when comparing cost of living is job opportunities. After all, a slightly cheaper cost of living won’t matter if the local economy is bad!

Thankfully, both Minneapolis and Denver have strong job opportunities. Looking at BestPlaces.net again, the median family income in Minneapolis and Denver are almost identical (about $78K in Minneapolis vs. $77K in Denver).

Aside from those stats, both cities have plenty of large employers.

In Minneapolis, a lot of people work for the large banks and businesses around the city, such as Target, 3M, Wells Fargo and US Bank, plus all the jobs in healthcare.

Denver also has plenty of large employers. When I lived in Denver, I knew a lot of people who worked for U.S. Government agencies downtown, like the USDA, the EPA, and the Denver Fed. There’s also tons of healthcare jobs as well as some big businesses like Wells Fargo, Kaiser Permanente, and CenturyLink.

Things to Do in Minneapolis & Denver

Both cities have plenty of things to do, but there are some subtle differences between them.

Food, Dining, & Restaurant Comparison

It’s no surprise that a guy who runs a food blog considers this really important when choosing a place to live.

And if I’m being honest, Minneapolis’s food scene absolutely mops the floor with Denver’s food scene. (Sorry to any of my Denver friends out there!)

What can I say? I guess those cold winters are good for something – Minneapolis locals have no choice but to make and sell some of the best food in the country.

If I’m being totally unbaised, Denver definitely has the better options for Green Chile and Mexican food, but that’s about where their advantages end. Meanwhile, Minneapolis pulls ahead in just about every other category. From the best burgers you’ve ever had, to an incredible selection of Asian food, and even a stronger showing of James Beard award winning fine dinning, Minneapolis is a foodie’s DREAM.

(Even Minneapolis’s signature appetizer bite – the cheese curd – totally schools Denver’s “Rocky Mountain Oysters” aka bull testicles.)

Plus, with 80+ breweries around the Twin Cities, Minneapolis even holds its own against Denver’s claim to fame as a microbrewery hub.

Nature

Okay, Denver obviously wins this battle. Hello! Mountains!

During the Denver summer, nothing beats a quick drive into the Denver foothills for some amazing hiking. In the winter, visitors flock from all over to experience Colorado’s world-class skiing, a luxury that locals get to enjoy every weekend. Not to mention all the rivers to raft, mountains to summit, and world class bike trails to ride.

No doubt, Denver is an outdoorsmen’s paradise, and it seems like the entire Denver metro area is united by their love of the outdoors.

By comparison, Minneapolis is actually underrated in the area, but still noticeably behind Denver. While there is some skiing in Minneapolis, you’ll be limited to tiny hills that wouldn’t even fill the learning zone of most Colorado resorts.

On the plus, Minneapolis’s urban park system is frequently rated the best in the country. That’s THE best, not just “among the best.” So there’s tons of fantastic urban green space to explore, and a surprising amount of hiking in the area. (Just know that the mountain views will be replaced with more modest lake and forest scenery.)

Minneapolis also has the Mississippi River, which cuts through downtown and heads to St. Paul and beyond. The result is miles upon miles of recreational shoreline. Denver doesn’t really have a river that compares.

On that note, Minnesota’s nature activities are mostly water based. There’s tons of lake fishing and boating. It’s also worth throwing a shout out here to Minnesota’s boundary waters, which is a day trip away from Minneapolis. This natural area is consistently considered some of the best kayaking in the country.

Sports

Both Minneapolis and Denver are great sports towns. Both cities have professional baseball, football, hockey, and soccer teams, and both cities house those teams in some fantastic stadiums.

But if I had to choose, I’d rate Denver a better sports town overall. Locals there definitely seem more passionate about the Broncos and Rockies, whereas most Minneapolis locals only seem casually interested in the Vikings or Twins.

Shopping

If you’re into shopping, you have to give Minneapolis the advantage over Denver.

I mean, the Mall of America is the biggest in the United States. Plus, clothing and shoes are exempt from Minnesota sales tax.

Theme Parks, Zoos, etc.

Both cities are pretty similar here.

Denver has the Denver Zoo, and even the amazing Cheyenne Zoo is a quick drive away in Colorado Springs. But Minneapolis has the Minnesota Zoo and the always-free and always-charming Como Zoo.

Denver has Elitch Gardens and Lakeside Amusement Park, while Minneapolis has Valley Fair and Nickelodeon Universe in the Mall of America. If I had to choose, I’d give the advantage to Minneapolis thanks to Valley Fair.

Art, Museums, and Culture

Again, pretty similar experience here. Both cities have plenty of museums, history centers, and art galleries.

  • Denver: Museum of Nature & Science, Denver Art Museum, Children’s Museum of Denver, Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum, The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve, etc.
  • Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Mill City Museum, Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota History Center, American Swedish Institute, etc.

Airport Comparison – DEN DIA vs. MSP

I travel a lot – both for work and pleasure. (I once took over 100 flights in a single year!) Safe to say, living near a nice airport is pretty important on my list. So, how does DIA and MSP compare?

After flying in and out of both airports hundreds of times, I can confidently say that the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport is better than Denver International.

Since both airports have plenty of flights wherever you want to go, the comparison really comes to the details. And that’s where MSP shines.

For one, MSP is located right in the heart of the city. Whether you’re in Minneapolis or St. Paul, driving to the airport takes no more than 10-15 minutes. By comparison, heading to DIA feels like a roadtrip to Kansas – you’re looking at a 35-40 minute drive minimum. “Welcome to DIA!” … followed by another 5 miles of monotonous driving. I always found this so annoying.

Once in the airport, MSP seems to have better food options and just feels nicer. Plus, there’s no annoying train to take.

And last but not least, the MSP airport doesn’t have Denver’s terrifying Bluecifer horse statue. 😉

Denver Locals vs. Minneapolis Locals

Okay, obviously I’m generalizing here. Big time. But there’s definitely some differences between the locals of both cities.

Minneapolis folks tend to be pretty reserved.

Denver folks tend to be a little more outgoing. Most are outdoorsy; hiking, biking, skiing, and camping are really common hobbies among locals. Weed also happens to be legal in the state, and many locals are umm… enthusiastic about that pastime.

Minneapolis folks are outdoorsy too, in their own way. Minneapolis and Minnesota in general have a definite “lake culture” where most people know somebody who knows somebody who owns a cabin on one of the state’s 10,000+ lakes, so weekend lake get-togethers are common. That said, most locals naturally hibernate in the winter, although some winter hobbies like ice fishing, fat tire biking, and cross country skiing are popular.

More so, Minneapolis locals tend to be a little more private than their Denver counterparts, and some people who move to the city say they have a harder time meeting people because of this.

Diversity

According to the US Census, Denver’s demographics include:

  • 80% White
  • 10% African American
  • 4% Asian
  • 3% Two or more races
  • 2% Native American
  • 29% Hispanic or Latino

While Minneapolis’s makeup is:

  • 64% White
  • 19% African American
  • 6% Asian
  • 1% Native American
  • 5% Two or more races
  • 10% Hispanic or Latino

And St. Paul’s demographics include:

  • 67% White
  • 12% African American
  • 15% Asian
  • 1% Native American
  • 4% Two or more races
  • 8% Hispanic or Latino

Source: US Census Comparison

Politics

Both cities definitely lean left. That said, in my experience Minneapolis is slightly more liberal than Denver.

I’m not sure if that’s because Minneapolis actually has a higher number of Democratic voters or just because those voters seem more passionate about politics. (I feel like you definitely see a lot more yard signs in Minneapolis vs. Denver, for whatever that’s worth.)

So, which city should you move to? Or should you move from Denver to Minneapolis (and vice versa?)

All in all, both Denver and Minneapolis are fantastic cities, with different pros and cons.

They also have a lot of similarities. They’re both similar sized, with similar attractions, and surprisingly similar vibes.

In my opinion, the biggest differences between Denver and Minneapolis really boil down to:

  1. Winter weather
  2. Mountains vs. lakes
  3. Cost of living

If you’re in love with the mountains and can’t imagine life without them, then you’ll probably enjoy Denver more.

If you’re a little more frugal, don’t mind the cold, and/or prefer lakes over mountains (or are otherwise tired of Denver’s mountain traffic jams) then you just might love Minneapolis.

Personally, I prefer the day to day practicality of Minneapolis over Denver. In my opinion, the Twin Cities’ better food, less congested traffic, and lower cost of living makes me prefer living here over Denver. Whenever I start missing the mountains, I just hop on a plane.

Then again, I’m probably biased since I’m the guy who started an entire website about how awesome Minneapolis is. 🙂

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