Winter is coming…
Which means us Minnesotans have two options. We can hole up inside, hibernating all season long while complaining about the bone chilling cold, the lack of daylight, and the snow that seems to never budge.
We can take advantage of all the fun and interesting things to do that come alive each winter season!
Sure, it’s still a hard sell before winter is ever going to be most Minnesotan’s favorite season. But as crazy as it sounds, winter in Minneapolis and St. Paul has it’s very own special kind of charm. And with the right mindset, winter in the Twin Cities can actually be one of the most beautiful (and fun!) seasons.
The key, we think, is to take advantage of all our city’s unique winter activities. Which is why today, we’re sharing all the best things to do in Minneapolis & St. Paul during winter. Hang in there, fellow Minnesotans! (And you poor, poor visitors…)
- Outdoor Things to Do
- 1. Walk on a frozen lake
- 2. Go ice skating around town
- 3. Go snowmobiling
- 4. Gawk at seasonal holiday lights
- 5. Experience an ice castle
- 6. Ice fish on one of our 10,000 lakes
- 7. Take a polar plunge
- 8. Cross country ski on miles of groomed trails throughout the city
- 9. Visit an ice bar
- 10. Forget hiking – go snowshoeing!
- 11. See the frozen Minnehaha Falls
- 12. Experience Minnesota Pond Hockey
- 13. Hit the slopes for some downhill skiing
- 14. Go snow tubing
- 15. Celebrate winter with the Saint Paul Winter Carnival
- 16. Find a hill and sled down it!
- The Best Indoor Winter Activities
- 1. Grab a beer at one of the many Twin Cities breweries
- 2. Drink by the fire at one of the city’s toastiest bars
- 3. Dine out at the Twin Cities’ always-delicious restaurants
- 4. Enjoy the molten-hot cheese of a Juicy Lucy
- 5. Tour one of the many local landmarks
- 6. Go bowling indoors
- 7. Try out curling
- 8. Explore the Minneapolis & St. Paul Skyway
- 9. Watch an indoor sports game
- 10. Shop (or don’t) at the Mall of America
- 11. Escape to a winter cabin
Outdoor Things to Do
Sometimes the best way to survive the bold north is to just embrace it.
These activities will have you bundling up with a warm jacket and taking in our state’s winter wonderland, first hand. Along the way, you’ll experience a beautiful side to the season that doesn’t get nearly enough love.
1. Walk on a frozen lake
Here’s one that’s especially popular with out of towners – simply find a frozen lake and walk on it.
For those of us who didn’t grow up in the bold north, this is a bucket list item, and a beautiful way to enjoy some of the most scenic spots in the city.
As the Land of 10,000 lakes, there’s no shortage of options to choose from, but any of the usual suspects in the urban-lake lineup will be fine choices. For some of the more popular options, consider Lake Calhoun, Lake Bde Maka Ska, or Lake Nokomis.
(Of course, always make sure the lake is safely frozen! Disobeying warnings and/or falling in is, obviously, extremely dangerous.)
2. Go ice skating around town
For a magical way to experience Minnesota’s winter, glide on over to a one of the many magical ice rinks in the Twin Cities. In Minneapolis, Loring Park’s skating rink allows you to skate with a view of the downtown skyline, and in St. Paul, Rice Park’s rink looks like it jumped off the screen of your favorite romance movie. (Both spots offer affordable or free rental skates.)
3. Go snowmobiling
The most popular snow mobiling near Minneapolis lies a few hours north in Brainerd, MN on the Paul Bunyon Trail. If that’s too much of a trek for you, there’s still numerous trails around the Twin Cities to get your motorized madness on.
The Minnesota DNR maintains an extensive map of all the state’s snowmobile trail, and there’s several companies near the Twin Cities who offer rentals.
4. Gawk at seasonal holiday lights
You’ll have to jump into this one early in the winter season, but the Twin Cities are an amazing place to view Christmas and holiday lights.
Here’s our complete guide for where to see Christmas lights in Minneapolis & St. Paul this year.
5. Experience an ice castle
The Twin Cities’ ice castles are amazing. Every year, these incredible structures take over a local park, and you can spend an amazing winter evening walking through a real-life ice castle! The most impressive are created by Ice Castles Minnesota, but you’ll also find these amazing structures at the St. Paul Winter Carnival.
6. Ice fish on one of our 10,000 lakes
Head over to any of Minnesota’s popular fishing lakes after they’ve frozen over during winter, and you’ll notice something interesting – loads of tiny little huts, perched on the surface.
Inside, folks have drilled a hole into the water and are patiently waiting for the fish to bite. Either that, or they’re using ice fishing as an excuse to drink beer and party during the long winter months. In either case, it’s a classic Minneapolis winter activity!
7. Take a polar plunge
Here’s one that makes us Minnesotans look absolutely crazy – The Polar Plunge.
Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like. You strip down to your skivvies and jump right into some arctic, basically frozen Minnesota water. And yes, this is the sort of thing the rest of the country looks at and just shakes their head at.
BUT, it’s absolutely an unforgettable experience that you can hold onto for life. And more importantly, the popular event raises tons of money for the Special Olympics, so you can feel good about giving yourself hypothermia.
8. Cross country ski on miles of groomed trails throughout the city
In the winter, many of the city’s most popular hiking trails turn into groomed cross country skiing trails. For the largest selection, Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis includes over 14 miles of groomed trails. The most unique? The Chain of Lakes cross country trails, where you’ll experience a frozen Lake of the Isles or Lake Bde Maka Ska mixed with downtown skyline views.
If you’re new to cross country skiing, Minnesota Parks and Rec offers affordable beginner lessons. For $35, you’ll get two hours of group instruction, plus a day pass to any of the nearby trails.
9. Visit an ice bar
Every winter, several local bars and restaurants commission ice sculptures to build up entire bars made out of ice. Bars stay up all winter long or until they melt, so enjoy them while you can!
10. Forget hiking – go snowshoeing!
Anyone whose ever tried hiking in the snow, only to have their foot sink down into knee-high powder, knows it’s not exactly the best option during winter.
Enter snowshoeing. Strap these big suckers on your feet, and even the deepest snow is no problem. It’s an approachable and fun way to get outside in the winter months.
You can rent snowshoes from most Minnesota State Parks for just a few bucks per day. Check out more info on the Minnesota DNR page.
11. See the frozen Minnehaha Falls
Minnehaha Falls is one of the city’s most popular summertime attractions, but I’d argue the city’s largest waterfall is even more beautiful in the winter.
Each winter, Minnehaha Falls transforms from a flowing waterfall to a frozen wall of ice. It’s a must-see piece of nature right in the middle of the city.
And yes, Sea Salt will be long-closed for the season, so you won’t be able to enjoy the view with any of their popular fish tacos, but that also just means there’s even less crowds to compete with.
12. Experience Minnesota Pond Hockey
Lace up those skates, grab a puck, and hit a frozen pond! This it the State of Hockey, after all!
Every winter, several official and unofficial patches of ice pop up around the city, and pick-up hockey becomes the number one sport in town.
And if you’re not keen on playing yourself, you can always check out the U.S. Pond Hockey Championship, an event that brings dozens of outdoor hockey rinks to the frozen surface of Lake Nokomis.
13. Hit the slopes for some downhill skiing
As someone who moved here from Denver, I certainly wouldn’t call Minnesota a mountainous state. BUT, we do have a surprisingly decent number of options for downhill skiing!
Buck Hill in Burnsville is just minutes from downtown Minneapolis, and Afton Alps in Hastings is especially convenient for those on the St. Paul side of the Twin Cities. And that’s just the tip of the snow-covered peaks, since Twin Cities skiers have other great options including Welch Village, Hyland Ski Area and Wild Mountain.
And of course, for the ultimate skiing experience in Minnesota, consider making the four hour drive up to Lutsen Mountain.
14. Go snow tubing
If you’re looking for a more family-friendly way to get some downhill action, consider snow tubing on one of the city’s many tubing hills.
For more info about local snow tubing, including tips on what to bring and info all the best spots, check out our complete guide to snow tubing in Minneapolis.
15. Celebrate winter with the Saint Paul Winter Carnival
If you thought Winter was a glum or dreary time of year, then might I invite you to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival?
The Winter Carnival began in 1886 after a New York reporter wrote that the city of St. Paul was “another Siberia, unfit for human hibatation.” As you can imagine, us locals took offense to this, and decided to design an entire festival to prove that winter in the Twin Cities can be a fun and exciting time of year.
130+ years later, and the Saint Paul Winter Carnival is 10-day celebration that draws 250,000 visitors every year to the city of St. Paul. It’s quite the spectacle, featuring snow sculpting, torchlight parades, ice bars, food competitions, and tons of family friendly events.
16. Find a hill and sled down it!
There might not be a more classically winter activity than grabbing a sled and using it to fly down the nearest hill.
Around Minneapolis and St. Paul, your sledding options range from “any modestly pitched hill with some snow on it” all the way up to organized tow-rope facilities at the previously mentioned snow tubing spots.
The Best Indoor Winter Activities
If you’ve had all the fun you can handle outside, then these indoor winter activities will keep you nice and entertained through the season. (And maybe more importantly, nice and warm!)
1. Grab a beer at one of the many Twin Cities breweries
As the old joke goes, there’s nothing else to do during Minnesota winters except drink your sorrows away.
And while I hope this article proves that cliche wrong, there are an insane number of craft breweries in the Twin Cities. At last count, there’s over 80 different breweries just within the Twin Cities metro area, so maybe there’s some truth to the claim.
(To read about them all, you can check out our ultimate guide to all the breweries in Minneapolis & St. Paul.)
2. Drink by the fire at one of the city’s toastiest bars
The Twin Cities have tons of bars to thaw-out in during winter, but for an extra special winter experience, head to one of the many bars in town known for their cozy fireplaces.
Literally, there’s tons of these, but here’s a few standouts:
- In downtown Minneapolis, the folks at Brit’s Pub know how to keep the poor weather out and the warm flames in.
- In St. Paul, the basement of W.A. Frost is one of the coziest places in the city, thanks to plenty of candles and fireplaces.
3. Dine out at the Twin Cities’ always-delicious restaurants
The second half of that joke about Minnesota’s winters is that there’s nothing else to do except drinking and eating. And again, there may be some truth to that, since Minneapolis has an incredible foodie scene that’s packed with James Beard award-winning chefs, delicious food trucks, and all sorts of fantastic dining options.
Pretty much our whole blog is about the treasures to be found at Minnesota restaurants, but in the winter, a few food groups stand out as even more comforting. Warm up with some of the city’s best pho, best burgers, or best pizza.
But for me, there’s one food group that reigns above all others come winter time…
4. Enjoy the molten-hot cheese of a Juicy Lucy
I swear, Minnesota’s most iconic burger tastes better the colder it gets.
There’s maybe no better time to belly up to the bar at Matt’s or defrost in the basement of The Nook (with a hot, cheesy Juicy Lucy, in hand) than the cold winter months.
5. Tour one of the many local landmarks
The Twin Cities are packed with lots of landmarks and many museums, all of which stay open through the winter. Here’s just a couple of our favorites:
- Take in the stunning interior of the St. Paul Cathedral, which is free to the public whenever church isn’t in session.
- Prince’s Paisley Park is open for tours year-round.
- In St. Paul’s gorgeous Summit Hill neighborhood, the massive gilded age mansion of James J. Hill is open for tours all winter.
- Tour one of Minneapolis’s many theaters, such as the Orpheum Theatre, Pantages Theatre, or State Theatre. You can find more info at HennepinTheatreTrust.org.
6. Go bowling indoors
On a cold, snowy night, there’s something about those warm wooden lanes that feels extra special.
For more info on the best spots, here’s our picks for the 14 best bowling alleys in the Twin Cities.
7. Try out curling
This goofy sport might be the butt of many jokes in other states, but if you give curling a shot, we’ll bet you’ll find this Olympic sport is tons tons of fun!
8. Explore the Minneapolis & St. Paul Skyway
Did you know that both Minneapois’s and St. Paul’s downtown areas are connected by an intricate collection of enclosed pedestrian tunnels? In Minneapolis, you can use the skyway system to cover 80 full city blocks and nearly 10 miles of downtown Minneapolis, and the Sky Paul Skyway covers 47 city blocks and nearly five miles.
This comes in especially handy during winter, since you can explore nearly the entire downtown area of both cities, all without ever leaving the climate controlled comfort of the indoor walkways!
9. Watch an indoor sports game
The Twin Cities are home to one of the largest collections of sports stadiums in the United States, and several of those stadiums allow for winter spectating. During the winter months, you can always take in:
- Minnesota Wild pro hockey games at the Xcel Energy Center
- Minnesota Timberwolves or Minnesota Lynxs pro basketball games at the Target Center
- Minnesota Gophers basketball or hockey at the Williams Arena, 3M Arena, or Ridder Arena
- Or even a Women’s Roller Derby event at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium!
10. Shop (or don’t) at the Mall of America
Locals and visitors alike know that there’s always the Mall of America to visit, no matter the season. And even if you’re not in the shopping mood, the Mall of America still has plenty of fun things to do.
11. Escape to a winter cabin
In the winter, all those vacation lakes near Minneapolis get a lot more quiet, and all those crowded summer lake cabins turn into cozy winter getaways.
Imagine bundling up on the couch with a book in your hand, fireplace crackling while soft snow falls outside in the quiet Minnesota north woods. Minnesota is packed with cabin getaways like this within a short drive from Minneapolis. Your best bet to find them is to look for availabilities in the popular summer retreats – towns like Brainderd, Duluth, Lutsen, Grand Marais, and Ely.
To hep you out, here’s our list of the best road trips from Minneapolis/St. Paul.