Minneapolis calls itself the "City of Lakes," and for good reason, with the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway running along several lakes and the Mississippi River. Nature enthusiasts don't have to leave the city limits to enjoy the water, but just need to visit one of the many parks within the city. Most of Minnesota's pro sports are headquartered here as well, including the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx basketball teams, the Minnesota Twins at Target Field, and the Minnesota Vikings, soon to be playing at their new stadium downtown. Minneapolis is also an arts hotspot, with the third largest live theater community in the country, numerous internationally renowned museums, and musical venues large and small. And the food scene? Growing in numbers--and quality.
Must see in Minneapolis
Visitors to downtown Minneapolis should check out the Mississippi riverfront area around the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum, next to the Stone Arch Bridge, which together bring both the past and the present into a highly scenic--and active--area. To fully appreciate the City of Lakes, head to Uptown to visit Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles, popular recreation lakes surrounded by beautiful old homes and near Uptown's shopping, dining, and entertainment area. For arts enthusiasts, the area between downtown and Uptown houses the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, the Walker Art Museum, and the Museum of Russian Art--all worthy stops.
Where to stay in Minneapolis
Downtown Minneapolis has a wide array of hotel options, with something for nearly every price range and interest level, whether it's a business traveler or people in town for nightlife. There are luxury hotels for those seeking a high-end experience. There are boutique hotels in historic buildings, and sleek new modernistic hotels near the riverfront. Public transit and cabs are widely available to other parts of Minneapolis.
Travelers with children should consider the Residence Inn at the Depot, one of the restored historic buildings that's near the river and has an indoor waterpark and arcade. In winter, the hotel is adjacent to an indoor skating rink.
Younger travelers and those looking for nightlife should look to hotels near Hennepin and Nicollet Avenues, where they'll be within easy walking distance to numerous music and nightclub venues, including skyway access in the winter.
The best deals are on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, near the University of Minnesota. They may not be as convenient in terms of walking to sights, but are within easy public transit distance to all that Minneapolis has to offer.
Best and worst times to go to Minneapolis
The best time to visit Minneapolis is May through August, when the summer weather arrives and visitors can flock to the lakes, parks, and Mississippi riverfront. There are numerous festivals and events that take place outdoors during this time of year that only add to the fun. January through March can be the worst time to visit, although those who stay in one of the downtown hotels will easily be able to access restaurants and nightlife along Nicollet and Hennepin Avenues via skyway, hardly ever having to go outdoors.
Where to get lost in Minneapolis
Wander around the Uptown area and hike over to the nearby Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles. During the summer you can enjoy watching sailboats and paddle boarders on Lake Calhoun while enjoying seafood from Tin Fish, right on the lakeshore. Or you can stroll a few blocks towards Calhoun Square and get a more refined meal at Barbette or Lake and Irving.
The best deal in Minneapolis
The Minneapolis Institute of the Arts has a huge collection of art that's rotated on a regular basis, including world-class artists like Matisse and Georgia O'Keeffe. Admission to the main galleries is free; there are traveling exhibitions that are fee-based, but much of the museum is available at no cost. Just a few blocks away is Eat Street, a stretch of Nicollet Avenue that has dozens of restaurants, many of which are ethnic, and many of which offer great prices for their food.
Transportation in Minneapolis
There are taxis, buses, and light rail. The bus system is extensive and can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go within Minneapolis (and to neighboring St. Paul as well). The light rail is limited, but will take you to St. Paul, the Mall of America, or to the airport. If you want to get outside the city's borders, a car rental is advisable.
Getting in from the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport
If you're not toting numerous pieces of luggage, take the light rail from the airport to downtown. It's the easiest, fastest, and least expensive form of transit.
Local tip for visitors to Minneapolis
Minneapolis has a robust ethnic food scene. You can find authentic Malaysian, Thai, Nepalese, Japanese, Ecuadorian, Mexican, Peruvian, Ethiopian, Eastern European, and Scandinavian restaurants here. Visitors can take a mini-international food tour while in the city.
Author's bio: Amy C. Rea is the author of Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes: an Explorer's Guide and Backroads & Byways of Minnesota. Her third book, Camping Minnesota, will be published in 2016.