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Grotto’s Travel Guide to the Twin Cities

Grotto's travel guide for what to do in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Stone Arch Bridge, which crosses the Mississippi River

When the average person thinks of Minnesota, chills run through his/her body. It elicits thoughts of frigid and unforgiving temperatures. But that’s only the case during the dead of winter. Throughout much of the year, Minnesota is so warm that people flock to its thousands of lakes to cool down and have some summer fun.

These warm temperatures also make the Twin Cities — Minneapolis and Saint Paul — major tourist destinations. They have all the food and culture options of a major city, yet provide plenty of opportunities to enjoy nature, such as hiking trails and dozens of popular lakes.

Take it from a local

One of the most well-known tourist attractions in the Twin Cities is the Mall of America — a three-story shopping hub that features an aquarium, rollercoaster, Lego store, and more shops than is possible to browse in one afternoon.

Yet, locals say it’s not worth visiting.

“Don’t even bother with the Mall of America,” says Isaac Huss, who has lived in the Twin Cities for the majority of his life. “I mean, it’s a big mall, so if you’re into that sort of thing, that’s cool.”

Instead, Isaac recommends exploring the various neighborhoods throughout urban Minneapolis — particularly, Northeast and Uptown.

“The cool part about Uptown is that not only is it close to downtown, but it’s also really close to the chain of lakes,” Isaac says. “Former Lake Calhoun is the big one that they just renamed to the old Native American name, [Bde Maka Ska].”

Other popular lakes in the area include Lake Hiawatha and Lake Harriet, all of which are surrounded by old and beautiful urban architecture. They’re connected by running and walking trails. There are also beaches, outdoor amphitheaters, and opportunities to rent paddleboards and small boats.

Northeast, on the other hand, has a series of popular restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries, and other excellent places to hang out and grab a bite to eat.

Know before you go

One of the best parts of the Twin Cities is that they contain everything one would want from a big city without being too big, overcrowded, or overwhelming.

“We do food and we do drinks really well,” Isaac said. “It’s not easy, in my experience of traveling, to find a place where you can combine a fun place to hang, you can get a good burger or even better food than that, and you can get a good drink — all in the same place. And we’ve got a bunch of different places that do that I think.”

The cities are also really well known for their theater scene. There was even a rumor for some time about how the Twin Cities had the most live theater per capita — second only to New York. While some media sites have claimed this tidbit isn’t true, it still exemplifies how much theater is in Minnesota — or no one would have believed that in the first place.

Must see

Grotto travel guide for what to do in the Twin Cities: visit the Cathedral of Saint Paul.
The Cathedral of Saint Paul, located in Saint Paul, Minnesota

When it comes to the Midwest, tourists rarely think of churches as attractions. That title is generally reserved for their transatlantic counterparts.

Yet, the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis and the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Saint Paul both inspire awe in such a way that they deserve such a designation.

“There have been architects that have said that if either of these churches were in Europe then they would be travel destinations in and of themselves,” Isaac says. “But because they’re in America, and people don’t think of America as having beautiful, old churches, they aren’t really on a lot of people’s radars.”

The Basilica of Saint Mary is located near Uptown. The granite structure is massive. The area above the altar extends three or four stories high — much higher than the rest of the building. Its vibrant and colorful stained glass windows are a sharp contrast to the dark walls, which allows their beauty to shine brightly.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul stands out from its surroundings, given that it’s situated in a much more open, less populated area. Its interior walls are much brighter, as well, but its stained glass windows are equally as beautiful.

Need to try

While many Twin City attractions can be found in other cities, it has one unique food item that tourists must try.

The Jucy Lucy, a cheeseburger with a core of melted cheese, is a Minneapolis staple that was invented in the 1950s.

“It’s basically like a stuffed donut but instead of dough, it’s burger, and instead of jelly, it’s cheese,” Isaac says. “My preferred place for a Jucy Lucy is Matt’s. There is a debate about who has the original and who has the best.”

The other restaurant that might have invented the burger is 5-8 Club. Locals will likely debate which establishment created the Jucy Lucy forever, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying one. In fact, why not try a Jucy Lucy from both?

Make the most of your experience

Even though the cold deters many people from visiting the Twin Cities in the winter, that doesn’t mean Minneapolis and Saint Paul don’t have a lot to offer during that time of the year.

“But if you come in the spring, late fall, and especially in the winter, either bring enough clothes where you can actually go outside or just go and buy some when you come here,” Isaac says. “Then actually still go do something outside. Even if it’s just walk around outside and nothing else — it’s really cool and really beautiful to be in a city that doesn’t shut down when it’s cold outside because it definitely doesn’t.”

Part of the reason the city is able to stay so active, even when there’s several feet of snow and single-digit temperatures is because of their downtown skyway system.

“It’s the largest skyway system in the world, actually,” Isaac says. “It’s on the second-level of downtown buildings. It’s pretty crazy. It’s most effective during work hours — like 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you’re working downtown then a lot people won’t even go outside to go to lunch. And you can go to about two dozen lunch places within a few blocks.”

The Twin Cities also offer several outdoor activities to do, such as pickup hockey on the lakes, curling and even something called Crashed Ice.

“In the winter, the cathedral has partnered with Crashed Ice. It’s extreme downhill skating,” Isaac says. “So there’s an ice skating track right at the base of the cathedral hill (‘cause you need a hill to get the momentum and everything) and then they light up the cathedral and everything. It’s really crazy.”

So whether you’re planning a trip for summer or winter, consider adding the Twin Cities to your list of places to visit. Over Memorial Day weekend, my wife and I put Isaac’s recommendations to the test — and we were not disappointed.

From the awe-inspiring beauty of the basilica to beating the heat by paddleboarding on the lakes to even trying a Jucy Lucy, Minneapolis showed us a great time and left us looking forward to going back.

Grotto travel guide for what to do in the Twin Cities: walk around outside and check out the art.
“Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture, located in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

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