A beautiful mid-western state that sits right up on the border with Canada, Minnesota is well-known for its stunning landscapes. The Land of 10,000 Lakes has an abundance of water, from rushing rivers to famous lakes such as Lake Superior. All of this nature gives rise to the perfect opportunity for outdoor activities (fishing in Minnesota is second to none!) and you can also go hiking, cycling and kayaking. In winter, try snowmobiling or their state sport, ice hockey.
The state is home to two famous cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are known as the Twin Cities and have a popular nearby airport. However, Minnesota has a few more unusual things you might not realise it’s famous for, such as the biggest mall in the United States, being the home of the Mayo Clinic and producing some famous faces, including Prince and Bob Dylan. Few people know the state has a rich Scandinavian history or that they have a couple of weird but wonderful state dishes that you must try when visiting the North Star State, which Minnesota is called thanks to its unique location as the northernmost state in America. Here’s what Minnesota is famous for.
- What Is Minnesota Known For?
What Is Minnesota Known For?
1- Twin Cities
Twin Cities refers to the major metropolitan area encompassing Minneapolis, the state capital, and St. Paul.
The two cities are separated by the Mississippi River and pack in some of the best things to do in Minnesota.
In Minneapolis, don’t miss MIA (the Minneapolis Institute of Art) or catching a game at Target Field.
There’s also the famous Sculpture Garden, which has giant sculptures, some of which are interactive and a lovely view over the Minneapolis skyline.
In St Paul, you can visit the beautifully-designed State Capitol building or the equally impressive Cathedral of St. Paul.
If you’re looking for the best bars, restaurants and shops, also check out Grand Avenue, which has some lovely places to enjoy a coffee or meal in the sunshine.
- St. Paul: Historical Walking Tour with Local Guide
- St. Paul: Drinking History Walking Tour
- Minneapolis River Walk: Self-Guided Audio Tour
- Minneapolis: 3-Hour Amazing Scavenger Hunt Adventure
2- Being The Land of 10,000 Lakes
With just under 12,000 lakes, Minnesota’s moniker isn’t accurate but definitely gets the idea across – the state is brimming with thousands of stunning lakes, small and large which are perfect for an outdoor adventure.
The biggest lake is one of the great lakes, Lake Superior, which also happens to be the most famous, and its scenic North Shore is the most popular spot to head for the weekend.
There are other massive ones scattered around the state, such as Red Lake and Lake Minnetonka, which are popular with both visitors and locals for boating, fishing and just handing out on the miles and miles of shoreline and beaches.
If you have a car, driving around and visiting various lakes is one of the best things to do while here, no matter what time of year you visit, as in winter most of them freeze over, meaning you can also ice fish, skate and snowmobile.
This one will likely surprise many people unfamiliar with Minnesota, but the state has a rich and fascinating Scandinavian and German history.
You’ll find plenty of hygge here, as it’s actually home to the biggest population of Swedes and Norwegians outside of Scandinavia!
This strong culture means there is everything from great Scandinavian restaurants, where you can enjoy gravadlax, cinnamon rolls or Swedish meatballs, to museums like the American Swedish Institute and the Hjemkomst Center, which features a Viking ship and is in Moorhead, where much of this diaspora is concentrated.
This is very similar to the state’s German influence, which you can discover in the fascinating town of New Ulm designed with German buildings and architecture.
There’s a glockenspiel, a traditional brewery and lots of authentic restaurants serving traditional German cuisine.
4- Mayo Clinic
You’ve probably heard of the Mayo Clinic; not only is it one of the best hospitals in the United States, but it always pops up when you search for anything medically-related online.
in Rochester, the Mayo Clinic also has a few other campuses around the US, but this is the original and biggest, with more than 7,000 doctors and specialists, ranging from dermatology to oncology.
It’s consistently voted as one of the best hospitals in the country thanks to all its expertise, which comes from also having the Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine onsite, which produced some of the finest medical professionals in America.
People travel from far and wide just to be treated here, including a fair few famous names throughout history such as George Bush Sr., Johnny Cash, Muhammad Ali, Ernest Hemingway and even the Dalai Lama!
5- Mississippi River
The huge Mississippi River is just one of Minnesota’s waterways and travels through various states in the Midwest, but it’s particularly celebrated and worth visiting when in this state.
It’s one of the most famous rivers in the United States, but this impressive natural wonder begins right in Minnesota, specifically in Itasca State Park and also connects with Lake Superior.
Stretching through the state means the river has a long history of being vital to Minnesota for transportation and the economy, although now it’s also enjoyed for recreation.
You can go on a Mississippi River cruise, kayaking, swimming and more at different points along the river.
As much of it is surrounded by Minnesota’s gorgeous nature, including wild forests, the river is home to an abundance of wildlife which you might be lucky enough to spot, such as bald eagles, otters and in the north, black bears.
The Midwest gets bitterly cold each winter, with temperatures sometimes dropping to -40C! Luckily, Minnesotans long ago devised a super-intelligent way to navigate this problem in its big cities such as Minneapolis with skyways!
Minneapolis has the world’s longest skyway system, which are essential elevated glass walkways that connect pretty much every building in the city.
This means even when it’s snowing, people don’t need to walk outside or drive to get around the city of foot and stay warm and dry.
Because residents spend half the year using these useful skyways, they’ve also made sure they’re not boring.
You can find shops, stalls and cafes in many skyways, so if you visit in winter, you won’t need to brave the elements to explore the city, although note that most are only open on weekdays for use by workers.
Recommended tour: Minneapolis: Skyway Walking Tour with Drinks
7- Mall of America
If you’ve ever wanted to go on holiday and spend the entire time in a shopping mall, Minnesota’s Mall of America will grant all your wishes.
This mall is the biggest in America, and far from being just full of shops, it has dozens of other cool things to do, meaning kids and adults will be in heaven.
The mall is in Bloomington, just a short, direct tram from Minneapolis, and features more than 500 shops, plus an indoor theme park with roller coasters, mini golf, Sea Life aquarium, FlyOver America experience and a giant food court.
Thanks to its popularity, it also hosts seasonal events such as at Easter and Christmas and live music.
Children will particularly love checking out the Nickelodeon Universe and SEALIFE Minnesota, which are here, along with the cinema and sixty different restaurants.
Quite simply, you can spend the day here and not scrape the surface, but you can be sure that everyone will find something to love.
8- Minnesota State Fair
All of America’s 50 states have some version of a state fair and Minnesota’s is one of the biggest.
State fairs are like an annual celebration mixed with a giant funfair, with food, drink, rides, attractions and events that attract millions of visitors from around the country.
The Minnesota State Fair is often known as The Great Minnesota Get-Together and also features more historically traditional events like livestock shows.
If you visit, make sure to sample the food on offer, such as Minnesota walleye cakes, Sweet Martha’s cookies and hot dago, which is like a hot dog but made like a sandwich and covered in melted cheese.
The fair generally takes place right at the end of summer in late August and runs for around twelve days until Labour Day.
Due to the big agriculture industry in Minnesota, you’ll also find animals everywhere you look, and not just cows and chickens.
There’s a pet pavilion, birds of prey show, fish pond, butterfly house and a reptile show, with tonnes of entertainers just like a giant carnival.
9- Bob Dylan
Although Bob Dylan certainly needs no introduction as one of the world’s most famous singers, most people don’t realise he was born in Duluth, Minnesota.
He was also born under a different name, Robert Zimmerman, and many of his early songs, which were in the folk genre, were influenced by his upbringing in the state before he moved on to rock and blues.
His unique music, which includes hits like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’, has often been controversial and used as protest and civil war songs, leading to him winning a Nobel Prize for Literature.
Dylan lived in Duluth until he was six years old before moving to the small town of Hibbing, where he went to high school, started a band and got into folk music.
He’s just one of the state’s most famous people, but Minnesotans are extremely proud of having produced one of history’s best musicians!
10- Judy Garland
Another very famous figure hailing from Minnesota is actress Judy Garland, who starred in The Wizard of Oz.
She was born in Grand Rapids and the Wizard of Oz was her big break, catapulting her to stardom as a singer and actress thanks to iconic songs such as ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’.
Anyone who loved The Wizard of Oz should definitely head to her hometown when in Minnesota to check out her childhood home, which is now the Judy Garland Museum.
Inside the house, you can see her bedroom as it originally was when she lived there, along with loads of Wizard of Oz memorabilia and the carriage used in the movie.
For the film, four sets of ruby glass slippers were also made, one pair of which used to be in the Grand Rapids house before being stolen and recovered twelve years later!
Minnesotans launched a huge investigation into the theft, showing how much they value their connection to the famous actress.
Incredible musicians run in the veins of Minnesota, as aside from Bob Dylan, the state also produced music legend Prince.
Prince was born and raised in Minneapolis, where he began performing music at the still-famous rock venue First Avenue in the city’s downtown area.
Not only were Prince’s movie, such as Purple Rain, filmed in Minneapolis, but he also ended up building his home there, although calling it a home is an understatement in Chanhassen, Prince’s home and studio is called Paisley Park and is more than worth a visit.
Aside from being Prince’s huge, palatial home, it also houses his recording studios, where he recorded many of his most famous songs and where he invited stars such as Madonna and REM.
Now, Paisley Park is open to visitors, and you can tour his home and studios, learn all about his life, and see Prince memorabilia such as his chart-topping albums and electric guitars.
You can even enjoy a themed brunch, which is vegan (Prince was a famously lifelong vegan) and set to his music for an iconic Minnesotan experience.
12- Wild Rice
If you don’t live in America, it might seem strange that places have a state grain, but many states do and Minnesota’s is wild rice.
Wild rice is native to Minnesota, and they grow more of it than any other US state.
The grain has a huge historical importance, as it is one of the main foods of indigenous people in the Great Lakes area, who often hand-harvest the rice from shallow lakes.
If you’ve never seen wild rice, it doesn’t look like the fluffy white supermarket variety; instead, it’s longer and black or brown, which is because it isn’t really a form of rice at all and is in fact, a type of grass.
Unsurprisingly, with all of Minnesota’s lakes, the grain is easy to find here, and although they don’t export massive amounts, it does help the economy and is celebrated by locals.
Each year, there’s a Wild Rice Festival, which promotes the grain’s historical importance and gives visitors the chance to try lots of different dishes made using the rice.
13- Tater Tot Hotdish
A hotdish is essentially a casserole made with meat and vegetables, however, Minnesotans might take offence if you don’t call it a hot dish!
The Minnesotan special hotdish is the Tater Tot Hotdish, which consists of tater tots (deep-fried, cylindrical potatoes), ground beef, cheese and cream of mushroom soup.
It may sound odd, but it tastes delicious and is a staple Minnesotan food found in restaurants and at family events; plus, there are regular hotdish competitions throughout the year and even a Tater Tot Hotdish Festival!
The hotdish first became popular during the Great Depression, as it was such an affordable and filling meal.
However, this twist on the classic is so integral to Minnesotan culture that it’s even used in Congress, with a congressional hotdish competition held between different politicians.
14- Voyageurs National Park
Although Minnesota has tonnes of beautiful nature to explore, surprisingly, there is only one national park called Voyageurs National Park.
The bulk of the park is taken up by dozens or rivers, lakes and waterways, which are surrounded by stunning forest and mountain scenery and perfect for exploring on the water by kayak or canoe.
Just like the banks of the Mississippi, wildlife here is abundant, with the park being home to otters, wolves, moose and bears.
The park is a local and tourist favourite in summer when the weather makes it ideal for outdoor activities or even just a picnic and a hike, but in winter, the remoteness of the park and its position close to the Canadian border means it’s in prime position to catch the rare Northern Lights.
If you’re planning to go, beware that the park can only be accessed by boat, but once you’re there, it’s a whole different world.
15- Ice Hockey
With such cold winters and its proximity to Canada, it comes as no surprise that Minnesota is known as the ‘State of Hockey’, with hockey rinks in almost every town and city across the state.
Ice hockey is the state’s official sport, as the first-ever game of ice hockey in America was played in St. Paul in 1883.
Minnesota not only hosts dozens of annual hockey games but also has many different hockey teams, including the National Hockey League team Minnesota Wild.
A variety of famous names in the ice hockey world have come out of Minnesota, such as Herb Brooks and Neal Broten, and if you’re visiting in winter, you can’t miss heading to the Xcel Centre in St. Paul to watch a game.
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