Winter might actually be the best time to go to Minneapolis

A Super Bowl-and-beyond guide to embracing the mighty North

By Corinne Whiting,

Minnesotans aren’t ones to boast, but if you ask them what they appreciate about Minneapolis, most will happily oblige. There’s a resounding commonality in their answers and unanimous surprise about often being considered a fly-over state.

When first-time visitors incredulously conclude, "Wow, Minnesota is really amazing!" most locals merely nod and smile, wondering why it's taken others so long to discover a truth they've always known. 

Fearless runners cross the Stone Arch Bridge in all seasons — Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Whether natives or transplants, Minnesotans have hometown love lists that run long: The omnipresent lakes, the top-notch restaurants, the thriving art galleries, the comfortable pace and affordability of living, and enchanting wintertime (yes, winter).

This is a place where – rain or shine, sleet or snow – life carries on. A downtown Skyway System means climate-controlled pedestrian walkways that span eight miles. And when it's slushy and icy out? Commuters simply strap skis to their boots or spikes to bike tires. After all, as they say: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate gear. 

The Minnesota Vikings NFL football team enjoys a band of staunch supporters — Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Although Super Bowl 2018 attendees have no choice but to experience the city during its chilliest months, many argue this is a prime time to visit. Take Eric Dayton, for example, perhaps one of the staunchest advocates of winter – and his home state – you’ll ever meet. 

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Dayton comes from a prominent family and is a local tastemaker and entrepreneur who champions Minnesota and its designation as The North (versus "part of the Midwest"). After a visit to Scandinavia revealed so many similarities to where he grew up, his wheels started spinning. He began questioning why his home wasn't celebrated in the same ways as these proud Nordic countries. 

"We have a lot of the same strengths," he says, and yet Minnesota's cold weather is often apologized for or swept under the rug. "We should treat winter as an asset rather than a liability," he comments, "... own it, embrace it."

The Loppet Ski Festival is merely one of countless winter draws — Photo courtesy of PhotoPixels/Meet Minneapolis

Upon his return, Dayton founded The Great Northern, 10 days of outdoor events and culinary experiences that encourage Minnesotans to honor the beauty of winter. The festival unites several long-standing regional events plus newer additions.

This year, between Friday, January 26, and Sunday, February 4, events range from the Winter Carnival in Saint Paul and U.S. Pond Hockey Championships on Lake Nokomis to the beloved City of Lakes Loppet Ski Festival

The logistics

The Sky System covers eight miles in downtown Minneapolis and keeps extended hours during the Super Bowl — Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Whether you're here for the football, food or frosty festival fun, we've gathered ways for any first-timer to joyfully navigate a Minneapolis winter. Consistently voted a crowd favorite among frequent flyers, The Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (MSP) is less than a 30-minute train ride from downtown, via the METRO Blue Line.

Enjoy spacious, cosmopolitan rooms and suites at the Kimpton Grand — Photo courtesy of David Phelps/Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants

Be sure to pick a downtown base like the Kimpton Grand Hotel Minneapolis, which offers comfort, convenience and quirky charm. This iconic building, opened in 1915, melds stately historic architecture with alluring, contemporary design elements.

The friendly boutique hotel's Skyway System access (which is connected to the stadium and means you technically never have to step foot outside) and an impressive, onsite, 60,000-square-foot athletic club makes the Grand an ideal cold-weather hub.

Complimentary access to the Minneapolis LifeTime Athletic Club gives Kimpton Grand guests a chance to work out in a pool, on a squash court or around an indoor track — Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Life Time Athletic Club

Public transportation operates even on snowy days, and roads get plowed quickly so that Uber and Lyft cars can navigate, too.

"Leaving time to get around is important," says Kristen Montag of Meet Minneapolis, "but since we have expert snow removal people, winter doesn't keep us from getting around except in extreme conditions, and even then, we usually plow out pretty quickly. We’re used to it and deal with the snow very well."

When it comes to dressing appropriately, Montag suggests plenty of layers, moisture-wicking wool and waterproof boots. She says, "If you’re layered up, you’ll be ready for anything...we also love hand and foot warmers. Warm clothes and boots will ensure you stay comfortable while enjoying all the outdoors have to offer in the beauty of winter."

The eats

Surly Brewing Co. sits right off the Dinkytown Greenway/University of Minnesota Transitway (and offers incentives to employees who cycle to work) — Photo courtesy of Surly Brewing

Eric Dayton and his brother are also behind some of the Twin Cities’ most lauded destinations for locally-sourced food, drink and dress – The Bachelor Farmer (and its sister restaurant The Bachelor Farmer Café), Marvel Bar and Askov Finlayson, a beautifully-curated men's clothing shop. 

This year, Askov Finlayson celebrates five years of a popular hat that has started a movement of sorts — Photo courtesy of Askov Finlayson

All their businesses can be found in the North Loop neighborhood, a former warehouse district. Dayton says, "This neighborhood is why Minneapolis is here," explaining that the Mississippi River running outside their back door was once the vessel for shipping grain and timber to the rest of the country.

Other Minneapolis must-try eateries range from institutions like welcoming Kramarczuk’s, which has been pleasing devoted customers with its Eastern European specialties since 1954, and Surly Brewing Co., a happening hub in which to sample 24 tasty brews (with heavy metal-inspired names) and Beer Hall delights like tuna poke featuring Minnesota-made spam and "Hog Frites" topped with pulled pork.

Inside an historic brick-and-timber warehouse, The Bachelor Farmer serves flavorful, local specialties like Lake Superior cisco — Photo courtesy of The Bachelor Farmer

Around the corner from the Minneapolis Institute of Art (or Mia), head to Copper Hen for its brunch biscuits, benedicts and farm-fresh omelets. At dinnertime, scoot to South Minneapolis where the Grand Café offers delectable French food in a dreamy, pink-tinged setting. (Don't miss the pike quenelle in crayfish sauce or foie gras royale with crème gitanes.)

Off the Midtown Greenway, Midtown Global Market showcases the city's rich tapestry of cultures and flavors. Here, ogle colorful goods and sample delicious dishes from around the globe; we especially recommend the camel burgers and mango drinks served by the friendly folks of Safari Express.

The arts

Among Mia's many departments, visitors will find the Contemporary Art section, an initiative launched in 2008 to focus on the art of our times — Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Warm up inside Mia, an incredible compilation of works from cultures around the globe. With more than 89,000 artworks, the museum's captivating collection includes treasures from six continents, spanning about 20,000 years. 

Between January 31 and February 5, Mia will feature an ice maze outside its 24th Street entrance that incorporates the museum's logo and includes images frozen into the ice of objects from Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty: An Exhibition Designed by Robert Wilson, an exhilarating show that opens February 3.

Between January 20 and February 11, bundle up to experience art in a completely new way at the 2018 On-Ice Program on Lake Harriet (Bde Unma). Since 2005, Art Shanty Projects has organized a public art happening that transforms public spaces into interactive, artist-driven, temporary communities. Visiting the village is free and open to the public.

For more alfresco art, visit the 11-acre Walker Art Center/Minneapolis Sculpture Garden campus, which just reopened after two years of renovations.

In any season, die-hard Prince loyalists flock to Chanhassen, Minn., for tours of Paisley Park, his private estate and production compound; others trace the late legend's steps around Minneapolis through a customized map

Snow tubing proves a favorite activity among young residents (and big kids, too) — Photo courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

"I want [visitors] thinking of winter as just as good of a time to come – if not even the preferred time," Dayton concludes. Young kids associate this season with playtime, he observes, and this is a mindset he encourages adults to return to as well.

"We’re good at winter here," he adds, "It's where we can shine, and we're excited and proud to share it with others."