Minnesota, in the north central region of the USA, has been dubbed the 'land of 10,000 lakes'. The poetic name of the state is a Sioux phrase meaning 'land of sky-tinted water'. Obviously this means Minnesota is rather wet, thanks to antediluvian glaciers which scoured the landscape, leaving numerous basins ready to be filled by great rivers like the Mississippi.
The result is Lake Superior, with its rocky and scenic shoreline, as well as thousands of other small bodies of water, linked by hiking trails, ideal for outdoor recreation like camping, kayaking, fishing and canoeing. In wintertime the countryside becomes a wonderland for cross country skiing, snowmobiling and dog sledding. Pleasant harbour towns and villages hug the north shore of Lake Superior along the scenic Highway 61 drive, that offers breathtaking vistas on its route to the Canadian border.
The original inhabitants of this watery world were the Sioux Indians. In the early 19th century, French pioneers penetrated the thick forests and found a treasure-trove of furry creatures like beavers and muskrats, which sparked a prosperous fur trade in the region, accompanied by fishing and logging. Iron ore was then detected in the hills, and the influx of settlers eventually drove out the Sioux. Today the northeastern extremity of Minnesota still remains as largely unspoilt wilderness, much as it was when the first Europeans came across it in the 16th century.
While there are many jokes about rural Minnesotan stereotypes, most of the population of Minnesota is urbanised, with more than half inhabiting the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul, that occupy opposing banks on the Mississippi River. The cities reflect the jovial culture of the roots of the early settlers, who were largely German, Irish and Scandinavian. The Twin Cities are renowned for their entertainment, attractions and shopping opportunities. Minneapolis in particular is a shopper's dream with the mighty Mall of America situated in its suburb of Bloomington.
Internationally renowned for its permanent collection of 20th century paintings, drawings, prints, photography and sculptures, the Walker Art Center is one of the country's leading contemporary art centres and is one of the most visited museums in the USA. It features works by top artists in a range of styles, utilising various multi-media installations and educational programs.
Contemporary art can also be experienced here through theatre, dance, video, music and film. Next door is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with creative contemporary work spread across a huge area of parkland. It is the largest urban sculpture park in the country and includes the colossal Spoonbridge and Cherry Fountain by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and Frank Gehry's Standing Glass Fish. Visitors can also cross the highway to Loring Park via the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge, and enjoy the poetry written along the walkway.
Located in the southern suburb of Bloomington, the futuristic superstructure of the Mall of America is recognised as the largest enclosed shopping and entertainment complex in the country. It welcomes more than 42 million visitors each year and is the fifth most visited attraction in the USA with world-class shopping, family entertainment, nightlife and numerous dining options. Located conveniently close to the airport, some international tours are specially arranged for holiday shopping!
There are more than 500 stores and specialty shops including the Lego Store, international department stores such as Bloomingdales, more than 70 restaurants and fast food outlets, cinemas, theatres and nightclubs, a wedding chapel, bowling alley, and a mini-golf course.
Sea Life Minnesota is a massive aquarium with touch pools featuring sharks and stingrays, and glass-enclosed tunnels with moving walkways that go right through the aquarium. The Mall of America's famous centrepiece is Nickelodeon Universe, an indoor theme park with more thirty rides and adventures for children and adults.
Part of Superior National Forest, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (also known as the BWCA), is an immense chain of lakes in north-eastern Minnesota that is extremely popular for canoeing, camping and fishing. With more than a million acres of pristine wilderness, it's no wonder the Boundary Waters is the most visited wilderness area in the United States.
Visitors can hike through forests, and canoe along thousands of miles of water routes. No motor vehicles or boats are allowed in the park, and there are strict guidelines as to leaving the area as you found it. Combine this with the fact that you may explore for days without seeing another person, and it's easy to understand why the Boundary Waters is the perfect place to get lost in nature.
The best time to visit the Boundary Waters come in the summer months (June to August), as summer temperatures are warm but rarely exceed 90°F (32°C). Entry points include Ely in the west, and Grand Marais in the east. Both towns have numerous outfitters where canoes, kayaks, and camping equipment can be hired. Note that camping permits are required.
Valleyfair is the largest amusement park in Minnesota, with 125 acres of rides and attractions ranging from high-speed roller coasters to midway games and an IMAX theater. Valleyfair also has the Soak City Waterpark with a range of waterslides and pools, and Challenge Park, which features the RipCord SkyCoaster.
The amusement park's most famous ride is the Wild Thing roller coaster, which travels at 74 mph (120kph) with a drop of 196 feet (60 metres). There is also a Berenstein Bears children's play area and a variety of restaurants and food court areas. Open from spring to autumn, Valleyfair hosts ValleySCARE Halloween-themed attractions every October.
Home to the Minnesota Twins Major League Baseball team, Target Field was built in 2010 and is considered one of the most state-of-the-art baseball stadiums in the world. Minnesotans tend to be rather affectionate toward their team, and a day at the ballpark is a fun family activity for Minnesota tourists of all ages; an added bonus is that fans get a picturesque view of the downtown Minneapolis skyline.
The stadium itself is beautifully and intricately constructed, and daily tours reveal hidden secrets like the players' locker rooms, clubhouse, and the elaborate underground systems that both heat and irrigate the field.
A huge state-of-the-art zoo with over 40 acres of habitats housing more than 2,000 creatures of all kinds, the Minnesota Zoo is a fantastic attraction for those travelling with kids in Minneapolis. It features animals from every continent in large habitats that mimic their natural environments, and an enormous aquarium. Popular attractions include the gorillas, tigers, meerkats, and red pandas.
Kids can interact with animals in the touch pool and petting zoo, and when the weather is uncooperative the IMAX Theatre is a place to escape. The various themed trails of the zoo are long, and one can easily spend an entire day exploring them. The zoo has a food court and gift shop, and hosts concerts in the summer. A new attraction is the enormous carousel, featuring 56 hand-carved animals representing zoo inhabitants.
This large museum showcases everything about Minnesota's history, with interactive exhibits ranging from blizzard and tornado simulations to a grainbelt exhibit with slides and a 24-tonne boxcar, and even a Rock n Roll Hall of Fame with Prince's famous purple jumpsuit. Ever-changing temporary exhibits as well as events and lectures mean there is always something new to learn.
The museum is family-friendly, with plenty of activities and programmes for kids, including the Museum Theatre and History Players. Conveniently located in downtown St Paul, the Minnesota History Center is a must-visit for anyone interested in learning about the state's fascinating history.
Children in the Twin Cities will love the Minnesota Children's Museum, aimed at kids six months to ten years old. Fun interactive exhibits allow children to go ice fishing, operate a crane, shovel coal into a locomotive engine, burrow their way through a giant anthill, or create a thunderstorm. Having entertained more than five million children since the 1980s, the award-winning Children's Museum is a must for families in Minneapolis and St Paul.
Minnesota is known as the 'Land of 10,000 Lakes', and there are plenty of lovely lakes within the Twin Cities for visitors to enjoy in the summers; some of the best are located southwest of downtown Minneapolis.
Lake Calhoun has a few sandy beaches with lifeguards on duty, good for sunning, swimming and volleyball, and a few good restaurants. The park offers canoe rentals and sailing lessons, and sailboarding is a popular activity here.
Lake of the Isles is a great place for a family picnic, and kids will enjoy the excellent climbing trees in the park. There are no public swimming beaches, however visitors can access the lake on boats rented from the adjacent Lake Calhoun.
Lake Harriet has excellent bike and jogging trails around the lake, and an outdoor bandshell that hosts local musicians on weekends. A popular area for families, Lake Harriet has swimming beaches, and a marina with boat rentals.
Lake Nokomis also offers a few swimming beaches and boat access. The park is conveniently located near shops along Cedar Avenue, making spur-of-the-moment picnics a fun option.
This 39-room Jacobean Revival mansion on the shores of Lake Superior is a popular attraction in Duluth. Managed by the University of Minnesota, the Glensheen Mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 7.6-acre grounds and carriage house can be explored at leisure, and the lavishly furnished interior of the house is accessible on informative guided tours lasting 60-90 minutes. A new attraction is the nighttime 'flashlight tour', which focuses on the lives of the servants of the house. Be sure to ask the guides about the various ghosts that are said to inhabit the mansion!
A popular tourist attraction outside of Duluth, Split Rock Lighthouse is located on the shore of Lake Superior, and was constructed following a major storm in 1905 that caused 29 shipwrecks. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1969, and is now operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, who have restored it to its 1920s condition. The lighthouse offers tours and children's programmes, and has a gift shop.
Its picturesque location in Split Rock Lighthouse State Park makes it a popular destination for hbicycling, cross-country skiing, and camping; both the Superior Hiking Trail and the Gitchi-Gami State Trail run through the park, making it ideal for hiking. Even for visitors who aren't actively-inclined, the beauty of the rocky shore has earned it a place on many postcards from Duluth and Northern Minnesota, and is a stunning place for a picnic.
The Minnesota Science Museum is a much-loved family tourist attraction in St Paul. Often called the most popular museum in the Midwest, the building is a state-of-the-art facility housing dozens of interactive exhibits where children can learn about weather, biology, anthropology, paleontology, and many other branches of science.
The museum is also home to a 3D laser theatre, and the Midwest's only Omnitheater, a movie theater with reclined seats that shows stunning documentaries on its giant domed screen. Conveniently located near downtown St Paul, the Minnesota Children's Museum is an absolute must for those travelling with children in the Twin Cities.
Minnesota experiences a continental climate with warm summers and cold, often frigid winters. Normal daily temperatures range from 12°F (-11°C) in January to 74°F (23°C) in July. Heavy snowfalls occur from December to April, especially in the northeast. Blizzards hit Minnesota twice each winter on average and tornadoes occur mostly in the south with approximately 18 tornadoes in the state each year, mostly in July and August.
While it may not be haute cuisine, Mickey's Diner is a landmark on the St Paul map. The quintessential greasy spoon is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and isn't shy about much of anything. They'll boast about their thick milkshakes, juicy burgers and cranky waitresses with equal fervour. The iconic dining car is done up in a distinctive art deco style, and has been featured in several movies, including The Mighty Ducks and A Prairie Home Companion.
The decor in this Dinkytown restaurant shouldn't be missed. It's both chic and whimsical and totally unlike any other eatery in the Twin Cities. The three-storey dining room is light and airey during the day, but packed at night when the Loring hosts live music, which is almost nightly. The menu is aimed at the university crowd as it's right on the edge of the University of Minnesota campus, but with a sophisticated flair. It heats up on weekends with Salsa nights.
Manny's Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis is focused on the best: the best cut of meat, the best liquor, and the best service possible. This comes at a price, of course, as Manny's is one of the most expensive restaurants in the Twin Cities. Loyal patrons insist you get what you pay for though, as the food is excellent and the portions huge. The tables are close together and the atmosphere is usually bustling, so it isn't the place for a quiet, intimate meal.
The Midtown Global Market is an international hodgepodge of of freshly-prepared food from every corner of the world. Visitors can sample fare from Mexico, Italy, Israel, Sweden, Vietnam, and other exotic locales. The market also features specialty groceries and eclectic international shops, making it a one-stop shop for food, gifts, and more. Stalls trade Monday to Saturday 10am-8pm, and Sunday 11am-6pm.
This popular Minneapolis restaurant in the heart of Uptown blends Latin and Asian cuisine for a mixture that seems to please everyone. The food is served family-style, and includes diverse options like Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Philippine Paella. Reservations are recommended, and there are several dishes that must be ordered in advance, including Fidel's Capitalist Pig Roast (Havana-style suckling pig), and the Cuy Disponible (guinea pig).