With a combined population hovering in the 3 million range, Minneapolis, Minnesota's largest city, and St Paul, the state capital, serve as the region's urban hub. Outlying suburbs make up a large share of the populous, but for the size of this burgeoning metropolis, visitors will find plenty of leafy green open spaces, a stellar assortment of cultural sights and easy access to the Mississippi River, Amish country and the wilderness region further north. Certainly, from America's largest shopping mall on to science and art museums, historic architecture and activities in the great outdoors, there's no cause for anyone to complain of boredom.
There's really no avoiding the fact that Minneapolis has a long list of things to do: It would be hard to take in just the highlights in less than a few days, so plan your itinerary accordingly, leaving time to catch a theatrical production or musical performance in the evening.
Get your bearings in Minneapolis with a sight-seeing wander through the old part of town, strolling around St Anthony Main and along the St Anthony Falls Heritage Trail for a look at the only waterfall on the Mississippi, St Anthony Falls. This used to be the heart of the old milling district, and there are various things to see here, like the Mill Ruins Park and Mill City Museum, associated with this past. Those interested in learning more about local history can pay Fort Snelling a visit, brought to life by costumed actors, and visit aged buildings of import, like the Purcell-Cutts House (an unusual schoolhouse) and Basilica of St Mary, or the home built by the first settler here, Franklin Steele.
Anyone who studied Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in school (and this is a pleasant introduction to the great American poet for those who didn't!) should enjoy Minneha Park, where the waterfall immortalized in The Song of Hiawatha still gushes. There's a down-sized version of Longfellow's house here too, serving as the park's information center.
Art lovers are spoiled for choice in the Twin Cities, though most of the blockbuster sights are located in Minneapolis, like the extensive Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the Walker Art Center (featuring a very good collection of modern pieces) and the vast Minneapolis Institute of Arts, that starts with prehistoric art and runs through to the 20th century. With time to spare, stop in to admire the art and architecture of Frerick R. Weisman Art Museum, a varied collection, Swedish in origin, at the American Swedish Institute, and spark your imagination with a trip through the House of Balls, featuring everything from carved bowling balls to epoxied chicken feet.
This segues nicely into your next stop: technological development on display at The Bakken, and natural history at the Bell Museum of Natural History.
If one were to theoretically move to the area, one of the prettiest spots to put down roots might well be Nicollet Island, graced with lovely old architecture and top-lodging option, the Nicollett Island Inn.
While a relaxing stroll here might be just the break from urban crush that's called for, a real escape is easily found. Rent bikes to do some cruising along paved city trails, or rent a canoe and do a bit of paddling on the Mississippi south of town.
St Paul is Minnesota's capital, and the smaller of the two cities. But don't be fooled by size - there are enough interesting cultural stops here to rank St Paul in its own right as a diversionary destination. Stretched 29 miles along two-bends of the Mississippi River, visitors will be reassured to learn that most of the note-worthy sights are situated in and around downtown St Paul. Take a trip through the impressive State Capitol to get a glimpse of government in action, admire the fa‡ade of the art deco City Hall, and peruse museums housed in the grand Landmark Center at the edge of Rice Park. Keep kids entertained and get them a bit of "edjimication" at the Science Museum of Minnesota or the Minnesota Children's Museum, then have an easy stroll along Summit Avenue, lined with gracious historic homes, some of them open for tours during the day.
There are plenty of parks around in which to find sunny-day recreation, and paved trails that link St Paul with Minneapolis perfect for a leisurely peddle. Head for Harriet Island Park on the on the south side of the Mississippi for access to paddleboat cruises, a small zoo and a fine conservatory. For an artsy walk, wander the Western Sculpture Park, pausing for a refreshing beverage at the Summit Brewing Company.
With time to day-trip to the "burbs", the outlying residential area sprawled out from the heart of the Twin Cities, put on your options list the Mall of America (complete with indoor theme park, aquariums, post office and chapel) in Bloomington, the Minnesota Zoo in Apple valley, the Normandale Japanese Gardens, rollercoasters at Valleyfair! and assorted historic attractions in Shakopee and Mendota. Head north of downtown areas for living history exhibits at the Gibbs Museum of Pioneer and Dakotah Life, the Fillebrown House (American Picturesque architecture), or venture west to Lake Minnetonka (Tonka) for a steamboat ride and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chanhassen. The musician sometimes known as Prince has recording studios here, so interested fans might want to keep an ear out for the occasional performance.
What can be safely said about Minnesota's largest urban area is that visitors really won't struggle in the slightest to find things to do ? even locals aren't hurting for a shortage of entertainment options. For big city bustle, Minneapolis and St Paul strike a really pleasant balance between business and pleasure, a definite "don't miss" on any Minnesota tour.