The Twin Cities area of Minnesota is the political, cultural, and economic capital of the Upper Midwest, and along with the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas, forms the core of the North Coast region of the United States.
The name "Twin Cities" comes from the region's two core cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, which border each other, share many of the same political, educational, and cultural institutions - and are thus considered to be "twins".
There are multiple "tiers" or "rings" of suburbs extending out from these core cities, some reaching as far as Wisconsin.
- 1 Minneapolis, county seat of Hennepin County and Minnesota's largest city.
- 2 Saint Paul, county seat of Ramsey County, Minnesota's second city, and state capital.
Suburbs and outlying towns
- 3 Bloomington
- 4 Brooklyn Park
- 5 Eden Prairie
- 6 Edina
- 7 Excelsior
- 8 Hopkins
- 9 Maple Grove
- 10 Minnetonka
- 11 Plymouth
- 12 Richfield
- 13 Rogers
- 14 St. Louis Park
The Twin Cities grew in the 1800s from its location at the intersection of two major rivers, the Minnesota and the Mississippi, and rail lines. For a period the point furthest downstream that the Mississippi could be bridged was located in the area, if only due to the fortuitous island placement. Contributing to its growth was St. Anthony Falls, a natural waterfall which provided energy to working grain mills located on the Mississippi River. Due to rapid erosion of its limestone underlayment, St Anthony Falls moved upstream until it was set in concrete by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Two Interstate Highways, I-94 and I-35, travel through the Twin Cities travelling east/west and north/south respectively. I-35 splits as it passes through the Twin Cities, with I-35W coming through Minneapolis, and I-35E making an eastward bow through Saint Paul. Several other national and state highways also travel through the area.
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP IATA) is the main airport in the region. Most travelers will arrive in Terminal 1-Lindbergh. Terminal 2-Humphrey serves primarily charter and low-cost carriers. The Lindbergh terminal (Charles Lindbergh was a Minnesotan, and one of his trans-Atlantic planes is suspended above the ticketing area) receives the bulk of renovation fees, however, and it is an attractive, modern, convenient, and well-designed terminal. The Humphrey terminal is also quite attractive; the terminals share the same runways, have long- and short-term parking set between them, and are equally convenient for transportation. Savvy travelers might check the terminal of their arrival or departure to communicate their location to friends, relatives, or other transport.
The Metro Blue Line light rail serves both terminals as it runs between downtown Minneapolis and the Mall of America. Travel between the two terminals is free. The fare for traveling outside the airport is $2.25 during peak hours (M-F 6AM-9AM and 3PM-6:30PM, excluding certain holidays) and $1.75 at all other times. The trains are fast and clean.
Amtrak. Trains arrive at Union Depot in downtown Saint Paul. Daily service via the Empire Builder, trains 8/28 and 7/27, terminating at Chicago and Seattle or Portland.
Greyhound and Jefferson Lines buses arrive at the Hawthorne Transportation Center, 950 Hawthorne Ave (at 10th St, one block west of Hennepin), in downtown Minneapolis. It's a few minutes taxi ride away from most of the downtown hotels. It's 4-5 blocks away from a few major bus routes and the light rail. The depot is near a homeless shelter, so it's not uncommon to see a few homeless people hanging out nearby. The area is well-patrolled and quite safe. Greyhound and Jefferson Lines also offer limited service to Union Depot in downtown Saint Paul. Some routes make additional stops.
- Badger Coaches. 4x weekly scheduled services in cooperation with Jefferson Lines to Wisconsin daily and Milwaukee, with a few local stops in between. $45-53.
- Greyhound (at the Hawthorne Transportation Center and Union Depot). 24 hr/day.
- Greyhound Express (at the Hawthorne Transportation Center and Union Depot). Service from Chicago and Milwaukee. Fares from $1.
- Jefferson Lines (at the Hawthorne Transportation Center and Union Depot). Operate scheduled services across the state to South Dakota, Wisconsin, and beyond. Jefferson prides itself on its 'eco-friendly' coaches.
- Megabus. Service from Madison (4 times daily), Milwaukee (4 times daily), and Chicago (8 times daily). Fares can be as little as $1 each way if reserved far enough in advance. The Minneapolis bus stop is downtown at 318 3rd Avenue North, between Washington Avenue and 5th Street, under the Ramp C parking garage; there is an indoor waiting area near the bus stop. The nearest Metro Light Rail station, at Target Field, is three blocks away. The Saint Paul bus stop is located at Union Depot. Buses have wifi.
Mississippi River. The river runs through both downtowns, but passenger boats don't serve the area. Huck Finn fantasies aside, arrival via the Mississippi is not recommended. (Besides, Huck floated down river.)
Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and some of the inner suburbs are all served by public transit run by Metro Transit. There are also other transit authorities serving the outlying suburbs. Regular adult fares are $2.50 during peak periods (M-F 6AM-9AM and 3PM-6:30PM) and $2 during off-peak periods. These fares come with free transfers lasting 2½ hours. Be sure to ask your driver for one as you pay if you’re using cash.
Unlimited ride passes are available in 1-day, 7-day, and 31-day formats. Stored value passes (pay-per-ride) are also available. Day passes are $6 and can be purchased online, at a Metro Transit Store, from a bus driver, or a ticket machine at any light rail station. 7-day ($24) and 31-day ($65-120) passes must be loaded on a Go-To card, which can be purchased online, at a Metro Transit Store, or participating Metro Transit sales outlets. Stored value passes can be loaded on a Go-To card in increments of $10 (up to $400). Once you have a Go-To card, reloading it with new unlimited ride passes is easy and can be done online, at Metro Transit stores and outlets, or at light rail ticket machines.
The Metro is the light rail system in the Twin Cities. It has two lines. The Blue Line serves Downtown Minneapolis, the airport, the Mall of America, and all points in between, while the Green Line serves Downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, Downtown Saint Paul, and points in between. Although automobile transport is most useful for exploring beyond the two downtown areas of the Twin Cities (e.g corporate visitors, or people visiting any of the suburbs), tourists may find light rail the easiest, fastest, and safest transport between the aforementioned places. Crosstown bus lines also intersect the light rail system at most points, so it is possible that visitors could use public transport exclusively to explore the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
The Twin Cities have an adequate bus system, hobbled by confusing connections to suburban lines, and poor service during non-rush hours (and no service after 1AM except on a few select routes with "night owl" service). The Metro Transit site (linked above) allows you to search for the best routes between your current location and your desired location, and is as good as most such systems in providing good routes and connections. Bus stops are very nearly everywhere throughout the city, but some are served only very infrequently, and most are not labeled as to which routes serve them at which times, so take care, especially in sub-zero weather, as to which routes you choose. Buses on Hennepin Avenue, Nicollet Avenue, Central Avenue, Lake Street, Snelling Avenue, and West 7th Street are most consistent and provide transport to the greatest numbers. Express buses operate between the two downtowns regularly during rush hours, and buses to suburbs, or connecting to light rail are limited, and best used during high traffic times.
Skyways and tunnels
Minneapolis and Saint Paul have extensive second-floor ("Première étage") "skyways" that connect central city buildings with each other. Although Minneapolis is larger, the Saint Paul system, to this point, has more connections and is more extensive than Minneapolis' system. But you could walk from the Convention Center in Minneapolis to Washington Avenue (a block before the Mississippi) without going outside, and without stopping at a pedestrian traffic light. Highway 394 feeds into heated parking garages, so that a Wayzatan suburbanite could enter her Lexus, drive the length of 394 to the heated lot, go to work, shop at Target or Macy's, see a movie, have dinner, and return home - all without having to wear a coat or change clothes, even in −20 °F (−29 °C) weather.
Even in good weather, mid-day romps in Minneapolis or Saint Paul at street level will miss most of the citizen activity, despite the appearance of crowds and farmers' markets, as many folks will choose to get their lattes, sandwiches, takeout, or copy keys, copy documents, or visit their banks, on the second level, a floor above the apparent activity.
As if to confuse you, there is an extensive network of tunnels connecting several buildings on the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus. Good idea, only different.
The Twin Cities, despite unfriendly weather for bikes from about November to April, provides many resources for both recreational and commuting bicyclers. Most major, and primary one-way, and two-way, streets have ample bike lanes which are marked and visible during fair weather months. In addition, all Minneapolis in-city lakes have bike paths that are separated from pedestrian traffic (and from motorized vehicles), and offer one-way transit around the entire Chain of Lakes, extending to Minnehaha Parkway and into Saint Paul. As if that were not adequate, former rail line paths sustain two-way bike lanes following east-west routes just south of Highway 394 and into downtown Minneapolis, known as the Cedar Lake trail; and just north of Lake Street, following a path known as the Midtown Greenway; and are connected via a spur alongside an active freight railway just east of Cedar Lake and north of Bde Maka Ska (Lake Calhoun). It is possible to connect, via either east-west line, to bike trails that connect far into the Western suburbs and beyond, and recreational bicyclers can travel along historic rail lines for uncounted miles West.
Buses and light-rail trains are equipped with bike racks. It is not uncommon, though still shocking, to see bicyclers in sub-zero weather, and in deep snow. Visitors may find late March to late November as the best period to travel on bicycles, if cold and snow don't arrive or persist.
Nice Ride is a public bike-sharing program that locals and visitors can rent from. It serves both downtowns and limited areas between and outside the central business districts.
Minneapolis is home to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Walker Art Center, Mill City Museum, Weisman Art Museum, The Museum of Russian Art and more. Saint Paul is home to the Science Museum of Minnesota, Minnesota History Center, Minnesota Children's Museums, and others.
- Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, 725 Vineland Place (Walker Art Center). Daily, 6AM-midnight. The sculpture garden is an outdoor exhibition of sculptures from many different artists, including the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry. The sculpture garden is adjacent to the Walker Art Center and is a popular picnic place in the summer.
- Fort Snelling.
Being in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Twin Cities offers many aquatic activities. Many lakes offer swimming beaches with on-duty lifeguards. Fishing and ice fishing are popular activities, but be sure to purchase a fishing license first. Licenses are $8.50 for 24 hours and $28.50 for 7 days if you live outside the state. They can be purchased at most sporting goods stores, bait shops, and even some gas stations.
- Como Park, 1294 Lexington Parkway N. Saint Paul. A 100-acre park with a huge glass-domed Conservatory built in 1913, a lake with paddle boats, small but world-class free zoo, an amusement park with rides, and the beloved Cafesjian's Carousel.
- Minnesota Zoo. In Apple Valley, about 10 miles (16 km) south of the Mall of America, is Minnesota's large world-class zoo. Open every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas, from 9AM - 4PM or 6PM seasonally, $7-12 admission (plus $5 for IMAX theatre); parking $5 (cars) - 15 (motorcoaches).
- ValleyFair amusement park. Most common amusement park fare is available, including thrill rides, kiddie rides, and a waterpark. The roller coster called "Wild Thing" is the most exciting and thrilling ride in this amusement park. Also, there is a place where you can dress up in old-fashioned clothes and take neat pictures, which is very fun and not so expensive.
- Guthrie Theater. Designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel after Ralph Rapson's was torn down, this theater offers views overlooking Saint Anthony Falls, as well as critically acclaimed plays (http://www.guthrietheater.org/). While here, head next door to the Mill City Museum, once the largest flour mill in the world, now a museum.
- Orpheum Theatre. Many Broadway plays have debuted here, including The Lion King, Victor/Victoria, and 101 Dalmatians, and many of the biggest plays that are on Broadway have short runs at this historic theater.
- William O'Brien State Park. 8AM-10PM. In Marine on the St. Croix, approximately 50 miles (80 km) east of the Twin Cities. The outer trail system is about 7½ mi (12 km) and a popular place for hiking, cross-country skiing, and jogging. Visitors can also swim, canoe, and camp in the park. A state park vehicle pass is required for entry.
- Grand Rounds Scenic Byway. Circles Minneapolis, offering walks along several of the state's 10,000 lakes and the Mississippi River.
- Gateway Trail. Spans from rural Marine on the St. Croix to the Capitol building in St. Paul.
Mall of America
Mall of America, 60 East Broadway, Bloomington, 952 883-8800. Largest indoor shopping complex in the United States. A dizzying shopping experience. It has hundreds of stores, a LEGO play area, an indoor theme park, and a large aquarium. There is an IKEA next door. You can get there by light rail or bus.
Smaller shopping centers
The Twin Cities has many shopping centers, the list gently spoofed by radio humorist Garrison Keillor in his list of imaginary malls ending in "-dale":
- Rosedale, Roseville.
- Ridgedale, Minnetonka.
- Southdale, Edina. (Considered the first modern shopping mall, is the first fully-enclosed shopping mall)
- Nicollet Mall pedestrian street, downtown Minneapolis
- Uptown area, centered on Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street, south of Downtown Minneapolis and extending east to the Lake/Lyndale avant-garde theatre district.
- Grand Avenue. West of downtown Saint Paul between two of the liberal arts colleges that sprinkle the region. Parking on Grand can be difficult during peak times; try Summit Avenue, one block north.
Minnesota is one of the few US states where clothing is tax-free. The Mall of America and other malls listed above offer a wide selection of clothes. Other places to check out clothes include:
- BlackBlue. Local treasure BlackBlue can be classified as Hipster, which meets their clientele, such as Bon Iver and other Midwest artists. Check their site for hours.
- Ragstock. A local chain of used clothing stores.
Also see Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
The Twin Cities is extremely vegetarian-friendly, with a large concentration of vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants. There are also a number of natural food coops. For example in Minneapolis alone, one can choose to shop at Linden Hills, Eastside, Wedge, or Seward Coops. There are also worker-owned collective cafes, including the Hard Times Cafe and Seward Cafe, that serve mostly organic, vegan food.
- Green Mill Brewery, 57 South Hamline (at Grand Avenue), Saint Paul. Fair but fresh beers.
The Twin Cities region is covered by four area codes. 612 covers Minneapolis, Richfield, St. Anthony, the airport, and the entire University of Minnesota-Twin Cities campus (including the Saint Paul campus); 651 covers Saint Paul and the east suburbs; 763 covers the northwest suburbs; 952 covers the southwest suburbs. Dialing a 1 before the area code is not necessary if just making a call from one Twin Cities area code to another.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune. Also known as the Strib, it is Minneapolis' daily paper.
- St. Paul Pioneer Press. Perhaps not as widely read as the Strib, but has a larger Pulitzer Prize-to-staff ratio keeping it well in place as a solid regional and world news source.
- Lavender Magazine. Minnesota's LGBT biweekly, covering the entire community, and an annual "Pride Edition" issue each June.
The Twin Cities are like most major American cities when it comes to crime issues, and all standard common-sense precautions should be taken.