Overview

Minneapolis and St. Paul might be called twins, but they are not identical. Minneapolis is often considered the more cosmopolitan and shiny city; St. Paul (10 mi/16 km away) is the state capital that offers a more historical, traditional atmosphere. The Minneapolis metro area, flanking both banks of the Mississippi River, teems with Fortune 500 companies; a thriving music, art and theater scene; and professional sports teams.

The surrounding area offers lakeside resorts, farm communities and river towns, as well as the gigantic Mall of America in nearby Bloomington. Even bitter winter weather doesn't deter residents—they bundle up well and navigate Minneapolis via the Skyways—all-weather connectors among downtown buildings.

Geography

Situated in the southeastern half of Minnesota, Minneapolis and St. Paul sit atop the bluffs of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. Minneapolis extends to the west and St. Paul to the east. Interstate 94 is the main east-west artery connecting the two cities. Hennepin Avenue is a major Minneapolis thoroughfare, with dozens of restaurants, theaters and clubs on both sides. University Avenue and Wabasha Street divide St. Paul into four main quadrants. (Be aware that in Minneapolis, a street's directional designation generally appears after the street name, as in Seventh Street South. But in St. Paul, most directional designations are listed before the name of the street.)

Bloomington, a suburb 15 minutes south of downtown Minneapolis and 20 minutes from downtown St. Paul, is the site of the hugely popular Mall of America. Two other Minneapolis suburbs that draw visitors are Edina, for its upmarket boutiques and Southdale and Galleria shopping centers (about 15 minutes from downtown), and Shakopee, with its sprawling Valleyfair Amusement Park and Renaissance Festival, about 30 minutes from downtown Minneapolis.

History

Native American tribes (Sioux, Ojibway and Dakotah) were the primary inhabitants of Minnesota until the late 1600s. In 1680, Louis Hennepin, a Belgian-born Catholic priest, visited the territory and began trading fur with the Native Americans. This marked the beginning of one of the area's biggest industries.

In 1803, the region was acquired as part of the Louisiana Purchase, and in 1820, the government established Fort Snelling at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. The land to the east of the Mississippi River, which had been set aside as a government reservation, eventually became St. Paul, the capital. A village named after nearby St. Anthony Falls sprang up on the west bank of the Mississippi. Soldiers from Fort Snelling had constructed a sawmill and flour mill near the village, which became known as Minneapolis by the mid-1800s. Companies such as Cargill, Pillsbury and the forerunner of General Mills started milling grains in the city and delivered their products via the Mississippi River.

A mass immigration in the 1880s brought many of the current citizens' Scandinavian relatives, who—cheered by the pine-hemmed lakes that looked like home—came to the region to take advantage of its iron-mining industry and the westward expansion of the railroad. In the 1920s and 1930s, St. Paul became a way station of sorts for gangsters throughout the Midwest. Local authorities welcomed John Dillinger, Al Capone, Kate "Ma" Barker and other notorious criminals as long as they agreed not to cause problems in town. This arrangement didn't last long, however, and a series of shoot-outs between the FBI, Dillinger and members of Barker's gang disrupted the relative peace of St. Paul in 1934.

After World War II, manufacturing increased, and the Twin Cities prospered. Minneapolis, which is the slightly larger city, is more industrial, but St. Paul maintains its share of manufacturing and high-technology companies. Together, the cities are considered the cultural and business hub of the upper Midwest.

Sightseeing

Minneapolis and St. Paul have many excellent museums and interesting historical sights to explore. The Walker Art Center is internationally known for its sometimes-controversial exhibits of contemporary art. Its spacious sculpture garden boasts Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen's witty pop-art fountain Spoonbridge and Cherry among its treasures. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has a superb collection of classical art from every continent. Noteworthy museums in St. Paul include the Minnesota History Center and the Science Museum of Minnesota.

St. Paul also has preserved its historic character. The fine homes in some of its oldest neighborhoods should be seen, including what was once the largest mansion in the Midwest—the James J. Hill House. Another lovely mansion is the Alexander Ramsey House, the well-preserved Victorian home of Minnesota's first territorial governor. Inside, guides in period costume give visitors a glimpse of life at that time.

At the intersection of Summit and Selby avenues (with a nice view of St. Paul's statehouse) is the majestic Cathedral of St. Paul, which was modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Though much smaller than the original, it is still an impressive sight, both inside and out. The other famous dome in town is the architecturally captivating state Capitol.

If you're in Minneapolis during warm weather, take some time to stroll along the pedestrian-only Nicollet Mall or the city's parks. Two of the best are Minnehaha Falls, a park straddling the Mississippi River that is dedicated to Longfellow's Indian heroine, and the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, where you can meander through the oldest part of the city. South of Minneapolis, in Apple Valley, is the nationally renowned Minnesota Zoo.

If you want to see where it all began for the Twin Cities, visit historic Fort Snelling. Costumed guides re-enact how the fort was operated in the early 1800s.

Nightlife

The vibrant nightlife of St. Paul and Minneapolis attracts an eclectic mix of music lovers, clubgoers, urban socialites and suburbanites looking for a big night out. In the 1980s, Minneapolis clubs and bars were the breeding grounds for the sound that shook up the record industry. Fans of Prince should visit First Avenue and Seventh Street Entry, the club that spawned His Purpleness more than three decades ago. Today, much of the Twin Cities' nightlife centers on Minneapolis' Warehouse District, but St. Paul can claim some of the best live music.

Minnesota allows bars and clubs to stay open until 2 am, but many still close at 1 am, so call in advance. There is no smoking in bars (or most other enclosed public spaces) throughout the state.

Dining

Minneapolis and St. Paul are great towns for dining. You can find almost any kind of food, from high-priced, exquisitely prepared French-inspired fare to authentic Ukrainian sausages. Minneapolis' Nicollet Mall is home to a number of local favorites.

Many of the Twin Cities' restaurants reflect the culinary contributions of immigrants. Locals have dubbed a stretch of Nicollet Avenue "Eat Street" for its wealth of diverse dining options. Minneapolis and St. Paul also claim the largest number of vegetarian restaurants per capita in the U.S., a nod to the state's health-conscious residents.

Breakfast is usually served 7-10 am, lunch noon-2 pm and dinner until 9 pm. Brunch is popular on the weekends, usually 10 am-1 pm.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one and not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$50; $$$$ = more than US$50.

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