Downtown Minneapolis Walking Tour
Downtown Minneapolis Walking Tour

Downtown Minneapolis Walking Tour:

Location: Downtown Minneapolis
Cost: Free, Self-Guided (Optional fees listed below)
Style: Do-It-Yourself Walking Tour (Self-Guided)
Start: Government Plaza Light Rail Stop
Stop: Warehouse Station Light Rail Stop
Walking Distance: 1.7 miles (minus 0.4 miles if ended at 10)
Time: 30 Minute Walk (Couple of hours with the stops)
Fun Scale9 out of 10

Overview of Downtown Minneapolis:

The soul of Minneapolis really does lie in the diverse Downtown area of the city.  Since the heart of Minneapolis was originally geared around the Mill District and Riverfront, it took a while for Downtown to finally start growing vertically.  Technically they had a skyscraper in the 1920s at 35 stories, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that Minneapolis finally started to get real modern towers.  Today these many towers are connected by a unique skyway system, form an impressive skyline for the size of the city, and they cover many hidden gems we are going to touch on in the free Minneapolis walking tour map below.

Downtown Walking Tour Sights:

*Stepping off the light rail puts right in front of the historic…
1. Old City Hall: The City of Minneapolis quickly outgrew their original City Hall and Courthouse in the late-1800s and need to build a bigger one as soon as possible.  Groundbreaking on the new grand City Hall took place in 1888 and it took 21 years to fully complete this huge 680,000 square feet, 5-story building.  Covering an entire city block, the powerful Richardsonian Romanesque architecture is still very impressive today.

The coolest part is the 345-foot-tall, Big Ben-like clock tower perched on the building’s Northside.  The Tower has a clock face is actually wider than London’s Big Ben, and its height made City Hall the tallest building in Minneapolis until the 1920s.  Since the clock tower reaches so high above you, let us give you a couple of numbers to help you realize how tall it really is.  The easiest way to grasp the size if through the clock dial itself which sits 230 feet off the ground, is over 23 feet across, and has a minute hand longer than the length of a car.

In the upper part of the tower is a set of 15 bells that go off every 15 minutes and are said to be the best-tuned set of tower bells in the United States.  The bells do more than just chime as at 1pm on all major holidays the bells go off in song considered part of a Bell Concert Series.  In addition to holidays, the bells go off each Friday from May through September every 30 minutes between 11:30am and 1:30pm.

After checking out the clock tower, walking into the main inner courtyard which also sits on the Northside of the building.  The courtyard is absolutely amazing and is set up as an open sea of marble with a stained glass ceiling 5 stories above.  Designing the building with an inner courtyard was not just to make the space look more vast, but also to help spread out how the weight for the entire City Hall was supported.  With the weight supported by the courtyard, the interior walls of City Hall can be moved, added, or removed without jeopardizing the integrity of the building. This method of the building was very forward-thinking, but also paid off early as some City and County offices already needed to start moving in just 1/3 of the way through the total construction time.

After you take in the size of the stained glass interior focus your attention to the huge Father of Waters Statue sitting right in the middle of the courtyard.  This gigantic statue carved of marble from Carrara Italy and weighs a whopping 88,000 pounds and leaves a powerful impression.

On an interesting note, there are also Peregrine Falcons that live and nest in the two towers of City Hall.  You will see them from time to time and each year the Minnesota Raptor Center comes to care for the Falcons and monitor them.  The rest of the interior is pretty boring but if it is raining or snowing outside a convenient tunnel goes under the building to the new City Hall building to the South where you can catch the Minneapolis Skyway (Explained Later).  Free Guided Tours: Meet every 3rd Wednesday of the month at the Father of Waters Statue.  You can also pick up a free self-guided brochure from the security desk.  Visiting Hours: Monday-Friday 6am-6pm.

2. Federal Courthouse Plaza:
 Sitting at the foot of the Federal Courthouse, on the Northside of the City Hall, is a functional urban landscape designed by architect Martha Schwartz from Boston.  The City of Minneapolis wanted to create a unique green space for the city while being cautious of weight as there is an underground parking garage below it.  What they came up with is a pretty cool series of teardrop-shaped turf mounds mixed with tons of small playful statues.  These mounds differ in size but are all placed at roughly a 30-degree angle on the pinstriped concrete walkways.  Because they used turf mounds it enables the park to be year-round whether it is the blaze of Summer of the chill of Winter.  While the landscape may feel quite alien the turf mounds are meant to represent drumlins deposits left by glaciers in the ice age 10,000 years ago.  A good mix of log and steel benched helps add other elements to the part, but our favorite parts are by far the statues.  We love taking photos of the cartoon-like figures which are doing everything from mowing the grass to taking photos of each other posing for the camera. Before leaving the park take note of the Minneapolis Grain Exchange to the East which was served as the city’s gateway to the commodities market since 1881.

*If the weather is bad while taking this tour, an underground tunnel inside City Hall leads below the large fountain and right to the New Government Center where you can catch the Skyway to go to almost all the remaining stops.  Next to the New Government Center is a NiceRide bike rental stand if you want to wheel around the city which sits right below the first leg of the…

3. Skyway System: You’ve probably wondered what the elevated tunnels connecting most of Downtown Minneapolis’ buildings and they are all part of the Skyway.  The Skyway System links more than 80 blocks with 8 miles of climate-controlled, 72-degree pedestrian overpasses.  The system helps to create a canopy ecosystem for building dwellers and business people important in an area of the country that has very harsh Winters.  Minneapolis’ Skyway was once the biggest in world but is still the largest in the United States. Surprisingly the Skyway sections are actually owned each building privately, however, they do tend to match up some general business hours to keep the system running.  If you have been to Downtown St Paul you’ll notice they have their own smaller version of the Skyway as well.  General Hours: Monday-Friday 6:30am-10pm, Saturday 9:30am-8pm, Sunday Noon-6pm.  Skyway Website: (HERE).

4. Capella Tower:
Finished in 1992, the 776-foot-tall Capella Tower is still one of the sleekest looking parts to the Minneapolis skyline.  The most well-known feature of the Capella Tower is the unique half-halo fan that juts out around the top of the building.  This fanning outcrop isn’t just to add flair as it also hides the large air conditioning fans that sit on top of the tower.  There was a little bit of controversy when the building was completed as it was supposed to be just shorter than the nearby IDS Center out of respect but ended up being two feet taller.  This error made the Capella Tower the tallest building in the Twin Cities, but the building owner never really claimed it.  They shortly worked it out so the garage on top of the IDS Center would officially count for its height pushing Capella back down to the 2nd tallest building. Building Website: (HERE).

5. Wells Fargo Center:
 If you have seen the Downtown Minneapolis skyline at night you have definitely seen the yellow floodlights working their way up the side of the beautiful Wells Fargo Tower.  The 774 Art Deco tower became the 3rd biggest tower in the city when it opened in 1988 as the new headquarters for the Northwestern National Bank.  If you happen to see the tons of floodlights the Wells Fargo Center has at night you’ll be surprised to know the building is rated one of the EPA’s most energy-efficient ones in the country.

The original Northwestern headquarters which once stood here was burned down with numerous neighboring buildings in the Thanksgiving Day fire in 1982.  To us the new headquarters looks a lot like Rockefeller Center in New York City.  Ten years after opening its new headquarters, Northwestern acquired Wells Fargo Bank but decided to take the incoming company’s name to capitalize on its long history and branding.  It is quite an interesting story and the tower has an active Wells Fargo Museum (website) that not only highlights the transition but it designed as a Wild West-style bank complete with an authentic stagecoach from 1863.  While inside swing through the Gaviidae Commons shops on the Nicolett Mall side of the building which can be quite pretty during the Holidays.  Wells Fargo Museum Hours: Monday-Friday 9am-5pm.  Museum Cost: Free.

6. Mary Tyler Moore Statue:
Erected in 2002, the 8-foot-tall bronze statue of the character Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show is one the most beloved statues in the city.  Now a Macy’s Store, this corner was once home to the Donaldson’s Department Store where Mary famously tossed her hat up in the air in the opening scenes of the Mary Tyler Moore Show.  The statue was unveiled by Moore herself and depicts her starting to toss up her hat.  At the unavailing, thousand of commemorative hats were handed out so the crowd could join in with a huge group of hat tossing.

7. IDS Center:
This huge 57-story, 792-foot-tall skyscraper instantly became the tallest building in the Twin Cities when it opened in 1972 and which it still is today.  It actually wasn’t even close as the second tallest building then was 25 stories shorter.  We love its Zog architecture where it is actually built with a ton of setbacks giving some floors up to 32 corner offices.  This unique shape and reflective exterior make this iconic tower stand out in the Downtown Minneapolis skyline.

While the observation deck on the 51st story of the IDS Center closed in 1993, it is still worth going inside to gaze at the massive Crystal Courtyard.  This vast 7-story-tall courtyard actually connects 4 different buildings in a breathtaking sea of glass.  Overlooking the Crystal Courtyard from the IDS Center’s 3rd floor is a restaurant that lovers of the Mary Tyler Moore Show will have to stop by called Basil’s (website).  During the Mary Tyler Moore Show’s opening scene, Mary ate lunch at the restaurant’s terrace with Grant Tinker who appeared to just be a random guy but was actually her real-life husband and boss.  The “Mary Tyler Moore Table” is still a favorite spot for tourists and locals alike. Because the IDS Center was still under construction, there weren’t many scenes originally shot here but in future seasons other clips were added.  By season 4 of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, they added clips of Mary riding up the escalator in the Crystal Courtyard to the opening scenes.

8. Foshay Tower:
During the 1920s, the artist turned businessman Wilbur B. Foshay got really rich running 3 different energy companies around the Americas.  With his newfound wealth, he had the Foshay Tower modeled after the Washington Monument to serve as his central office building.  When it opened in 1929, the 32-story obelisk passed the City Hall as the tallest building in town.  City Hall had been the tallest since 1906 and Foshay held the title for 43 years until the IDS Center opened nearby.

As part of a lavish grand opening, Foshay invited over 20,000 people to have a party including some of the most powerful people in the country.  Wilbur even paid John Philip Sousa $20,000 to be the entertainment that impressed everyone.  Unfortunately, the stock market crashed a couple of months later and the check Foshay wrote Sousa bounced.  If that wasn’t bad enough it turned out that Foshay had actually been running a complex pyramid scheme and was sentenced on Federal charges in 1932.  Because he had powerful political friends Foshay was able to get his sentence reduced twice by Presidential Pardons claiming his misleading booking keeping came from clerical errors from being color blind.

Even after Foshay was kicked out of his own building it continued to serve as an office building until it was transformed into the Luxury W Hotel in 2006.  As part of the conversion, Wilbur Foshay’s large former boardroom on the 27th floor was preserved as a 1920s themed bar called the Prohibition Bar (website).  Moving up to the 30th floor you can find great 360-degree views of Minneapolis from the Foshay Museum and Observation Deck (website).  We love the renovated Tower at night as it is covered in colored floodlighting and the 10-foot-tall Foshay letters strike out in neon.  Locals will know the Foshay tower as the former home of the famous Cafe Un Deux Trois Restaurant (now closed) where TV personality Andrew Zimmern served as head chef for almost 5 years. Museum & Observation Deck Hours: Daily 9am-6pm, Open until 9pm on Thursdays, closes at 5pm on Sundays.  Museum & Observation Deck Cost: Adults $8, Kids Free; tickets bought in the 1st-floor lobby.  Photos: (Tower Dominating Skyline In 1929)

9. Nicolett Mall:
 The Mall is about to undergo a $40 million makeover which it badly needs.  While the pedestrian-friendly strip has a lot of shopping it is pretty run down until you get to the South end of the strip.  At the South end, however, there are a bunch of shops and bars that locals love.  Among our favorite places are The Local Irish Pub (website) which as a great atmosphere, Brit’s British Pub (website) where you can do rooftop lawn bowling, and the Dakota Jazz Club (website) which is one of the best date night locations in the Twin Cities.  Late at night, the Northside of Nicolett Mall can get a little shady but the stretch between the Local and Brits is pretty much free of riffraff and homeless people.

Just South of Brit’s Pub is the historic Westminster Presbyterian Church (website) which has been in their current church since 1897.  The congregation, started in 1857 began serving Irish, Scottish, and Welsh immigrants and now serves a diverse group of over 3,000 Minneapolis residents.  Even though the interior doesn’t have much tourist value, we find the large bronze statue outside the church called The Birth of Freedom to be quite interesting.

10. Orchestra Hall:
With a strong dedication to the arts and music, the Twin Cities have a little bit of everything including the popular Minnesota Orchestra which has been together since the 1800s.  While their schedule is a little spotty, the talent that performs classical pieces at Orchestra Hall is among the best in the United States.  In addition to standard symphony performances, the Hall also has unique shows from time to time such as a puppet opera version of Hansel and Gretel that we have been to.  The group running Orchestra Hall is also in the middle of raising funds to a $50 million renovation which will make the hall not only more modern, but will make the interior a tourist attraction even when no shows are going on.  Orchestra Website: (HERE).

11. Le Méridien Chambers Hotel Art Gallery:
 The fancy Chambers hotel may be pretty expensive but it holds one of the best free attractions in the Twin Cities, its Burnet Art Gallery.  The large gallery is from the private collection of the Hotel’s owner Ralph Burnet and features over 200 pieces of original contemporary art.  They do a good job of cycling artists in and it has a lot of young British artists you won’t find anywhere else in the Twin Cities. Overall the Gallery is one of the best-hidden gems in Downtown Minneapolis.  Gallery Hours: Daily 11am-9pm.  Gallery Cost: Free.  Gallery Website: (HERE).

12. Hennepin Theater District:
– 5 blocks, 3 restored theaters from the 1920s, and another one waiting for it (all have plaster ornate, chandeliers, and gold relief and would be too expensive to build today), many restaurants and bars.
Orpheum (website) is where the Lion King premiered in 1997 before hitting Broadway, also premiered Sweet Charity, Victor Victoria, and Disney’s Anita.  Originally called the Hennepin as the same group had the Orpheum on 7th Street, but this one out shown is and quickly brought in groups like the Marx Brothers who frequented the theater.  Because of its success, they changed the change to the Orpheum and called the original Orpheum the 7th Street  From the 1960s until 1979 it was used as a movie theater before being turned into a rock concert venue.  In 1988 a group of investors including musician Bob Dylan bought the theater and turned in back into a venue for stage theatrical shows and plays.

State (website) –

Pantages (website) – opened in 1916.  Was the 8th opened in a national chain.  1st in Minneapolis to have a mezzanine, carpet, balcony level lobby, and force air condition which flew air over tons of ice.  When the state-of-the-art State opened nearby it took a lot of business away and by the 40s it was turning into a movie theater in which much of the vaudeville elements were stripped out.  In the year 2000, the City bought it, did a two-year restoration back to its original form, and reopened it for stage shows.

Guided Tours: Guided tours run twice a month on the 2nd Saturday of the month at 10am & the last Monday of the month  at 1pm.  Tours cost $5 a person and meet at the State Theater box office. You must book and pay at least one day before your scheduled tour which can be done online here.  Theater Website: (HERE).

13. Target Center:
 About to start a $150 million renovation, Minneapolis’ Target Center is the 28th busiest event center in the United States.   Opened in 1990, Target Center holds over 200 events and concerts a year and is the home to Minneapolis’ professional basketball teams.  Although you can only see it from above, the Target Center was the 1st arena in North America to install a Green Roof when they covered the entire thing in sod in 2009.  Free Guided Tours: If you want to get the grand tour of the behind-the-scenes action, tours meet in the lobby the 1st Thursday of each month at 2pm.  Target Center Website: (HERE).

14. Downtown Bars:
 One of the biggest draws to Downtown Minneapolis are the lively bars.  Because the professional sports teams here lack any really tailgating space the bars are especially fun before and after games.  It is hard to really give you a complete guide as bars often change names and ownership frequently but we will mark our couple favorites on the map.

The 1st one we love is Kieran’s Irish Pub (website) right across the road from the Target Center, which has festive decor and the best party rental rooms in town.  Next to Kieran’s is another local favorite Gluek’s (website) which is set up to feel like a Bavarian beer hall mixed with a hunting lodge and has been open since 1934.  Sitting right around the corner is the place we most like to take any visiting out-of-town friends, the dueling piano bar Shout House (website).  As you work your way to the intersection of 1st Ave and 5th Street you hit the center of the main bar area. This area has a couple of blocks of ever-changing bars that turn into more of a dance club-like atmosphere after 10pm.  If you are looking to dance you can pretty much just bar hop, but make sure to double-check dress codes before leaving the house.  Even if you aren’t into dancing, the upstairs of Brothers Bar (website) or the Loon will give you more of a regular bar feel.  Probably our favorite bar in the heart of Downtown is Cowboy Jack’s (website) which sits a little by itself toward Target Field.  The Cowboy theme is very strong and they even have a mechanical bull.  They have an amazing rooftop patio and you can pull from barrels of peanuts while throwing your used shells right on the ground.

15. Target Field:
 With almost 40,000 seats, Target Field opened in 2010 as the home of the Minnesota Twins.  The stadium is one of the best in major league baseball from its modern amenities to the perfect location which lets the Downtown Minneapolis skyline hover over the center-field fence.  Public Guided Tours: October Friday-Sunday 11am and 1pm; April-September Tuesday-Sunday 11am, 1pm and 3pm but no 3pm on Sundays.  All tours meet at the 7th Street Gate #29 and take around 90 minutes. Cost is $17 for Adults and $8 for Kids.  Game Day Guided Tours: Gameday tours cost the same amount of money and run on Monday-Saturday at 11am & 1pm on most game days.  Target Field Website: (HERE).

16. Fulton Brewery Tours:
 Tour one of the best breweries in the Twin Cities.  In addition to great free tours the Fulton Tap Room is a also a lively place to sample their brews.  A number of different local restaurant food trucks rotate days to service the Tap House so you’ll be able to fill your belly too.  We really like their beer Sweet Child O’Vine which you can purchase in a growler jug to bring home.  Brewery Bar Hours: Wednesdays-Friday 3-10pm, Saturdays Noon-10pm, also open for all Minnesota Twins home games.  Free Brewery Tours: Saturdays at 1, 2, 3pm & 4pm.  Brewery Website: (HERE).

Other Nearby Sights:

17. Riverfront & Mill District: Info on the way

18. Loring Park Area
: Info on the way

19. Washburn-Fair Oaks Mansions
: Info on the way

20. Uptown & The Lakes
: Info on the way

21. Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum:
 Great art museum on the U of M  Admission Cost: Free.  Free Guided Tours: Every Saturday and Sunday at 1pm.  Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday 10am-5pm; Wednesday 10am-8pm; Saturday & Sunday 11am-5pm; Closed Mondays.

mikro kodesn synagogue – congregation is elsewhere but build remains as it is a landmark of the large Jewish community that had filled the neighborhood,

1000 olive ave  Purple Rain – 3420 Snelling is the house from purple rain,

Monte Carlo Bar & Cafe – Oldest surviving bar/restaurant in Minneapolis dating back to 1906

US Bank Stadium is built there the old Hennepin County Jail once stood

Minneapolis Queen River Boat – Leaves Boom Island