How I Decided on Minneapolis for Travel:
Scanning ultra-bargain flights during a particularly fraught week of life, the airport code MSP winked an alluring, “Hello!”
“Ooo, Minneapolis…” I cooed, “I’ve never explored you before… but this flight is cheap, and a random 1.5-day solo trip to Minnesota’s metropolis is just what I need to cleanse the soul.”
With a click, the trip was booked, and soon I was stepping out into downtown “Mpls,” camera in hand — eyes and heart wide open.
Minneapolis Skyway Glory
It’s hard to understate the importance of the Skyway to the experience of visiting downtown Minneapolis… yet I’d never heard of it before.
“What IS the Skyway?!” I pondered, entering the city and seeing that title splashed hither and yon.
I soon learned: The Skyway is a feat of engineering through which a person can traverse 9.5 miles over 80 blocks of Minneapolis entirely inside raised covered bridges that connect the buildings downtown! In other words, you can jaunt through the whole metropolis during winter, sans coat, if desired… warmly ensconced in glass cocoons.
Skyway Map Help, and Funny Facts
The official Meet Minneapolis “Skyway Guide” (replete with useful map and navigation app links) cracks me up. Its first line? “Get happily lost.”
After admitting that it can be a challenge to navigate “the largest contiguous system of enclosed, second level bridges IN THE WORLD,” the Meet Minneapolis team gives tips… such as looking for help from people dressed in summer clothes during winter, since they’ve clearly mastered the art of staying cozily inside the Skyway all day long!
Architecture of Downtown Minneapolis
As entranced as I was by the concept of the Skyway, I didn’t linger long inside it — wanting instead to be out in the sun, gazing full-on at the delicious downtown buildings without a pane of glass blocking my way.
I was particularly taken with the edifice pictured below: Minneapolis City Hall and Hennepin County Courthouse: a century-old structure which reminds me of the historic architecture of Boston’s Back Bay.
A Mississippi River View from Minneapolis
Moving from the architecture of Minneapolis for a moment, let’s exult in the fact that the Mississippi River runs through the city! Now, while I haven’t splashed in this water body in person much, it has played a significant role in my life as a word-lover.
I have a clear memory from my childhood of getting really into letter codes (ex: “Z” means “M”) and asking my father, “Can you crack the code in this phrase? Zozzozzobbo Wo–“
My father, well aware of my young fascination with the letter pattern of M-I-S-S-I- (etc.) cut me off politely with his guess. “Does that code spell… Mississippi River?”
“YES!” I exclaimed. “How did you know?!”
“It’s quite a distinctive pattern,” he replied.
The Gorgeous Stone Arch Bridge
My #1 favorite attraction in all of Minneapolis was the sweeping Stone Arch Bridge. It soars above the falling water of the Mississippi River, creating a vista-rich pedestrian and bike playground: its curves juxtaposed artfully with the straight lines of the city’s skyline.
The bridge was created in 1883 as part of the Great Northern Railroad, and is the only bridge spanning the Mississippi which is erected solely of stone. In 1978, the last train crossed the structure, and it was thereafter dedicated to just feet and bicycle wheels. Lucky us!
Minneapolis Skyline Vistas
I spent about two hours on the Stone Arch Bridge before, during, and after sunset, ogling the skyline and river. The energy was electric as the light moved from gold to orange.
People from all over the world were walking, lingering, and even dancing on the bridge. Just as I thought the vibe couldn’t get any more romantic, this horse-drawn carriage clip-clopped by!
Cute Neighborhoods Across the River
Crossing the Stone Arch Bridge will bring you to a waterside park, but a slightly longer mosey leads to an adorable hidden neighborhood with ornate, colorful houses to rival the rainbow hues of Caribbean island of Curacao. (See a teaser photo, below.)
I will not reveal to you exactly where this secret spot is, because I feel weird luring readers to people’s actual homes, but the Minneapolis expert who guided me there, famed author, Dracula expert, and master juggler, Leif Pettersen, might give you a hint if you reach out to him via that second link.
Wandering the Walls of Minneapolis
When Leif left my charming company to go work on his juggling memoir (yes, I said “juggling memoir,” and that’s an affiliate link if you want to buy it), my soul and soles drew me downtown again to gape at how different each Skyway bridge manifested itself.
Curves and Angles of Glass Architecture
The shapes of Minneapolis’s structures shocked me — and shock was what I was seeking in this random solo trip. We all search for different things in travel, but for me the aim is to jar my brain into remembering that lines and life don’t always look as they do in my Boston existence.
Appreciate, for a moment, the juxtaposition below. First, there’s a swoop of a triangle kissing another triangle. Then there are undulating double curve waves of buildings — backed by a skyscraper with a crown. To the far right there is the Lego-like stack of glass and metal balconies balanced high up. (You know I love me some decorative glass.) A visual delight of silver and blue!
How Would those Buildings Taste?
Sometimes I get a touch of Synesthesia: the mixing of senses. In the case of the architectural photo above, looking at those colors and lines brings a strong taste to my mouth: a cool metallic flavor that’s a tad tart and just a dash sweet.
The chewing sensation would be crunchy, with a bit of push-back on the first bite, like a toffee bar. Can you taste it, too? Yum!
Another Kind of Covered Bridge
Now that I’ve kind of freaked you out with talk of chomping metal (don’t worry — I don’t actually do it — it’s just fun to imagine!) let’s draw a more standard connection. Admiring the Skyway, I was reminded of another kind of covered bridge that travelers love: the rustic wooden sort found in small towns like Woodstock, Vermont.
If covered bridges were families, the strong, soaring metal and glass of the Skyway would be the wealthy and powerful older brother who’s made it big in the bustling city. The petite and wooden covered bridges scarcely seem to be from the same family, do they? What type of relative would they represent?
Recommended Restaurant in Minneapolis
On my friend Leif’s suggestion, I trotted to 112 Eatery for dinner. Eating alone after a long solo wander in a new city is one of my favorite pastimes, and to have the company of fois gras meatballs (!) and hand-made pasta was… well, just look at my date’s glorious figure from that night:
Hotels in Minneapolis
I was in town for just two nights, but ended up staying in two different hotels since I got the best deal on my fancy accommodations app by doing so — and also got to explore two hilariously different hotels which share a common parent.
I didn’t take photos inside, but if you enjoy my lively descriptions, feel free to click through via the affiliate links.
Radisson Blu in Minneapolis
The first night, I found a hot deal online to stay at the Radisson Blu, and felt like a rich businesswoman (even though I was exceedingly sweaty and wearing a tank top I got secondhand 10 years ago). The lobby was lit with sleek blue lighting and reflective mirrors. It appeared a professional basketball team was staying there, too, which added to the exclusive aura.
My room had a window facing down to the top of the lobby, which looked through the glass like a purple-lit video game of overlapped stairs in which one must jump from step to step, Prince of Persia style. It was both bizarre and enjoyable, and I slept soundly. Pick this hotel if you’re a little glamorous.
The Radisson RED Downtown
That morning, I got a better deal elsewhere, so packed my bag and walked the bustling blocks to the distant cousin of the Blu, the Radisson RED. (Yes, the name is all in capitals because it’s that darn cool.)
Let me emphasize: this is a distant cousin of the Blu. Gone was the sleek sapphire feel of the Blu — in its place when I threw open the door to RED was carmine-colored light and exuberant, welcoming hipness.
The RED (sorry — I feel like I’m yelling every time I type that) caters to the millennial crowd, with bright and cheery spaces to gather, and funny sayings scrawled along the walls. I dug both Radissons, different as they were, so pick the potion that most pleases YOUR personality, if you’re choosing between the two!
Bridges as a Metaphor for Travel
Bridges vaulting in arched leaps across the Mississippi River… the Skyway’s tubes of glass draped between structures… something about Minneapolis’s architecture echoed metaphorically the reason WHY I was on this solo trip in the first place.
Bridges Connect, Yet Give Safe Space
Here’s the metaphoric thing about bridges and travel: they both unite you with others (other people and other spaces), but also keep you safely separated, providing solo space to think.
Bridges and Travel as Connectors
I’ll start with the easiest part of this metaphor: Of course, the main point of both travel and bridges is to connect. With both, you’re bopping from one place to another, connected by a span of metal, or a plane or train (also technically spans of metal).
It’s common to use bridges as metaphors for uniting separate parts, ideas, or places, and it’s common to return from a trip and exclaim about connections seen between your home space and the new one. But what of the ways that bridges separate us? And how can that separation be much-needed?
Bridges and Travel as Separators
As easy as it is to see travel and bridges as connectors, part of their joy comes from how they provide a new and protected in-between spot: a liminal space between places which creates room and time to breathe, think, and regroup.
See the photo above that I took of the Mississippi River while standing on a Minneapolis bridge? In that moment, I was not in the hectic city itself, nor was I in the rushing water — I was removed from it all in the protected middle zone of a bridge.
Travel itself echoes this middle zone refreshment: You’re not home, and you’re not settled anywhere — you’re in between… and set free.
Bridges and Travel as Reflectors
Now, look above and below at the shimmering reflections in both bridge scenes. In the Skyway picture above, the glass from surrounding skyscrapers is bouncing the sunlight to dance on golden stone walls of the nearby buildings. Below, the arches of the Minneapolis bridge are perfectly reflected in the water, creating perfectly oval-shaped hugs.
To close the metaphor, this reflection, paired with the connection and separation interplay, is what vaults travel and bridges to their key status in human life. That liminal moment when we are in the middle of a trip, or standing between two points on a bridge, is the moment our souls can reflect and reset. It’s the moment we can gain perspective.
The in-between moment begs the reflections: “Where have I come from? Where am I going? What do I want, and what can I make possible?” In that middle point, perspective unleashes our vision, potential, and power.
Thank You for the Travel Fun, Minneapolis!
As these deep thoughts reveal, I got a heck of a lot out of my ridiculously random and super-short visit to Minneapolis. Thank you, oh bridge-filled city, for giving visitors and locals alike the chance to explore what the interplay of human-made and natural shapes can bring forth in a person’s brain and body.
Someday soon, I’ll come back and explore you more deeply, Minneapolis, but for now, I appreciate what you were able to provide in such little time!
What do YOU Think of Minneapolis?
So what about you? Have you been to Minneapolis? If so, what did you think of it, and what do you recommend seeing and doing (beyond wandering with a camera and eating fois gras meatballs)? If you haven’t been, do these photos intrigue you? Do share!
Want more water reflections? Check out the Deschutes River and Mirror Pond in Bend, Oregon!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!