Although it’s often overlooked in favor of nearby Minneapolis, the state capital St. Paul has myriad fun attractions. Located atop large bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, its historic neighborhoods are dotted with lots of important cultural landmarks and world-class museums.
Making up one-half of the massive Twin Cities metropolis in Minnesota, it started life as a small military post in 1807 before rapidly developing thanks to its strategic riverside setting. During the Gilded Age, large and luxurious Victorian mansions were built along Summit Avenue while the seventies saw soaring skyscrapers shoot up all around downtown.
All its different districts make the city fascinating to explore as ginormous governmental buildings and churches lie alongside picturesque parks and riverside walks. With a thriving cultural scene to delve into and exciting sports events to see, there are plenty of things to do in St. Paul to keep you busy for a while. One of the best times of year to visit is in late August when the annual state fair takes place.
In this post, we'll cover:
14. Landmark Center
Exhibiting some exquisite architecture, the lovely Landmark Center certainly lives up to its name. Formerly home to various government offices, it now contains all kinds of art and history exhibits with tours also taking you around its equally impressive interior.
Instantly recognizable from its pretty pink ashlar exterior, the romantic Romanesque Revival-style building once served as the state’s post office, courthouse and custom house. Completed in 1902, its lofty turrets, towers and steeply peaked roofs preside regally over the lively plaza below.
Marble and mahogany coat much of its interior which is centered around a photo-worthy five-story courtyard. Other than seeing the Schubert Club Museum’s musical instruments and cool carvings in the AAW Gallery of Wood Art, you can often catch dance, music and theater shows at the center.
13. Minnesota State Capitol
Surrounded by loads of lush grounds and gardens, the marvelous Minnesota State Capitol certainly makes for a striking sight. Since 1905, it has served as the state’s seat of government with engaging tours now teaching you all about its history, art and influential figures.
Designed by renowned American architect Cass Gilbert, it displays some extraordinary Beaux-Arts architecture with its dramatic dome towering a staggering 220 feet in height. The third state capitol, it took almost ten years to complete due to the sixty or so arresting artworks and murals that decorate its facade and reception rooms.
As you stroll about its grand chambers and gaze up at the glittering rotunda, you’ll spot elaborate art pieces and extravagant furnishings wherever you look. After hearing all about its history from your expert guide, make sure to check out the Capitol Mall’s many monuments and memorials outside.
12. Xcel Energy Center
If instead of history, art and architecture it is some exciting shows and sporting events you are after, then the Xcel Energy Center is definitely one of the best places to head. At the enormous downtown arena, you can watch the NHL’s Minnesota Wild play their fast-paced and frenetic games with other entertaining shows on ice and concerts regularly taking place too.
Inaugurated in 2000, the state-of-the-art stadium was erected on the site of the recently demolished St. Paul Civic Center. From all its seats and suites, spectators can enjoy fantastic views of the puck being pushed about the ice with plenty of concession stands dotted here and there.
Thanks to their fervent fanbase, watching the Wild play is an exhilarating experience with top-class concerts by big name acts like Bon Jovi, Elton John and The Who being just as memorable.
11. CHS Field
Just a few blocks away in the historic Lowertown District is another great venue to hit up if you’re a big sports fan. The home pitch of the city’s St. Paul Saints, the intimate and atmospheric CHS Field makes for a fun evening or afternoon out for all the family.
Opened in 2015 atop what was once an abandoned industrial site, it is actually the smallest ballpark in all Minor League Baseball. In between innings, small contests and music acts entertain the crowd who can also pick up snacks and drinks at its concession stands.
Besides watching the Triple-A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins across town, you can sometimes see Hamline University’s baseball team play out on its pristine pitch.
10. Fort Snelling
A fascinating place to visit, Fort Snelling is perched atop large bluffs overlooking the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. Due to its strategic setting, it played a key role in securing important trade routes and territory for the early United States.
Now protected as part of a state park, the formidable frontier post dates to 1819 with sturdier stone bulwarks and barracks having been added later on. After serving as the main center for government forces during the Dakota War of 1862, it housed Union soldiers in the Civil War and trained spies to send overseas in WWII.
Nowadays, visitors to the National Historic Landmark can explore all its old and restored buildings and see exhibits on its interesting history. These look at everything from Japanese incarceration and slavery at the fort to the lives of early settlers to the state and seasonal Dakota villages in the area.
9. Minnesota Children’s Museum
Back in the center of downtown is one of the city’s top cultural institutes and tourist attractions: the magical Minnesota Children’s Museum. Its fun and educational exhibits encourage younger ones to climb about, experiment and explore their surroundings in a safe environment.
Since opening in 1981, it has been a firm favorite with families thanks to all its thrilling hands-on activities and sensory play spaces. While The Scramble sees kids scrabble up a four-story climbing area, other parts teach them about forces and flight by launching ping pong balls high in the air and inventing flying objects.
There is also a vibrant pretend town where they can ride in a fire truck or sort and route packages at the post office. With so many cool, colourful galleries to discover, the museum is sure to keep your child entertained for hours.
8. Victorian Houses on Summit Avenue
If on the other hand, it is even more attractive architecture that you are after, then make sure to stroll along Summit Avenue. As the old, wealthy neighborhood is known for its vast Victorian mansions, you can hardly take a step without seeing yet another beautiful building before you.
Remarkably enough, the long, historic street starts just to the west of downtown before ending up at the Mississippi River, some 4.5 miles away. Hundreds of grand residences line the route with a wide range of architectural styles being on show. Among the most popular are Italianate and Queen Anne style houses with countless Beaux-Arts and Romanesque Revival mansions also featuring.
Aside from walking or cruising along and enjoying their delightful designs and landscaped gardens, you can also take tours along the street that actually stop by some of the properties.
7. Cathedral of Saint Paul
Already at the start of the avenue is one of it and the city’s most impressive buildings: the incredible Cathedral of Saint Paul. One of the largest churches in the country, it is modeled after St. Peter’s in the Vatican with its distinctive copper-clad dome being visible for miles around.
Perched atop the highest point downtown, the stunning Beaux-Arts style cathedral and its 300-foot-tall dome gaze out over the sprawling capital before them. Completed back in 1905, it boasts a phenomenal facade while scores of stained-glass windows line its nave.
Inside is just as appealing as marble statues and religious artworks decorate all its charming chapels. One of the cathedral’s main highlights is its ornate Skinner organ which sounds heavenly when accompanying choral arrangements or concerts by the Minnesota Orchestra.
6. James J. Hill House
Just a stone’s throw from the colossal cathedral is yet another of Summit Avenue’s many marvelous mansions. Once the ‘showcase of St. Paul’, the ginormous James J. Hill House now makes for some fabulous photos and viewing with tours taking you all around its elegant interior.
Known as the ‘Empire Builder’ due to the enormous area his lines opened up for settlement, railroad magnate James J. Hill had the huge house built in 1891. The staggering size of the ruddy sandstone Richardsonian Romanesque-style mansion and its dozens of stylish rooms perfectly highlighted his prominent position in the community.
As you tour around its endless floors and 100-foot reception hall, you’ll see loads of fine furnishings and period pieces and learn how the wealthy lived during the Gilded Age. Besides exploring its art gallery and seeing its ornate pipe organ, you can also marvel at its old electric lights which were the latest must-have convenience of the time.
5. Grand Avenue
Although it runs parallel to the exclusive Summit, the equally long Grand Avenue couldn’t be more different. Instead of massive mansions, it is home to lots of the Twin Cities’ best restaurants and bars with countless chic boutiques and cozy coffee shops also lining its pavements.
Following the installation of electric streetcars along the avenue in 1890, clusters of local shops and businesses sprung up the whole way along. While trams no longer trundle up and down the bustling boulevard, enchanting old Victorian-era street lights and handsome historic buildings still remain.
These now house all kinds of trendy bars and ethnic restaurants that cater to every taste and budget. With so many brilliant bakeries and eclectic, artsy shops to stop by, ambling along and enjoying the avenue’s lively yet laid back ambience is a wonderful way to spend the day.
4. Minnesota History Center
For those interested in learning all about the state’s storied past, the Minnesota History Center is an absolute must. Located just a short walk west of downtown, it has countless galleries full of artifacts and exhibits for visitors to peruse.
Founded in 1992, its collection of over a million objects and artworks now occupies an eye-catching building that has two L-shaped wings joined together by a central dome. Its well-done displays look at everything from early settlers to the state and Native American cultures to coal mining, the Civil War and climate change.
On top of learning about important people and places from around the North Star State, guests can also attend concerts and dance performances in its reception rooms.
3. Science Museum of Minnesota
A short distance south of the history center is yet another of the city’s highly-rated institutes: the superb Science Museum of Minnesota. Founded in 1907 to stimulate the ‘intellectual and scientific growth of St. Paul’, it now has hundreds of interactive exhibits and hands-on activities for all ages to enjoy.
Surrounded by gorgeous green grounds and gardens, the museum’s modern building looks out over the Mississippi River. Impressively enough, it now boasts about 1.7 million artifacts and specimens with many being displayed across its three floors. While some sections focus on dinosaur skeletons or the human body, others cover the animals and ecosystems of the adjacent river.
After seeing its Egyptian mummies and conducting fun experiments, you can watch riveting science shows and documentaries in its enormous IMAX theater.
2. Minnesota State Fair
A fun-filled event like no other, the colourful and chaotic Minnesota State Fair takes place each year from late August to early September. Thanks to all its exciting entertainment, livestock competitions and food stalls, millions travel from far and wide to attend ‘The Great Minnesota Get-Together’.
Now held at the sprawling state fairgrounds alongside Snelling Avenue, its umpteen attractions have delighted generations of families since 1859. Over twelve action-packed days, you can pet piglets, ride rollercoasters and see classic car shows and crop art. There is also lots of tasty food to try with corn dogs and cheese curds being particularly popular.
As hundreds of concerts and shows take place all the time, there is constantly something new to see and do at the fairgrounds. One of the largest and liveliest in the United States, it is definitely not to be missed when in Minnesota.
1. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory
The other attraction that you just have to see in St. Paul is the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory. As well as some amazing animals and immaculate gardens, its scenic grounds have a small amusement park, swimming pool and zipline to try alongside other outdoor activities.
While the expansive park contains miles of pretty paths and playing fields, most tourists’ first stop is the splendid zoo. Its spacious enclosures house over 1,700 animals from all around the world with playful gorillas and orangutans to be spied next to fierce Siberian tigers, leopards and polar bears.
After seeing all the incredible animals, guests can explore the gigantic glass conservatory’s beautiful bonsai displays and butterfly garden. Other main highlights include its phenomenal palm dome and elegant orchid house while the sunken garden outside also puts on spectacular flower shows.