Planning some downtime in Minnesota? Dive into the Land of 10,000 Lakes by checking out all the great things to do in Saint Paul, MN. One of Minnesota’s stunning Twin Cities, Saint Paul is often overlooked in favor of Minneapolis – the larger, louder sibling. But as Minnesota’s cultural and historical hub, Saint Paul has plenty to brag about, too.
Set atop the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, Minnesota’s capital city brims with cultural landmarks, historic neighborhoods, and world-class museums. View the beautiful Gilded Age architecture of stately Summit Avenue. Take in the splendor of the stunning Saint Paul’s Cathedral, or tour the majestic Capitol Building. Discover other worlds in Saint Paul’s museums. Or savor the lush beauty of the city’s parks. Kick back and quench your thirst at an awesome local brewery.
Not sure where to start your St. Paul sojourn? Grab this guide to the best places to visit in Saint Paul, MN, and you’ve got a green light!
Best places to visit in Saint Paul, MN
Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
Flora and fauna fans will get their fill at Como Park Zoo & Conservatory. The country’s only free zoo and botanical garden, this spot is one of the Twin Cities’ most popular attractions.
Set in Saint Paul’s beautiful Como Park neighborhood, the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory gives you plenty of green space to explore. Take a walk through the zoo for amazing close-ups of a diverse population, including lions, tigers, polar bears, monkeys, and more. Keep an eye out for zoo favorites Sparky the Seal and Chloe the Sloth.
Explore the beautiful gardens that surround the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory and meander among graceful bonsai trees, statues, and picturesque bridges. Dating back to 1915, the Conservatory is an Art Nouveau gem.
Take a stroll and soak up the sight and fragrance of rare plants from around the world. You’ll be rewarded with a special visual treat: a gorgeous Japanese sunken garden that will make you forget you’re in the middle of the city!
Cathedral of Saint Paul
Architecture buffs will want to put the Cathedral of Saint Paul on their must-see list. Probably Saint Paul’s most significant landmark, the church is one of the city’s most beautiful buildings. This is where John F. Kennedy sat when he attended Mass in Saint Paul’s.
Set atop Cathedral Hill overlooking the city’s downtown, the Cathedral of Saint Paul is the highest point in the city. Dating back to 1915, the Cathedral was modeled after its legendary namesake in London.
Take a moment to absorb this architectural delight, a stunning blend of Gothic lines, Baroque adornments, and Nouveau Art styles – all topped by gleaming spires and a copper dome.
Step inside, and you’ll be awestruck by the sight of marble columns, an extraordinary bronze altar, beautiful rose windows, and six impressive chapels dedicated to the saints of the city’s immigrant communities.
Minnesota History Center
Wedged between the Mississippi River and the Minnesota State Capital, the Minnesota History Center is a natural magnet for history buffs. Housed in an impressive domed building, the setting is stunning. Its north façade faces the Capitol, while its southeast façade looks over an expansive manicured lawn.
Step through the bronze doors of the Minnesota History Center, and you’ll be greeted by the sight of beautiful glass etchings and majestic terra cotta columns. Packed with interactive exhibits, the museum also houses the Minnesota Historical Society library and archives, a hub for historians, academics, and students of all ages. Minnesotans can even track their family history!
Explore over 44,000 square feet of museum gallery space, where you can browse an amazing collection of a million artifacts, including archaeological objects, books, photographs, paintings, newspapers, and more.
Family-friendly, the Minnesota History Center also plays host lectures, concerts, and other special events all year long.
Science Museum of Minnesota
Take a short jaunt south from the Minnesota History Center, and you’ll discover the Science Museum of Minnesota. Dating back to 1907, this hub of scientific discovery features 370,000 square feet of space and hundreds of hands-on exhibits spread over multiple galleries.
The Science Museum of Minnesota offers fascinating insights into subjects, including physical science and technology, the human body, paleontology, and the peoples and cultures of the Mississippi River. Discover over 1.5 million specimens, a cutting-edge zero-emissions Science House, and an Imax Convertible Dome Omnitheater.
Check out must-see highlights, including awesome dinosaur skeletons and mesmerizing Egyptian mummies. Dive into exciting scientific experiments, then slip into the IMAX theater to catch some spectacular shows and documentaries.
James J. Hill House
If you want to see how the other (super rich) half lived, step into the James J. Hill House. Dubbed “Minnesota’s Downton Abbey,” this National Historic Landmark is one of Saint Paul’s most famous houses. Set on elegant Summit Avenue – the longest stretch of Victorian homes in the US – this “house” is a 36,000-square-foot mansion.
Built by Canadian-born railroad titan James J. Hill, this Gilded Age gem was completed in 1891. The “Empire Builder” created a domestic realm that was a nice fit for his family of twelve. Featuring a 100-foot-long reception hall, 22 fireplaces, 13 bathrooms, 16 chandeliers, and a two-story, skylit art gallery, the James J. Hill House was once the largest private residence in the state.
Marvel at the detailed hand-carved woodwork, stained glass windows, stunning chandeliers, ingenious mechanical systems, and other amazing embellishments. Take a guided Upstairs Downstairs tour and be immersed in the stories of James J. Hill – builder of the Great Northern Railway – and the domestic staff that kept his mansion gleaming.
Fort Snelling State Park
Up for some time travel? Then chart a course for Fort Snelling State Park, home to one of Minnesota’s most important historical sites.
Built in 1825, Fort Snelling was the Midwest’s first military outpost – and it sparked the creation of what eventually became the state of Minnesota. For thousands of years, this site of the juncture of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers was the homeland of the Dakota people. Today, Fort Snelling State Park remains a place of huge cultural and historical importance.
Stop by the Plank Museum and Visitor Center to check out their interpretive exhibits. Take a guided tour of the fort and learn about the complex stories of the diverse groups who crossed paths here – from the indigenous and enslaved peoples to immigrants, fur traders, and soldiers.
Then head out to explore on your own or take a naturalist tour. Hike or bike through the forest along the fort’s high stone walls. Ramble across the restored native wetland, and savor the sight of wild prairie grasses and flowers.
Minnesota Children’s Museum
If you’ve got curious kids in your crew, the Minnesota Children’s Museum is a must-see. This is a place that lets kids loose to explore while their parents are encouraged to indulge in “playful parenting.”
Housed on three floors, the Minnesota Children’s Museum is packed with “kid-powered” play spaces that take a hands-on approach to discovery and learning.
Experience the underwater world of Imaginopolis, or scoot over to The Scramble, where you can climb up four stories, glide down a spiral slide, or test your balance on a 40-foot-high catwalk. Get wet at a water table, test your navigating skills in the laser maze, or get creative in the Maker Space.
Hop into the driver’s seat of a fire truck or bus, and take your vehicle through the Car Wash (raincoats supplied).
Minnesota State Capitol
Saint Paul is Minnesota’s proud First City, so a visit to the Minnesota State Capitol is a must. Built in 1905, this architectural gem is a striking blend of Renaissance, Beaux-Arts, and Neoclassical architectural styles.
Take a free guided tour of the Minnesota State Capitol and immerse yourself in the state’s rich history. Stand in the Capitol Building’s magnificent rotunda, and look up to view the soaring marble dome. Take in the beautifully preserved murals and paintings that adorn the walls and the large marble star centerpiece that symbolizes the North Star State.
Tour the ornately decorated Governor’s Reception Room. Then head up to the second floor to view the impressive chambers of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court. The icing on the cake: the iconic “golden horses” on the roof.
Mississippi National River & Recreation Area
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking for a green urban playground, look no further than the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area.
The second longest river in North America, the mighty Mississippi River courses 2,300 miles through the US – and the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area lays claim to 72 stunning miles of this iconic stretch of water.
The Big Muddy floodplain is a fascinating ecosystem teeming with a diverse collection of wildlife and plant life, and this beautiful river park makes for ideal viewing of species like bald eagles and white-tailed deer. Bring your binoculars!
Check out the park’s multiple visitor centers to learn about the fascinating human and natural history of the Mississippi River. Explore miles of beautiful trails that run along the wooded plain. Take to the water in a canoe or kayak, or cast your fishing to see what bites.
If you’re a falls fan, take a trek to historic St. Anthony Falls in Downtown Minneapolis, the Mississippi’s only true waterfall. Hit the two-mile Heritage Trail and get a close-up view of the cascading waters as they plunge 50 feet to the gorge below. Worth the trip!
Hidden Falls Regional Park
Dreaming of dipping your toes into Mark Twain territory? Pack up and head out to Hidden Falls Regional Park. Established in 1887, this beautiful swathe of nature has been a long-time open secret for locals and visitors for generations.
Stretched along the scenic Mississippi River bluffs, Hidden Falls Regional Park gives you everything you could want for a great day of outdoor activities.
Hike, bike, or horseback ride through the beautiful forested fringes along the Mississippi. Discover awesome waterfalls. The park’s waters teem with gamefish, so make like Mark Twain and go fishin’. Slide your canoe or kayak in at the boat launch and paddle the Big Muddy.
Up for a breather? Kick back in one of the park’s welcoming picnic areas. Unpack the hamper, fire up the grill, and chow down.
If you’re craving a slice of serenity amid the city buzz, make a beeline for Rice Park. Bordered by the Saint Paul Hotel, the Ordway Center, and the historic Landmark Center, Rice Park is a sea of tranquility in the heart of historic downtown Saint Paul.
This urban gem features a beautiful fountain, plenty of shade, and benches where you can chill out and people-watch. Pack a picnic and bring a book. Rice Park is home to a diverse range of concerts and festivals throughout the year, so check out their schedule!
Come winter, Rice Park turns into a snowy wonderland embellished with glittering lights strung across the trees. Check out the playful ice sculptures featuring Peanuts cartoon characters (a nod to homeboy Charles Schultz).
Lace up your skates and take a whirl around the rink. Time it right, and you might just catch a Minnesota Wild practice!
Wabasha Street Caves
Are you intrigued by places with a shady past? Then head underground to experience the mystique of Saint Paul’s Wabasha Street Caves.
Originally carved into the hillside when the area was mined for silica in the 1800s, the Wabasha Street Caves have had many lives. They’ve been a mushroom farm, a cheese-ripening site, a speakeasy, a home to mobsters on the lam, and a 70s-era disco.
The French family that used it as a mushroom farm in the early 1900s turned it into a speakeasy during Prohibition. According to local lore, the caves became a hideaway for the likes of Babyface Nelson and Ma Barker – and it’s said their spirits still haunt the place.
The caves grooved to the sound of disco in the 1970s, but now it moves to a different beat. Duck in for a tasty lunch – or slip into your dancing shoes and move to the sound of big band music on Thursday Swing Nights.
The name says it all: the Landmark Center is a not-to-be-missed destination in Saint Paul. Built in 1902, this historic site features a beautiful pink exterior fashioned in a romantic Romanesque style. Soaring turrets, towers, and dramatic slanting roofs tower over the plaza below.
Once home to the city’s courthouse and US Post Office, today, the Landmark Center invites visitors to step inside and travel back in time.
Take in the beauty of the five-story courtyard, and take a stroll through a beautiful marble and mahogany interior that features remarkable art and history exhibits.
View the Schubert Club Museum’s remarkable collection of musical instruments, and check out the striking carvings in the AAW Gallery of Wood.
It’s also an important Saint Paul event center, hosting live music, dance, and theater productions – so check out their schedule!
Harriet Island Regional Park
Looking for wide-open spaces that rate high on the fun scale? Head over to Harriet Regional Park, where you can indulge in your favorite outdoor pastimes without having to leave town.
Named after the city’s first public school teacher, this award-winning slice of urban splendor is one of the Twin Cities’ most popular parks.
Stretching out from Downtown Saint Paul alongside the Mississippi River, Harriet Regional Park offers loads of activity options. Take in fantastic views of the city skyline from across the Mississippi River. Meander along the riverfront or hop into a paddle boat for the view from the water.
Toss a Frisbee, or settle back for a picnic. Feeling adventurous? Hop on a bike and hit the Big Rivers Regional Bike Trail to cruise along the Mississippi through Lilydale Regional Park, past Pike Island, and out to historic Mendota, the oldest village in the state.
Want to make a night of it? Book a berth at the park’s B & B set in a vintage tugboat.
Marjorie McNeely Conservatory
If you’re craving a close encounter of the botanical kind, step into the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory – the “jewel in the crown” of Saint Paul’s beautiful Como Park. Dating back to 1915, this breathtaking botanical garden is a rare gem that was modeled after London’s famous Kew Gardens. Today, this tropical haven is home to a vast array of plant varieties from around the world – and some of the original specimens still survive.
Take a stroll around the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory to view its stunning centerpiece: a 65-foot tall domed glass greenhouse. You’ll also discover intriguing installations and sculptures – including a huge granite frog in the frog pond.
Explore the dome’s two massive wings – one of them containing a gorgeous Japanese sunken garden. Stop in at the exotic orchid house. And don’t miss the unlikely star of the show: the “Corpse Flower,” an endangered exotic plant that blooms only every few years. A treat for the eyes but not for the nose. Pack some plugs!
Bad Weather Brewing Company
Milwaukee may be the poster child for Midwestern craft breweries, but Saint Paul is moving into the beer culture limelight, thanks to modern makers like the Bad Weather Brewing Company.
This industrial brewpub prides itself on incorporating traditional German tradition into their 21st -century operation. Check out their 20-barrel brewhouse and taproom for great vibes and a fantastic selection of beers – everything from crisp German lagers to creamy stouts.
By the way, don’t be overwhelmed by the vast selection at the Bad Weather Brewing Company. Friendly bar staff will be happy to offer a taste test! Grab a tasty snack from one of the on-site food trucks, and take your pick out to the patio to chill out.
Keep the buzz going with the pub’s bingo, board, and arcade games. And a heads-up for sports fans: hop aboard the free shuttle to cheer for the Wild.
Minnesota Museum of American Art
Want to feed your inner artist? Make tracks for the iconic Minnesota Museum of American Art. Founded as the St. Paul School of Fine Arts in 1894, “the M” is now Saint Paul’s only major art museum.
You’ll find it at home in the historic Pioneer Endicott building. Dating back to 1889, this architectural treasure was the city’s first skyscraper. Today, the Minnesota Museum of American Art is its anchor.
Ranking high on the list of Midwest cultural attractions, the M features a diverse collection of contemporary American art in media ranging from ceramics to textiles, paint to print.
Aspiring creators of all ages can unleash their inner Picasso in artist-led workshops. Check the schedule!
Mississippi River Trail
Soak up Minneapolis’ breathtaking natural beauty with a hike on the Mississippi River Trail. Stretching for 5.8 miles along the shoreline of the Mississippi River in South Saint Paul, the paved trail is relatively flat and winds through some beautiful scenery with river views.
Built on top of the river levee, the trail has six access points with off-street parking and can be enjoyed by people of all ages. You can also ride the trail between Brainerd and Cass Lake on one of two trails – the Explorer’s On-Road Route and the Family Friendly State Trail Route.
If you want to cycle further than the six-mile trail, you can continue on the roads below the Mississippi River Bluffs or ride the Apple Blossom Scenic Byway. Take in unrivaled views of the Mississippi River and uplands. You can also access the Great River Bluffs State Park.