Culture, art, history, science and quirky, niche topics: the museum scene in Minneapolis covers all the bases. With collections to appeal to every kind of curious mind, the city's museums pack the same punch as the big city favorites, but with far less of the noise.
Contemporary collections from rising artists coexist with long-established collections of world-renowned artifacts. Culture vultures can discover centuries past, unravel Minneapolis' rich migrant history, and see the latest modern creations at these 10 top museums.
Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia)
Best museum for a broad collection of artworks
Like a stateside version of the Louvre without the selfie-snapping crowds, the Minneapolis Institute of Art (known as the Mia) has more than 90,000 works of art spanning some 5000 years of history. While exhibitions rotate regularly, staple works from the collection remain on display year-round. Visitors can explore six continents worth of cultural objects, contemporary works, textiles, sculptures, paintings, photography, prints and drawings.
The collection isn’t the only impressive thing about the Mia. The museum is set in a stately, neoclassical building supported by sturdy white columns, designed by the premier New York architecture firm, McKim, Mead & White in 1915. Even a brief walkthrough will whisk you into a completely different frame of mind.
Walker Art Center
Best museum for modern art and social events
It’s not every day that you see a gigantic blue rooster in front of a gleaming city skyline. But at the Walker Art Center, that’s just the view from the garden. This top-class art museum is a spectacular place to browse contemporary works of art, and the creativity flows into the neighboring Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a beautiful park adorned with art.
Backing up the garden and galleries the museum has an impressive program of live performances, movie screenings and educational activities. Swing by for a traditional string quartet or something more out-of-the-box like offbeat performance art; it’s all happening at the Walker.
Mill City Museum
Best museum for learning the history of Minneapolis
Set against the city’s shimmering skyline, on what is arguably the most iconic stretch of the Mississippi River, the Mill City Museum fills the ruins of a historic former flour mill dating from 1880. History, architecture and art converge here, providing an interesting introduction to Minneapolis’ early years and the city’s industrial foundation. The museum's eight floors are accessible via the mill's freight elevator, which adds to the time travel experience, and up on the 9th floor is an observation deck that overlooks the river.
Alongside relics from the past, artworks from local creatives are dotted throughout the museum, including murals, mixed media works and sculptures. Combine a visit to Mill City Museum with a jaunt across Stone Arch Bridge, a former railroad bridge-turned-pedestrian walkway that connects downtown with the East Bank neighborhood.
Foshay Museum and Observatory
Best museum for architecture and skyline views
Spanning 32 stories, and soaring 447ft into the sky over Minneapolis, the Foshay Museum and Observatory is the loftiest experience on this list. Smack in the middle of downtown, this tower was constructed in 1929, and it was the tallest building in the Midwest for 48 years. Although long since overtaken by modern towers, the Foshay remains a key part of the fabric of downtown Minneapolis.
The tower's creator, Wilbur Foshay, was a successful businessman who amassed his wealth from a raft of utility companies. A visit to the museum will take you through his story in depth, and walk you through the creation of this local legend of a tower. Views from the observation deck can stretch for 30 miles on a clear day – think of it as the Eiffel Tower of Minnesota.
Somali Museum of Minnesota
Best museum for understanding America's diverse history
On Lake Street in south Minneapolis, the Somali Museum of Minnesota is North America’s first and only museum devoted entirely to Somali culture. Alongside more than 700 traditional artifacts from Somalia are modern artworks by contemporary Somali artists, and regular community events light up this interesting space.
Many Somali people emigrated to Minnesota in the 1980s, with even greater numbers arriving in the early 1990s during Somalia's civil war. Minnesota now has the largest Somali–American population in the US, thanks partly to the work of local volunteer resettlement agencies.
By connecting Americans of Somali heritage to their culture, and providing education for those from other backgrounds, the museum is on a mission to promote cross-cultural understanding. While in the area, stop in for a traditional Somali meal – perhaps a rich curry or sambusas (samosas) with spicy basbaas (Somali hot sauce) – at the Midtown Global Market or Karmel Mall, two indoor marketplaces with plenty of eating options.
Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery
Best museum for Black heritage, art, and culture
A formidable place to learn about Black history, culture and art, the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum & Gallery is both highly educational and a joyous celebration of African-American heritage. This north Minneapolis museum is entirely volunteer-run and it hosts regular community events, from open mics to group discussions and hands-on art sessions.
The gallery’s exhibitions rotate, but the longstanding exhibition on early African-American history in Minnesota is permanent. Digging deeply into the history of the Great Migration and the people who fought for freedom in the mid-1900s, it’s vital and much more informative than most textbooks on the subject. Eye-opening rotating exhibitions explore topics such as systemic racism through modern works of art from Black artists.
Weisman Art Museum
Best museum for cutting-edge architecture and local artworks
From the outside, the University of Minnesota's Weisman Art Museum appears to be a fusion between a spaceship and a castle doused in shiny chrome. Toweringly abstract in its deconstructivist design, the building was designed by Frank Gehry in 1992, and it only gets better inside.
Contemporary artworks, early 20th-century pieces and mixed media projects are regularly rotated throughout the galleries. You’ll find everything here from traditional Korean furniture to giant, colorful murals. The museum is on the UMN campus, overlooking the Mississippi River; to get here, join the students hustling across the Washington Avenue Bridge.
Minnesota Children’s Museum
Best museum for families
Located St Paul, Minneapolis' twin city, the Minnesota Children’s Museum is only about 15 minutes drive from downtown. Perfect for families with kids in tow – and anyone else who loves fun and whimsical exhibits – this children’s museum delves into art, science, nature and interactive play.
Displays have all the bells and whistles you could ask for – highlights include a four-story climber with a spiral side, an entire pretend town and a laser maze. With three floors of engaging edutainment, kids have plenty to explore, and tots under one year enter for free. Plan to spend a whole day here.
American Swedish Institute
Best museum for all things Swedish
Comprising an art gallery, a Nordic-style cafe, a castle-like mansion from 1904 and a modern cultural center, the American Swedish Institute goes beyond the typical museum remit. Exhibits range from traditional wooden crafts and folk art to photography, Nordic design and architecture.
The on-site Turnblad Mansion could have been plucked straight from a Scandinavian fairytale, with its hand-carved gargoyles and 33 rooms full of ornate wooden trim. Tiled wood-burning stoves known as kakelugnar – imported from Sweden – are found throughout the mansion.
Visiting the American Swedish Institute feels a little like taking a jaunt to Europe without the jet lag. Celebrating the traditional roots of Swedish origin communities in Minnesota, the museum offers an intriguing look at how Scandinavian and American culture have blended together over the past century.
Minnesota Streetcar Museum
Best museum for a sunny day
Cutting through a woodsy section of southwest Minneapolis, the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line feels frozen in time. With its nostalgic fleet of bright yellow streetcars, the Minnesota Streetcar Museum offers a glimpse of life in Minneapolis during the 1950s, when Twin Cities locals used the trolleys to get to work and school.
It’s a far cry from the city's sleek modern Light Rail system, and that’s partly why a visit is so much fun. Try to come on a sunny day, when you can feel the lakeside breeze on your skin while riding the trolleys, and then walk around Linden Hills, the surrounding neighborhood, which still has a tangible 'old Minneapolis' charm.
Set inside the old streetcar station, the museum displays old photos and documents exploring the history of electric railways in Minnesota. Cruising between two of the city’s most famous lakes – Bde Maka Ska (Lake White Earth in the Dakota language) and Lake Harriet – on the trolley ride takes around 15-minutes. Unfortunately, the trolleys aren’t wheelchair accessible, but the museum is.
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