Cheaper than New York City and Los Angeles yet packing in much of the same high-spirited energy, Minneapolis brings metropolitan joy without the ostentatious prices. The city is truly an underrated destination, with manicured parks, sparkling lakes and award-winning restaurants, all of which will agree with your bank account more than pretty much anything in greater Manhattan.

In Minneapolis, you can be bougie or budgeted, fancy or no-frills. Taking advantage of the surrounding nature and Minnesota’s top-notch state and national parks can stretch your funds even further, all while allowing you to bask in some of the Midwest's most cherished wilderness. 

Here are the best ways to visit Minneapolis on a budget.

People walking and cycling in Minneapolis
Minneapolis' layout makes it fairly easy to navigate via walking or the light rail system © CK Foto / Shutterstock

Make use of Minneapolis’ Metro Transit system

The light rail transit system is to Minneapolis as the subway is to New York City, except it’s newer, has far fewer pop-up performance artists and consists of only two lines. Alongside the light rail system, 92 bus routes run through the city, ready to take you anywhere. Minneapolis’ grid layout makes it fairly easy to navigate Metro Transit, even if you’re brand new in town. For $2 for a one-way ticket (or $2.50 during rush hour), it’s a steal of a deal compared to Uber or Lyft.

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Skip an Uber at the airport and take the light rail into the city instead

For a cheap ride into Minneapolis, hop the blue line from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to get downtown instead of grabbing an Uber. The $2 fare is a steal, and it’s just as speedy – if not faster – than hailing a car that would cost at least $25. With stops along south Minneapolis and a final destination of the heart of downtown at Target Field, it passes many of the city’s popular areas to stay and hang out. Heading south in the other direction, you can also take the light rail directly to the Mall of America.

Cycling in Minneapolis
Cyclists enjoy an urban bike path in Minneapolis © Juli Hansen/ Shutterstock

Hop on a Nice Ride Minnesota bicycle

When the weather permits, hopping on a Nice Ride bicycle rental is both wallet-friendly and good for your health, a win-win if you’re ready for some scenic exercise. Rides start around $2, and more than 400 Nice Ride docks are scattered around the city, so you won’t have trouble finding or returning your wheels. Download the Nice Ride Minnesota app before you head to town so you’re ready to roll.

It’s absolutely free to swim in one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes

You don’t even have to leave the city to get a taste of Minnesota’s famous lakeside lifestyle. Between the popular uptown hangouts of Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet to quieter picks like Lake Nokomis and Cedar Lake, some of the best things to do in Minneapolis are nature-related and 100% free. Lake life is taken seriously here, so expect plenty of folks with full setups – drinks, snacks, games – especially when the sun is out on a warm day.

The colorful amusement park inside the Mall of America in Minneapolis, Minnesota
Take a walk around the Mall of America or enjoy the perks of sales tax exempt clothes shopping © James Kirkikis / Shutterstock

Refresh your wardrobe – clothing is exempt from sales tax in Minnesota

It might not seem like the most budget-friendly piece of advice to tell readers to go shopping, but if you’re going to refresh your wardrobe, the state of Minnesota is the place to do it. Clothing is exempt from sales tax here, meaning you can save quite a bit on larger pieces that would rack up tax in other states. Even if you’re not into spending on new threads, a curious walk around the Mall of America sans-purchase is a free attraction in and of itself.

Snag a tent and go camping on the edge of the city

Enjoy misty lakeside mornings and luminous night skies by camping around the outskirts of Minneapolis, both a money saver and a mind relaxer. Car campsites are as cheap as $15 to $20 per night, and many spots near the city are equipped with toilets and showers. A visit to the Minnesota DNR’s reservation website unearths a sprawl of campsite options, ranging from quiet woodsy hideaways to freshwater beach gathering spots.

Tower Hill Park in Minneapolis
Book a ticket to Minneapolis during the winter months for cheaper flight options © Sam Wagner/ Shutterstock 

Check out lesser-known, no-frills restaurants with the best eats

Award-winning restaurants in Minneapolis make it easy to say “treat yourself” and splurge, but you can still have the former without denting your debit card. For delicious food on a budget, Midtown Global Market offers various vendors serving up cuisines from all over the world and sparing none of the flavor. You can snag a meal for as low as $6, and plates range from East African to Indian and many places in between. Outside the market along Lake Street, Mexican restaurants that rival the real-deal eats south of the border are abundant. 

Visit Minneapolis during the colder months for cheaper flights and stays

Seeing as most winter days hover around freezing – or well below it – you can score some deals on airfare and hotels during the city’s chilly months. And make no mistake, you can still have plenty of fun during the my-face-hurts-outside season of the year. With winter festivals, cozy bars and restaurants, snow and ice-centric sports, Minneapolis is a winter wonderland between November through the first few weeks of March, and Minnesotans make the most of it.

Minneapolis has tons of free events

Alongside easy ways to save money, there’s no shortage of free things to do in Minneapolis. Events, museums, sparklingly clean nature – it’s a breeze to have a ball on a budget here.

Daily costs in Minneapolis

Hostel room: $40-50 (dorm bed
Basic hotel room for two: from $80
Self-catering apartment or Airbnb: from $90
Public transit ticket on bus or light rail: $2 ($2.50 during rush hour)
Coffee: $3-5
Sandwich: $6-8
Dinner for two: $50-70
A beer at the bar: $6-7

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