The Twin Cities area of Minnesota is the political, cultural, and economic capital of the Upper Midwest and along with the Chicago and Detroit metropolitan areas forms the core of the North Coast region of the United States.
The name "Twin Cities" comes from the region's two core cities, Minneapolis and Saint Paul, which border each other share many of the same political, educational, and cultural institutions - and are thus considered to be "twins".
There are multiple "tiers" or "rings" of suburbs extending out from these core cities, some reaching as far as Wisconsin.
Located where the Minnesota River joins the Mississippi, the Twin Cities grew in the 1800s from its location at the intersection of two major rivers, the Minnesota and the Mississippi, and rail lines. For a period the point furthest downstream that the Mississippi could be bridged was located in the area, if only due to the fortuitous island placement. Contributing to its growth was St. Anthony Falls, a natural waterfall which provided energy to working grain mills located on the Mississippi River. Due to rapid erosion of its limestone underlayment, St Anthony Falls moved upstream until it was set in concrete by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Two Interstate Highways, I-94 and I-35, travel through the Twin Cities travelling east/west and north/south respectively. I-35 splits as it passes through the Twin Cities, with 35-W coming through Minneapolis, and 35-E making an eastward bow through Saint Paul. Several other national and state highways also travel through the area.
Most travelers will arrive in the Lindbergh terminal. The Humphrey terminal was recently rebuilt and serves primarily charter carriers. The Lindbergh terminal (Charles Lindbergh was a Minnesotan, and one of his transatlantic planes is suspended above the ticketing area) receives the bulk of renovation fees, however, and it is an attractive, modern, convenient, and well-designed terminal. The Humphrey terminal is also quite attractive; the terminals share the same runways, have long- and short-term parking set between them, and are equally convenient for transportation. Savvy travelers might check the terminal of their arrival or departure to communicate their location to friends, relatives, or other transport.
The new light rail line serves the airport and traverses South Minneapolis to Downtown. Fare is $1.50-2.00 depending on the time of day. The trains are fast and clean and, at times, one might imagine being in Holland or Disneyland while traveling their pristine route. They also serve the Mall of America. The light rail station is located at Lindbergh. There is also a station at Humphrey, but it is closed through late 2007 due to nearby construction. Travellers arriving at Humphrey will need to board a free shuttle bus heading to Lindbergh.
Airlines serving the Lindbergh Terminal:
Airlines serving the Humphrey Terminal:
Amtrak, . Trains arrive at Midway Station in Saint Paul, located at 730 Transfer Road (one block north of University Avenue, near its intersection with Cleveland Avenue). The 16 busline comes within a block. Daily service via the "Empire Builder", trains 8/28 and 7/27, terminating at Chicago and Seattle or Portland.
Greyhound Bus Lines,  and Jefferson Lines . Buses arrive at the Hawthorne Transportation Center, located at 950 Hawthorne Ave (at 10th St, one block west of Hennepin) in downtown Minneapolis. It's just a few minute's taxi ride away from most of the downtown hotels. It's 4-5 blocks away from a few major bus routes and the light rail. Check the web site above for schedule details. The depot is near a homeless shelter, so it's not uncommon to see a few homeless people hanging out nearby. The area is well-patrolled and quite safe.
Megabus, . Low-cost bus company that runs a nonstop route between Minneapolis and Chicago; from Chicago, you can connect to buses heading to St Louis, Milwaukee, Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. Fares can be as little as $1 each way if ordered far enough in advance. There are two marked stops in Minneapolis. The first stop is in downtown Minneapolis on the west side of 3rd Ave N between Washington Ave and 5th St (note: it's directly under the 4th St Garage). The second stop is near the University of Minnesota on the south side of University Ave next to the University Ave Parking Ramp, across the street from Williams Arena.
Mississippi River. The river runs through both downtown, but passenger boats don't serve the area. Huck Finn fantasies aside, arrival via the Mississippi is not recommended. (Besides, Huck floated down river.)
Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and some of the inner suburbs are all served by public transit run by Metro Transit . There are also other transit authorities serving the outlying suburbs. Regular adult fares are currently $2 during peak periods (6:00am-9:00am and 3:00pm-6:30pm Monday thru Friday) and $1.50 during off-peak periods (these fares come with free transfers lasting 2.5 hours). Ticket machines at light rail stations will also sell 6-hour passes for $3.50 and 24-hour passes for $7.
Serving Downtown Minneapolis, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the airport, the Mall of America, and all points in between. Although automobile transport is most useful for those who wish to explore more than the two downtown areas of the Twin Cities (e.g corporate visitors, or people visiting any of the suburbs), tourists may find light rail the easiest, fastest, and safest transport between the airports, the Mall of America, and downtown Minneapolis. There is currently only one line, though amenities at each stop, and within walking distance of each stop, are expanding. Eastbound and Westbound bus lines also intersect the light rail line at most points, so it is possible that visitors could use public transport exclusively to explore the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. About a mile West of the Mississippi and much of the border between Minneapolis & Saint Paul, it's possible to use east-west bus routes on the Ford Parkway, Lake Street, Franklin Avenue, or Hennepin Avenue for expedient travel within the cities and to most residential neighborhoods.
The Twin Cities have an adequate bus system, hobbled by confusing connections to suburban lines, and poor service during non-rush hours (and no service after 1:00AM except on a few select routes with "night owl" service). The Metro Transit site (linked above) allows you to search for the best routes between your current location and your desired location, and is as good as most such systems in providing good routes and connections. Bus stops are located very nearly everywhere throughout the city, but some are served only very infrequently, and most are not labeled as to which routes serve them at which times, so take care, especially in sub-zero weather, as to which routes you choose. Buses on Washington Avenue, Lake Street, and University Avenue are most consistent and provide transport to the greatest numbers. Express buses operate between the two downtowns regularly during rush hours, and buses to suburbs, or connecting to light rail are limited, and best used during high traffic times.
Skyways and Tunnels
Minneapolis and Saint Paul both have extensive second floor ("Première étage") "skyways" that connect central city buildings with each other. Although Minneapolis is larger, the Saint Paul system, to this point, has more connections and is more extensive than Minneapolis' system. That said, one could walk from the Convention Center in Minneapolis to Washington Avenue (a block before the Mississippi) without going outside, and without stopping at a pedestrian traffic light. Highway 394 feeds into heated parking garages, so that a Wayzatan suburbanite could enter her Lexus, drive the length of 394 to the heated lot, go to work, shop at Target or Marshall Fields, see a movie, have dinner, and return home - all without having to wear a coat or change clothes, even in 20-below weather.
Even in good weather, mid-day romps in Minneapolis or Saint Paul at street level will miss most of the citizen activity, despite the appearance of crowds and farmers' markets, as many folks will choose to get their lattes, sandwiches, takeout, or copy keys, copy documents, or visit their banks, on the second level, a floor above the apparent activity.
As if to confuse you, there is an extensive network of tunnels connecting several buildings on the University of Minnesota's Twin Cities campus. Good idea, only different.
The Twin Cities, despite unfriendly weather for bikes from about November to April, provides many resources for both recreational and commuting bicyclers. Most major, and primary one-way, and two-way, streets have ample bike lanes which are marked and visible during fair weather months. In addition, all Minneapolis in-city lakes have bike paths that are separated from pedestrian traffic (and from motorized vehicles), and offer one-way transit around the entire Chain of Lakes, extending to Minnehaha Parkway and into Saint Paul. As if that were not adequate, former rail line paths sustain two-way bike lanes following east-west routes just South of Highway 394 and into downtown Minneapolis, known as the Cedar Lake trail; and just North of Lake Street, following a path known as the Midtown Greenway; and both are connected via a spur alongside an active freight railway just East of Cedar Lake and North of Lake Calhoun. It is possible to connect, via either east-west line, to bike trails that connect far into the Western suburbs and beyond, and recreational bicyclers can travel along historic rail lines for uncounted miles West.
Both buses and light-rail trains are equipped with bike racks. It is not uncommon, though still shocking, to see bicyclers in sub-zero weather, and in deep snow. Visitors may find late March to late November as the best period to travel on bicycles, if cold and snow don't arrive or persist.
Being located in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, the Twin Cities offers many aquatic activities. Many lakes offer swimming beaches with on-duty lifeguards. Fishing and ice fishing are popular activities, but be sure to purchase a fishing license first. Licenses are, unfortunately, rather expensive if you live outside the state, but can be purchased at most sporting goods stores, bait shops, and even some gas stations. Short-term licenses are also available.
Mall of America
Mall of America, 60 East Broadway, Bloomington, 952 883-8800. Largest indoor shopping complex in the United States. A dizzying shopping experience. It has hundreds of stores, a LEGO play area, an indoor theme park, a large aquarium, and an IKEA. You can get there by Light Rail or bus.
Smaller Shopping Centers
The Twin Cities has many shopping centers, the list gently spoofed by radio humorist Garrison Keillor in his list of imaginary malls ending in "-dale":
The Mall of America and other malls listed above offer a wide selection of clothes. Other places to check out clothes include:
The Twin Cities is a hotbed of independent presses and bookstores.
The Twin Cities is extremely vegetarian-friendly, with a large concentration of vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants. There are also a number of natural food coops. For example in Minneapolis alone, one can choose to shop at the North Country, Linden Hills, Eastside, Wedge, or Seward Coops. There are also options for raw foodies, including Ecopolitan Restaurant. Last, there are a number of worker-owned collectives, including the Hard Times Cafe, Seward Cafe, and Spokes Pizza Collective, that serve mostly organic, vegan food.
The Twin Cities are like most major American cities when it comes to crime issues, and all standard common-sense precautions should be taken.