Minnesota Towns to Visit this Holiday Season

You don’t have to travel far for a festive weekend with family

Minnesota winter
Photo by Todd Buchanan

Updated: December 2016

Looking to get out of town for a holiday-themed weekend but don’t have the wherewithal for a plane ride? You won’t have to travel far (or in some cases, at all) for a quick vacation. These towns, all within a two-hour or less driving distance, offer light displays, outdoor activities, and all sorts of holiday-themed attractions. Jump in the car and turn up your favorite rendition of  “Jingle Bells” for a refreshing, spirited getaway.

St. Paul
If you’re looking for more of a staycation but want a change of scenery, the city across the river goes all-out during the holidays, turning the downtown area into a winter wonderland. Admire the holiday lights in Rice Park while you skate on the free outdoor Wells Fargo WinterSkate rink. Holiday shopping abounds at Grand Meander on Dec. 3, and nearby Summit Ave.’s tasteful holiday decorations are always worth a look. Take a tour of the historic Ramsey house or catch Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the Ordway starting Dec. 8. Head to Lowertown hotspot Saint Dinette for dinner, or grab coffee and a handmade pastry at The Buttered Tin for a midday pick-me-up.

Popularized as a freezing tundra in the Coen Brothers’ 1996 movie Fargo, the home of Paul Bunyan and his ox certainly caters to the outdoorsy crowd. Lake Bemidji State Park has picturesque trails perfect for Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and hiking, and the lake itself is great for ice fishing. For a taste of Norway and a break from the outdoor fun, check out the traditional Santa Lucia Festival on Dec. 13. Tutto Bene’s from-scratch Italian fare makes for a great family dinner, and Kohl’s Resort promises beautiful lakeside winter views during an overnight stay.

Located on the banks of Lake Superior, Duluth’s mixture of historic charm and modernity makes it a popular destination for travelers of all ages. Make sure to stroll past the Aerial Lift Bridge on your way to downtown shopping locales like Duluth Trading Co. On the Bentleyville Tour of Lights, sip some hot cocoa and munch on cold weather treats while you take in impressive lighting displays throughout Bayfront Park. Historic Fitger’s hotel has plenty of local retail spots, as well as a brewery museum and the Christmas City Express train. If you’re staying a while, grab a pint at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. and a bite to eat at Northern Waters Smokehaus or the popular Duluth Grill.

Named by the Star Tribune as the best small town for walking in 2016, this riverside college town is known for its picturesque charm. The city’s annual Winter Walk on Dec. 8 invites you to stroll through downtown by candlelight, and the locally owned, creative businesses in the Division Street shopping district are worth a visit. Be sure to grab some coffee and a snack at student hangout Goodbye Blue Monday, and hit Indian restaurant Chapati for dinner before turning in for the night at the adjoining Archer House River Inn. While you’re in town, check out the current show at St. Olaf’s Flaten Art Museum and take a walk in Carleton’s beautiful Cowling Arboretum.

With a bustling downtown surrounded by farming fields and green landscapes, Rochester represents the prototypical Midwestern city/country dichotomy. However, this doesn’t mean there’s a shortage of things to do. On Dec. 3 the Feast Local Foods Marketplace celebrates agricultural contributions to the city with exhibit booths, food tastings, and gift ideas. Take the kids on the Jolly Trolley Holiday Tour on Dec. 2 or 3 to see fun, creative residential lighting, and be sure to visit Pescara for fish tacos before heading home.