12 Attractions in St. Paul, Minnesota

Last Updated on February 6, 2024 by Robert Wilson


St. Paul is the capital and second-largest city in Minnesota, situated on the banks of the Mississippi River. With a rich history and vibrant culture, St. Paul has plenty to offer visitors. From world-class museums and historic sites to scenic parks and dynamic neighborhoods, this Midwest city bursting with attractions guaranteed to delight and inspire.

In this article, we will highlight 12 can’t-miss attractions to see and experience when visiting St. Paul. From the grand Cathedral of St. Paul to the charming shops along Grand Avenue, read on for the essential places to put on your St. Paul itinerary.

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1.Cathedral of Saint Paul

The Cathedral of Saint Paul is a Roman Catholic cathedral that dominates the St. Paul skyline. With its distinctive dome and elegant Greco-Roman architecture, this sacred landmark is one of the most iconic structures in the city. Ground was broken in 1907, and construction was finally completed in 1915.

Spanning 306 feet long, 210 feet wide, and 306 feet from the floor to the top of the dome’s cross, the Cathedral of Saint Paul is truly monumental in scale. Visitors who enter are awed by the intricately detailed interior, with glittering gold-leaf stars across the ceiling and stunning marblework throughout. The cathedral also houses many precious artworks, including a bronze grating fragment from the original cathedral of St. Peter in Rome.

In addition to taking in the breathtaking architecture and art, visitors can attend Mass or one of the cathedral’s many concerts and events. Guided tours are also available for those wishing to learn more about the history and artistic highlights of this St. Paul icon.

2.Minnesota State Capitol

Minnesota’s State Capitol is both the seat of state government and a remarkable architectural achievement. The magnificent building was completed in 1905 after 12 years of construction. Fashioned from white marble, the Capitol evokes the grandeur of the national Capitol in Washington, D.C. Standing at a soaring 306 feet, the central dome capped in real 24-karat gold leaf.

Visitors can join a free guided tour to explore the Capitol’s interior of palatial corridors, legislative chambers, and symbolic works of art. One of the highlights is the Rathskeller cafeteria, an authentic German dining hall situated in the basement.

When the legislature is in session, it’s possible to sit in on hearings and debates to see state government in action. The Capitol and its impeccably manicured grounds are also ideal for taking memorable photos.

3.Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

For animal encounters in the heart of the city, Como Park Zoo and Marjorie McNeely Conservatory is a beloved St. Paul institution. The zoo began as a humble menagerie in 1897 and has grown into a world-class zoo populated by spectacular animals like polar bears, sea lions, and gorillas.

Visitors can observe feeding times, attend keeper chats to learn about different species, and even hand-feed friendly lorikeets.

The adjoining Sunken Garden Conservatory transports visitors to the tropics through lush gardens and floral displays. On clear days, be sure to ride the Cafesjian’s Carousel, an intricately carved and painted vintage carousel housed in a glass pavilion offering panoramic vistas across the Frog Pond.

With free admission, Como Park Zoo and Conservatory promises an affordable and unforgettable experience for all ages.

4.Science Museum of Minnesota

With hundreds of interactive exhibits spanning science, technology, engineering, math and more across 10 permanent galleries, the Science Museum of Minnesota ignites curiosity and innovation in guests of all ages. This dynamic museum seeks not just to educate visitors on diverse scientific disciplines but actively engage them through immersive, hands-on installations.

Must-see exhibits include the “Race: Are We So Different?” gallery exploring the science, history and everyday impact of race and racism and the Mississippi River Gallery recreating the sights, smells and sounds of the iconic waterway coursing past the museum.

The favorite simulation experience, however, is the Human Lab, where visitors can test their own physical aptitudes from balance to grip strength. Whether you spend an hour or whole day, the Science Museum of Minnesota offers an illuminating and decidedly entertaining portal into the wonders of science.

5.Minnesota History Center

Immerse yourself in the rich story of Minnesota at the Minnesota History Center. As one of the largest history museums in the country, this Smithsonian-affiliated institution houses everything from multimedia exhibits to a vast collection ofartifacts spanning geology, archaeology, Native American heritage, trade goods and more.

The star attraction is the Minnesota Experience gallery. This sprawling 14,000-square-foot exhibit employs soundscapes, artifacts, images and multimedia components to guide visitors through the sweeping saga of the state from its earliest origins to present day.

Other galleries like “Then Now Wow” invite kids and families to engage with Minnesota history through interactive play, while temporary exhibitions spotlight intriguing slices of history from fashion trends to homelife. For history buffs and visitors looking to discover the local legacies that shaped modern Minnesota, an afternoon at the Minnesota History Center promises fascinating revelations.

6.Summit Avenue

Wander through St. Paul’s most elegant and historic neighborhood along Summit Avenue. This photogenic avenue runs along the oldest neighborhood in the city, lined by stunning Victorian, Queen Anne, and Tudor Revival homes and mansions built by Minnesota’s founding titans like railroad barons James J. Hill. Many buildings now serve as official Governor’s Residences and embassies.

Though only a mile long, Summit Avenue packs in plenty of cultural attractions as well. The James J. Hill House at 240 Summit Avenue offers tours providing a glimpse into the lavish lifestyle of St. Paul’s iconic railroad magnate, while the nearby Cathedral of St.

Paul and Basilica of St. Mary anchor either end. For scenery, history, architecture and an all-around lovely stroll, Summit Avenue shines as one of St. Paul’s most regal promenades.

7.Grand Avenue

While Summit Avenue captures St. Paul’s early affluence, Grand Avenue embodies the colorful character of the revitalized city. This lively thoroughfare stretching across multiple neighborhoods hums with boutique shops, cozy cafes, chef-driven eateries, craft breweries and wine bars.

The mood is youthful and energetic compared to the more staid Summit Avenue just blocks north. Pop into boutiques selling eclectic fashions, locally made art, and bespoke furniture, before refueling at one of the avenue’s casual bistros or upscale dining rooms.

Don’t miss Golden Fig Fine Foods, a beloved artisan market stocking specialty local and global goods. Bibelot is another landmark housing three floors of gifts, jewelry, accessories and homegoods. For a sweet treat, stop into St. Agnes Baking Co or Grand Ole Creamery for a bite of locally-made goodness. More than a shopping and dining destination, Grand Avenue offers visitors charming city strolling at its best.

8.Harriet Island Regional Park

Escape city life with a visit to Harriet Island Regional Park, a scenic green space along the Mississippi River minutes from downtown. Its prime riverside location, outdoor recreation and event spaces have made Harriet Island a cherished gathering place since the 1800s. Today it continues to host celebrations and summer festivals like Irish Fair Minnesota and the Dragon Festival while offering city dwellers an urban oasis.

Visitors can cycle or stroll along riverfront paths shaded by soaring cottonwoods and oak trees, picnic in the grassy Great Lawn or cast a fishing line into the Mississippi’s shimmering waters. There are also playgrounds to delight kids as well as river cruise options for sightseers. From concerts and movies in the park to boating and birdwatching, Harriet Island Regional Park wears many hats as St. Paul’s scenic backyard playground.

9.Minnesota Children’s Museum

The Minnesota Children’s Museum delights little explorers with over 10,000 square feet of innovative, interactive environments designed around early education. Exhibits let kids splash in a river, soar on a circus trapeze, race bubbles down walls and bring stories to life at a puppet theater.

Toddlers have special play zones tailored to their developmental stage while school-aged children can challenge themselves at building structures or becoming “vets.” Parents appreciate the museum’s thoughtful integration of STEAM education into exhibits that feel purely playful.

Temporary traveling exhibitions like DinoTrek keep things dynamic while daily programs invite families to engage inorigami, sing-alongs or STEM activities together. For families with young children, the Children’s Museum promises a lively indoor playground stimulating bodies and minds alike on rainy Minnesota days.

10.Landmark Center

History and culture converge at Landmark Center, one of St. Paul’s most iconic and architecturally stunning buildings. Originally built as a federal courthouse in 1902, today Landmark Center serves as a vibrant community events venue and cultural hub housing everything from exhibits to summer festivals.

Visitors entering the grand interior courtyards and halls feel swept into the beauty of bygone eras amid stained glass skylights, hand-carved white oak and Tennessee marble accents.

Attend a concert, film screening or community event in the second floor amateur theater or browse rotating cultural exhibitions and historic displays. The holiday season brings Christmas markets, concerts and dazzling decor transforming Landmark Center into a magical wonderland. For a taste of St. Paul’s living history, culture and community spirit, few venues compare to the splendor of Landmark Center.

11.Mears Park

At the heart of downtown St. Paul’s Lowertown Historic District lies Mears Park, an urban oasis beloved for its free summer concert series, outdoor dining and hip boutiques. The small but vibrant green space provides visitors both a literal and symbolic gateway connecting St. Paul’s past to its present-day cultural revival.

Once home to abandoned warehouses and rail yards, Lowertown transformed into a thriving creative community in the 1980s. Today the Victorian-era Temperance Building at the park’s north end houses the Lowertown Ballet while trendy cafes like the Naughty Greek offer al fresco dining steps from the central fountain. On summer weekends, the park fills with jazz, reggae and rock music lovers swaying to free outdoor concerts. For experiencing St. Paul’s urban renewal success story, Mears Park makes the perfect stage.

12.Gibbs Farm and Museum

Journey back to the pioneer era at Gibbs Farm and Museum, a living history site that authentically recreates 19th century farm life in St. Paul. Rare breeds of heritage livestock like Mangalitsa hogs roam the pastoral 80-acre property while costumed interpreters work the farm using traditional tools and methods from the mid-1800s.

Visitors can tour the slate-blue farmhouse, documented as the oldest structure in Ramsey County, with parlors decorated in Victorian style using original furnishings owned by farmer Mark D. Andrews. Interpretive programs allow kids and adults alike to gain firsthand experiences pumping water, baking bread or tending gardens with traditional techniques. For an immersive window into Minnesota’s past, Gibbs Museum Farm offers an extraordinary portal into the hard work and humble wisdom that built St. Paul.

Conclusion


From soaring cathedrals and Gilded Age mansions to hands-on museums and cozy local shops, St. Paul overflows with remarkable attractions guaranteed to inspire. Use this list of top things to do as your itinerary blueprint for an unforgettable visit to one of Minnesota’s most dynamic and history-steeped cities.

Whether you spend a few days or a whole week exploring, the many faces of St. Paul are sure to leave you spellbound with Midwestern magic and charm.

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