Minneapolis was born on a bend in the Mississippi River, when European settlers discovered the power of St. Anthony Falls, the Big Muddy’s only waterfalls. In the late 1800s, the Minneapolis riverfront hummed with industry as a lumber powerhouse and the country’s premier flour-milling center—all thanks to the energy from those thundering falls. Today, the Mill City riverfront hums again; once-abandoned millworks and warehouses now house museums, cafes and shops, while beautiful parks beckon visitors to enjoy a riverside stroll. Book a room at the Radisson Blu Minneapolis Downtown, and you’ll be less than a mile and a half from all the waterfront has to offer. This walking tour hits the highlights, crossing from the west side of the river to the east and back again.
Begin your tour at this 7.5-acre green urban park, part of the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area. Make sure to check out the contemplative spiral walkway, the large-scale sculptures and the park benches that glow blue at night with LED lighting. Adjacent to the park, you’ll find the imposing:
Designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning architect Jean Nouvel, this 2006 structure of blue metal and glass is Minnesota’s premier performing arts venue. The Guthrie makes a bold statement along the riverfront, referencing the industrial bridges that span the Mississippi and providing splendid views of the old Stone Arch Bridge. On Saturdays from May through October, the Mill City Farmers Market sells farm-fresh fruit and produce just next door. After picking up a snack, walk northwest on South 2nd Street for half a block and arrive at:
Run by the Minnesota Historical Society, this striking museum was built from the burned-out shell of the circa-1874 Washburn A Mill factory, which once produced enough flour to make 12 million bread loaves each day. Take a guided riverfront walking tour, sample bread in the Baking Lab, and ride an elevator eight stories up the Flour Tower for panoramic river views. Next, continue northwest on South 2nd Street, turning right on Portland Avenue South. Cross West River Parkway and come to:
Mill Ruins Park
Comb the 19th-century ruins of several river mills, where interpretive signs detail the area’s history. From inside the park, you can walk onto:
This handsome limestone and granite landmark is the pride of the city. Built in 1883, the bridge is within view of St. Anthony Falls and the falls’ locks system, through which boats pass. It’s a favorite of pedestrians and bikers—the only vehicles allowed over are trolleys—and it’s your gateway to the river’s east side. Once you cross the bridge, cut through Historic Main Street Park and turn left onto Southeast Main Street. From here, you can join the trails that take you into:
Legend has it that Father Louis Hennepin was the first European to see St. Anthony Falls, from this very bluff, in 1680. The bluff is now home to a fetching wooded park with river views and a bandstand for summer concerts. Once you’ve snapped some photos and listened to some tunes, walk back to Southeast Main Street; across from the park, you’ll find:
Historic Main Street
Wander down this pretty cobblestone street—formerly an oxcart path—lined with 19th-century brick buildings restored as restaurants, bars and artists’ lofts. At Aster Cafe, cut through the pedestrian walkway and turn left on Southeast 2nd Street. Turn right on Southeast Central Street, and then left on Southeast Ortman Street to find:
The city’s oldest wood-frame house, this charming building was constructed in 1848 and is open for tours on weekend afternoons in the summer. Once you’ve explored the house, walk to the end of Ortman and turn left on Southeast Bank Street, which curves to the left and becomes Lourdes Place. Cut through another pedestrian walkway and down some stairs to arrive at the Merriam Street Bridge, which takes you to:
This leafy 48-acre island north of St. Anthony Falls is the Mississippi’s only inhabited island. It’s home to Nicollet Park, which features an 1893 pavilion and scenic walking paths. From here, walk south on West Island Avenue, which puts you right onto:
Hennepin Avenue Bridge
Built in 1855, this graceful suspension bridge is said to be the site of the first span over the Mississippi River. The pedestrian lane delivers you back to the west side.