Though the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, are the second-largest metropolitan area in the Midwest after Chicago, they couldn’t feel more different than the Windy City. Due to their location on the banks of the Mississippi River, the area’s abundance of lakes and parks give the Twin Cities a laid-back vibe that makes you easily forget you’re in a city — until you walk into one of their world-class cultural attractions.
Dubbed by some the new “capital of Midwestern cool,” the Twin Cities have reaped the benefits of a rising interest in experiential, hands-on cultural travel. A major locavore cuisine movement both in the cities and their surrounding agricultural areas has led to double-digit James Beard Award nominations for years and a steady increase in overall visitor numbers, which reached a record 31.6 million in 2015.
“We think the experiential side of things is something people are really looking for — a little special experience that is memorable and best to share on social media,” said Kristen Montag, communication and public relations manager for the Meet Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association.
In 2013, Minneapolis launched its signature experience program, which features prepackaged experiences at cultural, dining and outdoor attractions around the city that give groups exclusive behind-the-scenes experiences.
The Twin Cities signature experiences aim not only to show groups an in-depth look at the cities’ top attractions, but also to go beyond the typical tour framework, such as learning improv comedy hands-on from Brave New Workshop, the oldest comedy theater in the country. At the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, visitors learn about the ethnic groups that are changing the face of the Midwest today as they tour the market; they hear the stories of the entrepreneurs who immigrated to America and opened groceries and food stands specializing in their home cuisine. In the Northeast Minneapolis Arts District, groups have the opportunity to go inside an artist’s warehouse through the Foci Minnesota Center for Glass Arts, where they can learn how to blow glass and can bring home their own piece of the bustling new district.
One of the country’s most renowned theaters, the Guthrie Theater was founded in 1963 to be the antithesis of Broadway: low on flash and superficial themes, heavy on lauded works of literature and artistic expression. Today, the company produces a nine-show season complemented by lectures, concerts and other events in a striking cantilevered building that extends out over the river.
The 90-minute signature experience at the Guthrie goes beyond the usual public architecture tour. Interactive workshops allow groups to learn from one of the theater’s professional coaches how to maximize their presence on the main stage and in their own lives, or dive into the world of stage combat.