No one would mistake Minneapolis for New Orleans, but the cities have at least one thing in common: neither would be what it is today without the Mississippi River. But whereas New Orleans and many other towns benefited mainly from the transportation the river provided, Minneapolis had another idea. The river's rushing waters provided power for the mills that attracted tens of thousands of people to the town in the late 19th Century, a heyday which is now commemorated in the Mill City Museum. Inside a building that was once the world’s largest flour mill, visitors to the museum sample fresh bread in the Baking Lab before ascending the eight-story Flour Tower elevator ride, which recounts the mill’s history floor-by-floor.

Today the riverfront is still the heart of the city, and you can find many of the most interesting things to do in Minneapolis in the downtown area that hugs the west bank. The Metrodome sits in the thick of downtown, so it’s easy to grab a meal at a fancy nearby restaurant such as 112 Eatery before a concert below the stadium’s fiberglass fabric roof. Just up the street, the Guthrie Theater, which once won a Tony for its contributions to regional theater, puts on revivals of Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams classics as well as local productions of Off-Broadway hits.

Of Minnesota's famous “10,000 Lakes,” the Minneapolis metro area hosts more than 20, which people enjoy by walking and biking on the miles of paths that surround the shore. Another good use for all that water: sustaining the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, a public garden that covers more than 1,000 acres and is open to the public year round.

Also open year round, at least on most Saturdays, is the Mill City Farmer’s Market, the place to find local organic produce and seasonally inspired products while learning about healthy lifestyles.

Shopping is in fact a favorite pastime in Minneapolis, a city home to an 80-year-old candy store (Candyland, Inc.), a Finnish design store that sells home décor and fashion accessories (FinnStyle), and a 400,000-square-foot Macy’s. But the real commercial center in the area is of course the Mall of America, which is located three miles south of city limits next to the Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport. There shoppers navigate more than 500 stores that cover 4.3 miles of total storefront, stopping to take the kids through Nickelodeon Universe—seven acres of rides and costumed characters. The mall hosts more than 400 events each year, so it seems like there’s always a concert, a fashion show, or an expo going on there.

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