Car Free Journey: Minneapolis

by Steve Atlas

Minneapolis is a great place to visit, especially if you enjoy biking, walking, and exploring interesting neighborhoods. Add a major university (University of Minnesota), cultural attractions such as the Guthrie Theater, Minnesota Opera, and Minneapolis Institute of Art (this is just a start) and you have a great choice for a weekend (or longer) getaway. Best of all, Metro Transit’s light rail line (Blue Line, formerly called the Hiawatha Line), network of local buses, and over 80 miles of on-street + over 80 miles of off-street bicycle trails make this a good destination to enjoy without needing to drive.


Getting Here

The best transportation choice is air. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is served by the METRO Blue Line, nearly 24 hours, every day. Free service is available between Terminals 1 (Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, United Airlines and US Airlines) and Terminal 2 (Air Tran Airlines, Icelandair, Southwest Airlines and Sun Country Airlines.  Travelers who need to transfer from one terminal to the other use the light rail transit service. Trains operate 24 hours a day between terminals. No fare is required between airport stations. There is no pedestrian access between the buildings.

Take the METRO Blue Line from the airport to Mall of America, downtown Minneapolis, and a wealth of popular neighborhoods and attractions. A Day Pass (good for 24 hours after you first use it) is $6, and is good for unlimited rides on local buses and the Blue Line.

AMTRAKFrom the Amtrak Rail Station (730 Transfer Road, St. Paul, MN 55114), walk to Transfer Road and University. Cross University. From Metro Transit’s Route 16 stop at University Avenue and Transfer Road, it’s about a 15-minute ride to the Target Field Blue Line light rail station. (Note: By the end of 2013, AMTRAK will move to the Union Depot: located at 214 East 4th Street in the Lowertown neighborhood of downtown St. Paul. Metro Transit’s new light rail line: The METRO Green Line will stop here, beginning some time in 2014. In the meantime, two of Metro Transit’s high frequency bus routes–#21 and #54—already stop at Union Depot.

Greyhound Bus Station (950 Hawthorne Ave., Minneapolis 55403). Jefferson Lines ( intercity buses also stop at this terminal.  From this bus station, it’s a short walk to 9th and Hennepin. From here, several local bus routes take you downtown in under 5 minutes, for just $0.50.

Megabus (Chicago Ave. between South 3rd St. and South Washington Ave.): Megabus provides inexpensive direct bus service to and from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Madison and Madison/University of Wisconsin. From the Megabus station, it’s a short walk (0.2 miles) to the Blue Line’s Downtown East/ Metrodome Station. From there, it’s a five-minute light rail ride to Nicollet Mall Station.

Where to Stay

The Meet Minneapolis Convention and Visitors Association and local residents recommend these areas for visitors who don’t want to drive: Downtown Minneapolis, Uptown, Northeast Minneapolis, the North Loop/Warehouse District, and the area near Mall of America in nearby Bloomington (near the airport).

Getting Around by Public Transit

Metro Transit provides local and regional transit in Minneapolis, St. Paul, and surrounding communities.

For more information about fares, routes and schedules for local buses and the METRO Blue Line, visit, or call (612) 373-3333. Telephone customer service is available from 6:30 a.m. -9:00 p.m. Weekdays, and 8:00 a.m. -6:00 p.m. weekends. (All times are Central Time.)

Here are a few useful websites to help you use transit here:  

This site lists several bus routes that operate at 15-minute or more frequent intervals.

 This site gives information about free bus service on Nicollet Mall, in downtown Minneapolis.

This site describes the special reduced $.50 fare on buses, when you ride only in downtown.

Ideas for Enjoying Your Visit

Before planning your visit, visit and click on the Visitors tab. There is a lot of helpful information. If possible, ask to receive a copy of the Visitors Guide by mail. Then, take time to read the Visitors Guide online at You can also call the Visitor Center toll-free at (888)676-MPLS.

Excursion 1: A Trip on the METRO Blue Line: Minneapolis’ Light Rail Line

Whether you are a shopping enthusiast (get off at Mall of America station), a sports fan (Target Field station), a lover of history and/or the outdoors (Fort Snelling and Minnehaha Park stations), interesting neighborhoods (46th Street and Lake Street stations), blues and folk music (Cedar-Riverside), the University of Minnesota (U of M), the arts (Downtown East), downtown pedestrian mall (Nicollet Mall), or other special interests, a day pass ($6) gives you a convenient and fun way to sample one or more of these types of attractions.

Here are some links for more information about specific light rail stations and nearby attractions:

General Information about the Blue Line

Mall of America

Fort Snelling

Minnehaha Park

Lake Street



University of Minnesota

Downtown East

Guthrie Theater –

Mill City Museum –

Nicollet Mall

Warehouse District

Target Field

Target Center

North Loop

(Note: Metro Transit is not suggesting that visitors go to any specific destination.)

Excursion Idea 2:  Focus on one of Your Special Interests:

Meet Minneapolis, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, recommends considering one of the following itineraries (most or all can be reached on the Blue Line or a Metro Transit bus line) by going to: and clicking on one of the following:

1)   Sports Fan’s Itinerary:

2)   Outdoor Adventure Itinerary: 

3)   Art and Theater Lover’s Itinerary

4)   Food Lover’s Itinerary

5)   Shopper’s Itinerary

Excursion Idea: Explore One or More Interesting Local Neighborhoods

Consider a visit to one or more Minneapolis neighborhoods.

For each of the following neighborhoods, we will include a brief description from Meet Minneapolis, followed by and some tips from Metro Transit about the best way to get there, using public transportation:

1)  Uptown:   Follow Hennepin Avenue a few blocks southwest of downtown and you’ll find the Uptown that Prince sang about. This hip, vibrant neighborhood is home of Jungle heater, Bryant-Lake Bowl and Lake Calhoun. With late-night dining and an ever-growing nightlife scene, it’s where you’ll want to be.

Getting to Uptown by Public Transit:

The METRO Blue Line does not directly serve the Uptown area, centered around Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue near the Chain of Lakes.

From the Lake Street/Midtown Station, you can connect with Route 21 and access various points along Lake Street and the Uptown Transit Center on Hennepin Avenue.

For those who may want to see some transit history, the Minnesota Streetcar Museum is located near Lake Harriet; a historic streetcar runs between the museum and Lake Calhoun. The museum can be accessed  by Route 6, which also stops at the Uptown Transit Center, and—just north of Uptown—the Walker Art Center.

2) Northeast:   Discover “Nordeast,” a neighborhood rich in culture, history and recreation. You can find some of the best bars and delis in the city, as well as mingle on the historic Mississippi Riverfront. Finally, immerse yourself in the warehouses and factories of the past, now filled to the brim with the galleries of artists who work in a variety of mediums. In the spring and summer, you’ll find art crawls and craft fairs to buy one-of-a-kind Minneapolis gifts

Getting to Northeast by Public Transit

The METRO Blue Line does not directly serve the Northeast area, on the east side of the Mississippi River, across the river from Downtown.

From the Nicollet Mall Station in downtown Minneapolis, take Route 10, which crosses the river and continues north on Central Avenue to the Minneapolis boundary with Columbia Heights.

Route 11 also travels from downtown Minneapolis through Northeast, on a route that runs further north and nearer to a popular hub of restaurants, entertainment and breweries on 13th Avenue Northeast.

3) Mill District: Minneapolis’ Mill District is the historic “birthplace of Minneapolis” that celebrates and entertains with an eclectic collection of historic buildings, scenic parks, cultural venues, dining, shopping and lodging.

This district is home to the inspiring St. Anthony Falls on the Mississippi River as a dramatic backdrop, as well as the “Most Explosive Museum in the World:” the Mill City Museum. Breezy and tree-lined, this park setting in downtown Minneapolis is the perfect place to unwind, explore and entertain

4) Riverfront: The Minneapolis Riverfront District is many things to many people.

To some it is a giant archaeological find. To others it’s a playground of dining and nightlife. And yet to others it is a maze of beautiful parks and trails. Learn about history, relax aboard a paddle boat cruise, sip drinks overlooking the river.

Getting to the Mill District and Riverfront by Public Transit:                       

The riverfront and Mill City District area are just a few blocks from the METRO Blue Line’s Government Plaza and Downtown East stations and centered largely around West River Parkway, where trails and historic mill ruins line the riverfront. The Guthrie Theater is an easy walk from the Downtown East Blue Line station.

4) Downtown  The heart of Minneapolis, Downtown has enough to keep you coming back night after night. Theaters, restaurantsbarsart galleries…you name it, Downtown has it!

Sports enthusiasts will enjoy the possibility of Twins, Timberwolves, Lynx and Vikings games happening throughout the year.

Getting Downtown by Public Transit

Customers looking to explore downtown Minneapolis can use a variety of METRO Blue Line stops. Downtown’s most active street – a transit and bike-only corridor – is Nicollet Mall, accessible from Nicollet Mall Station. The METRO Blue Line’s Government Plaza Station is just west of Minneapolis City Hall. The METRO Blue Line’s Downtown East/ Station is outside the Metrodome: home to the Minnesota Vikings (until it is torn down and replaced, by 2016, by a new home for the Vikings).

5) Warehouse District:  A nightlife hotspot of Minneapolis, the Warehouse District is filled with glamorous bars and adventurous restaurants just blocks from the Target Center and First Avenue. Sip cocktails at Seven, strut your stuff at the Friday fashion shows at Visage or groove to the mixes at Envy.

Getting to the Warehouse District by Public Transit

To reach the Warehouse District, travel to the METRO Blue Line’s Warehouse District/Hennepin Avenue Station. Some of the Warehouse District’s most-prominent restaurants and nightlife are a short walk east of the station, and are centered around Washington Avenue.

6).      University of Minnesota/Dinkytown:    Spanning the Mississippi River, the University’s academic core is surrounded by the Frank Gehry-designed Weisman Art Museum, as well as quaint eateries and an energetic nightlife in Dinkytown. As a bonus, TCF Bank Stadium, Mariucci Arena and Williams Arena offer Top-25 caliber football, basketball and hockey teams.

Getting to the University of Minnesota/Dinkytown by Public Transit

By summer of 2014 (an estimate), visitors can reach the University of Minnesota by taking the new METRO Green Line, which will connect with the METRO Blue Line in downtown Minneapolis and continue east to downtown Saint Paul.

To reach the campus today, use Route 16, which offers hi-frequency service between downtown Minneapolis and campus.

7) Theatre District

One reason that Minneapolis boasts more theater seats per capita than any other U.S. city outside of New York is the number of theatres located in this district—also known as the Hennepin Theatre. These theaters sparkle with award-winning productions and talent. The Pantages, State, Orpheum, and New Century Theatres make up the Hennepin Theatre Trust. Other venues, like the Hennepin Center for the Arts and Brave New Workshop, also provide top-class entertainment

Getting to the Theatre District by Public Transit

Historic theatres, including the State, Orpheum and Pantages, line Hennepin Avenue, and can be reached from the METRO Blue Line’s Hennepin Avenue Station.

You can also visit the nearby Walker Art Center by using Route 6, a high-frequency service that runs between Hennepin Avenue and Uptown. Here, from Meet Minneapolis, is a link to a map that shows all of these neighborhoods:,-93.264999&spn=0.048576,0.107117&z=13&source=embed

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Here is a few tips for visitors who don’t want to drive:

“Deciding where to go with limited time is a wholly personal choice.

“For those who like the outdoors, the Uptown area’s proximity to the lakes is great.

You can walk around, ride a bike (trains and buses can accommodate these, by the way) or rent a canoe and get on the water.

“For history buffs, the riverfront area is unique and the views of the Stone Arch Bridge are among the best in the city.

 “For the cultural crowd, downtown Minneapolis, Hennepin Avenue and the nearby Walker Art Center can easily fill a weekend.

“The Warehouse District and Northeast Minneapolis are rising areas in the city, and good for the more adventurous. There are lots of new restaurants and nightlife to enjoy in these areas.

 For baseball fans, the Warehouse District is also near Target Field, home to the Minnesota Twins. The stadium is served directly by Target Field Station.”

Next month, we will focus on bicycle rentals and trails, a great walk, and tips from local residents.

For More Information

For information about what to see and do in Minneapolis, visit and click on the Visitors tab. You can also call the Meet Minneapolis toll-free at (888)676-MPLS. For information about local public transit, visit, or call (612) 373-3333. from 6:30 a.m. -9 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. -6 p.m. weekends. (All times are Central Time.)

Steve Atlas enjoys hearing from readers. To contact Steve, share feedback about this or other “Car Free Journey” columns, or suggest destination for future columns, e-mail





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