Our recent Minnesota Holiday Weekend adventure was spread out over three cities: Minneapolis, St. Paul and Roseville. We needed a hotel near the Twin Cities so we decided Roseville’s location made a perfect home base for our explorations. Think of the cities as a triangle with Roseville be about equidistant from the others. Our visit was hosted by Visit Roseville, who put us in the ideal hotel for traveling families: Residence Inn.
My favorite part of this hotel is the layout. We had a two-bedroom suite, with two bathrooms, kitchen and living room.I’m not going to lie: After spending a full day together, it was nice to give everyone their own space once back at the hotel.
I once (briefly) worked at a Residence Inn, so I’m familiar with the spread they have for complimentary hot breakfasts. Families with picky kids can still find food to eat before beginning their own adventures.
The dining area is inviting, with a fireplace and cozy nook.
If you’re here for longer than a weekend, consider making use of their complimentary errand-running services to get food to stock your room’s fridge.
By far, the big hit at the hotel for my kids was the pool and hot tub. There’s also an exercise room if you’re feeling motivated.
There’s an outdoor patio and basketball court for to enjoy when the weather’s nicer. Visiting in December didn’t stop a group of boys from a pick-up game of basketball while we were there.
We were surprised at the affordability of this hotel. While we received a complimentary stay so I can write about it, we did check out rates for a room like ours.
While it’s tempting to want to stay downtown and walk to attractions, the appeal of this hotel is its affordability, spacious suites, and free parking. Plus, we found none of our destinations were a long drive (see all that we visited in this post). And it’s near a Walmart for any of those emergency trips to buy toiletries your left at home.
If you go
Residence Inn by Marriott Minneapolis St. Paul/Roseville
While everyone’s flocking to the beach when the weather gets cold, I’m taking the family up to Minnesota for fun holiday weekend. One of the reasons I chose the Twin Cities area to explore is the American Swedish Institute. It’s not because I’m Swedish (I’m only partly), it’s because the place is a castle.
Note: This post was first published in 2017 and has been updated with 2019 event information.
Or looks like one. Doesn’t matter. I knew it would be a hit with my castle-obsessed son.
As luck would have it, we visited on the first weekend of December when ASI was hold its Julmarknad, a Christmas market with live music, Swedish treats, make ‘n take crafts, and lots of shopping opportunities. Disclosure: Our visit was complimentary so I could write about it.
Julmarknad at American Swedish Institute
From the beginning, the Julmarknad was not like any other holiday festival I attended. As we waited in line to enter, we were given some gingersnap cookies called pepparkakor and told about the tradition of Wish Cookie. If you end up with three pieces, your wish would come true. Meanwhile, we learned about a huge Swedish horn.
Then we were swept inside with all the others. There’s a lot to see and do at the Christmas market. I should’ve had a better plan of attack, but I just wanted to soak it all in.
My kids enjoyed the activities, like making a Lucia crown and the trying the fiskdamm, a little fish pond game where they won a bag of candy.
They reluctantly met Tomte in the mansion salon, as well, since he too had candy. Tomte is a mythical Nordic creature associated with Christmas, and may be a little frightening to the uninitiated. They survived and got their candy.
Another fun stop for families is on the third level of the mansion: Ulla’s Bakery was a kids play area. The play area is there year-round, not just for this festival.
We cruised through the castle mansion, and eventually made our way to one of the halls where they had a bake sale and were serving glögg (mulled wine), for an extra fee. My daughter opted for the safe choice of chocolate chip cookie, while the rest of us tried the kringla.
Temporary exhibit at the museum
When we visited the American Swedish Institute, there was a temporary exhibit. Various rooms in the Turnblad Mansion were decked out in displays of customs and traditions from the five Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland.
Even if there isn’t a holiday display there when you are visiting, I recommend exploring the mansion.
And, don’t skip walking around outdoors. You won’t find lights strung up all around it, no, but it’s a pretty castle to see (in my kids’ words).
If you go to Julmarknad
Where: 2600 Park Ave., Minneapolis, Minn.
When: Julmarknad will be held Dec. 6-8, 2019
Cost: $15, adults; $10, seniors; $6, children (ages 6-18); and FREE for children 5 and under and for ASI members.
I planned a long weekend getaway to Minnesota for my family in December, timing the trip to enjoy holiday festivities in the Roseville and Twin Cities while we were there. Lucky for us, the weather was mild, so we spent some time outdoors.
UPDATE: This post was first published in 2017, and has been updated in September 2020 to highlight changes due to COVID-19. Please call venues and restaurants ahead of time to make sure they are under regular operating hours.
Where to stay near the Twin Cities
Our home base was in Roseville, Minn., a city perfectly situated between the attractions we wanted to see there and in the Twin Cities.
Our hotel’s location conveniently located to get to everywhere we planned to visit in Roseville, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Read a review of our stay in the coming weeks.
Holiday fun in the Twin Cities
I love visiting Midwest cities during the holidays, and this trip to Minnesota didn’t disappoint.
For indoor festivities, visit the American Swedish Institute, which is gorgeously decorated for the holidays. Our visit, the first weekend in December, timed well, so we got to enjoy Julmarknad, a holiday festival featuring live music, kids activities, demonstrations, shopping, and yummy food and drink.
I couldn’t resist trying glögg and kringla. The festival is only one weekend a year, but you can visit during the holidays to see the decorations. Be sure to walk the grounds of ASI, too. The mansion is gorgeous.
Downtown Minneapolis is home to Holidazzle, which typically runs from the end of November through mid-December.
This FREE outdoor event has different activities like concerts, movies, and on the night we visited, fireworks. There are two huge animal sculptures made out of recycled materials that kids can help move. Those scared younger kids.
The kids absolutely loved the kids play area, full of hay mountains to climb, a mini climbing station, a pipe rolling thing. We didn’t get to ice skate there, but that’s another activity. Since the weather was warmer than usual, the place was really packed.
Where to play during a holiday weekend in Minnesota
Depending on the weather, you may spend a lot of time indoors. One of the biggest hits with the kids was the Science Museum of Minnesota.
We could have easily spent 4 to 5 hours here, but managed to keep it around 3 hours, zooming from exhibits about the body, mazes, dinosaurs, sports, engineering.
Netflix heads up: Science Museum of Minnesota is the museum with the “Stranger Things” shirt.
One of the more unique attractions we visited was Can Can Wonderland, a whimsical mini golf center featuring 18 holes designed by artists, architects, electrical engineers and others. It was challenging and entertaining.
There was about an hour wait to play, plus tack on another hour or so to putt. If your kids are young and struggle with putting, you might want to wait to visit because it can be an expensive.
We made a quick stop at Como Park to tour the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory in St. Paul. This was one of the few FREE things we did during our trip. The Holiday Flower Show full of poinsettias was all of our favorite to see, though the tropical plants and pond were a close second.
The conservatory is next to a FREE zoo, the Como Park Zoo. It’s small, and in the winter, there isn’t a lot to see outdoors. However, kids can’t resist a zoo, so we walked through the primate house, and enjoyed watching the very active animals.
Our original plan was to visit the Oval Skating Park in Roseville for a spin, but the timing didn’t work out due to a speed skating tournament. However, we stopped by to see OVALumination at night, and caught the end of the races.
Lastly, we made a quick stop at the Rosedale Center to do a little Christmas shopping, but ended up letting the kids build a new friend at Build-A-Bear.
Where to eat with kids in the Twin Cities
We had several great (totally-not-good-for-you meals) during our visit. Our favorite was at Surly Brewery Co., which was incredibly family-friendly.
The kids enjoyed playing outdoors while we waited for our food. There were 35 beers on tap, and the food was memorable. If you’re adventurous, try to hog frites.
Mickey’s is an institution, having been featured on several TV shows, magazines, and miniaturized as a collectible. My husband’s omelet was the best we’ve ever had with the fluffiest eggs ever. Service is quick and food was the best kind of greasy spoon.
Tip: Mickey’s is a small diner and I wouldn’t recommend bringing a large family here, nor any kids who need high chairs.
For lunch & dinner recommendations, try Lucky’s 13 Pub in Roseville. This large restaurant was another great family-friendly spot, and the kids were particularly happy with the popcorn served while you wait.
We also couldn’t resist trying the cheese-stuffed burger this area is known for, the juicy lucy. We went to The Nook in St. Paul at a friend’s suggestion. It’s a hole in the wall bar with some pretty delicious food.
The exterior doesn’t look kid-friendly, but it is. There’s a kids menu, and on Sunday evenings, kids eat free.
Recommended pit stop between Omaha and the Twin Cities
We were driving from the south, so we had to stop for lunch before we made it to our first destination. If you’re driving north on I-35, I recommend making a pit stop in Owatonna, Minn., for the delicious chocolate truffles at Costas Candies & Restaurant. It’s a busy week-day lunch spot, we discovered.
We’re braving Minnesota in the winter. Why? Silly question. The question should be why not – the Twin Cities have been touted as one of the top 10 winter vacation spots.
To make the most of it, we’re staying in Roseville, who is hosting my family for the trip. Roseville give us easy access to attractions in Minneapolis and St. Paul while staying in a more affordable area (with free parking, a commodity in these parts).
I’ve got more things on my bucket list than time allows, but isn’t that the fun thing about bucket lists? Dream big. If there’s something you think is a must-do or must-see while we’re there, please let me know in the comments section!
Roseville & Twin Cities Winter Bucket List
Play & Learn Indoors – Indoor activities will be a necessity during a winter visit. Some of our favorite places to visit on vacations are children’s museums and science centers, so we’re in luck with this part of Minnesota. There’s Minnesota Children’s Museum, which just opened after a major expansion and renovation, and the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. For pure fun, there’s also Can Can Wonderland (think a fantastical world of indoor mini golf, arcade games, and more). Other options include Minnesota Transportation Museum at Jackson Street Roundhouse, a former steam engine maintenance facility-turned historic gem which provides a unique opportunity for kids of all ages to experience railroading.
Shop Pop-Ups & The Mall of America – This one’s more for me than anyone else. There are holiday pop-up shops throughout Minneapolis, not to mention the granddaddy of all shopping experiences, Mall of America. If we’re being truthful, if I go to Mall of America, it’d be more for the experiences than shopping though. I’ll save the shopping for local vendors at the pop-ups and then hit the big mall for things like Nickelodeon Universe and the giant ropes course (and zip line).
Hockey Time – Since we’re there in the winter, why not go to a hockey game? The Wild plays in Minneapolis and there’s a game the weekend we’re there! Check the Minnesota Wild schedule here.
Holidazzle – We want to head to downtown Minneapolis to see Holidazzle, a FREE spectacle held Thursdays through Sundays from Nov. 24 to Dec. 24. Holidazzle events include outdoor movies, skating, an illuminated art installation, fireworks, Santa, Kid Zone, and more.
Take In A Live Show – Minneapolis boasts a fantastic theater scene. Since we’re there during the holiday season, shouldn’t we take in a show like “A Christmas Carol”? It’s playing at the Guthrie Theater. You know what sounds even more awesome? “A Stocking Full of Awesome VII: The Wreath of Khan,” a family-friendly comedy show presented by Brave New Workshop. The description is the kicker: “This show is appropriate for the whole family…as long as you consider guys throwing knives at each other appropriate.”
Julmarknad – American Swedish Institute‘s Christmas market, Julmarknad, is the largest holiday weekend at the historic Turnblad Mansion. First off, this mansion looks like a castle, so it already is going to be a hit with my son. Additionally, there is a ton happening at the market, including performances, kids crafts, Swedish foods for purchase, and a lot of vendors. I’m hoping this times out with our weekend visit.
Related post: See what my family’s experience was like at Julmarknad, the Christmas market at American Swedish Institute.
Ice Castles – Holy buckets, if this is open when we’re visiting this winter, I want to be there! Go look at pictures, the Ice Castles look amazing. website
Eat All The Good Food – If you know me, I usually plan trips around food. On my list, Hen House Eatery (word is they have a great kids’ pre-meal entertainment pack), The News Room (read headlines in newsprint-inspired decor), ice cream at Sebastian Joe’s in Minneapolis or Grand Ole Creamery in St. Paul, Midtown Global Market (on Fridays, they have Family Fridays activities), World Street Cafe, Hazel’s Northeast, Snuffy’s Malt Shop, Smalley’s Caribbean Barbeque and Pirate Bar in Stillwater (this has been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” – plus I have a pirate fan in the family), and Mickey’s Diner (featured on the Food Network series “Unwrapped,” “Roker on the Road,” Rachel Rays’ “Tasty Travels,” and Alton Browns’ “Feasting on Asphalt”).
Inspiration for my Eat All The Good Food list came from bloggers (like Dining With Alice, who shared family-friendly tap rooms!, and others like Food + Wine, Star Tribune’s best restaurants with kid-friendly menus, and Eater kid-friendly lists (this and this).
Minnehaha Falls – What? A waterfall in winter? At southern Minneapolis’ Minnehaha Park, hikers stop at overlooks to see the Mississippi River, limestone bluffs and 53-foot-tall Minnehaha Falls. I’ve seen pictures of the falls frozen in the winter, maybe we’ll have luck? website
Wabasha Street Caves – This St. Paul site has me intrigued. website
Como Park Zoo – I happen to know from experience, zoos are great to visit in the winter. Tip from Working Mom’s Travels about Como is that it’s easy to visit in the winter since buildings are close together. Santa is at the Minnesota Zoo on Saturdays in December! The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at part of Como Park Zoo and looks delightfully decorated during the holidays. Como Park Zoo & Conservatory are FREE (voluntary donations are accepted).
Saint Paul Winter Carnival – OK, this one doesn’t fit into our travel timeline, but if only. It looks fun! Saint Paul Winter Carnival starts in January, though.
Outdoor Sports – If we’re feeling ambitious, we could snowshoe or ski. Most likely, we’ll ice skate at Roseville Oval, for sure!
Photo Opps – We might just swing by the Walker Art Center so the kids can get the iconic picture in front of “Spoonbridge and Cherry” at Walker Art Center.
I want YOUR help. Help me plan our trip! Tell me your favorite things to do, places to eat, and all the other must-see things in Roseville and the Twin Cities! Suggestions don’t have to be for specifically kid-friendly things, but that is greatly appreciated.
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