St. Paul is the second-largest city in Minnesota and the state capital. Together with its neighbor Minneapolis, they form the urban core of the region, popularly known as the Twin Cities. While it may not boast the bright lights of the “Mini Apple,” St. Paul makes up for it with unrivaled natural beauty and a small-town feel that any first-timer in a new territory yearns for. Central to government activities and the state’s natural and cultural legacy, the eastern half of Twin Cities has a lot to offer tourists. Whether wandering the streets under its scenic skyline, taking a historic boat tour along the majestic Mississippi River, or exploring the lush green, tree-filled trails of its backcountry, it doesn’t take much to warm up to the city.
Wondering whether visiting St. Paul will be worthwhile? From historical landmarks and cultural sites worth discovering to a vibrant dining scene and plenty of outdoor adventure, there is enough to go around for all visitors. Here is the ultimate guide to experiencing St. Paul like a local.
What To Know When Visiting St. Paul
Sally Brown and Charlie Brown from Peanuts in Saint Paul, Minnesota
St. Paul has a population of just over 300,000, made up of a diverse and friendly community waiting to welcome tourists with a hug and a smile.
It is the second-most populous city in the state after its sibling Minneapolis, which is also slightly larger. The two share many political, cultural, and educational institutions, forming the state’s urban core, hence the moniker “Twin Cities.”
Set on the second-longest river in North America, the Mississippi, St. Paul developed as a key hub for transport and commercial activities in the river trade.
It also boasts a blend of lakes, rivers, forests, and prairies, culminating in unique natural beauty waiting to be explored. A cruise down the Mississippi River is among the highlights of visiting the city.
The climate exhibits relative extremes, from hot summers that send some searching for air conditioning to bone-chilling winters that confine others indoors. Luckily, Downtown St. Paul’s Skyway System was implemented to let tourists explore the city while escaping the elements during inclement weather.
While the bigger twin city generally gets more love with various things to do in Minneapolis, St. Paul is no slouch. It has iconic landmarks like the State Capitol building, the Victorian Alexander Ramsey House, and the James J. Hill House.
Add to these a vibrant dining scene, exciting outdoor adventures, and a lively entertainment scene, and St. Paul becomes the ideal destination for all travelers, no matter the season.
Best Time To Visit St. Paul
The Minnesota State Fair in Saint Paul, Minnesota
While St. Paul welcomes visitors all year round, the best time to travel is June to August, when the weather is warm and comfortable. The conditions are perfect for venturing outdoors, exploring the numerous historical sites, cultural landmarks, and parks, and partaking in fun activities on the various lakes and rivers.
This is also when tourists flock to camping grounds, picnic spots, and hiking/biking trails, so buckle up for the hustle and bustle in the thick crowd. Summer is the peak tourism season, and hotels in the city charge their highest rates.
Book well in advance to avoid the steep prices charged for accommodation
To avoid the crowds, the shoulder season from August to October will be an excellent time to visit. Fall transforms St. Paul into a colorful paradise with shades of orange, red, and yellow. This is a fantastic opportunity for nature lovers to get outside before the winter cold sets in.
- Mark the date for exciting fall festivals like the Minnesota State Fair (Mid-August to Labor Day) and the Irish Fair of Minnesota (August).
Winters can be brutal, featuring extreme cold and heavy rainfall, but St. Paul has a trick up her sleeve to lure locals and tourists outside.
The city’s Winter Carnival is one of the year’s most anticipated events, allowing town folk and visiting families to get out and celebrate the snowy season with fun-filled winter activities.
- Date: January 26th – February 5th
As the winter draws to a close, spring welcomes a rebirth of the green in the city as birds begin to return with gradually rising temperatures. Tourists can start exploring the bike trails and enjoying boat rides again.
Best Ways To Get Around St. Paul
The exterior of the James J. Hill House in Saint Paul, Minnesota
St. Paul is an easily navigable city that visitors will enjoy exploring via several transportation options. The most convenient way to get around is by car, which allows guests to cover as many attractions as possible. Several rental car options servicing the area make it easy for tourists to catch a ride.
- Rental rates: Start from $34 a day for a compact vehicle holding up to four passengers.
On the other hand, renting a car is also the most expensive way to get around, so some people may opt for taxis, which are more reasonably priced. These are also readily available in busy spots around the city, with the major agency being Yellow Taxi.
- Taxis use a cab meter to determine the fair, which will be set at $6.75 when starting the trip.
Those eager to get around on local public transportation can look to the Metro Transit, which operates bus and light rail systems. The light rail route begins at Union Depot, making its way down 4th Street, Cedar Street, and the State Capitol before arriving at Minneapolis. The trains run every 10 minutes in the day and every 15 minutes in the evening before dropping to just hourly in the overnight hours.
Meanwhile, the bus service route covers the areas between the airport and Downtown Saint Paul, and passengers pay before getting on the bus. However, the bus service isn’t as reliable as visitors would expect.
- Fares: $2.5 for peak hours, $1.75 for off-peak hours, $ for a 6-day pass, $24 for a 7-day pass, $65 for a 31-day pass
- Operation hours: Monday to Friday (6 – 9 am, 3 – 6:30 pm), $2 for other times
Lastly, St. Paul is a characteristically pedestrian-friendly city, so tourists who want to take their time exploring the town can whip out a comfortable pair of walking shoes or hop on a bike whenever they are in the mood.
The downtown area is specially designed for this, thanks to the Skyway System, a unique network of heated and enclosed walkways linking different attractions and sites to offer walkers a safe and comfortable way to get around, even in the cold season.
For those who enjoy tours, The Complete St. Paul Walking Tour is the best way to join fellow first-timers in discovering the main spots in the city under the stewardship of an experienced local guide.
Where To Stay In St. Paul
St. Paul is sometimes referred to as “The City of Neighborhoods” because its 17 neighborhoods separately offer a unique cultural and heritage presence worth experiencing.
Downtown St. Paul
The downtown area is the city’s epicenter and a favorite for visitors in the state. Most tourists credit this to the rare mix of big-city amenities and small-town charm that describes the area, along with a great contrast of activities, making for a wholesome and fulfilling adventure.
There are numerous sites and landmarks to view, including the Minnesota State Capitol, Xcel Energy Center, Minnesota History Center, and RiverCenter.
Downtown is also the entertainment hotspot of St. Paul, so there is no shortage of fine restaurants and lively watering holes to keep visitors busy.
Sign up for a walking tour, paid or free, to properly explore the downtown area
- Address: 350 Market Street, Saint Paul, MN 55102, United States
- Cost per night: $162 for 2 guests
- Amenities: Mini-bar, on-site café, valet parking, concierge services, meeting facilities, business center, room service, safe, parking, wireless internet, gym, and fitness center
- Address: 175 10th Street East, Saint Paul, MN 55101, United States
- Cost per night: $125 for 2 guests
- Amenities: Free wireless internet, complimentary breakfast, business center, refrigerator, microwave, outdoor pool, room service, flat-screen TV, fitness center
- Address: 6003 Hudson Road, Woodbury, MN 55125, United States
- Cost per night: $70 for 2 guests
- Amenities: indoor pool, a Jacuzzi, free WiFi access, in-house restaurant, microwave, lunge/bar, refrigerator, business center, 24-hour reception, hair dryer, express check-in/check-out, 24-hour business center
According to many locals, Como is among the best places to visit in St. Paul. It is ideal for guests looking to combine a big-city experience with a love for open spaces.
The residential neighborhood has a quiet atmosphere but offers enough to keep its residents entertained.
Tourists will have quick and easy access to attractions like Como Lake and Como Regional Park. The Minnesota State Fairgrounds, which host multiple top-tier events like the Winter Carnival, is also within walking distance.
The Como Park Zoo & Conservatory is another attraction worth touring and allows for close encounters with rare animals like arctic foxes and gorillas.
- Address: 1010 Bandana Boulevard West, Saint Paul, MN 55108, United States
- Cost per night: $120 for 2 guests
- Amenities: sauna, kids pool, express check-in and check-out feature, heated pool, 24-hour business center, on-site gym, 24-hour reception, meeting facilities, in-house gym, free wireless internet, on-site restaurant and bar, microwave, refrigerator, hairdryer.
- Address: 1205 West Como Boulevard, Saint Paul, MN 55103, United States
- Cost per night: $$
- Amenities: e-vehicle charging station, free parking, high-speed internet, air conditioning, refrigerator, housekeeping, complimentary breakfast, laundry facilities
Originally named “Upper Landing,” West Seventh is a historic neighborhood with a legacy dating back to 1838 and ties to several army battles. Today, it is a bustling city region with notable luxurious mansions, some maintaining the classic 1800s style.
The area offers access to attractions like the University of Minnesota, the Minneapolis Convention Center, and the Minnesota Wild Games. Several restaurants, bars, and stores ensure that residents have something fun to do all day long. West Seventh is the perfect neighborhood for highbrows and history buffs keen to interact with St. Paul’s rich historical and cultural heritage.
Some of the top hotels in the area include:
- Address: 2100 Killebrew Drive, Bloomington, MN 55425, United States
- Cost per night: $186 for 2 guests
- Amenities: on-site spa & salon, full fitness center, cocktail bar, room serving, ample parking, free airport shuttle, high-speed internet, indoor saline pool, valet parking, room service, restaurant, coffee shop
- Address: 7901 34th Avenue South, Bloomington, MN 55425, United States
- Cost per night: $119 for 2 guests
- Amenities: separate living space, fitness center, flat screen HDTVs, indoor pool, free WiFi, meeting rooms, high-speed internet access, business center refrigerators, indoor pool, microwaves
Where To Eat In St. Paul
Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnnesota
While in St. Paul, tourists can easily get overwhelmed by the city’s rich cultural and historical heritage; the dining scene should not be overlooked. Several great restaurants in the area ensure visitors get a sumptuous serving of local and international cuisines.
To take the experience to the next level, foodies can take advantage of the various food tours that blend the love for food with the thrill of exploration.
This cozy joint in downtown St. Paul is where tourists go for a refreshing first meal of the day. It serves creative and hearty meals like breakfast burritos, sandwiches, and ricotta pancakes. Guests also get to sample a diverse menu with a long list of pastries, desserts, teas, and coffees.
- Address: 237 7th St E, Saint Paul, MN 55101-2379
- Business hours: Monday to Sunday (7 am – 3 pm)
For lunch and dinner:
This unique joint consists of three different restaurants under the same roof. Customers enjoy a culinary adventure like no other, with a chance to sample a trilogy of distinct dining experiences. A gourmet cafeteria serves a sumptuous selection of salads, soups, and sandwiches.
Diners will also get hooked on the aroma of the spot’s retail bakery, which specializes in sweet desserts like tortes, breads, and signature bakes like turtle cakes. And to wind up the foodie trip, visitors get to sample bruschetta and pizzas in the fine wine bar.
Café Latte is simply irresistible for those looking for a wholesome dining experience.
- Address: 850 Grand Ave Ste 1, Saint Paul, MN 55105-3397
- Business hours: Sunday to Wednesday (9 am – 10 pm), Thursday to Saturday (9 am – 11 pm)
Be sure to order the lemon chiffon cake; it’s out of this world
For the best French cuisine with a touch of modernity, look no further than Meritage, situated in the heart of the city. The French fries served here live up to their name, and mouth-watering flavors from meals like smoked mushrooms, mini pea pancakes, and crème brûlée keep patrons coming for more.
The atmosphere is warm and inviting, with ample natural lighting, high ceilings, and several indoor plants to freshen the air. It is the perfect setting to spoil someone on a romantic date with sumptuous treats.
- Address: 410 Saint Peter St, Saint Paul, MN 55102-1105
- Business hours: Thursday to Sunday (4 pm to 9 pm
Try the cheesy spaetzli or burgers and fries.
This popular joint along Selby Avenue is perfect for visitors keen on sampling the city’s nightlife. The bar and restaurant serves various delicious dishes like duck Bolognese and pretzels. However, the highlight of the evening comes from the vast collection of beers, with the ever-flowing taps boasting more than 70 varieties.
True to its name, The Happy Gnome is a “happy place” for locals and tourists, who converge after a long day of exploring to interact and catch up on the day’s activities.
- Address: 498 Selby Ave, St Paul, MN 55102, United States
- Business hours: Monday to Friday (11 am – 10 pm), Saturday (10 am – 10 pm), Sunday (10 am – 9 pm)
While enjoying the lavish meals at the top restaurants in St. Paul, be sure to sample the following food-based tours for the ultimate foodie experience:
Top Things To Do In St. Paul
Exterior of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota
St. Paul is a beautiful city with enough attractions to go around. From iconic landmarks and natural beauty to some of the best state parks in Minnesota, here are some of the best ways first-timers can make the most of visiting the Twin Cities.
Visit the State Capitol Building
As the capital city of Minnesota, it makes all the sense that tourists should see the State Capitol. Surrounded by lush greenery and well-manicured gardens, the imposing building stands at an impressive height of 220 feet and represents the best of Beaux-Arts architecture in the city.
The State Capitol is also of critical historical significance, having housed the state’s government seating since 1905. Over sixty murals and elaborate art pieces decorate the inside of the building, making it the perfect place for historians and cultural enthusiasts.
Lay back and unwind at the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory
The Sunken Garden at Como Zoo and Conservatory in St. Paul, MN.
The Como Park Zoo & Conservancy is one of the go-to escapes from all the noise in the busy city. The expansive property features immaculate gardens, a swimming pool, a small amusement park, and a zip line.
However, the zoo, housed in a spacious enclosure, is what most people marvel at. With exotic species like polar bears, Siberian tigers, gorillas, leopards, and orangutans, it sends sightseers sailing on a continental safari like no other.
Other splendid highlights like the butterfly garden, bonsai displays, and palm dome make Como Park Zoo a mainstay in many tourist itineraries.
- Admission: Free
- Hours: Monday to Friday (10 am – 4 pm), Saturday & Sunday (10 am – 6 pm)
Take a trip down memory lane at the Minnesota History Center
History buffs curious about St. Paul’s storied past will be at home at this magnificent facility. Situated within walking distance of the downtown area, the Minnesota History Center displays a collection of at least a million artworks, tools, and objects chronicling the stories of early settlers, Native American inhabitants, the Civil War, coal mining, and more.
The building boasts a unique design with double L-shaped wings and a dome at the center. Aside from marveling at the intimate displays inside, guests can also enjoy dance performances and concerts in its reception rooms.
- Admission: Adults $12, Seniors, vets, and college students $10, children 5-17 $6
- Hours: Wednesday to Saturday (10 am – 4 pm), Sunday (11 am – 4 pm)
Get the groove on at the Xcel Energy Center
Tourists willing to up the ante with something louder and more adrenaline-pumping should head to the Xcel Energy Center. The state-of-the-art stadium hosts exciting games in a festive atmosphere engulfed by cheers and jeers from ardent hockey fans.
When it’s not showcasing a hilarious show on ice, the Xcel Energy Center hosts unforgettable music concerts throughout the year, with big names such as Elton John and Bon Jovi headlining the event.
Tour the Cathedral of Saint Paul
The Cathedral of Saint Paul is an architectural masterpiece and one of the most stunning buildings in the city. Inspired by the iconic St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, the church stands at an imposing 300 feet in the downtown area and spots a conspicuous copper-clad dome visible from miles away.
With its unique Beaux-Arts architectural style, the Cathedral of Saint Paul attracts admirers all year round, who also come to check out the religious artworks and marble statues decorating the inside of the church.
Top Tours In St. Paul
Downtown St. Paul Minnesota sunset cityscape landscape skyline.
There is no shortage of places to go and things to do in the fantastic city of St. Paul. Tourists may spend days visiting sites in the town only to realize that they are barely scratching the surface.
To reduce the chance of missing out on some attractions, why not take a guided tour with a local outfitter to discover all the hidden gems in Twin Cities? Fancy a tour or two? These are the best tours worth trying:
The St. Paul Gangster Tour takes participants back to the 1930s when the city served as a hub for bootlegging and other criminal escapades during the prohibition era. The informative tour begins at the Castle Royal Gangsters club and features a humorous twist that guests will enjoy.
This thrilling tour takes guests through the ancient mystery of the spooky caves in abandoned mines later used for criminal activities during the prohibition era of the 1930s, with unsolved gang murders and mobster crimes being the tour’s highlight.
This informative tour chronicles the history of St. Paul and how it rose from humble beginnings to the success it is today. It takes tourists through important sites in the city’s history, including the Summit Hill neighborhood, the Capitol, and secret caves used for bootlegging.
Fans of the dark, strange, and spooky will have a ball on this riveting tour exploring the ghostliest attractions in St. Paul. The tour features scary supernatural and crime stories and sets off at the Old Revenue Building.
How To Spend The Perfect Day In Saint Paul
Landmark center in Rice park, Saint Paul, Minneapolis
It’s almost impossible to fathom getting fulfilled with just a day in St. Paul. But if that’s all there is, here is how to get the most out of it:
Start the day with a gentle stroll on historic Summit Avenue to explore the century-old mansions and admire the Victorian style of the homes. Pass by the Cathedral of Saint Paul to marvel at the Beaux-Arts architecture of the iconic landmark downtown.
After that, head to the Science Museum of Minnesota to view the interactive exhibits and learn a lesson or two about science before hopping into the Minnesota Museum of American Art for more historical art lessons.
If hungry, grab a quick bite in the Lowertown neighborhood, then hop on a bike to explore the banks of the majestic Mississippi River. Be sure to pass by the Wabasha Street Caves or Harriet Island Regional Park.
Finish the afternoon at the Como Park Zoo & Conservancy, interacting with exotic animal species from around the world and learning about their unique habitats before heading to the famous nightlife spot on Selby Avenue, The Happy Gnome, to catch up with friends and recount the day’s adventures.
Q: Is St. Paul cheaper than Minneapolis?
St. Paul is significantly cheaper to live in than its more fancied twin. While a standard home costs just under $200,000, lower than the state average, Minneapolis’ $218,000 is almost 15% over the national average. In a nutshell, St. Paul is one of the cheapest cities in the US and worth visiting.
Q: Is St. Paul worth visiting?
Although many tourists tend to favor its larger sibling, Minneapolis, St. Paul is a legitimate vacation destination. It has a lot to offer, including historical landmarks, rich culture, an exciting dining scene, and a host of underrated spots visitors will find interesting.
Q: Is St. Paul walkable?
St. Paul is a pedestrian-friendly city, especially the Downtown area, which has the Skyway System to ease foot traffic between major attractions. Also, the city council adopted a pedestrian plan that aims to make St. Paul one of the most walkable cities in the country.