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Exploring the Midwest’s big cities and small towns: Minnesota and Iowa

This weeklong itinerary will take you through on a trip featuring world-class shopping, delicious local cuisine, enticing museums and quaint towns.

Minneapolis skyline

The Midwestern states of Minnesota and Iowa offer an exciting range of attractions, from charming small towns on the banks of the Mississippi River to the fast pace and countless offerings of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. This weeklong itinerary will take you on a trip featuring world-class shopping, delicious local cuisine, enticing museums and quaint small towns.

Day 1 – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Morning: Arrive at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Afternoon: Explore the Mall of America in Minneapolis

The Mall of America is the largest shopping mall in the United States, boasting more than 500 stores, as well as dozens of restaurants, an amusement park, movie theaters and an indoor aquarium. As a bonus for international visitors, there is no sales tax on clothing in Minnesota.

Evening: Explore downtown Minneapolis

You will find plenty to do in downtown Minneapolis, whether you’re exploring Nicollet—a pedestrian-friendly shopping corridor that runs through the heart of the city—or taking in a show at one of the many theaters on Hennepin Avenue. There are countless restaurants, bars, shops and night spots downtown as well.

Other options: If you haven’t gotten your fill of shopping yet, visit Grand Avenue in Saint Paul, which boasts an eclectic mix of shops, award-winning restaurants and vibrant nightlife. Looking for a little bit of Twin Cities history? Pay a visit to the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis and learn about the flour mills and other industries that drove the Twin Cities’ success in the 1800s.

Day 2 – Minneapolis

Morning: Visit the Walker Art Center

The Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden are among the most iconic attractions in the Twin Cities. Stroll through the garden—including the famous “Spoonbridge and Cherry” sculpture by Claes Oldenburg—and walk through the museum, which highlights contemporary artists through rotating and permanent exhibits.

Afternoon: Take a boat tour on the Mississippi River

There’s no better way to experience the Mississippi River than to get out on the water. The Twin Cities offer many types of tours, from dinner cruises to sunset tours, and one of the more notable businesses that offers tours is Padelford Riverboats, which departs from Harriet Island in Saint Paul.

Evening: Sample some Twin Cities classic food and drinks

The Twin Cities are known for great food and drinks, but there are some signature items that every visitor should try. The “Juicy Lucy”—a cheeseburger with the cheese inside the meat patty—was invented in Minneapolis, but there is a dispute over which restaurant actually came up with the idea first. Visit Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club to decide which burger innovator you prefer. And, if you’re looking for something to wash down your dinner, stop by one of the notable Twin Cities breweries like Summit, Surly or Fulton.

Other options: Sports fans will find plenty of teams to cheer on in the Twin Cities. In the spring and summer, fans flock to Target Field to see Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins, while in fall and winter, fans flock to U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016 as the new home of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings.

Day 3 – Minneapolis to Decorah, Iowa

Morning: Depart for Red Wing, Minnesota (90km, 1 hour 15 minutes)

Afternoon: Explore Red Wing

The city of Red Wing, located southeast of the Twin Cities, is home to a charming historic downtown and scenic views of the Mississippi River. Stop by the flagship Red Wing Shoe Store & Museum to learn about this iconic brand (and to snap a picture of the world’s largest boot), explore the historic St. James Hotel or stop in for the beautiful scenery at Falconer Vineyards & Winery.

Depart for Decorah, Iowa (185km, 2 hours, 20 minutes)

Evening: Explore Decorah, Iowa

Located in northeastern Iowa, Decorah is home to several engaging options for outdoor recreation, as well as cute shops and tasty restaurants. If you’re looking to get outdoors, visit Dunnings Springs Park. Beer lovers will find great Midwestern brews at the award-winning Toppling Goliath Brewing Company or Pulpit Rock Brewing Company.

Other options: Get up close and personal with America’s iconic birds at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota, where you can watch a demonstration featuring live bald eagles and learn all about America’s national bird. For a panoramic view of 80 kilometers of the Mississippi River Valley, head to Mount Hosmer Park, located atop a bluff 137 meters above the Mississippi River town of Lansing, Iowa.

Day 4 – Decorah to Dubuque, Iowa

Morning: Depart for Dubuque, Iowa (155km, 1 hour, 55 minutes)

Afternoon: Explore Dubuque, Iowa

Visitors to the amiable community of Dubuque will find historical sites, spas, wineries, downtown shopping, natural resources and much more in this river town. If you want to get a good vantage point of Dubuque and the Mississippi River, visit Eagle Point Park. Learn about local, state and regional artists at the Dubuque Museum of Art.

Evening: Explore Dubuque’s gaming options

Up and down the Mississippi River, you’ll find casinos large and small. While in Dubuque, try your luck at Diamond Jo Casino, which sits on the river in the port of Dubuque and also offers lodging, four restaurants and live entertainment. Q Casino and Hotel is a combination greyhound racetrack and casino located on Hamm Island on the Mississippi River.

Other options: The Mines of Spain Recreation Area offers hiking trails, nature education and more at a scenic historic site near Dubuque. Dubuque is also home to Iowa’s oldest farmers’ market—the Dubuque Farmers’ Market has been showing off local produce and more since 1845.

Day 5 – Dubuque to Des Moines, Iowa

Morning: Visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

Learn about the past, present and future of the Mississippi River and other waterways at this fun, interactive museum that features more than a dozen aquariums highlighting the fish and other animals found in the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

Afternoon: Depart for Amana Colonies, Amana, Iowa (150km, 1 hour, 40 minutes)

The Amana Colonies is a national historic landmark that consists of seven villages spread across 10,500 hectares in east central Iowa. The colonies have welcomed visitors for more than 150 years and offer locally crafted food, furniture art and more. It’s an experience of history and culture found nowhere else in the world.

Depart for Des Moines, Iowa (165km, 1 hour, 35 minutes)

Evening: Explore Des Moines

Des Moines is the capital and most populous city in Iowa and offers travelers a wide array of attractions, restaurants and shops. Family-friendly entertainment options include the Blank Park Zoo and the Science Center of Iowa. Shoppers can find friendly stores in the Historic East Village. And, if you’re in town in August, stop by the Iowa State Fair and sample more than 70 food options available on a stick.

Other options: Take in one of the most unique views of Dubuque and the Mississippi River by riding the Fenelon Place Elevator, which takes passengers up a short, steep incline to an observation platform nearly 60 meters above the city. As you travel west into Iowa, stop by the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids to see works from famous artists like Andy Warhol.

Day 6 – Des Moines to Minneapolis

Morning: Depart for Minneapolis, Minnesota (395km, 3 hours, 40 minutes)

Afternoon: Visit the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area

The only park dedicated to America’s most famous river, the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area stretches for nearly 120 kilometers—passing through the Twin Cities—and highlights significant natural, historical, recreational and cultural resources of the river region. Outdoor recreation abounds, with opportunities for fishing, boating, canoeing, bicycling and hiking. Notable attractions include Fort Snelling, Nicollet Island and St. Anthony Falls.

Evening: Take in a show at the Guthrie Theater

Situated along the Mississippi River adjacent to the Mill City Museum, the Guthrie Theater hosts dozens of plays, musicals and concerts throughout the year in a building designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel.

Other options: If you’re looking for more scenery as you travel through the Twin Cities, travel to Minnehaha Regional Park to find Minnehaha Falls, a majestic 16-meter waterfall set amid tree-lined limestone bluffs. Or, if you’re looking for a side trip, take the short ride to the friendly community of Stillwater, which is located along the St. Croix River and has been honored as “America’s Most Picturesque Small Town.”

Day 7 – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Morning: Depart from Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport