Minneapolis is home to many exciting and family friendly festivals throughout the year. Celebrations of the arts, diversity and food can be found in Minneapolis and the Twin Cities. The Minnesota State Fair is the nation's largest by daily attendance and runs for nearly two weeks every summer. This festival features livestock, cooking, art, music, games and all the deep-fried fair cuisine you'd expect. The Twin Cities Pride festival sees over 400,000 attendees yearly and is one of the largest LGBT events in the country. The pride parade concludes with a huge parade after two days of pride activities. Those looking to get a fill of delicious Greek food shouldn't miss out on the St. George Greek Festival. In addition to Gyros, roast lamb and spanakopita, the festival has performances by Greek dance troupes, games for children and traditional Greek music.
10,000 Lakes Festival
Soo Pass Ranch, Detroit Lakes, MN; Tel. 1.800.493.3378
Located just over three hours northwest of Minnesota's Twin Cities is the annual 10,000 Lakes Festival, or 10KLF. This four-day weekend of live jam bands and camping under the stars is a nature-friendly-concert-goer's dream. The festival showcases over 60 artists on four stages, including the Barn Stage on a sloping hill and the sunny Field Stage with plenty of picnicking space, all across the backdrop of a scenic Minnesota landscape. Past acts have included Phil Lesh & Friends, O.A.R. and the String Cheese Incident. Summer temperatures can reach the 90s during the day but are often chilly at night, so pack for all types of weather and bring plenty of bug spray to ward off pesky mosquitoes. The 10,000 Lakes Festival offers both lakeside and wooded camping areas, all within walking distance to the concert site. Electrical hook-ups and wireless internet are available for those not ready to live the conveniences of Minneapolis behind.
During the third week of July, Minneapolis, Minnesota goes water crazy. That's when 800,000 people attend Aquatennial, Minneapolis' 10-day water festival happens. Aquatennial features parades, milk-carton boat races, rubber ducky floatings, sailing, swimming, water-skiing, a triathlon and fireworks. Indeed, Minneapolis, the "City of Lakes," knows how to pay tribute to the sources of water that feed it. (Avital Binshtock)
Basilica Block Party
88 N 17th St., Minneapolis, MN; Tel. 612.317.3511
More than 25,000 flock each summer to the Basilica of Saint Mary in downtown Minneapolis to enjoy a weekend of food, live music and summer weather. Sponsored by radio station Cities 97, the outdoor festival has hosted musical artists such as Jonny Lang and Train in years past, with proceeds from the festival going to the restoration of the Basilica, built in 1907 as the first minor basilica in the United States. Proceeds also go to community improvement and social programs such as aiding the poor. Advertised as an annual "party of a higher order," the festival is both a social and philanthropic event. Volunteering is encouraged: 1,500 work to make the festival happen each year. Don't miss the Basilica Block Party for its summertime tradition of music, food, and spirit of community.
Nicollet Mall, Downtown Minneapolis, MN; Tel. 612.338.3807
The annual TCF Holidazzle parade series, a celebration of holiday cheer, lights up downtown Minneapolis with an array of floats and holiday light shows. Each night for a month beginning the day after Thanksgiving, organizations sponsor parades lasting about 30 minutes, each one featuring a different area band or choir as well as storybook characters. Special nights of the festival, founded in 1992, include the first night of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, each with respectively themed bands and choirs. No matter how cold (although parades are cancelled if wind-chill temperatures dip below -20 degrees), parade-goers still enjoy the dazzling light displays and holiday atmosphere. Holidazzle Hot Seats are also available for those shopping or dining downtown and include seats near the beginning of the parade route as well as free coffee and hot chocolate. Children and adults alike delight in this yearly festival tradition and look forward to Holidazzle each holiday season.
Mill City Farmers Market
Chicago & 2nd Streets, Minneapolis, MN
Started in 2006 by area small business owners in hopes of creating a local, sustainable and organic farmers market, the Minneapolis Mill City Farmers Market offers an assortment of fresh produce and whole grains grown by Minnesota farmers. Held every Saturday from May through October, the Farmers Market caters to those who want to make informed food choices and opt for healthier, more sustainable options. The event supports small farms and area restaurants part of the Heartland Food Network—Heartland restaurants that are committed to serving fresh, local cuisine. The market, besides offering fabulous food options, has several theme days and includes weekly children's activities. The Harvest Celebration concludes the summer season, featuring fall crafts and holiday food recipes looking ahead to the winter months. Minneapolis' Mill City Farmers Market is a mecca for organic food lovers and a chance to create environmentally conscious connections with farmers and other smart shoppers.
Various locations, Minneapolis, MN; Tel. 612.872.1212
Aiming to connect experimental performers with equally adventurous audiences, the eleven-day Minnesota Fringe Festival, held each August, includes various stage performances and visual art exhibitions, including dance, performance art, puppetry, and spoken word. While the third largest Fringe Festival in North America, Minnesota Fringe maintains an intimate feel—most venues have less than 200 seats. Performances are uncensored—a wide variety of artistic traditions and the over 800 performers are chosen at random using a lottery system. Held at approximately 20 venues all over Minneapolis, the Fringe Festival is also a great opportunity to explore the diverse neighborhoods of Downtown. After the festivities, hang out with other artsy folk at Fringe Nightcaps, each night hosted by a different local bar.
Minnesota Renaissance Festival
12364 Chestnut Blvd, Shakopee, MN; Tel. 952.445.7361
The Minnesota Renaissance Festival, open each year on weekends and Labor Day through the second half of August and all of September, is an opportunity to experience life in a 16th century world of princesses, knights and castles. Each weekend is themed differently, but all weekends include a variety of authentic crafts, food, Royal Wine Tasting and Queen's Tea. For the ultimate Renaissance Festival experience, make sure to work up an appetite and head to the Feast of Fancy, a two-hour, seven-course gourmet meal with live entertainment, offered three times daily. Offering everything from a Free Grain Belt Beer Tasting and Pub Sing to a Pet Costume Contest, the Renaissance Festival in the Twin Cities area has something for everyone on its 22-acre site.
Minnesota State Fair
The Great Minnesota Get-together, the Minnesota State Fair, is the nation's largest state fair in terms of daily attendance and runs for twelve days each summer, ending on Labor Day. Drawing over a million attendees annually, the State Fair showcases the best in Minnesota livestock, cooking, art, music, rides, midway games and of course, the famous range of food-on-a-stick. The fair also has a large agricultural component that includes a variety of farm machinery displays as well as contributions from 4-H clubs across the state. Held in Falcon Heights, a suburb halfway between Minneapolis and St. Paul, the State Fair is an annual celebration anticipated by state residents excited to marvel at the largest farm animals, coast down the giant inflatable slide and fill up on greasy yet delicious fried foods. Every day at 2pm is the State Fair Mall Parade, which follows a 14-block route and includes high school marching bands, floats and visiting fair royalty from festivals around the state.
Nordic Roots Festival
416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN; Tel. 612.338.2674
Sponsored by Minneapolis' Cedar Cultural Center, the annual Nordic Roots Festival brings renowned musicians from Sweden, Denmark and the like to the Minneapolis metro area. For a weekend each September, Nordic music enthusiasts flock to the Cedar from across the nation to hear artists blend Norse traditions with modern instruments and styles, creating a unique musical experience. Festival-goers also have the opportunity to learn from these musicians in workshops and are free to bring their own instruments or simply watch the masters in action. String ensembles, folk bands and soothing vocalists are featured at this Twin Cities festival, plus the Cedar books shows year-round with acts ranging from East Asian throat-singers to Southern blues bands, so catch great live entertainment at this venue any time.
Various locations, Minneapolis, MN
A festival honoring both music and its adoring fan base, Minneapolis' Sound Unseen combines live performances by new artists with movies about music, concert videos and interactive programs. A true toast to alternative culture, the festival celebrates the existence and endurance of independent music in the Twin Cities and the power of music to enhance the community. Sound Unseen also hosts annual Artist of Distinction Awards, honoring Minnesota musicians and industry pros that have been revolutionaries in their fields. Started in Minneapolis in 2000, the festival has been a great success and now holds like festivals around the world. Marketed as much as the festival is, the schedule of associated parties and after-hours festivities include an impressive official Dance Party and a bowling tournament pitting the bands against the fans. Musicians and fans alike will appreciate the DIY-flavor and innovative approach of this new type of music festival.
St. George Greek Festival
1111 Summit Avenue, St. Paul, MN; Tel. 651.222.6220
A lively weekend celebration with food, drink and fun for the family, St. Paul's St. George Greek Festival is the congregation's annual summer event. Part of the oldest sector of the Christian church, the Greek Orthodox, St. George's is rooted in tradition. Ethnic dishes such as Gyros, roast lamb, spanakopita and Greek bake sale are sure to please the palate. A portion of proceeds of the event also go to community benevolence programs, so bring home tasty favorites to share. While digesting, make sure to check out performances by Greek dance troupes, bring children to games and face painting or listen to traditional music sung by Greek artists. Church tours are also available hourly for visitors or those interested in membership. St. Paul's two-day Greek Festival, hosted by the Church of St. George offers food, games and fun for the whole family.
St. Paul Winter Carnival
109 W 4th St., St. Paul, MN; Tel. 651.223.4700
Sponsored by the St. Paul Festival & Heritage Foundation, St. Paul's annual Winter Carnival is truly "the coolest celebration on Earth." Even in subzero temperatures, families and friends have gathered each year since 1886 to create snow sculptures, wander through ice mazes and participate in a medallion hunt. Originally created to prove the vibrancy of the Twin Cities against a reporter's attack that it was Siberian and unfit for human habitation, the ten-day festival has become the oldest and largest winter festival in the nation. Highlights of the Carnival each year include the grand ice castle (made with ice from Minnesota lakes) and a reenactment of the Winter Legend, hailing Minnesota as a winter paradise and ending with coronation of a new King Boreas and Queen of the Snows. St. Paul's Winter Carnival celebrates the chilly climate of Minnesota in January and offers events for the entire family.
Twin Cities Pagan Pride
310 East 38th St., Minneapolis, MN
Far from a fantasy world of dungeons, dragons and bubbling cauldrons, pagans of the Minneapolis metro area gather each autumn to practice age-old rituals and discuss the complexity of maintaining ancient beliefs in a modern technological society. The two-day festival honors traditions from ancient cultures and offers a wide variety of workshops for pagans of all ages as well as those simply curious to debunk stereotypes. Rituals of harvest and community are featured strongly in this event, which isn't all about velvet capes and casting spells. From lectures detailing historical Druid teachings to sessions illustrating how to make friends with real fairies, teachers and followers from all walks of life represent the spectrum of paganism at this unique festival. A discussion area is available all weekend for those wishing to meet those with similar beliefs or just ask questions. The Twin Cities Pagan Pride festival is living proof that it is possible to combine ancient traditions with modern lifestyles.
Twin Cities Pride
1382 Willow Street, Minneapolis, MN; Tel. 612.305.6900
The third largest Pride celebration in the nation, the Twin Cities Pride festival and parade boasts over 400,000 attendees each year as a celebration of the LGBT community in the Minneapolis and St. Paul area. Held in Downtown Minneapolis' Loring Park, LGBT couples and families can participate in a range of activities from family fun and mass commitment ceremonies to socializing in one of two beer gardens or enjoying the annual fireworks display. A history pavilion is also set up to educate members of the community about LGBT development in the Twin Cities. The two-day festival commemorates the first LGBT march in Minneapolis, held in 1972, and ends with a parade. Throughout the month of June, many community organizations also offer LGBT pride events, making Twin Cities Pride a month-long event with opportunities for all to participate.
—Minneapolis festival reviews by Laura Hayes except where noted