Nordic Heritage Goes Modern in Minnesota

By Explore Minnesota

The Nordic lifestyle is on trend like never before—and for one of the top places stateside to immerse yourself in Scandinavian culture, food and people, look no further than Minnesota. Home to the largest population of Norwegians and Swedes outside of Scandinavia (not to mention an NFL team named the Vikings), the state’s strong Nordic roots are evident and celebrated year-round.

Taste of the North

Vikre Distillery taproom DuluthA recent surge of “New Nordic” cuisine has swept Minnesota. The Bachelor Farmer, led by James Beard Award-winning chef Paul Berglund, whips up traditional popovers, meatballs and pork sausage using skills like curing, smoking and pickling. In Duluth, Vikre Distillery makes and serves two styles of the original Scandinavian spirit, aquavit: a traditional version infused with caraway and cardamom; and a modern take with malted barley that they call "whiskey for vikings." 

For those looking for traditional tastes of Scandinavia, Minnesota also provides a veritable smorgasbord of lutefisk (whitefish, typically cod) and Swedish meatball dinners throughout the state, typically served up in small-town church basements during the fall and holiday season.

Scandinavian heritage, culture and design

American Swedish Institute MinneapolisA number of museums across Minnesota celebrate Scandinavian roots and culture. Visit the American Swedish Institute (ASI) in Minneapolis where you can tour the historic Turnblad Mansion, which features sculpted ceilings, intricately carved wood, beautiful Swedish wool rugs, and exquisite porcelain kakelugnar. In 2012, ASI opened the Nelson Cultural Center, which brings modern Scandinavian design, and Fika, a highly praised cafe, to the ASI campus.

The Gammelgården Museum in Scandia is an 11-acre site with historic buildings built by Swedish immigrants in the 1850s. See Minnesota’s oldest Lutheran church, a log home, barn, parsonage and cottage. The Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead brings Scandinavian heritage to life with its Viking ship, stave church, special exhibits and large seasonal festivals.

At the North House Folk School in Grand Marais along the scenic North Shore of Lake Superior, visitors can take courses year-round in traditional Scandinavian activities such as timber framing, basketry, boat building, and whipping up delicious food like rosettes, krumkake, pickled beets, rusks, hard tack, speculos, glogg and kringle.

Shop like a minimalist

Uffda Shop Red WingDiscover fine Scandinavian gifts, food, needlework and clothing at Ingebretsen’s, a south Minneapolis market started in 1921. Register in advance and take classes in traditional needlework and knitting, or make lefse, kransekake (a spectacular cake) or troll masks. Venture to Rochester where The Nordic Shop features the largest selection of Dale of Norway and Oleana of Norway sweaters in the United States and is the premier source for Scandinavian dinnerware, collectibles and other clothing brands.

On Main Street in Stillwater, shoppers will find modern Swedish gifts and home decor at Designs of Sweden, and Swedish outdoor retailer Fjallraven has flagship stores in St. Paul, Minneapolis and Mall of America. Finally, in the historic Mississippi River town of Red Wing, the Uffda Shop carries unique Scandinavian gifts for all occasions, including fine porcelain, books, kitchenware, jewelry, clothing and more.

Been skorjing?

skijoring.jpgSkijoring is a unique and fast-growing winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and dog sledding. People strap on cross-country skis and a team of one to three dogs pull them through the snow using harnesses and a rope. Derived from the Norwegian terms for “ski driving,” skijoring is offered at a handful of resorts and trails throughout Minnesota, with many resorts offering lessons.

Another mash-up of sports, bandy has elements of soccer, American football, hockey and field hockey. While it’s popular overseas, there’s only one bandy rink in the United States. And it’s in Minnesota! The John Guidant Rose MN Oval in Roseville is open to the public for visitors to try the sport. Minnesota is also home to both the men's and women’s national bandy teams.

Find more Scandinavian-inspired sites, tastes and shops with this Swedish heritage itinerary.