12 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Minnesota

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Schell's Brewery in New Ulm gets into the Christmas spirit / Lisa Meyers McClintick

12 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Minnesota

By Caitlin Hannah

With fresh snow, towering pines, light displays, seasonal treats and festive activities, the holidays are a magical time in Minnesota. Make the most of all that the season offers with these spirited events.

  1. Holiday Light Displays
    Bentleyville Tour of Lights Duluth

    Bentleyville Tour of Lights, Duluth / Dennis O'Hara

    Holiday Light Displays

    Every winter, Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park transforms into “America's Largest Free Walk-Through Lighting Display," shining bright with 4 million lights at Bentleyville Tour of Lights. Visitors can enjoy hot cocoa, popcorn and roasted marshmallows while marveling at the brilliant displays. Bentleyville is open daily Nov. 23 - Dec. 28. Admission is free, but monetary donations as well as unwrapped toys and non-perishable food items are appreciated.

    Open Nov. 29 - Dec. 31, Kiwanis Holiday Lights in Mankato has over 1.5 million LED lights, animated displays, a skating rink and warming house, horse-drawn wagon rides, Santa Claus, live reindeer, ice sculptures and more. This year’s event will also host the #OnlyinMN monument. Event goers can walk or drive through the dazzling display. The event is free, but guests are encouraged to bring monetary donations, non-perishable food and personal care items for the local food shelter.

    The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum will come alive with Winter in Bloom, Nov. 22 - Jan. 5. Stroll through the outdoor gardens to see large nature-inspired light displays. When you're ready to warm up, go inside for some hot cocoa and see the Great Hall of Trees, featuring live poinsettia trees and decorated evergreens.

    Downtown Minneapolis’ popular shopping and entertainment district, Nicollet, will revive classic department store window installations at The Dayton's Project, home of the former Dayton's department store. The new retail, restaurant and office space is slated to open in 2020.

  2. Holiday Trains
    Canadian Pacific Holiday Train

    The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train visits more than two-dozen Minnesota towns on its annual trek through the northern U.S. / Canadian Pacific

    Holiday Trains

    The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train will visit more than two-dozen Minnesota towns on its annual ride through the northern U.S. The festive train is decked out in holiday lights and features live entertainment and spreads Christmas cheer at every stop in exchange for donations to local food banks. The train will be in Minnesota from Dec. 5-14 and will visit Winona, Wabasha, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Alexandria, Thief River Falls and more. 

    In Duluth, the Christmas City Express departs from the Fitger’s shopping complex and chugs along Lake Superior to the Duluth Depot. While onboard, guests will enjoy carolers, hear a holiday story and have the opportunity to visit Santa. The Christmas City Express runs weekends in November and December.

  3. Festive Holiday Events
    Holidazzle Interactive Illuminated Art moose installation

    The Wolf and Moose, a Christopher Lutter-Gardella creation / Dusty Hoskovec Photography, courtesy

    Festive Holiday Events

    Many Minnesota families have fond memories of visiting Holidazzle in downtown Minneapolis. The reimagined festival is now just a few minutes away in Loring Park. With heated tents, food booths, festive drinks and more, it’s a great spot to spend a few hours getting into the holiday spirit. Find Minnesota-made treasures from local artisans, see a holiday movie under the stars and enjoy the fireworks. Holidazzle is open Thursdays through Sundays, Nov. 29 - Dec. 22.

    Celebrate winter in St. Paul at the new Destination Winter Saint Paul at CHS Field from Dec. 6 - Feb. 22. Lace up your skates at Wells Fargo WinterSkate, which has moved just a few blocks away from the Landmark Center. In case you missed it during Super Bowl LII, the Securian SuperSlide is back! Take a ride down the 130-foot slide on an innertube onto the snow-packed field.

    Up north, downtown Park Rapids sets the scene on its charming main street with a towering pine tree, festive lights, storefront displays and treats during their Yuletide Sampler on Nov. 29. In Grand Rapids, the Winterglo Festival, Dec. 6-8, is full of holiday fun. Watch Santa light up the Historic Central School, browse dozens of vendors at the craft fair, join the First Friday Art Walk and experience Christmas in the Logging Camp.

  4. Holiday Treats & Sweets
    Minnesota shaped Christmas cookie

    Minnesota shaped Christmas cookie / Rachel Bartz

    Holiday Treats & Sweets

    Get your fill of holiday sweets and treats and leave the baking to someone else at Union Depot’s holiday bake sale in St. Paul on Dec. 14. Bake a holiday treat with your child and learn about the history of Swedish holiday traditions at the Mill City Museum’s Family Baking: Holiday Traditions event on select days in December.

  5. European Christmas Markets
    European Christmas Market at night in Saint Paul

    European Christmas Market, St. Paul / Union Depot

    European Christmas Markets

    Stroll through a European-style Christmas market to find one-of-a-kind gifts and holiday decorations. Warm up with a cup of Gluhwein or sample European-inspired dishes at the European Christmas Market at St. Paul’s Union Depot, Dec. 6-22. Plan a festive outing with your family to Excelsior’s Christkindlsmarkt’s KinderWorld, Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, to see puppet shows, storytime, alpacas, reindeer and more.

    You can also find holiday markets at North Shore Winery in Lutsen (Nov. 29), Glensheen Mansion in Duluth (Dec. 7-8) and Levee Park in Winona (Dec. 14).

  6. Historic Home Tours
    Holiday Decorations at Glensheen Mansion Duluth

    Holiday decorations at Glensheen Mansion in Duluth

    Historic Home Tours

    The halls of Minnesota’s historic homes are decked for the holidays. Tour the Mayowood Mansion in Rochester or Hubbard House in Mankato, see 25 decorated trees at Glensheen in Duluth, or experience what the holidays were like 100 years ago at the Charles A. Lindbergh House and Museum in Little Falls.

  7. Pop-Up Holiday Bars
    Christmas decorations at Lawless Distilling

    Sip festive drinks at the holiday-themed "Miracle at Lawless" pop-up / Darin Kamnetz

    Pop-Up Holiday Bars

    These holiday-themed pop-up bars transform their spaces to make their spirits bright. Miracle at Lawless Distilling in Minneapolis is open Nov. 25 - Dec. 31 and serves holiday cocktails in a festive setting. Guests can sip festive drinks like a Snowball Old Fashioned surrounded by kitschy holiday decor and holiday tunes.

    Located in northeast Minneapolis, Betty Danger’s Country Club is transformed into Mary’s Christmas Palace until Dec. 31. The food and drink menu have a festive overlay, serving up specialties like the Christmas Experience Platter or Gingerbread White Russian.

  8. Main Street Shopping
    Winter downtown New Ulm

    Downtown New Ulm looks like a winter postcard / Kyle Krenz

    Main Street Shopping

    Stroll through some of Minnesota’s most charming downtowns, find one-of-a-kind gifts from local shops and partake in festive holiday fun at Nisswa’s annual City of Lights Celebration on Nov. 23. There will be fireworks, food vendors, live music and more.

    Visit downtown Stillwater from Black Friday to New Year’s Eve to find carolers, horse-drawn wagonette rides, shopping deals, live reindeer and more.

    Experience downtown Northfield by candlelight at Northfield’s Winter Walk celebration on Dec. 12. The street is lined with hundreds of luminaries, and the shops offer great holiday specials.

  9. You-Pick Christmas Tree Farms
    Kruegers Christmas Tree Farm in Lake Elmo

    Krueger's Christmas Tree Farm, Lake Elmo

    You-Pick Christmas Tree Farms

    Channel your inner Clark Griswold and visit one of Minnesota’s you-pick Christmas tree farms. This outing is not only fun, but it’s good for the environment. For every tree harvested for the holidays, farmers plant an average of one to three seedlings in its place.

    Each farm features its own personality, from quiet and peaceful to bustling holiday hubs with sleigh rides, family crafts, Santa Claus meet-and-greets and more.   

  10. Holiday Shows
    Children's Theatre Company How the Grinch Stole Christmas

    How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Children's Theatre Company   / Dan Norman - Children's Theatre Company

    Holiday Shows

    If you love holiday tunes and traditions, you have no shortage of options. Enjoy your favorite carols or discover new favorites at The Blenders annual holiday show, Dec. 12-15 at the Pantages Theatre in downtown Minneapolis. Watch a holiday classic at "It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play," performed at The Saint Paul Hotel accompanied by lunch or dinner.  

    The St. Olaf Christmas Festival is one of the oldest Christmas musical celebrations in the United States. It dates back to 1912 and features more than 500 student musicians and the St. Olaf Orchestra.

  11. Santa Claus Meet-and-Greets
    Santa at the Mall of America

    Mall of America decked out for the holidays / Mike Madison

    Santa Claus Meet-and-Greets

    Snap a photo with Santa and see live reindeer at Holz Farm Old Fashioned Holiday in Eagan on Dec. 8, or see Mrs. Claus at the Taylors Falls lighting festival Nov. 29-Dec. 1. Join the Christmas in the Park celebration in Crosby Dec. 6 to see the tree lighting, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, live reindeer and more.

    Santa and his reindeer also pay a visit to the Andrew J. Volstead House Museum in Granite Falls on Dec. 22. All season long, you can schedule private meet and greets with Santa at Mall of America.

  12. Holiday Teas
    Saint James Hotel Red Wing

    Saint James Hotel, Red Wing / Courtesy Red Wing Visitors & Convention Bureau

    Holiday Teas

    Sip tea and enjoy treats like warm scones, canapes, cheesecakes, tea sandwiches and more. Book a tea time at the Lowell Inn in Stillwater, the Mad Hatter in Anoka or The Saint Paul Hotel.

Caitlin Hannah

Caitlin Hannah is Explore Minnesota's social media strategist and resident Disney expert. She grew up spending summer weekends at her family's lake cabin in Detroit Lakes, and brings that "up north" attitude to everything she does. When traveling around the state, she likes trying new restaurants and taprooms, or watching Minnesota hockey.