12 Ways to Celebrate the Holidays in Minnesota

By Caitlin Hannah

The holidays are a magical time in Minnesota. With fresh snow, towering pines, holiday light displays, seasonal treats and festive events, you will find numerous events to get you in the holiday spirit.

1. Holiday Light Displays

#OnlyinMN Monument Bentleyville

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 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. See the full list of towns here.

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 in Minneapolis

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 Cookie

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 Market Union Depot
Courtesy Union Depot

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

Glensheen Mansion at Christmas

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

Miracle at Lawless Holiday Bar
Miracle at Lawless Distilling, Minneapolis / Darin Kamnetz

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

Northfield Holiday Market

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

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

It's a Wonderful Life St. Paul Hotel

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 and Mrs. Claus

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

St. James Hotel lobby, Red Wing

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.

See what’s happening only in Minnesota this holiday and winter season. Share your Minnesota holiday adventures using #OnlyinMN.