Layover: Minneapolis – Saint Paul

Ah, MSP. A layover in this sprawling north coast airport can be a great time, or abject Hell. Here are some ways to have fun if you find yourself flying into this flyover state.

(I can say that; I’m from there. And I love it. And it knows.)

Shorter (2 hour) layovers

I’ll be assuming you’re flying into the Lindbergh Terminal. If you’ve got under two hours and you’ve landed at the smaller, aggressively clean Humphrey Terminal (the HHH, after Hubert H. Humphrey), taking the light rail to Lindbergh is not worth it. You’ve got a coffee shop. Sit down and enjoy the quiet; that terminal is usually a ghost town. (That’s the reason there’s not much to do there — everything closes because there isn’t enough traffic.)
The Lindbergh Terminal is the opposite of a ghost town, which I guess would be a … town. With concourses A through G and “The Mall” in the middle, as well as a snappy little tram, it’s a bustling airport with lots of choices for restaurants and shopping. I highly recommend French Meadow Bakery and Cafe located in concourse F, which is a mini version of a favorite in Uptown Minneapolis in the Lyn-Lake area. I wish it were a sit-down restaurant and not counter service, but I can’t argue with the delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner offerings made with organic and local ingredients. It’s an actual taste of Minnesota.

If you want to do some Minnesota-esque shopping, you can stop at Minnesota! for wooden birds and the like. Every home in Minnesota has a wooden bird. I don’t know why this is. Or, if you prefer to do as the locals would do (or you are a local, or you already have a wooden bird, or both), you can hit up Harley Davidson, Hugo Boss, or pick up some sporty stuff at the creatively named Sports Minnesota.

If you’re into drinking, nature’s cure for flight nerves, TGI Fridays has cheap drink upgrades (an extra shot for a buck or two), and Tequileria in concourse G will give you a plastic shaker if you drink enough margaritas. They serve 1800 Reposado there, which happens to be a really great tequila. Added perk of Tequileria: fun to say.

The best burger and the best beer in the joint are conveniently located together at Rock Bottom Brewery & Restaurant — and click that link if you’re going there. Free coupons.

You can also hit up Tumi in the Mall if you forgot a suitcase and feel like carrying an empty one (I’ve never understood suitcase shops in airports), or get your shoes shined a lot of places. Got kids with you? You can kill an hour or so playing with all the toys at Creative Kidstuff. Heck, I can kill an hour or so playing with all the toys at Creative Kidstuff.

Longer layovers (4+ hours)

Whether you’re at Lindbergh or Humphrey, if you’ve got more than four hours, you’re gonna want to leave the airport. Why? Because it’s easy and there’s lots to do! The fancy light rail, also known as The Hiawatha Line (after the street it’s built along), is your friend.

If you don’t care much about Minneapolis but want to occupy yourself, take the light rail over to the Mall of America. It’s like, right there. The Mall of America has four giant department stores, three floors of shops (mostly chains), a huge movie theater, an aquarium, and a freaking amusement park in the middle. With like, roller coasters and a log flume and stuff. It’s totally out of control. The Mall of America is perfect for some, but strikes horror into the hearts of others.

If you’re on the “others” team, then take the light rail the other way and head to Downtown Minneapolis. It’s great that you don’t need a car to get downtown and play.

What to do in Downtown Minneapolis? Well, there’s lots of shopping and eating, especially on Nicollet Mall, and St. Anthony Main has a number of bars and restaurants with a view of the Mississippi River. If you’re there, you should also check out Nye’s Polonaise, which was called “The Best Bar in America” by GQ, and rightly so: Polka music in one room, a piano bar, and an old-timey feel make it cozy and fun — and the food’s not bad either. If you’re looking for a great meal, though, my very favorite restaurant in Minneapolis is a hop, skip, and a jump from the light rail: Cafe Brenda. Cafe Brenda is a mostly-vegetarian restaurant with some poultry and fish options, and the food is to die for. Get the mushroom pate appetizer. Yum.

If it’s a cold month? No worries: Minneapolis is all indoorily connected with an elaborate, 8 mile skyway system — click here to download a map. If it’s warm enough to walk around outside, I recommend heading down to the outrageously large and blue new Guthrie Theater, which sits right on the Mississippi River. There are bars and restaurants inside, as well as a really cool “endless bridge” from which you can watch the water.

Other tips:

So, hopefully that helps you through the pain that is the layover — Minneapolis is a great town, and thanks to the light rail, it’s really easy to get right downtown in a jiffy. Just make sure to get back to the airport in time to catch your flight!