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This Midwestern State Is the Scandinavia of the U.S.

Embrace “hygge” culture, outdoor adventures, new Nordic restaurants, and more, all thanks to Minnesota’s rich Scandinavian heritage.

Two people hiking along the North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota

In Minnesota, hike along the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Courtesy of Explore Minnesota.

Dreaming of lakeside recreation, incredible farm-to-table dining, saunas, and the chance to see the Northern Lights? Skip the international flights and head to Minnesota, often called a “destination dupe” for the Scandinavian countries due to a long history of attracting Scandinavian immigrants beginning in the 19th century. In addition to the Minnesota Vikings, The North Star State today is home to the largest population of Norwegian and Swedish descendants outside of Scandinavia and an abundance of culinary, cultural, and recreational activities featuring rich Scandinavian heritage.

Like the coastal countries of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, with most population centers concentrated near the sea, water recreation is also part of the everyday Minnesota lifestyle for many. Known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota is where you’ll find the headwaters of the mighty Mississippi River and Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake on Earth. Experience the aquatic wonder by exploring the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, kayaking in Chain of Lakes in Minneapolis, or hiking along Lake Superior. Minnesota winters off ample opportunities for cold-weather activities including Nordic ski trails (try Minneapolis’ beautiful Chain of Lakes and Theodore Wirth Park) and some of the best ski areas in the Midwest.

Outside of the shared love of the great outdoors, Minnesota and Scandinavia have a distinctive attitude in common, a spirit that shows up in everything from a passion for all things hygge (or cozy) to a welcoming inclusivity. Minnesota is often listed as the “least stressed state”—perhaps because of a healthy work/life balance and emphasis on community and cooperation—and Scandinavian countries routinely top the annual list of the world’s happiest countries. Plus, you’ll enjoy a veritable smorgasbord of delicious food, lively events, fascinating museums, soothing spas and hotels, and more, all with a Nordic vibe.

Taste Scandinavia at Minneapolis-St. Paul restaurants

A table placed with Scandinavian-inspired fare at Tullibee in the Hewing Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Dine on Scandinavian-inspired fare at Tullibee in the Hewing Hotel.

Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis.

The capital of St. Paul and the state’s largest city, Minneapolis, are the cultural heart of Minnesota and where you’ll discover a mix of influences from Mexico, Germany, Somalia, Cambodia, Laos—and of course, Scandinavia. That diversity helps make Minneapolis one of the country’s most celebrated food cities with plenty of spots to enjoy Nordic-inspired cuisine and farm-to-table dining.

Dine on sauteed halibut at Alma, helmed by James Beard Award–winning chef Alex Roberts, or enjoy pickled herring and salmon glazed with aquavit beurre blanc at Tullibee. The American Swedish Institute’s FIKA is great for new Nordic fare made with seasonal, locally sourced ingredients—and yes, they have delicious Swedish meatballs. Stop at Norway House’s Kaffebar for smørbrød, an open-faced sandwich made with rye bread and a Scandinavian staple. For a more casual dining and shopping experience, explore Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace in Minneapolis which has been serving specialty Scandinavian foods like Swedish herring and fresh lutefisk in its butcher shop and deli since 1921.

Aquavit is one of Scandinavia’s favorite spirits and many Minneapolis-St. Paul distilleries make this clear liquor, distilled from potatoes or grain and flavored with herbs. Norseman Distillery, Skaalvenn Distillery, and Dampfwerk Distillery produce aquavit and pour cocktails made with it. Or you can sip the spirit at one of Minneapolis’ stylish cocktail haunts, like Volstead’s Emporium, Café Lurcat, and the new live music bar, Berlin. (Pro tip: For those who prefer zero-proof beverages, many local restaurants serve refreshing non-alcoholic options or you can shop alcohol-free bottle shops like Marigold or the newly opened Lucille’s.)

For a sweet treat, choose from a plethora of charming ice cream shops, many of which, just like in Stockholm, stay open all winter. Sebastian Joe’s serves hand-crafted, small-batch scoops or try creative seasonal flavors at Milkjam Creamery. Bebe Zito, the brainchild of former Food Network competitor Ben Spangler and his wife, Gabriella, offers savory burgers as well as ice cream flavors such as passionfruit-cream cheese and Vietnamese coffee and bourbon with chocolate chips. Pumphouse Creamery delivers artisanal flavor made fresh daily using milk from Minnesota farms. Keep an eye out for Minnesota Nice Cream, a food truck staple at events.

Enjoy Scandinavian culture at spas, hotels, and museums in Minneapolis-St. Paul

A view of the open lobby of the Elliot Park Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Unwind at the centrally located Elliot Park Hotel.

Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Let the hygge spirit envelop you at the elegant Elliot Park Hotel, conveniently located near the U.S. Bank Stadium where the Vikings play. Relax during guided sauna rituals on the rooftop of the historic Hewing Hotel or at the spa in the new Four Seasons Minneapolis. For a sauna experience outside of a hotel, visit the 612 Sauna Co-Op to steam with fellow local enthusiasts in mobile saunas.

A spectating crowd in the snow standing along a fence lined with flags at the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Spectate at the City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival.

Courtesy of Meet Minneapolis

Visit the American Swedish Institute, Norway House, and the Danish American Center for cultural programming and immerse yourself in Scandinavian heritage at community festivals. Each June, you can mark the solstice like Swedes have done since ancient times at the Midsommar Celebration. The appreciation of the beauty and excitement of wintertime is at its peak during Minneapolis’ Great Northern Festival and City of Lakes Loppet Winter Festival. At these family-friendly events, which take place annually in late January or early February, go cross-country skiing, sauna, roast s’mores, shop for Nordic-inspired crafts at makers’ markets, and more.

Trace Scandinavian roots across Minnesota

The state’s Scandinavian culture is perhaps best preserved in the small towns that dot the fields and forests throughout central Minnesota, where the first immigrants from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark found homes. Scandia has the state’s oldest Swedish settlement and Lutheran church, many Dala horses (a painted carved-wood statute that originated in Sweden), and the Gammelgården Museum. The country’s “only open-air museum devoted to preserving, presenting, and promoting Swedish immigrant heritage in the United States,” it hosts St. Lucia Day, traditionally the start of the Swedish Christmas season, each December.

Nearby, visit Lindström, “America’s Little Sweden,” to find charming restaurants and boutique-style shopping, and stop by Chisago City to pick up artisan-made Sven clogs, Swedish-inspired footwear. Further north, Mora is home to the largest Dala horse in the U.S., a towering red statue that symbolizes the town’s ties to Sweden.

Farther north in Detroit Lakes, Danish recycling artist Thomas Dambo is installing his world-famous Trolls. These towering troll statues can be found all over Denmark and Europe and six new ones are being installed in Minnesota in May and June of 2024.

Find Nordic crafts and outdoor adventure on the North Shore

Two people sitting around a campfire while camping along Minnesota’s North Shore.

Go camping along Minnesota’s scenic North Shore.

Courtesy of Explore Minnesota.

Two hours north of Minneapolis-St. Paul is Duluth, a major port at the Western tip of Lake Superior and its deep blue waves that crash as they extend to the horizon. The city is an essential stop on a trip along the North Shore, where the hygge spirit infuses dining, shopping, and recreation. Explore Canal Park to stroll the Lakewalk, see the famous aerial lift bridge, and dine and shop at locally owned businesses. Kick back at Vikre Distillery and sip aquavit cocktails, stay at Pier B Resort, and steam in Cedar + Stone Nordic Sauna, an authentic guided sauna experience that will center and rejuvenate you as you float on Lake Superior.

After stopping in Duluth, travel along Scenic Highway 61, the scenic drive that hugs the North Shore and connects charming lakeside towns with the lush forests and thundering waterfalls of Minnesota’s many state parks. Here, you can bike, canoe, dog sled, stargaze, and maybe even catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights. In winter, spend a weekend at Lutsen Mountain Ski and Summer Resort and Spirit Mountain, two ski areas along Minnesota’s North Shore that boast some of the best alpine skiing and Nordic ski trails in the Midwest.

Embrace Scandinavian culture at Grand Marais’ heritage experiences like the North House Folk School, where visitors can try their hand at traditional Scandinavian crafts such as timber framing, basket making, and boat building. In the summer, book a session at Sisu + Löyly, a floating sauna, and in February, explore the Hygge Festival, a celebration of the warmth of family and friends even in the darkest and coldest of times. Join in on the fun and enjoy a sauna series, hockey tournament, and art exhibitions, and toast to your trip with flowing mulled wine.

No matter where you go in Minnesota, experience Scandinavian heritage through fresh food, rejuvenating recreation, wellness experiences, and a culture that is centered around inclusivity and balance.

Explore Minnesota is dedicated to promoting tourism and livability in Minnesota. Visit exploreminnesota.com for travel inspiration, things to do, or to subscribe to free newsletters or travel guides. Get even more by following @exploreminnesota on Instagram, TikTok, Threads, Facebook, and YouTube. Explore Minnesota Travel Counselors are ready to provide personalizing travel planning seven days a week by calling 888-VISITMN or by email.

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