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  • Spotting sharks up close at the SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium
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    Bloomington: A World-famous Mall and Nature in the City

  • Lush overlook of the river bluffs in Winona
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    Winona: Scenic Beauty and a Cultural Scene

  • Spirited fun at a rooftop bar in downtown Rochester
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    Rochester: History, Health and Scenic Silver Lake

Family fun on the Pepsi Orange Streak roller coaster at Nickelodeon Universe
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Southeast Minnesota City Tour: Flagship Attractions and Gorgeous Scenery

By Idoia Gkikas

  • Route distance:
    410.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Experience cities with unique culture, connected by rolling countryside and historic towns.

The rolling bluff landscape of southeast Minnesota is dotted with cities that offer the best of both worlds – the sense of a metropolis, rich with cultural offerings, alongside plenty of green space. Bloomington’s unparalleled shopping and attractions offer plenty of thrills, while Winona’s dramatic river bluffs and museum scene capture the imagination. End your trip in Rochester, home to the venerable Mayo Clinic, as well as rich historic sites and a surprising nightlife scene too fun to pass up.

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Spotting sharks up close at the SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium
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Bloomington: A World-famous Mall and Nature in the City

Given its proximity to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (just five minutes away), Bloomington is an accessible, inviting destination for shoppers and outdoor adventurers alike. The city’s Mall of America® (MOA®) – the USA’s largest shopping and entertainment complex – is also close to the airport (take the Metro light rail from there and you’ll arrive at MOA in 12 minutes), acting as a kind of gateway to Bloomington. You could spend days at MOA, so plan ahead: there are 520 stores (all shoes and clothing are sold tax-free), 50 restaurants and some standout attractions here, among them Nickelodeon Universe®, an indoor theme park with roller coasters, SEA LIFE® Minnesota Aquarium and Crayola® Experience. To get the most out of your experience here, check into Radisson Blu Mall of America or JW Marriott Minneapolis Mall of America, both connected to MOA. In the morning, put away the bags and head to Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge, just four minutes up the road but a world apart. Bloomington’s native natural beauty takes center stage here, in the middle of the city, where waterfowl and other wildlife find sanctuary. Hike one of the trails through this 5,666-hectare wilderness (bring binoculars to scope the birds), or fish the refuge waters. Before you leave Bloomington for Winona, hit Hyland Lake Park Reserve in West Bloomington, which gives you access to both Hyland and Bush lakes, two popular spots for fishing and swimming.

185 km
2.33 hours by car
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Lush overlook of the river bluffs in Winona
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Winona: Scenic Beauty and a Cultural Scene

Leave behind the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area and head southeast to Winona, an artsy city on the Mississippi River. The warmest spot in the state, Winona is known for its river bluffs, the most spectacular of which is Sugar Loaf. With a pinnacle topping 26 meters, Sugar Loaf is where you’ll want to stretch your legs on a hike revealing sweeping views of the city. Pair a Sugar Loaf Bluff climb with a visit to nearby Garvin Heights Park, where another bluff-side lookout provides a view of the valley. Enjoy a picnic from atop the lookout area before diving into Winona’s rich art and theater scene. Picturesque Minnesota Marine Art Museum is not to be missed for its historical and contemporary exhibitions of marine paintings and folk art, as well as major works by the likes of J.M.W. Turner, Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. This is a city crowded with cultural opportunities, from art galleries and historic architecture to eight unique festivals, including the Great River Shakespeare Festival, a summer theater series honoring the Bard. Of the many local eateries where you can wind down over a meal, Signatures Restaurant is an elegant favorite with a view overlooking the river bluffs.

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87 km
1 hour by car
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Spirited fun at a rooftop bar in downtown Rochester
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Rochester: History, Health and Scenic Silver Lake

It’s a quick drive west to Rochester, a pretty, welcoming city that’s bursting with good cheer and home to Mayo Clinic, one of the most prestigious medical campuses in the USA. The best way to experience this friendly, caring community and discover its vibrant mix of tradition and innovation is on a trolley tour. Highlights include the statue of Drs. Will and Charlie Mayo in front of the Gonda Building, a towering masterpiece of contemporary design, and the Plummer House, a 49-room English Tudor mansion built in the early 1900s by a Mayo Clinic doctor. The city’s culture of health and wellness is bolstered by its woodsy environment and plentiful parks, which host 136 kilometers of bike paths. Cycle the scenic trail around Silver Lake and enjoy cityscape views before heading to downtown Rochester. Once downtown, walk a few steps in any direction to receive a warm welcome at many locally-owned boutiques, or stroll over to Historic 3rd Street to get a taste of culinary creations by the city’s most popular local chefs. End your day on a sky-high note with a gorgeous evening view from La Vetta’s rooftop, or enjoy a more low-key nightlife scene at Kathy’s Pub or The Tap House. Opt for an overnight stay; it will be just a little over an hour back to Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport the next morning.

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Official Minnesota Travel Site