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Minneapolis is Minnesota’s biggest city, and the state capital, Saint Paul, forms one-half of the “Twin Cities.”
Minneapolis has seen many improvements to its public transportation system over the last 20 years, as well as other initiatives to allow easy, low-cost transit across the city and wider Metro Area for those who can’t, don’t, or won’t use a car.
- Do you need a car in Minneapolis?
- How is public transport in Minneapolis?
- Are there options outside of public transportation?
- Can you easily live in Minneapolis without a car?
Are there things to do in Minneapolis without a car? Let’s investigate!
- Public Transport Minneapolis
- Light Rail lines
- Metro Bus Rapid Transit routes
- Numbered bus routes
- Park & Ride
- Bicycle & scooter sharing systems
- Other transportation options
- Rideshare, Taxis & Limos
- Car Share systems
- By Foot
- Buying or renting a car
- Things to do in Minneapolis
- The Blue Line Grand Tour
- The Mall of America
- Fort Snelling
- Minnehaha Falls
- So, do you need a car in Minneapolis?
Public Transport Minneapolis
First, let’s cover what the city offers in public transportation. The Twin Cities’ public transportation network is run by Metro Transit, which currently operates a number of regular light rail lines and bus rapid transit routes throughout the Metro Area.
Both buses and the light rail are accessible for all and cater to those looking to go car-less. Most light rail stations have bike stands, and most buses have bike racks mounted on their front.
All can be ridden with tickets, valid for 2.5 hours, purchased from bus drivers or at ticket machines at train stations for $2.50.
One bonus with all Metro Transit buses and light rail trains is that they have complimentary Wi-Fi on board each vehicle, so you can browse to your heart’s content while you ride without using your data!
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Light Rail lines
- Blue Line – The first light rail system was employed in Minnesota in 2004. A 2-track line that links Target Field Station in Downton Minneapolis with the Mall of America in Bloomington hosts 20 stops from start to finish. As of 2020, the line extends into Brooklyn Park, with a slated completion in 2024.
- Green Line – Established in 2014, this 2-track line connects Target Field Station in Downtown Minneapolis to Union Depot in Saint Paul, which also serves as an Amtrak hub. The line has 24 stops from start to finish, including the State Capitol. Plans are to extend the line by almost 15 miles to connect Eden Prarie to the Green Line by 2023. However, due to poor soil conditions along the proposed route, the $2 billion infrastructure project (the largest in Minnesota’s history) is currently seeing delays.
For more information on the lines, check out this Minneapolis light rail map.
Metro Bus Rapid Transit routes
- Red Line – A rapid transit bus route connects the Mall of America to the Apple Valley Transit Station, allowing a bridge between Apple Valley and the Blue Line. The Red Line has only 5 stops from start to finish. There are plans to extend this route to Lakeville, but these aren’t expected to take shape until around 2040.
- A Line – A rapid transit bus route connecting the Blue Line at the 46th St Station and Rosedale Transit Center holds 20 stops from start to finish.
- C Line – A rapid transit bus route connecting 7th St & Park Station in Downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center Transit Station, includes 20 stops from start to finish.
Numbered bus routes
The system of numbered, short-distance bus routes used in the Twin Cities is gradually being augmented with or phased out by the newer bus rapid transit system. The list of the various bus routes, maps, and schedules can be found here.
Park & Ride
Metro Transit operates a huge number of park & ride facilities in and around Minneapolis that allow car owners easier access to public transportation and save them from city traffic and wrestling with Minneapolis parking.
Bicycle & scooter sharing systems
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Other transportation options
Public transportation might not be your thing, or you’re just looking to challenge yourself. Either way, you’ve options at your disposal.
Car share programs through HOURCAR and Zipcar are a great answer to the question, “Do you need to rent a car in Minneapolis?” 62 cars are operated between the two companies and are a cheap alternative to car ownership or long/short-term rental.
Minneapolis bike trails map over 80 miles throughout the city (over 200 miles if you count the Metro Area as a whole) that largely avoid road traffic, making for a safe, speedy, and cheap way of getting around and seeing the city.
Minneapolis is regularly featured as one of the best biking cities in North America, and I encourage you to see for yourself! Caution is advised when cycling around city roads because you’ll share with other traffic. Also, cycling around the city in that Minnesota winter can be truly excruciating.
Walking, jogging, running, hiking, skipping, your own marching pace, whichever way you feel the need to use your feet to propel yourself in the desired direction. Easily the slowest form of transport but entirely free, you can use those Minneapolis bike trails as well as Minneapolis’ Skyway.
The Skyway is almost its ecosystem: an intricate series of enclosed walkways connecting buildings around the city center and a fantastic alternative to walking outdoors in winter!
See Related: Things to Do along the Minneapolis Riverwalk
Buying or renting a car
Car ownership or rental is still the most popular option for transport in Minneapolis. While on the surface, it may seem convenient (shorter trips, no stops, no unnecessary waiting outside of heavy traffic, privacy, independence, capacity to transport people, pets, and non-live cargo), it is certainly the most expensive.
When you factor in gas, insurance, maintenance, and parking (not to mention the cost of buying or renting the car itself), it adds up. And if you’re living in Minneapolis, permanent parking brings its own set of costs.
Parking, in general, can be a nightmare, especially in the city center. And woe betide you if you leave your car out on the street in a snow emergency!
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Things to do in Minneapolis
So we’ve figured out the various means of getting from A to B, but what to do with this knowledge?
The Blue Line Grand Tour
You’ve jetted into MSP, you’re only here for a day, and you’ve got tickets to that Minnesota Twins game this afternoon. You could head there now…but it’s 9:00 a.m.
You don’t want to wait on the steps like some chump, so you’ll have to find something to do, as well as navigate there AND on a budget.
Wait; how do you get there? You’re only here for a day so no thanks car rental! And do you want some rideshare driver to hold your hand and ferry you, taking all the fun out of your adventure? Pfft! No! So what then?
My friend, welcome to the Blue Line Grand Tour!
First, you need to get yourself some Twins merchandise (without paying the extra you would at the stadium), so hop on that Blue Line and head south to the Mall of America in nearby Bloomington.
Keep your eyes left along the way to silently pay your respects to those interned at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery as you pass.
The Mall of America
You’ve arrived at the MOA! Get yourself over to Lids and pick up some merch. Now, see if you can leave the mall without getting too distracted (seriously, good luck).
Once you’ve escaped the alluring clutches of MOA, hop back on that train and head back the way you came, past the cemetery and the airport.
Wait; your inner history buff wishes to know more about Minnesota’s fighting past! Take a break at Fort Snelling Station and enjoy a pleasant, leafy 20-minute stroll up to the historic Fort Snelling and the Fort Snelling Chapel.
After enjoying some well-earned history, it’s time to get back on track(s). Walk back the way you came to Fort Snelling Station and jump back onto the Blue Line.
See related: Best Minneapolis Walking Tours for History Buffs
Heading north, you’re inspired by the natural beauty as you trundle along enough that you want to see more!
Stopping off at 50th St – Minnehaha station, take the 10-minute walk to one of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots in the state, Minnehaha Falls, within the Minnehaha Regional Park.
Your outstanding natural beauty quota is filled; it’s time to press on, so back to 50th St – Minnehaha station, and away you go!
By now, you’ve worked up a powerful hunger, and your tummy rumbles. Looking for sustenance, you disembark at 38th St Station and head west along the namesake street.
The first eatery you see is the Cardinal Restaurant and Bar, a fine establishment. Still, there is more the further you go, including Ted Cook’s 19 Hole BBQ, Northbound Smokehouse & Brewpub, Standish Cafe, and Sisters’ Sludge Coffee Cafe & Wine Bar. Once filled with local fare from some top Minneapolis restaurants, jump back on the Blue Line and continue your quest.
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U.S. Bank Stadium
It’s well worth a look and easily accessible, having its own Blue Line station to take a break and press your nose against this 70,000+ seat monolith to sports, which is one of the best things to do in the entire state of Minnesota.
Back on the Blue Line, you wonder if you have all you need for the game. Sure, you’re merched up and aren’t starving, but you haven’t brought snacks and you’ve done hotdogs and pretzels to death.
Alternative? On the Blue Line Grand Tour? You betcha!
You’re just one stop away from Government Plaza station, and from there, it’s just a short walk to the Downtown Minneapolis Farmers’ Market, one of 3 Minneapolis farmer markets.
Grab some of Minnesota’s organic bounty and press on!
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Home Run! The North Loop
Back on the train, and here we are, nearing the home stretch as we enter the Warehouse or “North Loop” District of Minneapolis. There are plenty of great hotels in the North Loop of Minneapolis, and it’s easily accessible by the light rail from the airport.
We’re just gonna let the train roll on into Target Field Station, and that’s where the real journey ends, right outside Target Field.
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The sweetest victory is cherry flavored
The game was a real nail-biter, and you need to soothe those battered nerves with a civilized stroll and visual dessert—time to wrap up the evening with a trip to the world-famous Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
You jump back on the Blue Line at Target Field Station and ride the few blocks to Nicollet Mall Station (pronounced “Nic-let” like “Chiclet”).
After you disembark, head to the corner of N 5th St and Nicollet Mall to find the bus stop on the Nicollet side. Hop on the Number 4 or 6 bus (Minn Drive/Xerxes Ave/Southdale) and ride to Lyndale Ave S & Vinewood Place.
Your final approach shows what’s in store, the Spoonbridge & Cherry! Well, that concludes the Blue Line Grand Tour, and how much did you spend on travel?
Probably no more than $10, and when you compare that to the $40+ cab or rideshare fee from MSP to Downtown, think about how much richer you are in dollars and experiences!
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So, do you need a car in Minneapolis?
Minneapolis and the Metro Area at large have a well-established Public Transportation system that is reliable, cheap, safe, (mostly) clean, constantly improving, and serves the entire metro area.
It’s an alternative to sitting in traffic, allows locals an affordable means to see beyond their neighborhood, and visitors a cheap way of experiencing the best parts of the city.
The downsides are that you do lose independence and the (slightly dubious) convenience of car ownership if you’re looking to live a carless life.
Getting from A to B in Minneapolis is still faster by car, which will rarely be parked further from your home than any bus stop, rail station, bike, or scooter share, with wait times depending only on yourself.
While it may be safer to use public transport in winter, waiting at a bus stop after your bus was delayed in the freezing snow might make you wonder which is actually safer as you catch frostbite.
And when it’s not one of Minnesota’s 3 winter seasons, it’s the 4th season; roadworks.
Those harsh winters batter Minneapolis’ roads, which affects all commuters because ALL of Minneapolis’ public transportation within the city runs on the road – even the light rail in the cities is affected by roadworks as most of the tracks run parallel to conventional traffic, with many intersections crossing over light rail lines.
The best real alternative to car ownership/rental in Minneapolis is a combination of public transportation and investing in your bike.
It is easy enough to traverse the city by bike and easily the most pleasant if using the many hiking and biking trails, but cycling in the winter has its own obvious drawbacks.
But what about mundane things like getting groceries or helping friends move? Neither is fun if you lug stuff on a bike or a bus. And what if you’re looking to get outside the Metro Area? What then?
If you’re confining yourself to just Minneapolis and no further than the outskirts of the Metro Area, you can survive without a car, but you might find yourself wishing for one in winter.
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- About the Author
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James is a British-American writer and editor for Via Travelers who has been writing since he was wee. As someone who has spent much time trotting around the globe, James appreciates traveling smart and comfortably, and has every intention of helping VT’s readers do the same!