The 20 Best Things to do in Duluth, MN for First Timers

Canal Park

With its picturesque location on the shores of Lake Superior, Duluth makes a superb choice of destination for those in need of some R&R. The city is packed with museums, galleries, restaurants, sporting opportunities, and hiking trails… not to mention some of the most beautiful views you’ll find in Minnesota. If you’re planning a visit for the first time, don’t miss checking out some of the top activities from our list of the 20 best things to do in Duluth.

Enger Park and Tower

20. Enger Park and Tower

Climb the tower located on a rocky outcrop in the center of Enger Park, and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic, 360-degree views over Canal Park, the Shipyards and Rail Yards, and Lake Superior. It’s an easy climb, and one well worth the effort. Once you’re done admiring the view, take a stroll through the delightfully peaceful park – bring a few snacks and drinks and you’ll be spoilt for choice for picturesque little picnicking spots.

On The Rocks Art Studio

19. On The Rocks Art Studio

Art galleries are all very well and good, but if you want to do more than just look at the paintings, On The Rocks Art Studio is where you want to go. A joyous blend of gallery, painting school, studio, and party destination, the studio offers a fantastic opportunity to mingle with the movers and shakers of the Duluth art scene, take a class, or simply admire the works of local and regional artists. Located in Duluth’s vibrant Canal Park, it’s a great place to unleash your creative side.

Minnesota's North Shore Scenic Drive

18. Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive

Minnesota’s North Shore Scenic Drive regularly comes out top on lists of the most beautiful drives in North America, and it’s not hard to see why. Winding along 154 miles of breathtaking shoreline, the drive takes in a host of natural treasures along the way, including steep-sided cliffs, wooded hillsides, dramatic waterfalls, crystal clear streams, and no less than 7 state parks. You’ll also pass through numerous little villages, all charming, all picturesque, and all more than worthy of a quick stop.

Fitger's Brewhouse Brewery and Grille

17. Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille

In a city renowned for its craft beers, Fitger’s Brewhouse Brewery and Grille stands out from the crowd like a glittering diamond. All the ingredients that go into its fabulous collection of award-winning brews are locally grown, carefully selected for purity, taste, and quality before being hand-harvested and transformed into some truly memorable lagers and ales. All the beverages are served fresh from the tank, guaranteeing the kind of freshness you just won’t get with other serving methods. The accompanying food is just as fresh, seasonal, and delicious as the beers, with the vegetarian options coming particularly recommended. If you can, don’t miss the ever-popular Mid-week Bracer and Blues Meeting on Wednesdays.

Skyline Parkway

16. Skyline Parkway

If you want to check out some of the very best views in Duluth, take a drive along the Skyline Parkway. Scattered with observation points offering panoramic views over the city and Lake Superior, along with scores of gardens, picnic areas, and even a golf course, it’s well worth an afternoon of your time. If you can fit it into your schedule, a trek through the adjacent Magney-Snively Natural Area and a quick visit to the scenic Stewart Creek Bridge won’t go amiss.

Duluth Children’s Museum

15. Duluth Children’s Museum

Treat your kids to a visit to the Duluth Children’s Museum and you’re guaranteed one very happy family. The museum offers a huge range of interactive programs and fun activities, including the chance to dig for fossils, navigate an ore boat, experiment with kinetic sand, write, produce, and star in a show, and even fly a prototype Cirrus Plane. Entrance costs $9 for kids and adults; kids under 2 go free.

Great Lakes Aquarium

14. Great Lakes Aquarium

Kids are almost certain to love the Great Lakes Aquarium. Home to over 200 species of amphibians, fish, reptiles, and mammals, it offers a fascinating glimpse into the marine life of Lake Superior and the wider world. Along with the permanent exhibits, the aquarium also hosts regular special programs and events – check out the website for details of what’s on before you visit.

Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

13. Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory

Escape the hectic bustle of the city and head to Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, a beautiful retreat on East Skyline Parkway. Occupying over 365 acres, the observatory offers bird-lovers the chance to learn more about birds of prey and other migrating birds through hawk watching workshops and demonstrations. Birds asides, it’s also a stunning spot for a quiet stroll in nature.

Tweed Museum of Art

12. Tweed Museum of Art

If you like art, you’re going to love Tweed Museum of Art. As the home of a vast collection of more than 9,000 artworks, including a stunning collection of 19th and 20th-century paintings donated by the center’s patron, Alice Tweed, it’s one of the premier cultural destinations in the city.

Lake Superior Railroad Museum

11. Lake Superior Railroad Museum

The Lake Superior Railroad Museum is a historic railroad museum that’s well worth a few hours of your time. Once a busy depot, the site is now home to a vast collection of rail memorabilia, including cabooses, diesel and electric locomotives, passenger cars, steam locomotives, and more besides. Once you’ve finished enjoying the museum, don’t miss the opportunity to take a ride on the heritage railroad that runs from the depot all the way along Canal Park and the shoreline of Lake Superior.

Park Point

10. Park Point

Lake Superior might have rocky beaches aplenty, but if you prefer your beach to be of the sandy kind, there’s only one place to head – Park Point. According to Trip Advisor, visitors to Duluth rank the sandy stretch of beachfront one of the prettiest places in the area… and a quick look at some of the comments makes it clear why. “If you prefer sandy beaches to the cobblestone or ledge rock shores that epitomize Lake Superior, this is the place to stop. And although the view of Duluth in the background belies the otherwise remote feeling of Park Point, it’s still easy to imagine yourself on an ocean. We were there on a day when wave after wave of breakers crashed on the beach and left us mesmerized,” rhapsodizes one recent visitor, while another comments, “We were staying at Park Point Marina, so were near the area. The beach was great. The water was calm when we were there. The kids had a great time swimming and building sandcastles. We were there on a weekday. No problem finding parking or space on the beach.”

Spirit Mountain

9. Spirit Mountain

The city is all well and good for shopping and culture, but where do Duluth residents go when they want to break a sweat? If they’ve got any sense, they go to Spirit Mountain. Established in 1974, the huge outdoor recreation area is dedicated to all things outdoorsy, and is one of the best places in miles for mountain biking, skiing, and snowboarding. For those looking to get their adrenaline pumping, there’s also the opportunity to try the Timber Flyer Zip Line or visit the snow tubing park. Those who want to take it a bit easier, meanwhile, should check out the fun nine-hole mini-golf course. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to Riverside Bar & Grill for a refreshing beverage and some great comfort food.

Leif Erickson Park & Rose Garden

8. Leif Erickson Park & Rose Garden

Few places in Duluth (or indeed, anywhere) can match the breathtaking natural beauty of Leif Erickson Park & Rose Garden. The variety and beauty of the rose bushes that line the peaceful walkways of the garden are outstanding, while the numerous water features and fountains scattered around the park in memory of past Duluth residents are as touching as they are picturesque. The views over the lake and Aerial Lift Bridge, meanwhile, are worth the visit alone.

Glensheen, The Historic Congdon Estate

7. Glensheen, The Historic Congdon Estate

If you want a little peek into how the other half used to live, don’t miss a visit to Glensheen, The Historic Congdon Estate. The 39-room mansion is home to a stunning collection of antique furniture and artwork, all of which do a remarkable job of telling the history of Duluth and the surrounding area. Once you’ve finished touring the house, take a stroll around the picturesque 12-acre estate, which comes completes with a plethora of gardens, water features, and scenic bridges.

Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium

6. Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium

Located at the University of Minnesota at Duluth, the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium offers visitors the chance to take a breathtaking look at the night sky through the Spitz A3P Star Machine. If you’ve got kids, booking a spot at one of its hour-long shows is a must.

SS William A. Irvin

5. SS William A. Irvin

Located on the waterfront of Lake Superior, the SS William A. Irvin offers visitors the unique chance to tour one of the oldest commercial ships in the US. As the flagship of U.S. Steel’s Great Lakes Fleet, the SS William A. Irvin spent 40 years transporting raw material around the Great Lakes. Today, it’s a major tourist attraction, welcoming millions of visitors every year. If you’ve got any interest in maritime history, a tour of its steam turbine engine, dining room, private cabins, and lounge is unmissable.

Lake Superior Zoo

4. Lake Superior Zoo

Who can resist a visit to a zoo? Lake Superior Zoo is most certainly worth the trip, especially if you have kids. Founded by a local businessman, Bert Onsgar, in 1923, the zoo is a favorite with locals and tourists looking for a fun, educational experience they can enjoy as a family. As well as meeting over 140 species of animals (including Alaskan brown bears, African Lions, Flemish Giant Rabbits, African Straw-Colored Fruit bats, and more besides), you’ll get to take part in training sessions, experience a behind-the-scenes tour, and even help out with lion feeding.

Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center

3. Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center

Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center is one of the best museums in Duluth – some (including yours truly) might even say THE best. If you want to find out more about the Aerial Lift Bridge or the history of commercial shipping in the upper Great Lakes, this is the place to do it. The range of exhibits is huge, but one’s particularly deserving of a special mention (and a visit) include the pilothouse, the faithfully reproduced replica cabins, and the historic 1901 Fresnel Lens. Along with the permanent collection, the museum also hosts regular special events and community activities – check out the website before your visit for details of what’s on.

Aerial Lift Bridge

2. Aerial Lift Bridge

Yep, looking at a bridge really is one of the best things to do in Duluth – and before you say it, that’s not a reflection of the quality of things to do in Duluth, it’s a reflection of the awe-inspiring majesty of Aerial Lift Bridge. Dating back to 1905, the bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks in the city – so much so, in fact, it’s sometimes referred to as the Eiffel Towel of Duluth. If you want to understand why, you’re going to have to visit.

Canal Park

1. Canal Park

If you want to understand what makes Duluth tick, you’ll need to spend at least one day at Canal Park. As Vacation Idea notes, Canal Park is the beating heart of Duluth, connecting the picturesque lakefront with the bustling downtown. Packed with art galleries, restaurants, cafes, and boutiques, you’ll find no shortage of opportunities to eat, drink, and be merry. If you prefer to keep active, it’s also one of the best places in the city for bike riding and rollerblading. The view of the Aerial Lift Bridge, meanwhile, will take your breath away.


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