During his bizarre reign as the Governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003, former WWF wrestler and Predator star Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura sparked outrage when he was asked "Which is the better of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis or Saint Paul?"
"Minneapolis," he answered. "Those streets in Saint Paul must have been designed by drunken Irishmen." So Minnesota’s capital city may be Minneapolis’s smaller, quainter sibling. But there are as many great drinking dens as you’d expect from a place whose origins lie with a frontiersman who sold whisky from a cabin on the Mississippi, and winter sports are a native passion. Oh, and if you start seeing Charlie Brown and Snoopy everywhere, you’ve not been overdoing it – Peanuts creator Charles M Schulz was another famous resident.
Fuel up with a three-egg chili omelette or stack of buttermilk pancakes at Mickey’s Dining Car. This art-deco styled icon of Downtown Saint Paul has been serving 24-hours a day, 365 days a year, since WWII. It’s even appeared in a bunch of Hollywood films – and a Pet Shop Boys video.
Get stuck straight into the snow. Minnesota can experience snowfall from April to November, and it’s under a 10-minute drive to the heart of the 2,931-acre Fort Snelling State Park. Here you can ski down 12 miles of groomed trails (and go ‘skijoring’, though you’ll need a dog for that). Watch out for red foxes, white deer and bald eagles – and fans of another winter sports craze to hit Saint Paul: fat biking.
Make a round trip back Downtown where, if you’re visiting between January 24 and February 3, the Saint Paul Winter Carnival will be in full swing. Created in 1885 to prove to a bitchy New York reporter that the city sure did know how to party thank you very much, it includes an ice sculpture competition in which each team is given 20 blocks of ice and 48 hours. There’s also a striking large-scale sculpture year-round at the two-block-long Western Sculpture Park.
Time for BBQ pork and ribs by the fireplace at McGovern’s. That’ll set you up for an afternoon shopping your way along Grand Avenue, a tree-lined, 30-block stretch from Downtown Saint Paul to the Mississippi River. Running parallel is Summit Avenue where F Scott Fitzgerald (who’ll be back in vogue this year with Baz Luhrmann and Leonardo DiCaprio’s film of his Jazz Age masterpiece, The Great Gatsby) famously lived. Shuttles will be operating from Grand Avenue to Red Bull Crashed Ice on Saturday, January 26 - go here to find out about the pick-up points.
Catch a gig or a game at the Xcel Energy Center. This 18,000+ capacity arena is home to the National Hockey League’s Minnesota Wild and has hosted concerts by everyone from Paul McCartney to Lady Gaga (who plays here on February 9). If there’s no other live sporting action during your visit, Alary’s sports bar offers the next best thing with its Chicago Bears memorabilia and whopping 22 50” Plasma screens.
Bag a table at Louis Ristorante & Bar on the third floor of the newly-renovated Cossetta Alimentari Italian complex, once a tiny family grocery store. You can work through your plate of Mama C's spaghetti and meatballs while enjoying one of the best views of the Cathedral of Saint Paul and the Red Bull Crashed Ice track.
Stop off for a nightcap at Bulldog, which also serves five types of hotdog, seven types of fries and over 100 beers. If you’re visiting on Friday, January 25, then the Red Bull Crashed Ice pub-crawl will be taking in Bulldog, Alary’s and three other locals.
Bed down at the historic Hotel 340, just 20 minutes' walk from the cathedral. It’s housed in a stunning 1917 building and even has its own ballroom. But there’s also a huge fitness centre if you’re thinking of heading to Mickey’s for more buttermilk pancakes tomorrow.