Duluth should be at the top of any Minnesota itinerary. This Lake Superior hillside city with a population of approximately 85,000 truly has a vibe all its own. Duluth, MN residents, sport a strong local pride mixed with a love of the outdoors and the self-sufficiency needed to survive bitterly cold, snowy winters.
But don’t write Duluth off as a sleepy, small Midwestern city. There’s no shortage of things to do in Duluth MN.
As the most inland port city in the United States, Duluth, MN, is the final stop for massive oceangoing ships using the St. Lawrence Seaway to travel the five Great lakes. These ships from various far-flung locales come and go from the Duluth harbor all day, giving the city an almost worldly air.
The city also serves as a gateway to the Northwoods, funneling outdoor adventurers to fabled destinations like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and Minnesota’s North Shore.
Fair warning, when it comes to things to do in Duluth, this is the kind of town where you can start your day watching a sled dog marathon race and end it sipping craft cocktails overlooking Lake Superior.
We have rounded up the very best 10 things to do in Duluth, MN, so you can experience its quirky charm for yourself.
10 Best Things to Do in Duluth, MN
Tour Glensheen Mansion
Duluth was kind of a big deal at the turn of the 20th century. When iron ore was found to be worth mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range, north of Duluth, mines, small towns, and railroads quickly spread across the wilderness.
Meanwhile, wealthy businessmen who’d profited from the new mines settled into newly built mansions lining Duluth’s London Road and Superior Street.
Many of these mansions still stand, and none is as famous as Glensheen Mansion, in part because it was the scene of a double murder in the 1970s. This five-story house – along with a carriage house, boathouse, and gardener cottage- sits on a parcel of Lake Superior lakeshore property.
The stunning home now belongs to the University of Minnesota and is open for self-guided tours every day for a glimpse of America’s pre-World War I opulence and to hear a tale of murder most foul!
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Walk on the Lakewalk
The Duluth Lakewalk starts at Bayfront Park and follows Lake Superior’s shore for eight miles, terminating at Brighton Park on the city’s very eastern edge. This is one of many paved paths designated for non-motorized use in northern Minnesota.
Although used mainly by walkers, bikers and rollerbladers also frequent the path. You will love walking from Leif Erikson Park to the lighthouse in Canal Park for a leisurely (and very scenic) three-mile round-trip walk.
One note: The western end of the Lakewalk’s extremely susceptible to winter storm damage from massive Lake Superior waves. Always follow any signed detours.
Go to the lighthouse and watch ships
Although mining magnates no longer fill Duluth’s mansions, Duluth remains an import port city, shipping out more than 20 million tons of iron ore each year, along with grain, coal, and other assorted loads.
Hike out on Duluth’s north pier to the lighthouse to watch the impressive (and often international) ships pass beneath the Aerial Lift Bridge to Duluth’s shipping yard.
In addition, you can learn more about Duluth’s shipping industry at Lake Superior Marine Museum, located in between the lighthouse and the lift bridge.
Explore Canal Park
When most people think of Duluth MN, they think of Canal Park. Branded as “Duluth MN’s Playground,” Lake Superior surrounds this busy, tourist-centric district on three sides.
Canal Park boasts Duluth’s highest concentration of restaurants, shops, and activities. Pick up a caramel apple at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and shop at independent stores in the Dewitt-Seitz Marketplace and Lake Street.
Depending on your travel style, play a game of laser tag at Adventure Zone or tap into your inner artist at On the Rocks Art Studio. Finally, stroll down the waterfront for about ten minutes to reach the Great Lakes Aquarium and Bayfront Festival Park.
Watch a Bulldogs Game
Minnesota’s known as the “state of hockey,” and both the men’s and women’s hockey teams for the University of Minnesota-Duluth play at the Division I level. NHL players like Brett Hull and Olympians like Caroline Ouellette are among the UMD Bulldogs’ hockey alumni.
So even if you’re not a big sports fan, if you’re visiting Duluth during hockey season, grab tickets to watch the Bulldogs compete at the DECC/Amsoil Arena in Canal Park.
Go to Enger Tower
If you approach Duluth from the south, you’ll spy a distinctive, five-story tower peeking out of the hillside. The Enger Tower, built in 1939, honors a Duluth businessman who donated the land that the tower and a surrounding park and golf course stand on.
Visiting the Enger Tower is one of the best things to do in Duluth MN, for the sweeping views of the Duluth harbor and hillside. During your visit, have a picnic, play a round of golf, and stroll through a Japanese garden that pays homage to Duluth’s sister city, Ohara-Isumi, Japan.
Visit the Lincoln Park district
How do I put this nicely? Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood hasn’t always been desirable. But in the last decade, this district just west of Duluth’s downtown has had a renaissance.
Local businesses like Bent Paddle Brewing Company and Clyde Iron Works Restaurant have taken residence in the neighborhood’s old factory buildings. Now the neighborhood serves as the city’s craft district.
Come hungry. This is where you’ll find Love’s Creamery, Hungry Hippie Tacos, OMC Smokehouse, as well as Duluth’ Best Bread a little farther afield. Once your appetite’s sated, check out Frost River Trading Company, DLH Clothing, and other boutique shops.
Explore the Depot
Built in the 1890s as a Union train station, this grand old building now serves as the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center. With three museums and three art organizations housed within its historic walls, there’s always something going on at the Depot.
Catch a family play put on by the Duluth Playhouse. Visit the Duluth Art Institute. Catch a ride on the North Shore Scenic Railroad or tour the Lake Superior Railroad Museum.
Cruise the Harbor on Vista Fleet
When you’re in Duluth, you spend a lot of time looking at Lake Superior. So hop on a Vista Fleet boat so you can spend a little time cruising Lake Superior and looking at Duluth.
Vista Fleet offers hour + long, narrated cruises of the Duluth, MN harbor on yacht-style boats. Both sightseeing and sunset dinner cruises are available. Tours run from May – October.
Enjoy the Craft Drink Scene
This might seem like a pretty generic thing to do in Duluth, MN, but the craft drink scene has exploded in recent years in this small city. Want a locally brewed beer? You can choose from Bent Paddle, Ursa Minor, Canal Park Brewing Company, or Hoops. Did someone say pub crawl?!
More of a cider fan, not to worry. Duluth has two cideries: Duluth Cider and Wild State Cider. Vikre Distillery in Canal Park has you covered if you prefer spirits over beer or cider. Their cedar gin is amazing!
Where to stay in Duluth, MN
For a luxury experience, check out Pier B Resort Hotel, located just west of Bayfront Festival Park. This off-set waterfront hotel sits alone, about a ten-minute walk to the main attractions in Canal Park.
However, with pools, hot tubs, fire pits, sports courts, and an on-site restaurant, you might never actually need to leave the hotel.
If you prefer to be “in the thick of it,” the Inn on Lake Superior is a nice mid-range, family-friendly option right off the Lakewalk in Canal Park. Amenities include a hot breakfast, nightly s’mores, and a rooftop hot tub.
Most of Duluth’s budget hotels are at “the top of the hill,” near the airport and the Miller Hill Mall. Of the budget options, I prefer Country Inn and Suites for a clean, comfortable stay with a hot breakfast and easy access to the airport if you have an early morning flight.
Related: 18 Amazing Free and Cheap Things To Do in Duluth, Minnesota
Flying into Duluth, MN
Duluth does have its own international airport serviced by Delta, Suncountry, and United. Don’t worry about getting lost in this airport; it only has four gates. Fair warning, your flight’s departure might be slightly delayed by the grounds crew shooing deer off the runway! (Yes, that’s a true story)
In all seriousness, often flights into and out of Duluth are delayed by inclement weather. So if you need to rent a car anyway, you may prefer to fly into Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport and make the easy two-hour drive north.
The Three Best Restaurants in Duluth, MN
Canal Park Brewing Company provides a convenient location to grab a bite and brew right in Duluth’s tourist center. However, for Duluth’s best dining, you’ll need to venture a little farther afield.
The Duluth Grille, located in West Duluth, is by far Duluth’s best restaurant serving up food so fresh, you just might have seen it growing in the restaurant garden raised beds in the parking lot!
Another local favorite is At Sara’s Table/Chester Creek Café (yes, this is one restaurant with two names. Why? Just part of that Duluth vibe, y’all) located up the hill at 8th Street and 19th Avenue E near the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Ada Igoe is a Minnesota-based travel blogger on a mission to see all 50 states; only five to go! She owns Tuscarora Lodge and Canoe Outfitters on Minnesota’s Gunflint Trail and blogs at Beyond the Yellow Brick Road.