Minneapolis is known for having the largest skyway system in the world, with 8 miles of skyways connecting 69 city blocks. The purple lines on the map below give an indication of just how extensive and mazelike this system is.
Downtown visitors may wonder where all the downtown bustle is. Especially if you visit in the winter you won't find it on the street. It's in the skyway system, which has a pedestrian street system all its own above the typical gridlock of cars in the center of the city. The skyways connect office towers, hotels, apartments, banks, shopping, eateries, the entertainment district, Target Center, Minneapolis Convention Center, as well as some buildings from several universities.
This climate-controlled pedestrian street system is lined with shops and restaurants which are especially busy at lunchtime. It's wonderful to leave your coats, caps and mittens behind in the cold of winter... and not worry about the heat in the blistering days of midsummer.
What can be frustrating about the system for those unfamiliar with it is how to find it. You look up and see people walking around in what looks like hamster exercise runs... but how do you get up there?!
If you see a skyway, enter one of the buildings it connects and go up to second floor... the way to the skyway is often marked. In elevators, skyway level is usually indicated. Once you are in the system it can be confusing just where you are... a map is recommended!
Here is a link to a printable map... or look for a free Downtown Guide in magazine racks throughout the skyway system, they have a skyway map printed on the back. A "Minneapolis Skyway Tour" app is also available for your iPhone or Android phone.
The skyways are owned and maintained by the individual building owners, so there is inconsistency. Some are well marked, others are not. Most follow Uniform Skyway hours of 6:30 am - 10 pm Monday-Friday, 9:30 am - 8 pm Saturday and noon to 6 pm on Sunday... but not all... good to know if you are staying in a downtown hotel and plan to use the skyway system for your weekend stay.
This pedestrian system is part of what made Minneapolis Downtown West its most livable neighborhood of 2011, according to Metro Magazine.
Some Baby Boomers choose to move to condos in the heart of the city for the vibrant energy it provides and the ability to get out and walk year round without fear of ice, snow and frigids temps in the winter or blistering heat in the summer... with the option of hitting the streets whenever they want.
While many people love the skyways, some are concerned that it is sucking life from the sidewalks. Others are hoping that the future will hold more visible transitions from street to skyway level as is found at the IDS Center' Crystal Court and the downtown Target store.
Whatever your point of view, the skyways are likely here to stay. This extensive above-ground skyway system is the largest in the world, and compares to the underground cities of Houston, Toronto and Montreal.