Millions of twinkling lights have been wrapped around metro-area landmarks, distilleries have decked their halls with anything that glitters, and holiday playlists are inescapable inside storefronts. Yes, the most magical time of the year has descended.
While there are plenty of people who prefer to take a low-key approach to the holidays — a festive meal with friends at a favorite restaurant, a night at home with glögg simmering on the stovetop or a visit to that beloved dive bar — some of us wait all year for the full yuletide experience, and this year's offerings do not disappoint. Get out the ugly Christmas sweaters or don your sparkliest apparel — here are 12 unforgettable (and delicious) ways to make the most of the season in the Twin Cities.
Four Seasons has turned its splashy rooftop into Nordic Village at Riva Terrace for the winter, with cozy cedar cabins, bright lights and a cheese-filled menu from chef Martín Morelli. The private cabins leave no detail undone: heaters, music (you can sync your own playlist), blankets, hygge decor and skylights for stargazing. Most can seat up to four, with one larger cabin that has room for six. The $150 four-course dinner comes with a host of cozy foods, including torched raclette cheese with warm bread, onion soup laced with cognac, rösti potatoes with smoked salmon, cheese fondue, clams with cannellini beans and, of course, s'mores. Reservations are going quickly for the holiday season (it's open until early March) and are available through Tock. While the cabins are a big draw, no reservations are needed to take in the fire table lounge and curling lane. There's a full bar and an a la carte menu, and the city lights and bistro lights combine to create a wintry scene that's hard to beat.
245 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., fourseasons.com/minneapolis; seatings at 5:30 and 8 p.m. Thu.-Sat.
Lawless and Stilheart distilleries
Once again, the seasonal pop-up bar Miracle returns to Lawless Distilling Co. and Stilheart Distillery & Cocktail Lounge in Minneapolis — and the two distilleries are done up like boozy, blinking holiday sweaters. Both rooms have been thoroughly decked with tinsel and lights entwined around everything that doesn't move. Both bars also have switched to holiday-specific cocktail lists, including Santa's Little Helper, Nice and Naughty shots, Christmas Crickets and Grandma Got Run Over by a T-Rex, all served in glassware so festive you'll want to take it home. And you should, because 10 % of sales from the Santa Pants, Christmas Carol Barrel and Santa Heads signature glassware are donated to the Seva Foundation, a global nonprofit eye care organization that works with local communities.
Psycho Suzi's Motor Lounge
There is nothing tasteful or subtle happening at Mary's Christmas Palace — this is the place for revelers who like a serving or three of Tom & Jerrys as eye-openers. Step inside and take in the sheer spectacle of it all — there are baubles and booze for days, or at least the length of the 90-minute visit cap. The Merriment Tipples range from I Hate My Elf for Loving You (spiked apple cider, $13) and Gingerbread White Russians ($12) to a Very Naughty Hot Chocolate ($14). The food menu is appropriately festive, too, with All I Want for Christmas Is Fondue ($20) and pizzas like Silent Night and How the Goat Stole Christmas ($15). Reserve a spot for $5.99 per person; there's no charge for walk-ins, but getting a table might take a Christmas miracle.
1900 NE. Marshall St., Mpls., psychosuzis.com
The Guthrie Theater
Sympathy for Tiny Tim and redemption for Scrooge are on the Guthrie stage again this year in an "updated and spirited" take on the Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol." Since everything is better with friends, grab yours and share a bite before the show. While the downstairs restaurant remains closed, the fifth-floor cafe space is now Ovation, serving a small, vaguely European menu with dishes like steak frites, stuffed piquillo peppers and chicken leg confit. Preshow reservations are available online through the theater's website.
818 S. 2nd St., Mpls., guthrietheater.org
American Swedish Institute
The event calendar is packed at the American Swedish Institute, but even on regular days, touring the Turnblad Mansion all decked out in its holiday finery is a perfect way to dig into those merry feelings. Go for a glögg tour, sing Swedish drinking songs, learn to bake saffron buns and shop to your Nordic heart's content. While at ASI, don't forget to stop by Fika cafe to explore the heavenly cardamom-scented baked goods, warm up with Swedish meatballs or take a nip from the small but mighty cocktail menu.
2600 Park Av. S., Mpls., asimn.org
Whether you want to hit the ice rink, shop among local vendors, listen to live music or snap a photo with Santa, Loring Park's free holiday extravaganza has a little something for everyone. Between activities, stay warm and keep your spirits high with Holidazzle's assortment of bites and beverages. Start out with some corn on the cob dusted with cinnamon sugar, grab a sausage from Kramarczuk's and top it all off with mini Dutch delights from the Littlest Pancake. Don't forget to wash it down with hot apple cider or a trip to the Fulton Beer Garden.
Open weekends through Dec. 18 in Loring Park. holidazzle.com
European Christmas Market
Styled after European outdoor winter markets, Union Depot gets all gussied up with twinkle lights weekends through Dec. 18 for this free event. Find the perfect handmade gift at one of the dozens of vendor displays, or take in some of the European-flavored food, including scratch-made spaetzle, brats, sausages, pierogies, cakes, strudels, mulled wine and more. Plus, Spinning Wylde, the gourmet cotton candy stand, is now up and running inside this historic building (with plenty of indoor space for little legs to stretch and explore). The grandeur of Union Depot always looks even more impressive during the holiday season.
240 E. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, stpaulchristmasmarket.org
The St. Paul Hotel
Don your most festive attire and revel in the elegance at St. Paul's toniest hotel. From the doorman sporting a top hat to the dolled-up trees, the stage is set for a beautiful scene. In the lobby, full English tea service is prepared with towers of delicate sandwiches and every sort of silver and china serving implement ever created. Those who partake are often decked out in formal attire and refined manners. From little ones with starched skirts to adults with sequins and gloves, it can be a most fabulous affair. Once the season gets going, tickets tend to sell out quickly. Holiday afternoon tea is $60 per person, with reservations available on the hotel's website.
350 N. Market St., St. Paul, saintpaulhotel.com
Downtown St. Paul's Rice Park is no longer just a local slice of winter heaven — it's now on the national stage as one of five cities featured on the Hallmark Channel's "Christmas Cam" livestream. With the trees wrapped in twinkling lights, meandering through the one-block park is a quick holiday jolt to the eyeballs, and the historic buildings of St. Paul act as stoic backdrops. Hold onto that feeling as you walk over to the elegant Meritage; the destination restaurant for fine dining is somehow even lovelier in wintertime. Tuck into a sumptuous cassoulet for the full French experience. The Rice Park magic doesn't end with the holidays, though; the Winter Carnival will be here before you know it.
410 St. Peter St., St. Paul, meritage-stpaul.com
Glow Holiday Festival
If you've driven past CHS Field lately, it's easy to catch a glimpse of the Glow Holiday Festival spectacular set up inside. Celebrate this season of light amid more than 1 million lights; tickets are $20.75 for adults and $12.75 for kids. Snacks and s'mores are available inside the stadium, but it's a short walk to Saint Dinette, Tim Niver's Lowertown restaurant with exceptional service and comfort foods done with a modern/French twist. Save room for some crinkle fries and curried egg.
Festival of Trees
Already an impressive ode to commerce, the Mall of America ratchets up the awe inspiration to 11 during the holiday season with towering silver trees in the rotunda and a plethora of poinsettias, dangling lights and bauble displays throughout. At the Culinary on North, there's also an opportunity to bask in Christmas tree displays while supporting a local cause. Businesses and organizations have decorated trees with ornaments and a few gift cards, and while it's free to browse, there's a chance to buy $10 raffle tickets to win your favorite tree with all proceeds going to Special Olympics Minnesota. Afterward, refuel at any of the familiar stands in the food court, like locally owned Bussin Birria, Ichiddo Ramen or Juicebox. The area's first Shake Shack is here, and the new Kura Sushi revolving sushi bar (the sushi revolves, not the restaurant) is nearby. If your crew needs a break from the hyperstimulation, head down to the Twin City Grill on the first floor for a quiet, mellow meal of Minnesota-approved dishes like walleye.
3rd Floor Atrium, Culinary on North, 2131 Lindau Lane, Bloomington, mallofamerica.com
Nicole Hvidsten and Macy Harder contributed to this story.