Who doesn’t have an obsession with castles? The American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis does and with the new addition by HGA Architects, you can go from historic to modern with a courtyard in between.
I hadn’t visited ASI for years and since the opening of the new addition, it’s been on my list. With relatives in town, not of Swedish but Scandinavian heritage (close enough!), and the holidays approaching, we opt for a Friday afternoon visit. Our group includes my mom, aunt, my two kids and me.
ASI lies just south of downtown Minneapolis on Park Avenue, the first asphalt road in the Twin Cities which is also known as the Golden Mile. The institute’s new signage, parking lot and landscaping greatly enhance its presence and ease of access. They also designate close parking spots for fuel-efficient vehicles only, our first hint at the sustainable features for the site’s new design.
Upon entering we’re drawn to the right, right into their gift shop featuring Scandinavian designed goods and to my kids’ delight – a candy store. Might they have Swedish Fish? Bulk candy is $12 a pound so after a quick study, the kids chose a few items that occupy them while the grown-ups check out the shop a bit more. The kids discover the Norwegian (our ancestry) version of Ticket to Ride. I file that idea away for later.
The cafe, Fika, runs the length of the courtyard’s southside. There is plenty of daylight streaming in at 3:00 in the afternoon and many larger groups of people dining in the cafe. We peruse the chalkboard menu for some time and place an order for various coffees and desserts from lattes to hot chocolates (both of which are served with fancy swirls) and flourless chocolate torte to bread pudding. Our order is served to us at the table along with real linens and silverware. The minute I insist I have to try my 7-year-old son’s dessert, he picks up the last large section of it to shove in his mouth. I manage to talk him down from that to share a bite with me. The rest of us are sharing politely.
After dessert, we pay our admission fees for the castle portion of the institute (the cafe, gift shop and access to the courtyard are all free). Fees run $7 for adults and $4 for kids (ages 6-18; under 6 are free). Upon arriving at the paid portion of the museum, the kids immediately assume we are in some sort of Harry Potter-like adventure (we are in the process of reading the books together). The castle-like vibe is heightened here because we are inside at the old to new transition point, yet can touch the exposed exterior stone of the castle.
We explore all three levels of the castle including the solarium in about an hour. It was the right amount of time considering we had a nine and seven-year old with us. Many of the rooms were set with holiday decor including some very elaborate table settings and Christmas tree decor. I would like to get the kids in for napkin folding instruction, please!
We spend more time on the third floor at the kids’ playhouse and Turret area, where Tomte, the elf, is now accepting written holiday wishes. The kids each scribe a letter to drop into the post. From our perch, we also discover the new addition’s green roof and miscellaneous hidden goats, gargoyles and gnomes. Before leaving, we take one last walk around the courtyard. I envision that us adults could easily come back and explore the museum more, and that for free, the kids and I could come back to shop, dine and just be in the shadow of Minnesota’s only castle.