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It wasn’t until last year before I realized that there are back-to-back Midwest Irish Festivals. The Minnesota Irish Fair and Iowa Irish Festival. I’m the crazy one that did both! It was totally worth it too. Both locations had food, music, and dancing, but they were also very different in their own ways too. Since they were so close, I figured I would give you a breakdown of the two.
Midwest Irish Festivals
Minnesota: Minnesota Irish Fair, August 11-13, 2023
Iowa: Iowa Irish Festival, August 5-6, 2023
Located on Harriet Island, it’s a sprawling park in downtown St. Paul. Great Views of the river. Plenty of room to find a spot and chill. People bring blankets, chairs, and even personal low profile awnings to keep the sun off them.
Located in Lincoln Park, it’s a city park surrounded by tall buildings and then it sprawls out from there. Down streets, you’ll find other attractions and you can even hop a bus to some off-site rugby games.
They have bleachers set up to watch the stage. People bring their own chairs and chill in the park to reserve their spots. We left our chairs and came back later in the day. When we returned, our chairs were configured a little more squished together. Festival Map
Cost is FREE – All musical entertainment is included. Additional things like mini-golf or inflatables may cost extra.
3 Day Admission, $14 online, or $20 at the gate. Kids 12 and under are free! The three-day admission is worth it!
Both venues use tickets to get food and beverages.
Local Irish Pubs come out and show off some of their favorite foods, like fish and chips, soda bread, and Jameson Burgers. If you ever are running low on tickets and need something to spend those tickets on, get some of Maggies Irish Cookies.
They are prepared on-site and heavenly. Ok, sorry, getting off-topic. You can also donate your tickets at the ticket stand and they use the proceeds for a local charity. Food ranges from 3-7 tickets. Tickets are $1 each.
Because this is a free venue, you’re not limited to the food choices within the market. I usually pack a few juice boxes and a bottle of water.
The Iowa Irish Fest also uses the ticket system for food. They had a lot of the same traditional Irish foods too. One of my favorites of this festival was the ribbon fries. The thin fries were a cross between a curly fry and a potato chip. They melted in your mouth.
Since the festival was surrounded by businesses, we found that some of the bars 4th Street were open, including Jamerson’s. They allowed you to purchase water and other drinks with cash or plastic. I enjoyed this because I’m always hesitant to buy tickets without knowing if I will use them all up. That and I didn’t want to get cash from the machine.
The Minnesota Irish Festival is filled with three days full of performers. When there isn’t a headliner on the Main Stage, the Pub stage is going. Most of the time you’ll see people chilling on the blanket listening to music. It is common to see people dancing in their own little space they’ve created. The headlining acts are Wild Colonial Bhoys & We Banjo 3 this year.
With two stages of entertainment, you will find something you like. The Lincoln Stage off 4th street is a little more intimate. Bring your chairs over and hang out on the street. It’s right next to Jameson’s so there are many people out having a good time.
The Main Stage is where the action is. Lawn Chairs have been squished into every nook and cranny. The crowds are equal to that in Minnesota but in half the space. You get to know your neighbor pretty quickly. The music spreads throughout the park. There is no bad seat. The headliners are Scythian & Gaelic Storm.
The Celtic Marketplace is right off the river. Most of the time you can take a stroll over by here to see the boats floating the Mississippi. They also have a Cultural Pavilion and Sportsfield. Depending on the day, the sports field is used for rugby, lacrosse, or sheep herding demonstrations. If you are like me, you may find yourself in the middle of a demonstration without realizing it. The sheep don’t always stay on course! ☺
The Iowa Fest has events going on all weekend long too. From morning masses to whiskey tastings, there is plenty to do. They have an Irish Market, a small cultural events center where you can learn about your heritage. Offsite they have rugby tournaments with a shuttle service. My favorite was the highland games. They are off to the north side of the park and make great use of their space.
For the Kids
Minnesota kids activities
Set up in a tent on the opposite end of the music and beer tents, you’ll find the kid’s activity tent. There are all kinds of different activities from dance lessons to arts and crafts. They also had miniature golf and some other pay activities you could partake in. The inflatables and golf cost extra money. Besides the festival events, the kid’s area has a giant playground for your kids to let off steam.
Iowa kids activities
Since you paid to get in, everything is included. This is music to parents’ ears! They had a couple of bouncy houses, giant slides, and a balloon animal artist! My kids had so much fun playing over here.
Minnesota Parking Options
Seeing as though the festival is on an Island, parking can get a little tricky. That’s where public transportation comes in handy. And the best part is, Metro Transit will get you to the fair for free! Take the Green Line Train to Union Depot and hop on a shuttle. Download a free bus pass here: Metro Transit.
If you are like me, and like your car close by because you typically forget something important, you can park in most places on the Island. They always say parking is limited, but I have never had a problem. I don’t mind paying the $15 to park Plato Blvd. There is handicapped parking off Water Street if needed. Here is the full parking map.
Iowa Parking Options
Iowa’s Irish Fest parking got a little trickier. First off, I’m not what you call a city girl. Give me a parking lot any day. That’s why I was excited to find a parking ramp right by the entrance. They have one time rates and you can reserve space all day or weekend long. The weekend or daily rate allows you to come and go as much as you want. We purchased a weekend pass but ran into a full lot upon our return. After finding alternative parking, we were told that they did have a spot for us. Live and learn.
Alternative parking is available on the cities streets. It’s free or metered depending on where you go. The locals told me not to park North of Franklin Street. Stick with anything south of the festival. The festival gets packed at night, so arrive early if possible.
Would I go back?
If the Minnesota Irish fest sprawls along its own island, Iowa’s Irish Fair is like a condensed version of Minnesota’s. The only constant between the two is the music. The food, crafts, and activities were all their own. I had a lot of fun at both venues. While I may not get to two in one year again, I will be attending a Midwest Irish Festival every year. It’s a tradition in my family.
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