12 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Missouri
Few places on Earth are as welcoming as Missouri, USA, and few nations better exemplify the very best of what the United States has to offer than the city of St. Louis, which sits on the beautiful Mississippi River. Nestled between the St. Louis metro area and the state of Illinois, St. Louis is a city built on balance and relative tranquility, often counterbalanced by the rush of the capital city in D.C.
St. Louis is far more than a handful of historic structures: it's a booming cultural hub, highlighted by outstanding local arts and music venues and an emerging restaurant scene. The city's top sites are attractive in their own right, with the art, architecture, and historic buildings in the central neighborhood of Soulard at the top of most itineraries.
But St. Louis is also a city full of fun things to do, from parks and festivals to sporting events and world-class museums. If you're looking for the top things to do in St. Louis, you've come to the right place. Plan your trip with our guide to the top things to do in Missouri, United States of America.
Missouri Botanical Garden
At 17 acres, Missouri Botanical Garden is the largest botanical garden in North America. It boasts over 100,000 plants, more than 25,000 of which are from Missouri. Along with floral exhibitions and special events and programs, the garden has a cafe, free wireless Internet access, and free admission. The grounds are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and open-air and greenhouse exhibits are on display year round.
St. Louis Art Museum
The St. Louis Art Museum is an enormous and well-respected museum with permanent collections dating back to the 19th century. The original building dates back to the 1880s and was part of the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, an early attempt at an 'outdoor museum' that brought together the world's greatest art collections and state-of-the-art facilities. Highlights of a visit include an extensive collection of pre-Columbian objects, extensive paintings from Western Europe and Latin America, African art, and works of French impressionists and post-impressionists. One of the museum's highlights is a large collection of works by Edgar Degas, and the museum has over 300 masterpieces by the artist in its collection. There are also paintings by John Singleton Copley, Thomas Cole, Winslow Homer, Alexander Calder, and Sandro Botticelli. The museum also boasts a collection of more than 10,000 works by celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.
St. Louis Zoo
Just twenty-four miles south of St. Louis, off Interstate 70, is one of the most distinctive and popular zoos in the country, St. Louis Zoo. One of the oldest zoos in the country, it opened in 1885 and moved into its present location in 1899. The park includes a wildlife area that includes a wide variety of habitats and animal species. Highlights include the Elephant Coast, the Asian Forest, the Cheetah Plains, and Jungle Tales. Also noteworthy is the Bat Cave, which has been keeping its five-hundred-plus bats from getting too cold and damp, allowing them to coexist with other animals. In the spring and summer, visitors can visit the New World bird show, which showcases free-flying birds from fifteen different countries. St. Louis Zoo is open every day from April through September, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day. Closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve, and open on Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, and Easter Sunday. There is an admission charge for adults, but there is free admission for children under the age of three.
St. Louis Science Center
If you're looking for a place to spend a fun and educational day out with the kids, make sure to pay a visit to the St. Louis Science Center. It's a huge interactive museum and an excellent stopover on your way to Chicago, the Windy City just across the river. Kids can expect hands-on exhibits with electricity, science, robotics and lasers at St. Louis Science Center. Among the more than 250 interactive exhibits are a weather tower, where the kids can observe how wind and temperature change a room's temperature, a glow-in-the-dark tunnel where they can explore time and change, and an octopus tank, where they can watch the delightful mollusks scurry about. Children are also treated to a 10,000-seat amphitheater where they can listen to musical performances and shows. It's a great place to take kids on a day out, and it's open every day from 9:30am to 5pm, and later on weekdays.
Although St. Louis has existed as a city for much longer than it was the capital of the United States, it was during the 1980's that this fast-growing mid-western city became well known as the Gateway to the West. Today, tourists flock here for the feel of 'Old St. Louis' - the funky shops and restaurants, the red-brick Victorian houses and the old-world atmosphere. The city is a fine place to visit in the summer when the trees burst into summer flowers and the river flows with crowds of vacationers. It's also a good base for trips to nearby sights such as Mississippi Territory, founded as a slave-trading port city in the 17th century.
Founded in 1821 and named for U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, Missouri's capital, Jefferson City, has been the center of government since the 1830s. The surrounding area is agricultural and is best known for its annual Missouri State Fair. The area around the Capitol is known as Old Missouri, a patchwork of 21 state parks, including the Shrine of St. Louis. The city's educational institutions include two state universities, Missouri State University (MSU) and Truman State University, the private Missouri Baptist University, as well as the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Some 25 miles northwest of Jefferson City is Moundsville, an attractive tourist center known for its coal mines. Other towns include Hermann, with a railroad depot and Missouri's only art museum, and Carthage, home of the Missouri General Assembly. The town of Diamondville has the Diamondville State Memorial.
Tower Grove Park
Small and peaceful, Tower Grove Park, located 12 miles west of St. Louis, is perfect for people-watching. Explore a grassy expanse where towering trees line curvy paths, and big lawns frame the 120-foot tall Doric columns of the Tennessee Building and the 80-foot-tall, neo-gothic glass and brick Science Building. If you want to get up close and personal with these unusual structures, check out a local concert or special event at the Shiloh Baptist Church. During the summer season, kids and teens enjoy activities from carnivals to various summer music festivals.
St. Louis Gateway Arch
More than 30 years ago, the 100-foot-high arch was completed. The visitors center makes an interesting stop if you are visiting the site as part of a tour of the surrounding area. Guided tours into the building have become quite popular with tour groups, and an audio-visual presentation in the arch's Discovery Plaza provides a quick and lively history of the project and the arch's design and construction. Visitors can climb inside the arch, or sit on the outside and admire the site from a 360-degree view. Standing on the top of the Arch is a must for any visitor, whether it is for the view or to stretch their legs. For the price of the ticket, visitors are given a good view of the city, which includes a full view of the river and the Gateway Arch. On the long and short tours into the arch, visitors can walk to the various areas inside the structure including an observation platform at the apex and a restaurant on top of the arch. Guided tours can be purchased inside the visitor center. For the cost, you are given a 20-minute guided tour of the arch and surrounding area. The arch is not always open and tours are subject to weather conditions, which is why it is advisable to purchase tickets in advance.
Natural Bridge State Park
Natural Bridge State Park is America's only natural bridge and is just 15 minutes from St. Louis. The park spans part of the White River and includes 600 acres of hiking and cross-country ski trails. Hikers can either go on a stroll around the park or make the 3.2-mile one-way hike from the parking lot to Natural Bridge, crossing more than 100 feet above the river. The bridge was built by a series of erosional events and is now about 4 feet thick at the base and 50 feet wide. The hike through the wooded area of the park is peaceful and scenic, while the view from the bridge is stunning.
St. Louis Cathedral
The Cathedral Church of St. Louis was built between 1842 and 1847. Architect Thomas U. Walter planned for the building and proposed the Romanesque design for the cathedral. It is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Louis, the second oldest diocese in the United States, and the first diocese established outside of Europe. The building features Italian marble, imported from Carrara in Italy. The Cathedral Church of Saint Louis is a fine example of a Gothic style in North America, and is named to the National Register of Historic Places.
Missouri State Capitol
The impressive dome of Missouri's state capitol building houses an exposition room, a gift shop, an auditorium, and a cafe where visitors can buy a drink and watch events as they happen on the floor of the House of Representatives. Outside, the riverfront structure is one of the most prominent and photogenic architectural features of the city. One of the first domed capitol buildings, Missouri's is made of pink sandstone and is two stories high with a tower at each end. It was built between 1858 and 1875 by Civil War veteran Nathaniel Hodges, after whom the structure is named.
The Civil War began with the Battle of Bull Run, fought on the site of Mount Vernon. An Ohio native and future president Abraham Lincoln, who believed in emancipation, understood the practical advantages to his Union Army of conquering southern areas before the conflict became more political and thus more deadly. The Battle of Bull Run, fought on July 21, 1861, ended with a victory for the Union over the Confederate States of America, although that temporary success was due mostly to the fact that Robert E. Lee's Virginia Army had a storied and highly regarded officer and the relatively inexperienced Union troops engaged in the battle, equipped only with rifles, did not have much ammunition and had to advance slowly across a rolling open field. Lincoln later called this victory "the bloodiest battle of the War." Lincoln's friendship with Lee died the next day. Mount Vernon was founded in 1835 by abolitionist Reverend John Fletcher Webster, who saw it as a logical place for a man who hated slavery to establish a plantation that, unlike other African-American mansions at the time, would not depend on the vagaries of the cotton industry. Lincoln was an avid visitor of the town, but was never officially entertained there until he visited in 1861, only three weeks before the Battle of Bull Run.