12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in St Louis
St Louis, the largest city in Missouri, lies just below the junction of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, which here forms the boundary between Missouri and Illinois. The City has long been known as the "Gateway to the West" because it was from here that the Europeans set out to conquer the Wild West. It is home to the St Louis University, the oldest university west of the Mississippi, which was founded in 1818. The city's connection with Scott Joplin, the "father" of ragtime, ensures its fame as a music city.
See also: Where to Stay in St. Louis
1 Gateway Arch
In the center of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park is the Gateway Arch, a symbol of the city's role as the "Gateway to the West". This parabolic arch of stainless steel, 625 ft high, was erected in 1959-65 to the design of Eero Saarinen, based on an unexecuted project by Adalberto Libera for the entrance to the Esposizione Universale di Roma of 1942. Eight elevators run up to the observation platform on the highest point of the arch. Under the arch are the Visitor Center and the Museum of Westward Expansion.
2 Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park
The tourist center of St Louis is the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park, laid out on a site previously occupied by an old part of the town. It bears the name of President Thomas Jefferson, during whose Presidency the Louisiana Purchase opened up the west to settlement. It's most famous feature is Gateway Arch, but it also includes the Old Courthouse and the Museum of Westward Expansion.
3 Old Cathedral (Basilica of St Louis, King)
Southwest of the Gateway Arch is the Old Cathedral, the Catholic Basilica of St Louis of France. Built in 1831-4 on the site of the first church of St Louis (1770), it survived the 1849 fire unscathed. On the west side of the Cathedral is the Old Cathedral Museum covering the history of the city.
Address: 209 Walnut Street
4 Old Courthouse
On the right-hand side of Market Street is a massive domed building, the Old Courthouse, which is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park. It was built in the mid 1800s and has been the scene of several important trials, including the suit by Dred Scott for freedom from slavery and Suffragist Virginia Louisa Minor for the right to vote. The courthouse now showcases historical exhibits.
5 Missouri Botanical Garden
The beautiful Missouri Botanical Garden is also known as the Shaw Garden, after the businessman and botanist Henry Shaw (1800-89) who laid it out in 1859. In the southeast part of the gardens are the richly appointed Tower Grove House, Henry Shaw's "garden house". The gardens themselves comprise a lovely rose garden, the rather unusual Climatron, built in 1960 for tropical plants, a Japanese Garden, an "aqua-tunnel" under a water-lily pool, and a herbarium.
The Doris I. Schnuck Children's Garden is designed with youngsters in mind, with an aim towards educating and inspiring children in the field of horticulture. Within the garden are several attractions, including cave, a prairie village, and a treehouse. Special exhibits include the "Cave Experience" which is a man-made cave and a wetlands area that includes a steamboat.
Address: 4344 Shaw Boulevard
6 Forest Park
Forest Park sits on the site of the 1904 World Fair and some of the structures here still date from that time period. There are many attractions within the park, including the St Louis Zoo.
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- Forest Park, St Louis
7 Magic House, St Louis Children's Museum
Located in a three story Victorian home, the Magic House museum provides hands-on exhibits about science, communications and computers. Exhibits are divided into themed areas and encourage engagement from children. Each area is designed to enhance curiosity and experimentation.
Address: 516 South Kirkwood Road, St Louis, MO 63122-5926, United States
8 City Museum
The City Museum, housed in a former shoe factory, is a delightfully entertaining facility targeted towards children. Exhibits include a giant aquarium, architectural museum, art activities, participatory circus, and oddities, among many others. The building itself is an impressive piece of architecture.
Address: 701 North 15th Street, Saint Louis, MO 63103-1925, United States
9 Market Street
Across the I 70, beside the Gateway Arch, is the start of Market Street. The city's main street, it is lined by important buildings and, half way along, opens out into St Louis Memorial Plaza. On the left-hand side is the gigantic rotunda of the Busch Stadium, which has seating for 50,000 spectators. The stadium is home to the St Louis Cardinals, the city's baseball team, whose history is documented in the St Louis Cardinal's Hall of Fame. The neighboring National Bowling Hall of Fame does the same for bowling.
Farther along Market Street, on the left, is City Hall, which was modeled on the Hotel de Ville in Paris. There are some interesting buildings in the streets running north from Market Street. On 14th Street is the Soldiers Memorial Building, commemorating all fallen American soldiers. At the corner of 14th Street and Market Street is the Kiel Auditorium.
10 Scott Joplin House
Scott Joplin, the "father" of ragtime, lived in this house from 1901 to 1903. The house is furnished in period to the early 1900s and includes memorabilia and a player piano featuring the artist's music.
Address: 2658 Delmar Street
11 Campbell House Museum
Built in 1851, this three story townhouse has been accurately restored with its carriage house, rose garden, and gazebo, offers a showcase of Victorian furnishings and decorative arts. Campbell House Museum features original furnishings from the family who lived here from 1854 through 1938. The museum collection includes classic Rococo-Revival Victorian furniture, portraits, textiles, silver, gold-leaf frames and cornices, faux-grained woodwork, and other examples of decorative arts.
Address: 1508 Locust Street, St Louis, MO 63103-1816, United States
12 Laumeier Sculpture Park
The Laumeier Sculpture Park features an outdoor collection sculptures designed to showcase contemporary art in a natural environment. Trees and natural woodland with hiking trails surround the sculptures. The park features permanent and temporary displays. Also on site is an indoor gallery with changing exhibits.
Address: 12580 Rott Road, St Louis, MO 63127-1212, United States
Where to Stay in St. Louis for Sightseeing
There are several interesting neighborhoods in St. Louis, but first-time visitors who plan to sightsee would be best off finding accommodation right downtown. This is where the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park and the Gateway Arch are located, along with many other important attractions. Below are some highly-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Located downtown in the entertainment district, near the Gateway Arch, is the posh Four Seasons Hotel, with a beautiful outdoor pool and patio area overlooking the Mississippi River and the Arch. One of the most unique hotels in St. Louis is the St. Louis Union Station, a Doubletree by Hilton, set in the grand old Union Station building dating from 1894. The Grand Hall lobby of this hotel is exquisite. Also downtown is the boutique Magnolia Hotel, with a contemporary feel. It offers regular rooms, suites, and an extended-stay program.
- Mid-Range Hotels: Housed in three beautifully renovated historic buildings and within easy walking distance of the Gateway Arch is the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch. Attached to the Convention Center and near many of the downtown attractions is the Courtyard. Nearby, but closer to the river and the Gateway Arch, is the Embassy Suites by Hilton. This LEED certified all-suite hotel is perfect for families, with two-room suites and a pool.
- Budget Hotels: Since the city center lacks budget hotels, the best option is to find a hotel outside the city center, although this requires a little driving. The Red Roof Inn Plus, near Forest Park, is a good value option about a 10-minute drive from downtown. Even closer is the Hotel Avyan, a former Holiday Inn Express, with basic but comfortable rooms.