16 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Kansas City, MO
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This double city in the Midwest, straddling the border between Kansas and Missouri, lies at the junction of the Kansas River with the Missouri River, extending along the high banks, known as the Bluffs, of both rivers. World-famous for its steaks and barbecue, it is sometimes called the "Barbecue Capital."
The city's legacy in jazz history can be explored in the Historic Jazz District, which was once filled with the sounds of jazz icons like Charlie "Bird" Parker and Big Joe Turner. Another historic area is the Westport Neighborhood, which is full of things to do, including antique shopping and river cruises. Kansas City is also home to several good museums, including the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, the Arabia Steamboat Museum, and the Toy and Miniature Museum.
Plan the best places to visit in this world-famous city with our list of top attractions in Kansas City, Missouri.
See also: Where to Stay in Kansas City
1. National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial
Kansas City's National World War I Museum sits at the feet of the Liberty Memorial, an impressive Egyptian Revival-style monument erected in 1928 in honor of the men and women who served and died in the war. The museum's collections include a wide variety of artifacts, letters, films, and other pieces of historical significance that were gathered between 1920 and today.
The collections and exhibits present a rounded view of the war's global impact, including exhibits like a re-creation of the crater left behind after a French farmhouse is struck by a howitzer shell. Visitors can walk through the crater and can also experience what it looked and sounded like inside the trenches with six reproduced scenes.
Other exhibits share compelling stories from those who experienced the war, both on the front lines and at home. Other items on display include a Renault FT-17 tank with damage from a German shell, weapons, uniforms, and personal objects that soldiers brought into battle. In total, the collection is one of the world's largest, with more than 75,000 items.
Address: 100 W 26th Street, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.theworldwar.org
2. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art has impressive collections, which represent North American, European, Asian, and African cultures. The antiquities collection includes Greek, Roman, and Near Eastern pieces from as far back as the 2nd millennium BC, including its newest Egyptian addition, the ornate inner coffin of Meret-it-es.
The collection of African art represents 2,500 years of craftsmanship, containing more than 400 works in a wide variety of media from wood to ivory. Native American artifacts include basket work, pottery, and ornate quill and beadwork. The museum's European art collection spans from medieval times through the 1800s, with emphasis on 19th-century Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings and 17th-century Italian Baroque art.
Additional galleries focus on Chinese, Japanese, and American art, and there are other exhibits dedicated to both contemporary and modern art. One does not need to be an art enthusiast to appreciate the lovely grounds and the sculpture park, where it's possible to go for a walk, play some sports, enjoy a picnic, or take a guided audio tour.
Address: 4525 Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.nelson-atkins.org
Located within Kansas City's Crown Center, LEGOLAND is one of the city's top family attractions for the young and young-at-heart. Here, you will find a complete replica of the city, built with more than 1.5 million LEGO bricks.
The models include all the city's major landmarks like Arrowhead Stadium, Union Station, Country Club Plaza, the World War I Memorial, and even the Crown Center. Aspiring builders of all ages are also able to talk to master builders and attend workshops for all skill and age levels, and kids can catch photo-ops with their favorite LEGO characters.
Visitors can enjoy a variety of shows throughout the day at the 4D Cinema where a full sensory experience accompanies each show. There are also interactive rides, including Kingdom Quest where riders "zap" the scoundrels who have captured the princess, the Merlin's Apprentice ride where kids take flight, and a virtual reality experience that races through the world. Kids who need to burn off energy will love the Ninjago "training camp," a laser maze with lots of physical challenges.
Address: 2475 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.legolanddiscoverycenter.com/kansas-city
4. Arabia Steamboat Museum
On September 5, 1856, a steamboat carrying 400,000 pounds of supplies destined for general stores in the Midwest sank in the Missouri River, just six miles before reaching Kansas City. The Arabia was lost for more than 130 years before an amateur archaeologist discovered it buried 45 feet beneath a cornfield.
As erosion caused the course of the great river to change, the boat's remains and cargo were encased in soil and preserved as if in a giant time capsule. The result is a massive collection of pre-Civil War artifacts, all examples of the objects and food that were part of daily life for the pioneers. The number of artifacts found was so great, in fact, that museum staff continue to clean the objects today.
Museum visitors can watch this process, and items are continuously being added to the exhibits as they are restored. Collections include a wide range of everyday items, like toys, tools, cookware, and even China sets. The museum also has exhibits about the glory days of steamboats on the Mighty Missouri, a river which claimed hundreds of steamboats beneath its waters.
Address: 400 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: http://1856.com/
5. Kansas City Zoo
The Kansas City Zoo has become one of the area's top family attractions thanks to major renovations and improvements in recent years. It is filled with wildlife representing over 200 species from all over the world, with a great deal of attention focused on each animal's habitat and quality of life.
Among its 1,700-plus residents are African elephants; rhinos; leopards; giraffes; wallabies; and several species of primate, including Bornean orangutans, blue monkeys, chimpanzees, and more. The zoo is also home to ocean-dwellers, including part-time swimmers like penguins and sea lions, as well as jellyfish, stingrays, and other aquatic life.
One of the zoo's most popular exhibits is the Helzberg Penguin Plaza, an impressive living space formed out of ice and stone that closely resembles their native habitat. Visitors can watch the lively birds slide, swim, and play on the ice, in the water, and in fresh snow that falls from the sky of their habitat. Savvy spectators can also spot eight camouflaged nesting boxes within the rocks where the residents raise their young.
The Kansas City Zoo has also invested a great deal into its primate habitats, and continues to add to the facilities to enrich the lives of their residents. "Orangutan University" is a newer space that provides the orangutans with exercise and educational opportunities. In addition to giving visitors the opportunity to watch them play and learn, specialized computers allow interaction between the primates and their human relatives.
Other top exhibits include a 1,300-gallon jellyfish tank and Stingray Bay, a 20,000-gallon touch-tank home to southern and cownose stingrays, as well as whitespotted bamboo sharks. The zoo also offers special animal encounters with Aldabra tortoises, giraffes, camels, penguins, and rhinos.
Address: 6800 Zoo Drive, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.kansascityzoo.org
6. Science City
Science City, located in Union Station, is a top attraction for families visiting Kansas City. Exhibits focus on various aspects of science and are all interactive, so that visitors can learn through hands-on experience.
One of its most popular permanent exhibits is Force and Motion, a space where you can test and explore the properties of physics. Similarly, the Every Last Drop exhibit explores the unique properties of water, from its movement and power to the many ways we depend on it, as well as the need for conservation.
Younger kids will really dig the Dino Lab, where they can learn about paleontology by unearthing their own discoveries, and the whole family will be fascinated by the genetics lab. Other interactive exhibits include daily activities in the Demo Area, a test kitchen where kids can explore the properties of food, and a puzzling maze park. The museum also has a planetarium, nature center, and hosts special events.
Address: 30 W Pershing Road, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.unionstation.org/sciencecity
7. National Museum of Toys and Miniatures
Located on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures contains more than 72,000 examples of antique toys and scaled miniatures. The museum originated in 1982 from the personal collections of Mary Harris Francis and Barbara Marshall, and since then has grown to occupy 33,000 square feet.
Tourists will find an impressive collection of antique toys that includes dolls, figures, games, model trains, and more. Some of the most nostalgic examples are Ovaltine's 1938 Telematic Radio Orphan Annie Pin, agate marbles, and a set of lead soldiers complete with mold.
The museum's collection of fine-scale miniatures is the largest in the world, featuring perfectly scaled reproductions of actual art and artifacts. Among the most remarkable pieces are a 1955 Singer sewing machine miniature and a tiny ornate chest in 1:12 scale crafted from ebony and gold. The museum also hosts special events that allow adults to revisit childhood, like marble tournaments or Saturday morning cartoons, complete with a big bowl of cereal.
Address: 5235 Oak Street, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.toyandminiaturemuseum.org
8. Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art
The permanent collection at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art began with the Bebe and Crosby Kemper Collection, which includes works by Georgia O'Keeffe, Robert Mapplethorpe, and William Wegman. It now includes a broad range of works, including painting; sculpture; installations; prints; and works on paper, photography, and time-based media.
Groups of 10 or more can arrange to have a free docent-led tour, and there are free drop-in tours each Saturday that are open to the public without reservation. The museum also hosts programs and workshops tailored to engage various groups, including youth, teens, adults, and the whole family.
Address: 4420 Warwick Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.kemperart.org
9. Hallmark Visitors Center
Located in the Crown Center complex, the Hallmark Visitors Center displays the history of the greeting card industry. It tells the rags-to-riches story of how Joyce Hall created an international institution based on caring. The center's exhibits explore the company's history and includes interactive stations, as well as a film. It is also home to Kaleidoscope, a children's creativity center that allows kids to use various materials to create their own art. The sessions last 50 minutes and are free of charge, led by Hallmark's own creative staff.
Location: Crown Center Complex, Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.hallmarkvisitorscenter.com
10. American Jazz Museum
The American Jazz Museum is located in Kansas City's Historic Jazz District, once home to some of the genre's most influential musicians, including Big Joe Turner, Count Basie, and Charlie Parker. Museum visitors will be immersed in every aspect of jazz, from history to an exploration of the music itself. Collections include memorabilia like posters and photos, as well as personal items like Ella Fitzgerald's gown and Charlie Parker's saxophone.
Other exhibits include listening stations, mixing boards, and films. The museum is also home to the Blue Room, a jazz club that offers live music several nights a week, as well as the fully restored 1912 Gem Theater, which hosts a wide variety of events and productions. The Jazz Museum is also very involved in community outreach, offering youth programs and hosting local events.
Address: 1616 E 18th Street, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.americanjazzmuseum.org
11. Westport Neighborhood
Tourists looking for a nice neighborhood to explore will love Westport, one of the city's oldest and most popular sightseeing destinations. It was named for its position as the "last stop" in Kansas City before pioneers set out on their journey west and is the site of the Battle of Westport, a crucial victory in ending the Civil War.
This neighborhood is also home to the 1855 Harris House Museum. Today, it is a trendy neighborhood filled with the hottest new restaurants and plenty of shopping at its chic boutiques and antique stores. The community also hosts festivals, concerts, and holiday celebrations.
12. Airline History Museum
The Airline History Museum at the Downtown Airport on the northern edge of the city is guaranteed to make any flight enthusiast's heart beat faster. Here, you can relive the days when people still flew with propeller machines over the Atlantic, and Kansas City was the TWA headquarters. Flight veterans will be only too happy to tell their stories, and visitors can admire the many aircraft on display.
One of the museum's best-known pieces is the TWA Moonliner, a scale model of the iconic passenger rocket conceived by Howard Hughes, Walt Disney, and Wernher Von Braun. The museum's most popular attraction is its flight simulators, which give visitors the opportunity to see and feel what it's like to fly a wide range of aircraft, from a biplane to a fighter jet.
Address: 201 NW Lou Holland Drive, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.airlinehistory.org
13. SEA LIFE Kansas City
Located in the Crown Center with LEGOLAND, SEA LIFE Kansas City is home to a 260,000-gallon tank that features a walk-through ocean tunnel. From within the transparent tunnel, visitors can see sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, and other aquarium residents of the Tropical Ocean Exhibit all around them.
One of the most popular exhibits at the aquarium is the Sea Turtle Rescue Center, home to several green sea turtles who were rescued but were unable to be returned to the wild. A favorite for kids is the Interactive Touchpool, where visitors can handle ocean life including sea urchins and starfish. Young artists will appreciate Doodle Reef, where they can watch their drawings come to life.
Address: 2475 Grand Boulevard, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.visitsealife.com/kansas-city
14. Union Station
Union Station was built in 1914 and accommodated thousands of passengers. It included a waiting room designed to hold up to 10,000 people. The station closed in the 1980s, underwent major renovations, and reopened in 1999 with shops, restaurants, and other services. It has a much smaller railway service as it now functions as an Amtrak stop.
The building itself is quite impressive and one of the city's main tourist attractions. It also houses several interesting things to do, including Science City, the Regnier Extreme Screen Theater, the Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium, and City Stage Theater.
Address: 30 W Pershing Road, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.unionstation.org
15. Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden
The Kauffman Memorial Garden has provided an oasis to the residents of Kansas City since the spring of 2000, covering two acres within the Kauffman Legacy Park. The gardens include both perennials and annual beds, which are changed each season, as well as a variety of decorative and shade trees. The park is also home to several bronze sculptures created by artist Tom Corbin, as well as fountains and stone landscaping.
Parking and admission to the gardens are free, and tours can be arranged in advance by contacting the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Family Foundation; the entire park is wheelchair accessible.
Another excellent green space is the Jacob L. Loose Park, a 75-acre public park that features a 1.5 -acre rose garden, with approximately 130 varieties. It also offers recreation space, including tennis courts, fountains, and a spray park for kids (or anyone) to cool off in.
Address: 4800 Rockhill Road, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.kauffman.org/our-campus/memorial-garden
16. Money Museum
The Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City is a great free tourist attraction for anyone interested in the history and evolution of American currency. Permanent exhibits include the Harry S. Truman Coin Collection, an actual gold bar, an informational exhibit about inflation, and an interactive personal finance exhibit.
The museum also hosts a variety of changing exhibits, many of which focus on the social aspects of money and currency, as well as economic education. Past exhibits have highlighted the challenges that minorities have faced in the financial world.
Address: 1 Memorial Drive, Kansas City, Missouri
Official site: www.kansascityfed.org/moneymuseum
Where to Stay in Kansas City for Sightseeing
Kansas City's main attractions are in the vibrant city center, and this is also where many of the best hotels are found. The south part of downtown is known for its parks and historical monuments, including the National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial. Farther north, the Power and Light District is the new entertainment area, with restaurants, shops, and music venues. Below are some highly rated hotels in convenient locations:
- The boutique Ambassador Hotel is housed in the restored 1920s-era Neoclassical Gate City National Bank building. Offering sophisticated service and 43 luxurious rooms, it is just a short walk from City Hall.
- The towering Sheraton Kansas City Hotel at Crown Center is a good choice for families, with spacious, well-appointed rooms and an indoor/outdoor pool. This hotel is right next door to LEGOLAND and provides a free local shuttle service.
- The Westin Kansas City at Crown Center, also with a free shuttle, offers fine views out over the city and is connected via skyway to the Hallmark Visitors Center and Union Station.
- The Best Western Plus Seville Plaza Hotel, a few miles south of downtown, has a Spanish-themed décor and is within walking distance of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.
- The Kansas City Marriott Country Club Plaza is in the same area and close to the restaurants, shopping, and entertainment of the Country Club Plaza. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is right behind the hotel.
- Farther out and perfect for sports fans is the Hotel Lotus, across the street from both the Kauffman and Arrowhead stadiums.
- With a prime downtown location, the 816 Hotel Westport Country Club Plaza offers comfortable rooms, free parking, and complimentary breakfast.
- Near the airport, 20 minutes from downtown, are the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites and La Quinta Inns & Suites, both with free airport shuttles.
- About 15 minutes northeast of downtown is the Comfort Inn & Suites, near Worlds of Fun Amusement Park and Oceans of Fun Waterpark. All of these hotels offer heated indoor pools.