12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in St. Louis, MO
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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. But today, with so many things to do in St. Louis, you don't need to leave the city limits to have an adventure.
Spend a day or two seeing the sights and enjoy some dining and shopping. The Gateway Arch is the city's most famous site, but the city is home to many museums and interesting attractions. St. Louis is also home to 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.
Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top things to do in St. Louis.
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 feet high, was erected from 1959 to 1965 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. It is the tallest monument in the United States.
Eight elevators run up to the observation platform on the highest point of the arch. You can also view the arch from the water on one of the many riverboat cruises, or by air in a helicopter tour. Tickets for the Gateway Arch are sold at the Gateway Arch Ticketing and Visitor Center in the Old Courthouse, which is located eight blocks (a 10- to 15-minute walk) from the arch. Advance purchase of tickets for the observation platform is recommended.
Official site: http://www.gatewayarch.com/
2. 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 exhibits from the Museum of Westward Expansion. The Gateway Arch Ticketing and Visitor Center is also located in the Old Courthouse.
The courthouse is slated for a major renovation in 2021 that will include new galleries and an elevator. During this time, the building will be closed to visitors.
Address: 11 N. 4th Street, St. Louis, Missouri
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/jeff/planyourvisit/och.htm
3. 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 tourist attractions, including a prairie village and 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, St. Louis, Missouri
Official site: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/
4. Forest Park Attractions
Forest Park sits on the site of the 1904 World Fair, and some of the structures here still date from that time period. The Jefferson Memorial sits on the north side of the park and houses the Missouri History Museum, which includes historical exhibits about the state, St. Louis, and Charles Lindbergh.
In the center of the park, the City Art Museum has collections of art from prehistoric through contemporary works, and nearby is the Zoo.
To the east, near the Highlands Golf and Tennis Center, the Jewel Box contains a conservatory with hundreds of varieties of flowers. Beyond this, on the outside corner of the park, the St. Louis Science Center has plenty of attractions and things to do, including a planetarium, IMAX theater, and interactive exhibits for all ages.
5. Saint Louis Zoo
The Saint Louis Zoo is located in Forest Park. You'll find it across the lawn, and an easy stroll from the City Art Museum. The zoo has more than 12,000 animals across 500 species. Residents include Asian elephants, hippos, gorillas, tree kangaroos, jaguars, and sea lions.
The zoo is a free attraction in St. Louis, making it available to everyone. Although you still have to pay a modest fee for parking, this is the only cost you'll have to bear, and it's a small price to pay for what the zoo has to offer.
Innovative pavilions house animals from around the world, and two of the best are the polar bear and hippopotamus pools. Here, you can be mere inches from these huge animals on the other side of thick glass.
The Sea Lion show is a favorite. You'll see high dives, Frisbee tosses, flipper walks, and other entertaining and educational antics. A small fee is charged for the show. Apart from the animals, fun rides for the kids are available, including a carousel, the miniature Zooline Railroad, and a 4D theater.
Official site: https://www.stlzoo.org/
6. 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.
There is a designated play area for babies and toddlers, as well as the Calming Corner, a room filled with activities and toys that are soothing, which is a haven for children who need a break from sensory overload. The museum café specializes in healthy fresh-food options; many of the ingredients are grown on-site.
Address: 516 South Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, Missouri
Official site: http://www.magichouse.org/
7. City Museum
The City Museum, housed in a former shoe factory, is a delightfully entertaining facility that both children and adults will appreciate. Exhibits include a giant aquarium, architectural museum, art activities, participatory circus, and oddities, among many others.
The museum's major structures and installations were made entirely of materials found within the St. Louis municipal area. The building itself is an impressive piece of architecture, and its design is the brainchild of sculptor and artist Bob Cassilly.
Address: 701 North 15th Street, Saint Louis, Missouri
Official site: http://www.citymuseum.org/
8. 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 halfway 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 Cardinals 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.
9. 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 from 1831 to 1834 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. The interior of the church is decorated with complex mosaics, and ongoing restoration projects have returned the dome and bell towers to their original glory.
Address: 209 Walnut Street, St. Louis, Missouri
Official site: http://www.oldcathedralstl.org/
10. Scott Joplin House
Music lovers will appreciate this attraction. Scott Joplin, the composer and pianist known as the "father of Ragtime," lived in this house from 1901 to 1903. He was most famous for pieces like the Maple Leaf Rag, and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize after his death.
Maintained by Missouri State Parks, the house is furnished in period to the early 1900s and includes memorabilia and a player piano featuring the artist's music. Interpretive programs and tours are available to visitors.
Address: 2658 Delmar Street, Saint Louis, Missouri
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, Missouri
Official site: http://www.campbellhousemuseum.org/
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, Missouri
Official site: http://www.laumeiersculpturepark.org/
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:
- 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, Curio Collection 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, a Tribute Portfolio, with a contemporary feel. It offers regular rooms, suites, and an extended-stay program.
- 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 St. Loius Downtown/Convention Center.
- Nearby, but closer to the river and the Gateway Arch, is the Embassy Suites by Hilton St. Louis . This LEED certified all-suite hotel is perfect for families, with two-room suites and a pool.
- 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 St Louis-Forest Park/Hampton Avenue, 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.
More Places to Explore near St. Louis
St. Louis sits at the eastern edge of Missouri, while at the far western border is Kansas City, known for its barbecue and jazz music. Outside its two big cities, Missouri has several attractions worth visiting, including Silver Dollar City in Branson, Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in Republic, and the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal.
North of St. Louis is Springfield, the capital of Illinois, and beyond it is Chicago. About the same distance from St. Louis as Kansas City are Indianapolis, in Indiana, and Louisville, in Kentucky, both to the east, and the Tennessee cities of Nashville and Memphis are to the south.