About four hours from Chicago, St. Louis shyly overlooks the Mississippi River, peeking toward Illinois and protected by the famous metal arch that marks its skyline. Founded by French fur traders in 1764, it is now a quiet Midwestern city with a reputation for biotechnology, medicine and… baseball. In fact, the St. Louis Cardinals are among the most acclaimed teams in Major League Baseball.
This is the lesser known America, not so touristy and very authentic: Saint Louis is an ideal stop during a Route 66 road trip to spend a day or two amidst modern architecture, baseball and events (do not miss the Blues at the Arch every Friday in August). So here are the main attractions not to be missed during a visit to the city:
What to do in Saint Louis
The city’s most popular symbol and attraction, the Gateway Arch, built in the 1960s, is the tallest arch in the world. The steel that covers it glistens in the sun and attracts more than four million visitors a year. In addition to viewing it from the outside, you can enter it and climb to the top via a futuristic elevator that takes passengers up to the observatory.
It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in winter and 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in summer. Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the Old Courthouse for a price of $3 for ground floor entry only, which also gives access to the film about the construction of the arch. To go up, however, the price is $13 for adults and $10 for children (3-15). The monument is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, operated by the National Park Service, and you don’t need to pay the $3 ticket if you have a national parks pass.
A stone’s throw from the Gateway Arch, the Old Courthouse in St. Louis is a courthouse that dates back to the 1800s. Here, Virginia Minor, a suffragette activist, tried to vote during the 1872 election and was arrested. Inside you can learn about a part of the history of the United States, especially about the first settlements from Europe, the fight against slavery and the Civil War. The Old Courthouse was in fact the scene of hundreds of battles for freedom, but one left its mark more than the others: in 1857, Dred Scott and his wife denounced slavery but the Supreme Court rejected their claims because the constitution did not protect African Americans. The affair became a landmark case and is now remembered as the Dred Scott Decision or Dred Scott v. Sandford.
Admission is free and it is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter and 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the summer. It currently serves as the visitor center for the Gateway Arch.
Tower Grove Park and Missouri Botanical Garden
Moving away from the Mississippi and inland, about 6 miles from the Old Courthouse and the arch, we find two parks: Tower Grove Park and the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The latter expands over 32 acres including vegetable gardens, gardens and greenhouses. Among these is the spectacular futuristic Climatron dome that encloses a tropical forest: the dense vegetation gives way from time to time to waterfalls, rocks and 2,800 plants. A Japanese garden and a Victorian-style garden are also among the attractions.
Tower Grove Park is adjacent to the botanical gardens and is a good 15 miles long. It includes 11 pavilions dating back to the Victorian era, buildings, statues, tennis courts and soccer fields. During the fall months, it transforms into a riot of yellow and orange. If you happen to be there on a Saturday, don’t miss the farmers’ market from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. near the Wading Pool Pavilion.
Saint Louis Cathedral
The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, completed in 1914 and dedicated to Louis IX of France, holds the largest collection of mosaics in the world outside of Russia. Covering an area of nearly 26,000 square feet, the mosaics consist of 41.5 million tiles and more than 7,000 colors.
The basement houses crypts and a museum dedicated to the mosaics, while outside stands a 12-feet steel statue dedicated to peace and justice among different races. Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral in 1997 and a plaque with one of his phrases was dedicated to him and placed on the statue.
It is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and masses are celebrated at 7, 8 and 12 a.m.
Near the cathedral, Forest Park covers more than 550 acres used for museums, buildings, attractions and a zoo. Take a boat ride, take photos of the waterfalls and one of the oldest buildings in the park, the Cabanne House, erected in 1876. Museums include the Missouri History Museum and the Saint Louis Art Museum.
Get inside a whale or explore caves? Here it is possible! It’s not your classic museum with artwork and statues, but instead consists of a series of industrial objects and buildings displayed inside the former International Shoe building dating back to the mid-19th century. The City Museum consists of four floors and a terrace with a pond and a real school bus protruding from the roof. Slides, winding staircases, an airplane and a dragon are just a few of the fun buildings at this engaging St. Louis museum.
Tickets online: $18 + tax ages 3 and up. Access to the terrace requires purchase of a $5 ticket. Children under 2 get in free. Opening times are as follows:
- Monday and Tuesday – closed
- Wednesday and Thursday – 9 a.m. to 5 p.m
- Friday and Saturday – 9 a.m. to midnight
- Sunday – 11 a.m. to 5 p.m
Laumeier Sculpture Park
Moving away from the city center you will get to the Laumeier Sculpture Park in 20 minutes. It’s the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and immerse yourself in nature, as well as a series of distinctive sculptures. Among the more than 60 works featured are The Way, completed in 1980 and built by piecing together 18 oil barrels to a height of 60 feet, and Eye, a giant eye from 2007 with a circumference of 40 feet. There are a few walking trails, all of which are very easy and suitable for all ages.
The park is free and open daily from 8:30 am until thirty minutes after sunset.
This is where the famous St. Louis Cardinals play, and have won the World Series 11 times. Obviously, the suggestion would be to see a real live game, but if you don’t have the opportunity, you might consider taking a tour of the stadium.
You can experience what it’s like to watch the field from the radio commentary booths, look at the trophies won by the St. Louis team and especially admire the beautiful view that you can enjoy from the stadium’s bleachers over the city skyline and the Gateway Arch. You can find all the information about schedules and prices of the tours by visiting the stadium’s official website.
If instead you want to try to see a live game, you can take a look at all the events held at Busch Stadium by clicking on the link below.
Enter the TRAVELINUSA code to get a $10 discount on a minimum purchase of $100
If you like beer, then Saint Louis is the city for you. Obviously you can’t miss one of the most famous breweries in the city, the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, one of the largest U.S. brewers, especially known for its Budweiser brand. One of the most famous and photographed attractions are certainly the Clydesdale horses, a true hallmark of the company.
But obviously, since this is a brewery, I don’t think you’ll want to come here just to take pictures of horses. So get ready to take one of the many tours inside the building (there are 5 to choose from that you can see here) and refresh yourself in the Biergarten, one of the most popular meeting points of the city both for tourists and locals.
Getting around Saint Louis: where to park and nearest airports
Saint Louis is about four and a half hours from Chicago, the most important airport in the Midwest. Other nearby cities are Indianapolis (242 miles), Kansas City (250 miles) and Nashville (310 miles). The two airports of St. Louis are instead Lambert International Airport and MidAmerica St. Louis Airport.
You will presumably visit a city like St. Louis, which is not very touristy and small, by car, so you will need to find a parking lot to get around it. Personally, I recommend looking for a parking lot because some of the spots near the sidewalks have a maximum parking time of two hours. For example, QuikPark has an hourly rate of $2 and is centrally located. From there you can walk to the Gateway Arch and Busch Stadium in less than 10 minutes.
Places to stay in Saint Louis
The most convenient area to look for accommodation is Downtown as it is so close to Saint Louis’ main attractions. We also recommend a hotel that already has parking, so you don’t have to look for any specifically to visit the city. Here are some examples
- Hyatt Regency Saint Louis at The Arch: located right across from the Gateway Arch. If you can book a room with a view on this side it will surely add something extra to your stay.
- Drury Plaza St. Louis at the Arch: spacious rooms and an indoor pool are great value for money.
- Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark: the hotel is the recommended choice if you are a baseball fan. This hotel was built right next to Busch Stadium where the local St. Louis Cardinals team plays. Therefore, many of the rooms have a nice view of the stadium and the arch.
If instead you want to look for accommodation in another part of the city you can get an idea of possibilities by clicking on the link below.