Kansas City, straddling both Kansas and Missouri, sits perched on a bluff, high above the Missouri River. With self-proclaimed titles such as “Barbecue Capital of the World” and “City of Fountains,” we expected the city to be inundated with fountains and barbecue restaurants around every corner. There was a plethora of both, but we also found a city in the midst of a revitalization.
The “Heart of America” has spent billions to invigorate their city and they aren’t done yet! Within the last few years Kansas City has built a new sports arena, an aquarium, the eight-block Power & Lights district, and a performing arts building. The abundance of construction all around the city revealed other large-scale projects in the works. Slated to open in the near future is a downtown streetcar and an 800-room Convention Center Hotel.
Not only did the revitalization surprise us, so did the culturally rich areas, new audacious architecture mixed with distinguished historical buildings, and the extensive size of the city. We gorged ourselves on barbecue, were enlightened by the flourishing arts scene, engrossed ourselves in history and drank ourselves silly.
Top Things to Do in Kansas City
1. Art District
Meet me at the Crossroads takes on a whole new meaning in KC. The eclectic Crossroads Art District was our favorite area to explore. The industrious district is booming with art galleries, restaurants and local breweries.
The dynamic and vivid street art was electric. It was so extraordinary, we decided it deserved a post of its own: Thriving Art Scene in Kansas City.
3. War Museum
The National World War I Museum has a unique approach of using WWI soldiers and their personal stories to illustrate their journey during the catastrophic war. Interactive exhibits, descriptive videos, and replicas of propaganda, guns, and trenches are displayed throughout the museum.
One of the most emotional moments is walking over a glass bridge, hovering over a field of 9,000 poppies, each representing 1,000 lives lost. It is a stark reminder of the 9,000,000 people who perished during the global disaster. Tip: The view from the top of Memorial Tower is the best of the city.
At the top of our list is Cinder Block Brewery, just north of the river. Its welcoming atmosphere, friendly staff and excellent beer made it our favorite stop. The Weathered Wit and Block IPA were so good we thought of skipping out on the rest of the local breweries.
In the same industrial neighborhood, Big Rip Brewing Company has recently opened its doors. Not as welcoming as Cinder Block, but the beer was decent and they have an outdoor patio. Boulevard Brewing Company, the largest specialty brewer in the Midwest, is a staple of Kansas City. The free tour was entertaining and they offer samples at the end.
5. Art Museum & Sculpture Park
It’s not often that a five-star attraction is free. Take advantage and be inspired as you slowly make your way around the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Their Asian art collection is extensive along with collections of American, American Indian, Egyptian, and European Art. The Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, attached to the museum, is a joy to walk around or to sit and relax.
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6. The Market
Head down to the City Market to find a group of diverse eating options including Ethiopian, Italian, Mediterranean, Mexican and Italian.
It felt more like a World Market; the aroma of Indian spices to French baked goods filled the air.
7. Royals Fever
KC Royals’ billboards lined the highway as we drove into the city, expressing everyone’s excitement over the 2014 and 2015 season. We caught a ballgame at Kauffman Stadium and although we are White Sox fans, we have to admit the park was commendable.
The prices for parking and food are reasonable and the beer was the same cost as our home turf. Reminiscent to our time in St. Louis, the crowds were blazing with local pride.
8. Rose Garden
The tranquil rose garden at Loose Park provides respite from the city. With over 4,000 roses of nearly 168 varieties, the garden is captivating.
Walk, ride bikes or have a picnic lunch in the 75-acre park just south of the city.
The city is a blending of old and new with the latter being demonstrated at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. It looks like something right out of a sci-fi movie. It has all glass on one side and steel wave-like shells on the other. The sleek, modern design makes a bold statement of the awakening the city is going through.
Union Station is elegant and grand, constructed with limestone and granite and adorned with deep-set archways. The Grand Hall inside is furbished with dazzling chandeliers and ornate ceilings.
10. Memorial Garden
The Kauffman Memorial Garden is the final resting place for the influential couple whose name is strewed across Kansas City. It would be difficult not to recognize their prominent legacy that lives on throughout the community: Kauffman Performing Arts Center, Kauffman Stadium, Kauffman Foundation and Kauffman School.
The walled garden is a peaceful oasis that showcases playful fountains, vivid flowers, and enchanting bronze statues. At only 2-acres, this small garden provided a refreshing and tranquil reprieve from the city.
11. The Plaza
Country Club Plaza is an upscale, Spanish-inspired shopping district flushed with restaurants and shops. The streets are lined with colorful potted plants and ornamental fountains.
From the Plaza you can easily make your way over to the riverfront for a stroll.
12. Reliving the 80’s
The Up-Down Arcade Bar will take you back in time to the aqua net and neon days. Classics such as Pac-Man, Gauntlet Legends, and Double Dragon fill the arcade area. Posters of Chunk from Goonies, Ghostbusters, and Urkel line the staircase to their trendy outdoor area with giant Connect Four and Jenga games.
And if that’s not enough, 48 craft beer tappers line the wall under a group of four televisions, all playing 80’s themed shows.
Even though we found Kansas City has multiple nicknames, we don’t think any really capture the true essence of the city. We were tickled by its enthusiasm and positive vibe so we deemed it, “The High-Spirited City of the Midwest.”
Looking for other fun trip ideas in the Midwest?
- Mark Twain Mania in Hannibal
- Hidden Gem in Brown County
- 11 Midwest Festivals Worth Traveling For
- A Taste of Ireland in Galena, Illinois
What are your favorite things to do in Kansas City?
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Awesome post! I’ve never been to Kansas City, but from what your experience has been it has WAY more going for it than I ever thought. Sounds like it might be a great midwest bucket list location to consider.
Thanks Chris! KC had a lot more to offer than we expected. We plan to visit again when we get a chance. Sounds like you definitely have to add it to your list!
Great post. Makes me miss Kansas City! As a frequent visitor, I’m familiar with many of the places on your list. However, I didn’t know about the rose garden at Loose Park. I’ll definitely add that to my agenda the next time I visit KC in warm weather!
If you enjoy seeing the city from way up high, I would also recommend checking out the Observation Deck at City Hall. You can visit during business hours. It’s free, you get a guided tour from a staff member, and it’s a 365 degree view (open air) of the city from the 30th floor. It’s incredible!
Thanks Holly! Yes, we loved the rose garden. It was a beautiful park to walk through. We will definitely check the observation deck out next time we are there. We love free things and good views! Thanks for commenting.
I am a new subscriber to Dang Travelers and have been enjoying your perspective on traveling. I agree that budget travel is the best way to get to know a place. I was thrilled to see your article about Kansas City as I have been lucky enough live here all my life. Wow! Loved it! You captured most of the things that make Kansas City unique. Thank you for exploring Kansas City beyond the Plaza. Next time you are here check out our music scene- the Record Bar, Green Lady Lounge to name a few, the architecture of the Ward Parkway/Sunset Hills homes and the West Bottoms for great antique bargains in a historic setting. Wishing you safe and happy travels.
Thanks so much Susan, we really appreciate your kind words. We have KC high on our list of places to get back to so we will definitely keep these places in mind!