The Best Things to See and Do in Kansas City

From history rich abandoned buildings that only the brave dare to enter to a European inspired open-air shopping center, the most populous city in Missouri discriminates against no one. Head to a football stadium where strangers become friends as they face the cold weather together. Catch a glimpse of the local art culture when you visit the Crossroads District. Discover where Kansas City jazz was first born and how jazz clubs still pay tribute to the old but recognize the new. Travel around one of the finest general art museums in the country for free or have a gander at one of the largest collections of WWI artifacts in the world. Kansas City is known as the city of fountains, the birthplace of Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and an interesting place full of history and culture. Discover 10 things any visitor should see and do in this wonderful city.

1. Country Club Plaza

Simply called “the plaza” by locals, this open air shopping district is designed to look like something out of Europe. Spanish architecture and European art make this 15 block area one of the top tourist sites in the entire city. With over 150 stores including big names such as Tiffany & Co, Burberry and Pottery Barn there is no shortage of shopping choices.

From bakeries that cater to doggy treats to Kansas City’s own classic cup sidewalk café where people watching is the main event, visitors will find themselves spending the day here. At Christmas time there is something magical in the air with the twinkling Christmas lights, the sounds of the hoofs as the horse drawn carriages go by and the music of the street performers. Designed in 1922, this nation’s first planned suburban shopping center should be one of your first stops in Kansas City.

J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain Kansas City

2. Attend a First Friday

One of the biggest cultural gatherings in all of Kansas City happens the first Friday of every month in the Crossroads district. This district is made up of one-of-a-kind restaurants, boutique shops, studios and art galleries. Friday nights these galleries and studios open their doors for all visitors to explore and discover the remarkably unique art. From ceramics to jewelry to photography exhibits there is truly something here for everyone to enjoy.

Besides the gorgeous galleries and studios that open up their doors; First Fridays bring out the best and brightest of the KC food truck scene, and did we mention the delicious food they serve up? Paired with a healthy dose of red wine, street performers and culturally rich art lovers; there is nothing like this event in the city. Head to this district early in the day to browse the electric shops, grab an amazing cup of coffee and relish in this eccentric and lively neighborhood.

TommyBrison / Shutterstock.com
TommyBrison / Shutterstock.com

3. Explore the Abandoned

Do you enjoy freaking yourself out just a little bit once in a while? If so Kansas City has the perfect places to explore. Some have been abandoned for a hundred years, others since the flood of the 1950’s. Either way these abandoned buildings are an eerie playground for photographers and visitors just wanting to face the unknown.

Head to the Kansas City Workhouse on 20th and Vine and discover a former prison where petty criminals worked off their crimes. This deserted castle has been empty for years but there are holes in the back side where brave souls can dare to go inside. Built in 1897, this creepy castle is over 100 years old and home to who knows how many ghosts roaming around. The West Bottoms neighborhood also offers the chance to explore where the 1950’s flood caused most of the businesses to shut their doors. Decrepit buildings, broken windows and a sign that the community may be coming back to light makes this the perfect place to snap a few epic photos.

Abandoned building Kansas City

4. Head to a Jazz Club

Kansas City is often known for its numerous amount of amazing jazz clubs and with a little guidance, visitors can be sure to visit the best ones. These clubs do the history of jazz justice while honoring the past and still showcasing the present. Big jazz names come to play at these clubs and when paired with great drinks and exceptional service this will be a night you won’t soon forget.

The Blue Room is located in the historical jazz district and offers live music four nights a week. They got their name after the famed 1930’s Street Hotel club. In another historic building, the Majestic offers local big name jazz performances seven days a week. An interesting building, it was once the home of an actual speakeasy during prohibition days. If hand-crafted cocktails and jazz is what you are looking for, head to the Kill Devil Club where both flow easily into the late hours of the night. When in Kansas City, be sure to pick at least one jazz club to attend.

Jazz Musician

5. The Nelson-Atkins Museum

It wouldn’t be a complete trip to Kansas City without a visit to one of the finest general art museums in all of the United States. Internationally recognized; this museum houses over 33,000 works of art and features a 22-acre sculpture garden. The best part about visiting this amazing museum; admission is free everyday they are open. Guided tours and self-guided audio tours are also free; everyday of the week! Join a tour and learn about the museum collection and building architecture or pick up an audio player on your way in (just don’t forget your own headphones).

From African art to ancient Chinese artifacts to European photography and Prints; every kind of art from every part of the world is represented here. The interactive sculpture park is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic and the mobile guides that can be picked up at the museum help you learn not only about the outdoor art but also the plants, history and artists. From the permanent art collection to the feature exhibits to the charming restaurant to the outdoor park; there is no question as to why this museum is internationally recognized as one of the best and well deserves a place on the top ten things to see in Kansas City.

Scott Cornell / Shutterstock.com
Scott Cornell / Shutterstock.com

6. National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial

This is perhaps the most visited attraction on our list of things to see and do in Kansas City and may be one of the most important places you visit during your time here. The National WWI museum and liberty memorial is dedicated to preserving the history, experiences and artifacts of WWI and is the only one of its kind on American soil. Home to one of the greatest collections of artifacts from WWI; this museum has embraced technology and the interactive displays help to bring history and personal experiences to life. Each ticket purchased is good for two days of use ensuring that you get the most out of your experience as exploring may take you more than just one day.

The permanent collections include artifacts from the trenches and vehicles and replicas of the uniforms. Temporary exhibits rotate throughout the year and can be found online. The Liberty Memorial serves as a beacon of freedom and a symbol of courage, sacrifice and honor and it is truly part of this nation’s history. Don’t miss this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who fought for the United States and honor those who died trying.

Liberty Memorial Kansas City

7. Catch the Chiefs in Action

If you are planning on heading to Kansas City during football season you have to catch the Chiefs in action at Arrowhead Stadium. One of the premier stadiums in North America, you should prepare to cheer, yell, make new friends and bundle up! With amazingly loyal and friendly fans this stadium is a favorite to visitors whether they are KC Chiefs fans or not. Easy to get in and out of with shuttles taking you from the parking lots to the stadium and amazing tailgating makes it just that much better.

We suggest bundling up warm for this event though. The winds tend to cut into the stadium and whip through it. Grab a hot chocolate in a souvenir cup for a little extra warmth. Or cuddle up to your neighbor; just make sure you are wearing some red and cheering for the right team! Bring your best loud voice as this stadium has made the Guinness book of world records for its noise factor. Endless food choices and not a bad seat in the house just make the experience that much sweeter. Football fan or not, we promise you will have a blast at Arrowhead Stadium. Go Chiefs Go!

Arrowhead Stadium Kansas City
American Spirit / Shutterstock.com

8. See the Fountains

Kansas City is known as the “city of fountains” and doesn’t disappoint with hundreds of fountains scattered throughout the city. Whether it’s summer or winter visitors can visit these stunning pieces of art that range from classical to modern. Changing water color and music are just a normal part of everyday fountain life in this city. Pink for breast cancer awareness month, blue to cheer on the KC Royals and red and green for Christmas time are not unusual water colors to see.

The most popular fountain in the city is the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain which contains large bronze statues of four heroic horsemen that are said to represent the four rivers of the world. The numerous water spurts combined with the beautiful architecture of this fountain makes it the most photographed fountain in the city. If you are looking for a fountain to cool off in you will need to head to the Crown Center where running through the fountain is encouraged; in hot or cold weather. The entrance fountains here also change color with the seasons and are a hit amongst the kids. Fountains fountains everywhere; you can’t miss seeing at least a few of them while you are out exploring the city.

Fountain Union Square Kansas City

9. Visit Dorothy’s House

All Dorothy ever wanted to do in the famous movie “The Wizard of Oz” was go home to Kansas. Where in Kansas you might ask? Well the film didn’t quite say where and in 1981 a city outside of Kansas City answered that question. It’s the city of Liberal that stepped forth and informed the public that all Dorothy wanted to do was come home to the small house that resembles the one in the movie.

The tour starts in the gift shop where the movie is played on repeat as guides dressed as Dorothy lead you through the house with tales of how the family grew up. Life-sized versions of the tin man and scarecrow along with the wicked witch of the west line the yellow brick road pathway. Spinning munchkins, the dog “Toto” and Dorothy mannequins fill the space. This quirky DIY landscape of Oz is perhaps the most eccentric attraction on the trip. Prepare yourself for the odd and unusual as lava lamps, chrome tanks and painted wooden displays are all part of the experience. At under $10 for the tour this unique experience is something everyone has to discover.

ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com
ChameleonsEye / Shutterstock.com

10. Visit Union Station

Wonderful history, awe-inspiring architecture and a hub for culture, entertainment and education is what makes Union Station so unique. Built in 1914 Union Station was once a bustling working train station that accommodated hundreds of thousands of passengers each year. Closed in the 1980’s it wasn’t until 1996 that renovations were complete and the marvelous station that is today re-opened.

From the 95-foot ceilings to the 3,500 lb chandeliers that hang above to the planetarium to the traveling exhibits to the science center to the live theater; this epic masterpiece is home to some of the city’s finest pleasures. Catch a flick on the IMAX screen, educate the kids at the children’s science museum or grab a bite to eat in one of the restaurants or coffee shops. The semi-permanent model train exhibit features over 40 trains of various sizes and is free to view. Union Station is full of fun activities for all ages and must be enjoyed for any visitor to Kansas City.

Union Station Kansas City

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