While it has plenty of wide-open plains and wild spaces to explore, the Midwest’s Missouri also has the teeming metropolises of St. Louis and Kansas City to check out. Offering the perfect mix of cosmopolitan cities and charming country towns, the ‘Show-Me State’ is rewarding to travel around with its stupendous scenery, landscapes and nature.
Part of the Great Plains region of the States, it is named after the winding river that divides the state in two. While much of it is low-lying, the Ozark State also boasts beautiful nature spots with the idyllic Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake counted among its most popular places to visit. In addition to hiking and biking its forests and rolling mountains, many people also come to explore some of the 7,000 or so caves that are dotted about the state.
To top the list of things to do in Missouri off, the state also has a rich history and culture to delve into with great museums and centuries-old historic houses found alongside thriving theaters, fun-filled theme parks. And, of course, Gateway Arch, its standout symbol and sight is there to welcome you.
18. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (Kansas City)
One of the most important and impressive cultural attractions, not just in Kansas City but the state as a whole, is the excellent Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Full of astounding artworks from all around the globe, its gorgeous neoclassical building and surrounding sculpture garden can be found just a short drive south of the city center.
Founded in 1933, it is renowned for its almost encyclopedic collection of art that features some 40,000 or so paintings, photos and portraits that span over 5,000 years of art history. Besides seeing masterpieces by Caravaggio, Rembrandt and van Gogh among others, and exploring its vast galleries home to all kinds of influential Asian artworks, visitors can also stroll around its lush green grounds full of striking sculptures or attend any one of its temporary exhibitions.
17. Mark Twain Boyhood Home (Hannibal)
Undoubtedly the small city of Hannibal’s standout sight, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home is packed with interesting exhibits, personal artifacts and memorabilia related to the iconic author. Now protected as a National Historic Landmark, it offers a fascinating look at the remarkable life and legacy of Samuel Langhorne Clemens who is best known by his pen name, Mark Twain.
Now one of America’s best-loved authors, he lived in the small two-story house between the ages of seven and eighteen. In Hannibal of the 1840s and 1850s, he found inspiration for some of his greatest novels, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with the white picket fence next to his childhood house having famously appeared in the former.
After having ambled about the well-preserved property, make sure to visit the adjoining museum for its interactive exhibits on Mark Twain, its numerous personal items and first edition copies of many of his books.
16. Meramec Caverns (Stanton)
An absolutely incredible place to explore, the massive and majestic Meramec Caverns impressively stretch 4.6 miles in length beneath the Ozarks. Considered to be one of the main attractions located alongside the historic Route 66, the humongous cave system has simply stunning stalactites and stalagmites to ogle at with beautiful rock formations on show wherever you look.
Formed over the course of hundreds of millions of years as large limestone deposits slowly eroded, it now has more than forty connecting caves for visitors to stroll around. Among the most popular and photographed are its ‘Wine Room’ and ‘Mirror Room’ with the ‘Greatest Show Under the Earth’ also attracting lots of attention.
Aside from simply enjoying the softly lit subterranean world and learning about its history, you can also hike and bike about the scenic state park that lies above the cave complex, just outside Stanton.
15. Sight & Sound Theatres (Branson)
As it is often referred to as a ‘family-friendly Las Vegas’, the city of Branson in the southwest of the state is a fantastic place to enjoy a show. One of the biggest and best venues in town is the brilliant Sight & Sound Theatres that brings action-packed, yet heartfelt, Biblical stories to life in an utterly entertaining and unforgettable way.
At the state-of-the-art theater, guests can enjoy an amazing immersive experience as a huge cast of actors and live animals put on a phenomenal performance with the intricately designed set and stage surrounding them on three sides. Whether you are a believer or not, the company’s epic productions of shows such as JESUS, Noah – The Musical and the Miracle of Christmas are not to be missed. Their vast sets, special effects and lovely orchestral music make for such spellbinding spectacles.
14. Missouri State Penitentiary (Jefferson City)
Just down the road from its delightful state capitol building is another of Jefferson City’s top tourist attractions: the Missouri State Penitentiary. At the imposing prison complex, visitors can learn about its infamous inmates, explore its artifact and exhibit-filled museum and take tours around its creepy cell blocks, gas chamber and courtyards.
A hundred years older than Alcatraz, Missouri’s main maximum security institution operated from 1836 right up to 2004 with thousands of hardened convicts having passed through over the decades. On informative and entertaining tours, you’ll hear about exciting escape attempts, chaotic riots and about the dozens of Death Row prisoners who were executed at the facility.
Once nicknamed the ‘bloodiest 47 acres in America’ due to the hundreds of serious assaults that took place in its cells, the penitentiary is now instead popular amongst keen photographers, ghosthunters and history aficionados.
13. Swinging Bridge
An architectural and engineering marvel, the famous ‘Swinging Bridges of Brumley’ can be found at the eastern end of the Lake of the Ozarks and the lovely state park of the same name. Although the pair of old suspension bridges are set in quite a remote and rural spot, they are definitely well worth a detour for their unique look and the gorgeous countryside scenery.
Only located about a thousand feet apart, they were both built in the early 1920s with the oldest, the Grand Auglaize, stretching 500 feet in length and that of Mill Creek reaching just 135. Still standing, although seldom used and deemed ‘functionally obsolete’, the narrow, swaying structures are fun if a bit freaky to drive over with some fantastic photos and views to be had of both the bridges and their surroundings.
12. Lake of the Ozarks
As it boasts over 1,150 miles of scenic shoreline with countless outdoor activities and watersports, it is no surprise that the picturesque Lake of the Ozarks is one of the Midwest’s most popular lake resort and recreation destinations. Actually a massive man-made reservoir, its long and indented coastline is home to pretty coves and creeks with plenty of lakefront hotels, campsites and restaurants.
Formed in 1931 by the damming of the enormous Osage River, the lake is delightfully nicknamed ‘Puff The Magic Dragon’ due to its striking serpentine shape. In addition to swimming, fishing and sailing its calm waters, holidaymakers can play golf, splash about in water parks or hike and bike the region’s numerous state parks. While some secluded parts of the lake are very quiet and tranquil, others are loud and lively with shopping strips set not far from pounding nightclubs.
11. Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
Sure to be of interest to history lovers, the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield preserves the site of what was the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River. At its brilliant visitor center, you can see centuries-old artifacts, armaments and images relating to the war before heading off to explore the well-preserved battlefields yourself.
While hiking, horse riding or driving around its verdant fields, you’ll come across rusting cannons and the former field hospital of Ray House. Here informative plaques explain the troop movements and the progression of the fierce battle.
Aside from the extensive collection of bayonets, swords and guns, one of its main highlights is the 25-minute-long film in the visitor center that provides an in-depth overview of the whole battle which resulted in a costly Southern victory on August 10, 1861.
10. Table Rock Lake
A popular place to relax and unwind, Table Rock Lake is home to marvelous lakeshore scenery while its crystal-clear waters offer all kinds of awesome watersports. Situated next to both Branson and Silver Dollar City, it has a number of excellent marinas and resorts to check out. Hiking, biking and camping can be enjoyed in its stupendous state park of the same name.
Created in 1958 following the damming of the White River, the gigantic artificial lake has an almost endless list of peaceful coves, pretty nature spots and phenomenal viewpoints to discover with pristine woodlands coating its long shoreline. While it is nationally known for its bass fishing, the large lake also has some superb swimming, sailing and scuba diving to enjoy.
9. Rock Bridge Memorial State Park
Not to be outdone in terms of scenic splendor and outstanding outdoor activities, is the wild and rugged Rock Bridge Memorial State Park just outside of Columbia. Known for its impressive karst landforms, it is home to an extensive cave system with sinkholes, a spring and underground stream.
Set right in the center of the state, it encompasses not only lush forests and craggy rock formations but a bubbling creek too, with its natural rock bridge one of the park’s standout features.
Aside from venturing into its cool caves, visitors can hike along its winding boardwalk, snap photos of the gorgeous foliage and cycle or horseback ride along the idyllic trails that meander their way around the Gans Creek Wild Area.
8. Missouri State Capitol
Widely considered to be one of the most beautiful capitol buildings in the country, Missouri’s seat of government can be found in the center of Jefferson City. Located on the banks of the Missouri River, it boasts an eye-catching facade lined by elegant ionic columns, intricate reliefs and exquisite sculptures, all topped by a ginormous and grandiose dome.
The sixth such structure to stand on the same site, the remarkable Roman Renaissance building was completed in 1917 and is surrounded by lush grounds and gardens. While its enormous exterior already makes for a spellbinding sight, its interior is no less impressive. Umpteen statues, stained glass windows and colorful friezes coat its marble-clad walls.
On tours, you can learn about its history, see its cavernous chambers and stop by the splendid State Museum before strolling around the fountains and flowerbeds outside.
7. City Museum (St. Louis)
Certain to be unlike any museum you’ve ever visited before, St. Louis’ fun and family-friendly City Museum is packed with incredible obstacle courses, mazes, slides and tunnels. A huge playground for young and old alike, its five floors contain not only a circus school and skate park but a full cave system, Ferris wheel and an outdoor climbing area.
While the museum’s galleries are packed with unique and unusual objects and artworks, such as the ‘World’s Largest Underwear’, it also has more serious natural history and architecture sections.
Most people, however, come to explore all its hidden nooks and crannies with ball pits, castle turrets and construction cranes featuring alongside vintage aircraft fuselages suspended high up in the air.
6. Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins
Lying right at the heart of the wonderful state park of the same name are the atmospheric old Ha Ha Tonka Castle Ruins. Perched atop a prominent bluff overlooking the lovely Lake of the Ozarks, its crumbling walls and green grounds are a treat to explore with fantastic photos and views guaranteed wherever you go.
Modeled after imposing yet elegant European castles, the massive stone mansion was built in the early twentieth century by businessman Robert McClure Snyder and his sons. Sadly enough, it only survived for several decades before being destroyed by a fire in the forties.
Nowadays, visitors can take in its astounding architecture and refined brick arches before heading off to see the state park’s striking sinkholes, caves and karst landscapes.
5. Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium (Springfield)
The largest immersive wildlife attraction of its kind in the world, the Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium lies right in the center of Springfield. At its sprawling complex, you can stroll around galleries full of elaborate dioramas depicting natural habitats and animals from every corner of the planet before seeing shimmering shoals of fish, scary sharks and slow sloths in its large enclosures.
Although it only opened in 2017, it is now one of the top tourist attractions in the state thanks to its innumerable and enormous exhibits. Besides seeing taxidermied elephants, grizzlies and crocodiles set in dramatic poses in their natural environment, visitors can also learn all about them through the museum’s many artifacts, artworks and short film clips.
The highlight, however, has to be its excellent aquarium that has numerous themed sections such as a Louisiana Swamp and Ozark forest to explore with over 35,000 fish, reptiles, amphibians and birds on display.
4. Silver Dollar City (Branson)
Lots of fun for all the family, Silver Dollar City’s thrilling rides, roller coasters and spectacular live shows can be found just outside Branson in the southwest corner of the state. At the 1880s-themed amusement park, there are almost a dozen different districts to explore with plenty of shops, restaurants, saloons and theaters alongside all of its other exciting attractions.
Regularly ranked among the best theme parks in the US, it has expanded considerably since it was first established in 1960. Now guests can amble around lively yet laidback parts such as Homestead Ridge, Rivertown and Wilson’s Farm. Watch woodcarvers, blacksmiths and glassblowers before stopping for a bite to eat or embarking on a hair-raising roller coaster ride.
In addition to catching a show or shopping for some souvenirs, you can also delve into the history of the area, enjoy one of the park’s many festivals or explore the majestic Marvel Cave.
3. National WWI Museum and Memorial (Kansas City)
The only museum of its kind in the country, the magnificent National WWI Museum in Kansas City offers a fascinating look at almost every aspect of the conflict. It is home to the world’s most extensive collection of objects and documents relating to the war. The museum takes you on an epic journey with photos, personal stories and film clips featuring alongside weapons and uniforms, tanks and planes.
Dedicated to remembering, interpreting and understanding the Great War and its lasting impact, it was founded in 1926 with a massive memorial tower also located on the same site. After learning about the causes of the conflict, the 1918 armistice and other important events, make sure to head to the top of the tower for lovely views over the city and the museum’s lush grounds below.
2. Missouri Botanical Garden (St. Louis)
As it is one of the biggest and most beautiful botanical gardens in the world, the Missouri Botanical Garden is definitely not to be missed when visiting St. Louis. Spread across a huge part of the city are countless scenic sections for visitors to explore. Pretty fountains and flowerbeds are on show next to delightful orangeries, nature reserves and butterfly houses.
Founded in 1859, it is often informally known as Shaw’s Garden for its philanthropist founder with its herbarium alone housing more than 6.6 million specimens. Aside from the Biblical, Ottoman and Japanese gardens, it also has a gorgeous geodesic dome conservatory to enter with stunning statues and sculptures dotted here and there.
While all its exquisite horticultural displays are a treat for the senses, the garden also hosts cultural events, festivals and concerts over the course of the year.
1. Gateway Arch (St. Louis)
Both the city and state’s standout sight, the glorious Gateway Arch dominates and defines St. Louis’ skyline. Commonly referred to as the ‘Gateway to the West’, the symbolic, stainless steel structure towers 623 feet in height with the views from its soaring summit being simply out of this world.
The tallest man-made monument in the Western Hemisphere, the iconic arch was erected in 1963 to commemorate and celebrate the westward expansion of the United States. Besides learning about its history and the diverse people who shaped the region and country, guests can take an exciting tram ride to the top and gaze out in awe at the city and state far below.
To really appreciate the staggering size of the monument, make sure to stroll around the peaceful riverside park at its foot as it also offers up some fantastic photos and views of the enormous arch.