Although Missouri is often considered a flyover state, there are several charming cities to visit throughout this Midwestern state. From St. Louis in eastern Missouri to Kansas City on the west side of the state and several cities in between, the "Show Me State" offers history, adventures, sports, and incredible architecture to explore.
Missouri is also home to a variety of landscapes, large rivers, such as the Mississippi River and Missouri River, and rolling hills. This is also the state where Lewis and Clark began their expedition to the Pacific Ocean, the Pony Express began, and world-famous barbecue was born. From some of the best food in the country to some of the most stunning views that nature has to offer, Missouri is sure to show you a great time.
Just west of St. Louis is the historic city of St. Charles, the first capital of Missouri. Established in 1769 by French settlers, the city offers a step back in time on Main Street. The brick-lined street features local shops and restaurants in buildings from the 1800s. The historic area is also home to annual festivals, including several arts and crafts fairs, Oktoberfest, and Christmas Traditions. A quick trip to the Frenchtown neighborhood just north of Main Street offers even more charm with European-inspired architecture and several antique stores.
The city also sits along the Missouri River and is the site where Lewis and Clark set out on their western expedition. Today, visitors to the riverfront can explore part of the 240-mile Katy Trail, the longest continuous recreational trail in the country. The trail offers scenic views of the Missouri River to bikers, walkers, and joggers.
Known as “The Barbecue Capital of the World,” Kansas City is renowned for its food, sports, and art. Although the city is known for being home to the Kansas City Royals, the city’s baseball history is celebrated at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. There are also many other museums to explore, including the The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art with over 34,500 works of art and free admission.
This charming Missouri city also has more than 200 fountains throughout its landscape. In addition to these man-made fountains, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers run through this beautiful city. Plus, visitors enjoy biking and hiking through Swope Park, one of the largest urban parks in the United States. For outdoor enthusiasts of any age, a walk, hike, or bike ride on the Katy Trail is also a must. You can also hike and learn more about animals at the Lakeside Nature Center.
The second largest city in Missouri, St. Louis greets visitors from the Gateway Arch, a monument to the country’s westward expansion in the 1800s. The view from the top of the Arch offers stunning views of the Mississippi River and the various architectural styles of St. Louis. Known as “Brick City,” St. Louis features brick buildings throughout its historic neighborhoods. One of the neighborhoods, Soulard, is a must-see for its architecture, food, and Mardi Gras festivities.
Another great place to view historical architecture is Forest Park. The urban park was the site of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and still maintains the charm from that time. The park is home to the St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis Art Museum, and Missouri History Museum, all of which offer free admission. Another breathtaking attraction is the Missouri Botanical Garden, featuring 79 acres of beautiful nature in the city.
Located in southwestern Missouri, Springfield is home to several museums and historical places. Known as “The Birthplace of Route 66,” visitors can explore the city’s impact on the historical road at the History Museum on the Square. Springfield’s history also expands to the Civil War. In fact, the second major battle of the Civil War took place here at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Twelve markers throughout the battleground share the story.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the city offers the 113-acre Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park. This park is home to Springfield Botanical Gardens and the Roston Butterfly House. Springfield Lake is also a great stop for nature lovers. With plenty of trails, woods, bluffs, and shoreline to explore the pristine lake, there is something for everyone to enjoy at Lake Springfield Park.
Sitting along historic Route 66, it is no surprise that Joplin is a crossroads of arts, culture, and history. For art lovers, Joplin has a downtown mural tour, a monthly art festival from March to December, and the annual Joplin Arts Fest each September. Along with its arts community, Joplin is known for its Murphysburg Historic District. This historic residential area has tree-lined streets and homes of various architectural styles, including Queen Anne and Colonial Revival. Visitors can follow a walking tour of the charming district.
Joplin also offers many parks and outdoor areas to explore. The Walter Woods Conservation Area is a great place for hiking and viewing wildlife. The city also has the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center, a perfect place for bird watching. Plus, a visit to Joplin must include viewing Grand Falls, the largest continually falling waterfall in the state.
Just like its name suggests, Blue Springs is known for its nationally recognized parks, springs, and scenic landscapes. This stunning western Missouri city offers a park system that is made up of twenty parks on a total of 596 acres. People enjoy walking and biking on the trails, as well as fishing and kayaking in Lake Remembrance. The city is also home to Blues Spring Lake. The lake offers water sports, fishing, and a public beach.
The city’s charm also extends to its historic downtown. From local restaurants to boutique shops that are filled with hidden treasures, the downtown area has something for everyone. Plus, you can learn more about the history of Blue Springs at the Dillingham-Lewis Museum. Built in 1906, it is the only remaining building in Blue Springs made of the city’s limestone.
Home to the Pony Express in the 1800s, St. Joseph is a charming, historical city in western Missouri. A trip to the Pony Express National Museum provides visitors a glance at the importance of this American express mail service that was delivered by horseback riders. The city is also home to several other museums, including the Doll Museum, Black Archives Museum, and the Native American History Galleries. While you are in town, a trip to the historic downtown is a must. The downtown boasts locally owned restaurants, shops with local artisanal items, and art galleries.
Since the city rests along the Missouri River, there are also plenty of outdoor adventures in St. Joseph. Located in the bluffs of the Missouri River, River Bluff Trails Park is an outdoor escape for nature lovers, bikers, and hikers. The trails are well-marked and range from beginner to expert.
Located just southeast of Kansas City, locals say that Lee's Summit has “Big City Vibes With Small Town Charm.” This is not surprising with all the quaint restaurants and local shops the town has to offer. Plus, Lee’s Summit also offers music and art for all to enjoy. Downton Lee's Summit hosts public art along the Downtown Sculpture Walk, as well as Fourth Fridays Art Walk each month.
Outside of downtown, a visit to James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area is a must. This wildlife area boasts several lakes that are great for fishing, plenty of trails to hike, and much wildlife to view. You can also visit the Native Hoofed Animal Enclosure, 110 acres filled with bison, elk, and white-tailed deer.
Although many people forget about Missouri, the state has several charming cities. From beautiful nature trails to free world-class attractions, Missouri has a lot to offer urban explorers and outdoor enthusiasts. The charming cities in the state are certain to provide fun, history, and great food to all visitors.