Top 12 Free Things to do in Kansas City

Last Updated on February 8, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Kansas City surprises visitors with the sheer number of superb attractions and activities available without cost. Beyond admiring beautiful boulevards lined with stately fountains or browsing the city’s many distinctive neighborhoods, Kansas City also impresses culture vultures through a collection of top-rated free museums and galleries.

Activity NameDescription
National World War I Museum and MemorialFree access to outdoor areas, with panoramic city views from Liberty Memorial Tower.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of ArtHouses a vast art collection spanning 5,000 years; free admission.
Loose ParkA public sanctuary with rose gardens, playgrounds, and historic character.
Wonderscope Children’s MuseumInteractive exhibits for kids focused on STEAM learning; free admission.
Hallmark Visitors CenterOffers a peek into the greeting card company’s history; free tours available.
Arabia Steamboat MuseumDisplays artifacts from a 19th-century steamboat; located an hour from downtown Kansas City.
Money MuseumTraces the evolution of money; operated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
Roanoke Park & JC Nichols Memorial FountainFeatures scenic paths, floral beds, and the iconic fountain.
City Market Kansas CityOver 40 shops and eateries in a historic setting; offers free entertainment.
College Basketball ExperienceHighlights college basketball history with interactive exhibits; located downtown.
National Archives Facility Kansas CityFree access to historical records and documents; located in a Federal building downtown.
Crown Center SquareLandscaped walkways, water shows, and proximity to Hallmark’s headquarters in a retail and entertainment district.

Nature lovers delight in the city’s magnificent green parks perfect for carefree strolling or a picnic lunch. These 12 picks offer the best free things to do in Kansas City matching all interests from art to architecture, history to horticulture.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial

Name and Location: The National World War I Museum and Memorial is located at 2 Memorial Drive, Kansas City, MO 64108. It resides near the historic Union Station site downtown.

History and Significance: Dedicated in 1926 as the Liberty Memorial, it was originally built to honor Kansas City residents who died fighting in World War I. In 2004, the US Congress declared it the nation’s official WWI museum and President George W. Bush presided over ceremonies marking it as a national memorial in 2006.

What to Expect: Visitors explore immersive exhibits recounting the Great War’s history through artifacts, interactive displays, films and more as they walk through memorial courtyard vistas. The museum’s 217-foot tower with observation deck houses galleries spiraling upward through trench warfare scenes and battlefield dioramas bringing history to life.

Visitor Information: Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Timed entry tickets required and can be purchased online. Parking garages are available near the museum for a fee. Guided tours, cafes and a gift shop are onsite.

While special exhibits carry a fee, visitors still gain free access to almost ten acres and nine structures chronicling World War I’s history at the National World War I Museum and Memorial—the most visible structure honoring veterans in Kansas City. Guests explore the symbolic Paul Sunderland Glass Bridge connecting Edward Jones Research Center to the museum before entering the breathtaking 217-foot Liberty Memorial Tower. Ride a unique glass elevator up the tower taking in 360-degree panoramic views of Kansas City from the top observation deck. Interactive exhibits, artifacts like trench mortars and period poppy fields sculpture make this a moving tribute to “The War to End All Wars”.

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Name and Location: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is located between Oak St and E 45th St in Kansas City, Missouri, occupying a 10-acre campus in the Country Club district.

History and Significance: Originally housing the private collections of wealthy Kansas Citians, the museum first opened in 1933 thanks to the generosity of William Rockhill Nelson and Mary McAtee Atkins. Today it holds over 40,000 works of art spanning thousands of years, making it a world-class institution.

What to Expect: Visitors view extensive collections of Asian art and culture, European masterpieces, modern sculpture gardens, photography exhibits, American Indian displays, and much more. The interactive Bloch Building allows guests to engage different art styles hands-on via activities.

Visitor Information: Always free to visit. Open Wednesday 10am–5pm and Saturday-Sunday 10am–9pm. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Onsite parking garage, cafe, store. Tours, classes and events occur routinely. Strollers and wheelchairs available.

Housing an internationally-renowned collection with pieces spanning 5,000 years of art makes the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art an essential Kansas City stop even for a quick visit strolling the elaborate architecture and sculpture-dotted grounds. Inside, guests view incredible artworks ranging from Egyptian mummies to colorful Monet paintings and a Southeast Asian collection with massive twin Bodhisattva statues without any admission cost. Marvel at the Bloch Building’s innovative design, see Monet’s towering Waterlilies then relax outdoors amidst the 22-acre Steven Holl-designed sculpture garden overlooking scenic lawns and The Thinker sculpture.

Loose Park

Name and Location: Loose Park is a municipal 75 acre park located between 51st and 55th Streets on Kansas City, Missouri’s South Side with address 5200 Wornall Road, Kansas City, MO 64112.

History and Significance: Originally the private estate of Kansas City philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Loose, the grounds were donated to the city as a public park upon Mrs. Loose’s death in 1938 per her will. Loose’s gifting followed a long history of donations benefiting KC’s park system for public enjoyment.

What to Expect: Visitors enjoy open green space, walking trails, a fishing lake, picnic sites, spray fountains, a gym, rose gardens and a Revolutionary War memorial on the National Registry of Historic Places within the expansive scenic grounds hosting community events and outdoor programs year-round.

Visitor Information: The park stays open daily 5am–11pm with free parking lots providing easy access. Leashed pets allowed. Public restrooms, water fountains and accessibility features available so guests of all abilities can navigate the sprawling historically-protected grounds.

Named for Confederate General John C. Green and once site of his sprawling private estate, lovely Loose Park offers a free public sanctuary to enjoy rose gardens, lush grounds and grand historic character without cost. Located adjacent to the exclusive Country Club Plaza district filled with high-end shops, Loose Park feels worlds away set across 75 acres of wide lawns, serene ponds, bubbling fountains plus a scenic creek. Kids laugh racing over playgrounds while couples admire romantic bridges and garden structures leftover from early estate days. The casual Café Sebastienne located lakeside is a lovely spot for light bites or a coffee amidst Loose Park’s charm.

Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City

Name and Location: Wonderscope Children’s Museum resides at 5701 E 87th St at the Red Bridge Community Center in Kansas City, MO only minutes from the Missouri/Kansas state line.

History and Significance: Since debuting 1989 housed within other venues, Wonderscope finally opened its own dedicated building in 2011 thanks to voter-approved taxes funding interactive children’s spaces vital for early creativity and development accessible to all families regardless income or background as an invaluable community institution.

What to Expect: Kids 12 and under engage exhibits focused on STEAM principles spanning art, science, literacy and culture across four play zones tailored towards safety and education from infant areas like Wee Works for toddlers to Maker Studios stocked with tools cultivating critical thinking skills from young ages when neuroplasticity correlates activities with success into adulthood.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesday-Sunday with times varying by weekday averaging 9am–4pm. Admission runs ~$8 per person based on age. Main museum and additional attractions like an outdoor science park on grounds. Event bookings available.

Keeping kids actively engaged doesn’t have to break the bank at Kansas City’s innovative Wonderscope Children’s Museum designed specifically for families to enjoy interactive exhibits side-by-side. This modern museum focuses on STEAM learning concepts across fun displays encouraging participation and discovery without stuffy silences. Kids race through tunnels pretending to be mini mice, make art from recycled materials, dress up for the stage or send foam balls spiraling high along twisting tracks. Caregivers appreciate the museum’s free daily admission plus its convenient location in Kansas City’s Red Bridge district.

Hallmark Visitors Center

Name and Location: The Hallmark Visitors Center is located at 2501 McGee St in downtown Kansas City, MO within Hallmark’s headquarters at Crown Center shops and attractions.

History and Significance: Founded in 1910, Hallmark Cards has called Kansas City home for over 100 years. As the global greeting card leader inspiring the industry, Hallmark enjoys sharing its story with the public via the expansive visitors center showcasing displays tracing company history from a small downtown storefront into an international icon.

What to Expect: Guests observe the Hallmark creative process during self or guided tours from concept pitches through design steps ending under printing presses producing merchandise shipped worldwide. Historic artifacts, interactive exhibits explaining card production, ornament making demos, company art and famous Hallmark movie props engage visitors for hours.

Visitor Information: Free center access from 9am–5pm daily. Located on first floor of Crown Center shops with nearby paid parking options. Video orientation offers an overview before self-guided walking tour pamphlets direct guests through various creative departments and decades of company growth into nostalgic global brand.

Gain sweet behind-the-scenes looks peeking inside Kansas City’s Hallmark greeting card company touring their creative showroom and factory glimpse on weekdays absolutely free. Grab a ticket for the self-guided tour then spend as little or as long as desired weaving through displays showcasing over 100 years of Hallmark history and card concepts. See the world’s first Christmas card from 1843, test your skills penning messages inside mix-and-match flip cards or pose beside giant playful props. Visit the onsite Crown Center store overflowing with wide ranging Hallmark products from emotional gift wrap to trendy party decor before exiting through the Visitor Center lobby.

Arabia Steamboat Museum

Name and Location: The Arabia Steamboat Museum resides at 400 Grand Boulevard in downtown Kansas City, Missouri in the City Market district near the Missouri River basin the famed steamer sank into during 1856.

History and Significance: The museum houses a massive collection of well-preserved artifacts salvaged from the paddlewheeler Arabia after she sank nearby in the Missouri River before Civil War events cut off frontier supply lines. Nicknamed America’s Pompeii, her mud-sealed cargo offers insights into mid-1800s settler life.

What to Expect: Walking through the preserved steamboat hull, visitors view everyday goods from the 19th century like clothing, boots, carpentry tools, canned foods, bottled medicines and dishes encapsulating supplies similar to what early western pioneers traveling by boat would have encountered on trails less taken along America’s expanding edge.

Visitor Information: Open Monday-Saturday 9am–6pm, Sunday Noon–6pm with extended hours select evenings. Adults $15.95, youth (4-12) $7.95, under 4 free. Tours available at added cost. Affordable validated parking at City Market garages. Friendly staff provide interactive exhibit guidance.

History springs to life through thousands of well-preserved artifacts from mundane to extravagant excavated after over 130 years buried underground from a sunken 19th century steamboat at Lebanon, Missouri’s one-of-a-kind Arabia Steamboat Museum situated about an hour from downtown Kansas City. The entire restored cargo opened in 1991 now fills the spacious museum providing intimate glimpses into lifestyles circa 1856 before the Civil War when settlers relied on river shipments of everything imaginable from ladies gloves to elephant tusks. Budget extra time to marvel over delicately-painted china sets, handcrafted carpentry tools, pressed glassware, leather boots, gold pocket watches and many everyday objects lost to time.

Money Museum

Name and Location: The Money Museum resides inside the Federal Reserve Bank at 1 Memorial Drive near the National WWI Museum in downtown Kansas City, Missouri. Complimentary tours originate from the visitor lobby.

History and Significance: As one of only 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, Kansas City’s branch conducting Monetary Policy and Cash Operations for seven Midwestern states houses an intriguing museum since 1972 revealing little-seen processes handling money inventories supporting America’s financial system through interactive exhibits and displays observing currency production unfolded from inked engraving plates.

What to Expect: Multimedia gallery stations invite visitors getting hands-on shred a hypothetical million dollars in seconds alongside educational games teaching bank roles managing quantities meeting public cash demands and electronic funds transferring digitally in nanoseconds before entering secure observation decks watching millions of dollars rapidly counted, sealed and sorted by specialized machinery daily keeping commerce circulating 24/7 year-round.

Visitor Information: Free 45-minute walking tours Monday-Friday depart visitor lobby on half hour schedule starting 8:30am ending 2pm through secure access. Closed federal holidays and event weekends due to limited capacity. Photo ID required for guests over 16. Informational gift shop available.

Operated by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, this intriguing yet little-known museum traces money’s evolution with historical currency exhibits from early wampum shells to modern paper bills as well as showcasing bizarre forms like stone disc Rai found on Pacific islands. Visitors of all ages gain free weekday access on the lobby level to study rare specimens like Confederate money, 1934 Liberty Head $20 gold double eagles or 1934 $10,000 bills thankfully never circulated. Interactive exhibits explain money manufacturing from engraving plates to detecting counterfeits with ultraviolet light boxes. Don’t miss the opportunity to lift a heavy expired bank deposit bag stuffed with replicas of old gold coins before leaving.

Roanoke Park & JC Nichols Memorial Fountain

Name and Location: Roanoke Park spans 150 acres between Westport and the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Missouri with entrances at 40th St and Broadway or 36th St and Roanoke Rd where visitors access pathways around the JC Nichols Memorial Fountain.

History and Significance: Deeded to Kansas City by philanthropist Miller Nichols in honor of his father J.C. Nichols’ 1905 subdivision spurring the neighborhood’s development, today’s parkland offers open green space gracing fanciful architecture holding cultural history once anchoring farmlands before growing into affluent residential Midtown districts.

What to Expect: Strolling the park perimeter grants views towards the ornate bronze fountain where families picnic weekends when choreographed water dances hourly to audio broadcasts synchronized with shooting jets tracing liquid patterns overhead to the amusement of children playing nearby across grassy knolls lined by graphene walkways beckoning mellow exploration.

Visitor Information: Free access daily from 5am to 11pm yearly. Lighted pathways provide extended evening use. Public parking available off side roads with ample spaces. Leashed pets allowed. Benches dot the park exterior looping 1.5 miles around a hilltop memorial plaza visitors enjoy regardless weather or season.

Scenic Roanoke Park threaded through by meandering pathways makes an ideal spot for carefree garden strolling minutes from downtown along the Country Club Plaza district. Established in the early 1900s, today the park spreads over nine acres of vibrant floral beds, open grassy fields popular for picnics or yard games and the centerpiece JC Nichols Memorial Fountain inspired by iconic European fountains. Have lunch on sloping hillsides then follow the park’s artwalk to discover whimsical sculpture like The Little Player bronze statue perfect for selfies. When needing a quick, rejuvenating nature break amidst urban exploration around Country Club Plaza, Roanoke Park hits the spot for free.

City Market Kansas City

Name and Location: Kansas City’s City Market resides in downtown Kansas City, MO spanning six blocks between 20th to 25th Streets along Grand Blvd and Missouri Ave containing specialty shops and restaurants.

History and Significance: Opened 1857 then destroyed by floods and fire multiple times, City Market operated for decades as Kansas City’s historic public farmers market before closing 2014. A $60 million renovation reopened the site as modern food, shopping and event space celebrating the location’s rich mercantile history supporting regional business.

What to Expect: Today’s City Market allows visitors to explore revived buildings and vendor stalls offering fresh baked goods, produce, meats, gifts and more perfect to sample. Many culinary-based shops provide sit-down dining options as well. The market comes alive on weekends with additional vendors and special events like artist fairs.

Visitor Information: Now open daily from around 7am into the evening hours based on specific stores or restaurants. Some nightlife bars stay open late. Multiple garages provide hourly parking prices. Extensive renovation prioritized pedestrian access through plaza corridors easily traversed on foot to explore the entire market district.

Dating from 1857, the City Market Kansas City today houses over 40 unique shops and eateries within historic brick buildings comprising a vibrant district just above downtown’s central business district. Spend hours weaving through converted grain warehouses and colorful stalls finding locally-made artisan wares, antiques or specialty foods without spending a dime. One section even retains an original road first built in 1858 visible below glass panels. Enjoy free chorus and blues performances every Wednesday then sift through vintage memorabilia Saturday mornings perusing the flea market offerings spread along covered walkways in the heart of Kansas City’s river city heritage.

College Basketball Experience

Name and Location: The College Basketball Experience museum resides at 1301 Grand Blvd in downtown Kansas City, Missouri conveniently between hotels and the convention center along the Power & Light District.

History and Significance: Billed as the nation’s largest experiential shrine to college hoops, the multimillion dollar facility impressively commemorates basketball achievements from players to coaches since opening 2010 with strong emphasis on March Madness legacy during the NCAA tournament Kansas City will host at the adjacent T-Mobile Center through 2026.

What to Expect: Interactive basketball activities engage all ages across replica stadiums and locker rooms celebrating popular play styles, trophy collections and women’s programs evolution. Test skills shooting hoops, racing friends virtually and sharing inspiring courtside stories from diverse contributors who revolutionized beloved ballgame strategies over decades gone by told through engaging exhibits.

Visitor Information: Open Wednesday–Sunday 10am–6pm. General admission tickets $16 for adults buying online. Multi-attraction passes available when bundled with SEA LIFE Aquarium or Legoland Discovery Center. Validated parking in garage across street. Family-centric amenities like stroller storage availabile inside.

Hoops fans soak up riveting stories of college basketball legacy free of charge at downtown Kansas City’s College Basketball Experience reliving shining moments from the sport’s early roots through today’s top teams. Try testing your vertical jump beside images of famous players then move through interactive zones dedicated to key contributors ranging from inventor Dr. James Naismith to contemporary coach dynasties. Nostalgic memorabilia includes a jacket worn by KU’s Danny Manning during the unforgettable 1988 NCAA “Danny and the Miracles” championship run. No need to love basketball to appreciate the rich heritage showcased across this hardwood tribute to college athletics.

National Archives Facility Kansas City

Name and Location: The National Archives at Kansas City resides in a pristine modern building located at 400 West Pershing Road in Kansas City, Missouri’s Union Hill neighborhood adjacent to historic Union Station rail terminal.

History and Significance: Opened 2004, it serves 1.8 million residents across five states as the permanent repository displaying original historical records dating from the 1820s territorial period into the 21st century tracing pivotal genealogy intertwining ancestral groups that shaped today’s Heartland. Archives span civilian, military and other federal documents including payroll registers tracking railroad expansion opening America’s frontier borders brick-by-brick.

What to Expect: Visitors access museums displaying centuries of documents through multiple guided tour options including self-led exploration of rotating exhibits like a rare 13-star American flag while tracing their own roots themselves using site ancestry databases linked to global networks chemical treatments now better preserve against yellowing and separation. When not touring among critical governance certificates and handwritten ledgers, the Archives also hosts public events aligned with its dedication towards transparency and safeguarding the stories binding generations.

Visitor Information: Free research room access Tuesday-Saturday 8am–4pm with visitor screenings upon entry. Closed federal holidays. Several public transit links including streetcar near Union Station. Food and photography prohibited. Personal computers allowed without WiFi connections. Call to schedule school group tours.

While most National Archive branches charge admission fees, the Kansas City location grants free access to intriguing historical treasures for visitors willing to navigate heightened security entering the downtown Federal building also housing the IRS and EPA offices. After checking coats and bags, researchers browse through over 50,000 cubic feet sheltering centuries of records from Federal agencies and regional National Archives branches. Collections range from mining accident reports to Prohibition-era criminal case files plus military photographs, tribal records, land surveys and Federal court dockets safeguarding the nation’s history inside climate-controlled stacks open to the public weekdays.

Crown Center Square

Name and Location: Crown Center Square spans 85 acres in a vibrant mixed-use downtown Kansas City development bordered between Grand, Main, Pershing and 25th Streets where the urban core overlooks Union Station.

History and Significance: Opened progressively 1968-1988 as Hallmark executive Donald J. Hall’s transformative live-work-play revitalization concept upon decaying neighborhood remnants before Interstate 35 isolated plots, today the polished hotel/office/retail Crown Center campus attracts millions through public squares hosting concerts beside iconic skywalk architecture and kid-friendly attractions like Legoland Discovery keeping the cultural heart pumping.

What to Expect: Guests browse major stores, specialty boutiques and over 40 dining options spanning casual crepes to upscale steakhouses ringing pedestrian corridors under climate-controlled glass archways also connecting two historic hotels with a contemporary art gallery while taking youngsters to hands-on creative workshop spaces inspired from the neighboring global greeting card company who sparked this downtown district’s enduring mixed-urban identity.

Visitor Information: Open daily with varying business hours. validation provides discounted parking access. Complimentary WiFi provided in public commons. The 3 Trails Scavenger Hunt activity rewards kids exploring Crown Center’s lively communal grounds year-round with digital quests revealing hidden gems.

Kansas City’s distinctive Crown Center retail and entertainment district beckons visitors to unwind strolling landscaped walkways linking upscale shops to Hallmark’s corporate headquarters framed by iconic skyscrapers. Have the camera ready when Union Station’s recognizeable grand three-tower facade comes into view across Pershing Road. Catch one of Crown Center Square’s hourly choreographed water shows as streams dance and jets soar over 100 feet into the air perfectly timed with colorful lights and audio. After being dazzled by the fountain’s choreographed showcase, relax besides outdoor cafes or browse LEGOLAND and SEA LIFE Kansas City to round out a full afternoon of free fun around Crown Center.

Conclusion

Certainly Kansas City surprises visitors with the diversity of superb cultural attractions, dynamic neighborhoods, gorgeous public parks and historical sites easily accessible without cost just waiting to be uncovered block-by-block. From world-class museums and Federal archives to vibrant city markets and hallmark factory tours, budget-conscious travelers find plenty of quality experiences embracing Midwestern hospitality around every corner. Use these top free activity recommendations to maximize sightseeing on even the most modest Kansas City getaway budget.

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