Top 12 Things to Do in Kansas City, Missouri

Kansas City offers visitors a unique blend of history, culture, dining and entertainment. From world-class barbecue and jazz to art museums housed in iconic architecture and America’s favorite baseball team, Kansas City packs big city amenities with friendly Midwestern hospitality. You can appreciate renowned masterpieces, hear up-and-coming music acts, and immerse yourself in interactive history. Surrounded by fertile farmland and natural beauty, Kansas City provides the perfect heartland USA getaway full of sights, flavors and fun.

National World War I MuseumInteractive exhibits on WWI history.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of ArtArt collections spanning 5,000 years.
Knuckleheads SaloonLive music venue for blues and jazz.
Harry S. Truman SiteHistoric home of President Truman.
Kansas City BarbecueIconic BBQ dining experience.
Country Club PlazaShopping and dining in Spanish architecture.
Kauffman StadiumHome of the Kansas City Royals.
Missouri RiverboatDinner cruise and skyline views.
18th & Vine Jazz DistrictHistoric jazz neighborhood and museums.
Science CityInteractive science center in Union Station.
River Market DistrictShops, cafes, and markets by the river.

This article explores the 12 top things to see and experience in Kansas City. We’ll guide you through must-see attractions, neighborhoods worth exploring, where to encounter local cuisine, great sports and live performances. By the end, you’ll have an insider’s view on how to spend an unforgettable time in Kansas City.

Explore the National World War I Museum

Name and Location: The National World War I Museum and Memorial is located in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

History and Significance: Opened in 1926 as the Liberty Memorial to honor local servicemen, it now houses the most comprehensive collection of WWI artifacts in the world. Designated by Congress in 2014, it commemorates a pivotal conflict that redefined modern warfare.

What to Expect: Visitors can view trenches, artillery, vintage aircraft, wartime posters, and more while learning the dramatic story of WWI through immersive galleries and exhibits. The soaring 217-foot Liberty Memorial tower offers panoramic views.

Visitor Information: Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas. Admission tickets start at $16 for adults. Guided tours and special events available.

Located in Kansas City’s downtown, the National World War I Museum chronicles the global conflict that shaped the world as we know it today. Award-winning architecture houses interactive exhibits with powerful narratives bringing one of history’s most pivotal events to life.

Walk through a life-size recreation of a frontline trench while atmospheric sounds surround you. Discover the political powder kegs that ignited war and how innovations like aircraft, tanks and chemical weapons transformed combat. See uniforms, weapons and personal keepsakes while encountering relatable stories of bravery, hope, loss and healing. From causes to consequences, the National World War I Museum provides stirring insight into the Great War and why it still matters.

Tour the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Name and Location: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is located just east of the Country Club Plaza district in Kansas City, Missouri.

History and Significance: Founded in 1933, this encyclopedic, world-class art institution houses nearly 40,000 objects spanning 5,000 years of human creativity in grand Beaux-Arts buildings against the backdrop of Sculpture Park.

What to Expect: The museum showcases an acclaimed collection of Asian art, European masterpieces, modernist classics, outdoor sculptures including Shuttlecocks, special exhibitions, and more. Notable pieces include Caravaggio’s St. John the Baptist and Monet’s Waterlilies.

Visitor Information: Free general admission. Open Wednesday-Sunday 10am-5pm, Thursday-Friday until 9pm with free admission on Friday evenings. Tours, programs, and a cafe onsite.

Housing one of America’s most comprehensive art collections under soaring glass architecture, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is a Kansas City jewel. Monumental sculptures by Henry Moore welcome visitors outside before entering 35 acres of gallery space spanning 5,000 years of human creativity.

You’ll encounter European masterworks from Caravaggio to Monet plus marvelous depictions of the American West by Charles Russell and others. Stand before mesmerizing Asian works, especially the lush landscape scrolls in the Chinese Qing Dynasty Gallery. Don’t miss seeing the Hallmark Photography Collection spotlighting modernist greats too. Best of all, general admission is completely free!

Hear Live Music at Knuckleheads Saloon

Name and Location: Knuckleheads Saloon is Kansas City’s best spot for live blues, roots, jazz and more, located in the historic East Bottoms district.

History and Significance: Founded by touring musicians in 2009, this casually upscale honky-tonk bar and music venue fills a niche for quality acts within an intimate, retro setting outfitted with vintage gear. Top performers grace their stages weekly.

What to Expect: Patrons can enjoy shows featuring local and national talent while eating hearty Southern fare and drinking craft beverages inside two music halls or out in the spacious outdoor patio bar boasting downtown views.

Visitor Information: Family and pet friendly. Open Tuesday through Sunday with varying hours. Ticket prices vary. Book ahead online to guarantee seats.

As a nexus of jazz and blues, Kansas City knows how to host a stellar music venue. And Knuckleheads Saloon has offered a homegrown scene for local musicians plus national acts for over 20 years. Everyone from Big Band icons to Americana singer-songwriters have graced their expansive indoor-outdoor stage and dance floor.

Beyond the acts lighting up the marquee, you’ll find walls decorated with colorful show posters, a laidback bar pouring local drafts, and a full menu of classic American dishes like burgers, wings and tacos. With cozy indoor tables and a festive back patio, Knuckleheads combines top-notch talent with downhome charm for an only-in-KC music experience.

See Where President Truman Lived

Name and Location: The Harry S. Truman National Historic site preserves the longtime Kansas City home of the 33rd U.S. president in Independence, Missouri.

History and Significance: Constructed beginning in 1895, the Victorian-style residence remained Truman’s primary residence for nearly 50 years. The site provides rare insight into his life beyond the presidency through restored interiors, exhibits and more.

What to Expect: Visitors can tour Truman’s humble family home containing many of its original furnishings while learning about the post-WWII leader’s upbringing and career beyond the White House through museum exhibits and walking tours.

Visitor Information: Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. Guided tours begin hourly with combo ticket packages available. Timed entry tickets encouraged.

At the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site, explore the beloved president’s Midwestern roots. Tour the simple Victorian home where Truman lived for nearly two decades before entering politics. Many furnishings and personal artifacts provide insight into Truman’s life. Be sure to check tour times to visit Truman’s presidential library documenting his administration and the conclusions of WWII.

While on-site, take time to walk through the well-kept gardens Truman established that now bloom with roses, iris, daffodils and lavender. Friendly park rangers are happy to answer questions and discuss lesser-known aspects of Truman’s life before and after his presidency. Discover why Truman once said about Kansas City “When I think of home, this is what I think of.”

Try Authentic Kansas City Barbecue

Name and Location: Kansas City is renowned nationwide for its slow-smoked barbecue traditions traced back to legendary urban pit masters. Numerous joints pride themselves on masterful regional barbecue styles.

History and Significance: Beginning as cheap sustenance for migrant workers in the early 1900s, Kansas City barbecue culture achieved fame through skilled meat smoker cooks and savvy restaurant owners who developed signature sweet, thick, and tangy sauce flavors.

What to Expect: Today’s premier barbecue restaurants like Joe’s, Q39, Jack Stack, and more continue specializing in melt-off-the-bone ribs, brisket, pulled pork, smoked chicken, and signature sides according to local tastes and traditions. Bring appetite!

Visitor Information: Kansas City’s barbecue joints span local neighborhoods and Kaycee classics like Gates and Arthur Bryant’s reign supreme. Reservations not usually required. Cash-only policies still common.

Mouthwatering barbecue put Kansas City on the culinary map, so tasting smoky meats hot off a pit should top your to-do list. From old stalwarts like Arthur Bryant’s and Gates Bar-B-Q to newer arrivals like Q39 and Joe’s Kansas City, you have piping-hot pulled pork, brisket and smoked sausages galore!

Each joint boasts its own devoted following plus signature touches pairing perfectly with tender, flavorful cuts. Sweet and tangy sauces, crusty burnt ends, spicy ribs, loaded baked potatoes, creamy coleslaw – a true KC barbecue feast awaits! Don’t leave town without getting your fill of hickory-smoked goodness paired with friendly service at the city’s distinctive barbecue institutions.

Explore Country Club Plaza

Name and Location: Country Club Plaza sits just south of downtown Kansas City, Missouri as America’s first outdoor lifestyle shopping and dining district.

History and Significance: Developed in 1922, the 15-block Plaza pioneered merging high-end retail with pedestrian-friendly green space. Its Spanish architecture, fountains and Art Deco accents make it a beloved KC gem for residents and visitors.

What to Expect: Upscale stores, acclaimed restaurants, stunning architecture, public art installations, and seasonal events like shop-lined streets, concerts, and holiday lights transforms the Plaza into a vibrant destination.

Visitor Information: Always open. Free parking garages available with free weekend shuttles. Tourist info kiosk onsite. Pet friendly.

Spanish architecture, boutique shopping and dining excellence meet at Country Club Plaza. This district’s early 20th century origins as one of America’s first shopping centers remains evident in Seville-inspired details gracing the streets. Today you’ll discover art galleries, locally-owned shops, major retailers, acclaimed restaurants like The Capital Grille along with homegrown gems PepperJax Grill.

The area dazzles under strands of lights illuminating European-style pergolas and courtyards – especially at the holiday season or during free summertime concerts. From luxe hotels like The Raphael and the Fontaine to the KC Streetcar connecting you to downtown, Country Club Plaza offers old world ambience with modern delights.

See Where the Royals Play at Kauffman Stadium

Name and Location: Kauffman Stadium is the beloved home ballpark for MLB’s Kansas City Royals located adjacent to I-70 near downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

History and Significance: Opened in 1973, meticulously maintained Kauffman Stadium boasts Midwest warmth and charm allowing fans close views of exciting young Royals teams who thrilled the city by winning the 2015 World Series after a 30-year title drought.

What to Expect: Royals fans flock to “The K” April through September to take in America’s favorite pastime while sampling signature Kansas City barbecue and enjoying kid-friendly amenities like the Outfield Experience between games.

Visitor Information: Single game and season tickets available. Book parking passes online in advance. Public transportation and downtown hotel shuttles available on game days. Family sections offered.

No visit to Kansas City is complete without encountering hometown baseball team the Kansas City Royals. Newly renovated Kauffman Stadium has been the site of exciting Royals action since 1973. Spring and summer means cheering along fans at an adrenaline-pumping game. Or if you’re visiting during the offseason, Kauffman Stadium offers behind-the-scenes tours showcasing locker rooms, dugouts, press boxes and more.

Plan your visit during a day game and you may be treated to the famous Kauffman Stadium fountains dancing along with the excitement of a Royals home run! With fun kid-friendly activities and plenty of ballpark eats like hotdogs, nachos and peanuts, an outing to Kauffman Stadium lets you enjoy America’s pastime with Midwest hospitality.

Ride a Riverboat on the Missouri River

Name and Location Kansas City Riverboat Cruises launch from downtown Kansas City, Missouri’s scenic riverfront.

History and Significance: Operating along the Missouri River since 1963, sightseeing cruises showcase KC from a unique vantage point. Themed dining, music, comedy, and holiday cruises entertain guests year-round aboard climate-controlled paddlewheel riverboats.

What to Expect: Leisurely one to three hour public sightseeing tours navigate waters bordered by downtown Kansas City skylines, Lewis and Clark historical sites, and lovely natural scenery from spring through fall as schedules permit. Upscale specialty cruises also offered.

Visitor Information: Boats launch from Port KC. Ticket prices vary. Boarding times vary by season. Reservations strongly recommended.

For skyline views with luxury, step aboard the Spirit of Kansas City dinner cruise and riverboat experience. While gliding along the Mighty Missouri, soak in panoramas of downtown KC from the comfort of climate-controlled indoor decks or open top deck seating. Enjoy listening to live piano music over a gourmet buffet dinner, with gluten-free and kid’s options available.

Daily public cruises last just under two hours, allowing you to relax watching riverfront vistas slide by. Or opt for a specialty jazz brunch, dinner & dance or holiday cruise. With flexible boarding options and complimentary parking, floating on the Missouri River makes for a special Kansas City memory.

See Where Kansas City Jazz Began at 18th & Vine

Name and Location: Kansas City’s legendary 18th and Vine Jazz District memorializes early jazz roots within a vibrant African American community hub along KC’s former red light and entertainment quarter.

History and Significance: Steeped in cultural legacy fostered by 1920s segregation, this hallowed intersection birthed Kansas City jazz style spreading worldwide fame through touring musicians. Named a “Great American Place,” key landmarks have been preserved.

What to Expect: Historic venues like the Gem Theater and the American Jazz Museum complex anchor the district hosting live music acts alongside restaurants and nightlife spaces primarily owned by local Black entrepreneurs.

Visitor Information: Located just east of downtown. Some museums and attractions require paid entry. Area can get lively during summer jazz fests and weekends.

Kansas City’s celebrated jazz legacy began in a historically African American neighborhood centered around 18th Street and Vine Jazz District. Walk streets once pulsing with more than 50 jazz clubs during Segregation to encounter the heritage that launched musical greats like Count Basie and Charlie Parker.

The free American Jazz Museum lets you see saxophones played by jazz royalty, hear vintage records and learn the history of KC as an early jazz mecca. The adjoined Negro Leagues Baseball Museum chronicles African American baseball until integration. Together these sights provide an impactful lens on Kansas City’s diverse culture and its imprint on American artforms.

Experience Science City within Union Station

Name and Location: Science City is an interactive children’s science museum housed within the grandly restored 1914 Union Station complex located in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.

History and Significance: Opened in 1999 as a Smithsonian affiliate, Science City leverages Union Station’s original grand architecture and newly added galleries to spur youth interest in STEM fields through highly immersive, engaging exhibits and programs.

What to Expect: Multi-story Science City invites kids of all ages to launch airplanes, produce TV shows, dig archaeology pits, view films in an IMAX Dome theater, and creatively explore principles of physics, chemistry, biology and more through hands-on experimenting.

Visitor Information: Open daily with varying hours. Ticket packages available. advance purchase encouraged. Food court and ample parking onsite.

Union Station encompasses so much of Kansas City’s essence as a transportation hub and architectural beauty embracing the future while preserving the past. Union Station houses restaurants, shops and theaters plus Science City – a thrilling interactive science center with fun activities for all ages.

Kids can dig dinosaur fossils, use lab gear for experiments, or produce their own TV segment. Laser shows inside the planetarium and periodic traveling exhibits ensure fresh experiences with each visit. The soaring Grand Hall and historical displays capture Union Station’s history too, making it truly an all-encompassing downtown destination.

See Where Kansas City Began at the River Market District

Name and Location: Kansas City’s historic River Market District spans several blocks on the Missouri River’s north bank within the city’s original downtown settlement.

History and Significance: Traced back to the mid-1800s when riverboat trade put Kansas City on the map, the vibrant River Market houses the region’s largest farmer’s market within a span of warehouses, eateries, shops, and community sites retaining heritage charm.

What to Expect: From lively produce and craft stalls to jazz street performers, riverboat cruises, casual global dining, local stores, and weekend crowds, the River Market pulses with small town character. Observation deck views overlook the sights.

Visitor Information: Easily accessible by foot, tram, and streetcar. Free garage parking available. Farmers market hours vary. Historic City Market open daily.

Last but not least, no first-time visit to Kansas City is complete without exploring the River Market district in downtown KC along the Missouri River. Today this area brims with shops, cafes, restaurants and breweries breathing new energy into warehouses where pioneers once traded goods.

The City Market building itself overflows with small businesses and eateries vending fresh local produce alongside ethnic ingredients. Grab an artisanal snack then browse the regional artists and craft vendors displaying their wares in booths and open-air markets. Don’t miss the iconic Kansas City ‘Dreamscape’ mural either! From dawn to dusk, River Market provides a taste of everything that makes Kansas City such an authentic, dynamic heartland hub open to all.


From world-class museums and a legacy of jazz to America’s favorite pastime and award-winning barbecue, Kansas City rewards visitors with an array of quintessential experiences. Encounter interactive history, architectural wonders, music that moves the soul, art from around the world and downhome Midwestern food, sports and hospitality. Use this local’s guide to top attractions, districts, cuisine and entertainment to plan your unforgettable Kansas City getaway full of discovery.

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