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Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
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The best museums in Kansas City

Museums in Kansas City chronicle the history of jazz and World War I and even boast gorgeous train station settings.

Written by
Brock Wilbur

Whether it's local history or global visions for tomorrow, KC has incredible art for all tastes. All you have to do is head to some of the best museums in Kansas City to see an incredible array of history, art, and more. Take the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum or the American Jazz Museum for example, where you can get a deep dive into the unique history that makes Kansas City great (besides the BBQ, of course). More into contemporary art? The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art both have worthy exhibits and Instagram-worthy installations. After you see the show, head to some of the best restaurants or breweries to refuel. 

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Best museums in Kansas City

Known for the giant Shuttlecocks installation out front (go on and take a selfie), the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art houses nearly 40,000 works of art. Home to ancient and contemporary collections and an extensive collection of Asian art, the Nelson is regarded as one of the best museums in the country, and admission is totally free.

Head to the historic district of 18th & Vine, which was the center for Black culture and life in Kansas City from the late 1800s to the 1960s, to take a self-guided tour of African-American baseball’s rich history at the NLBM. The multimedia displays, collections of photos and artifacts, and film exhibits tell the complete story of Negro Leagues Baseball, from average players to superstars. Don’t miss the field of 12 bronze sculptures and the museum store.


History buffs need to check out the world-class collection of WWI memorabilia at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. The tour starts with a short introductory film, followed by an exploration of the different uniforms, weapons and paraphernalia of the time. Also learn about the geopolitical causes of the Great War through short films, storyboards, maps and timelines. Be sure to check out the fantastic view of the city from Liberty Tower, a monument commemorating those who served in the war. 

Just look for the pyramid-shaped building with a four-story spider statue out front. Yeah. While not much can outshine the Nelson-Atkins, just a short walk away is the (much more intimate) Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which boasts a collection of modern and contemporary works, and hosts exhibitions, installations, film and video series, lectures, concerts, workshops, and other creative programs. The gorgeous, world-class Café Sebastienne is a great place to stop and nosh, and admission and parking are both free. 


Built in 1914, this historical architectural masterpiece is a sight to behold. Marvel at the Grand Hall's 95-foot ceiling, three 3,500-pound chandeliers, and the six-feet wide clock. Home to traveling national exhibits, 3D movies on the Extreme Screen, Science City (an interactive science center), a permanent KC Rail Experience exhibit and a planetarium, Union Station has something for everyone in the family. Book a boozy brunch at Harvey's, if you want to feel like you're traveling back in time while enjoying a round of mimosas. 


Housed in a mansion on top of a hill on the UMKC campus, the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures is a hidden gem in Kansas City. The museum boasts the world’s largest fine-scale miniature collection on the first floor, from itty bitty Russian nesting dolls to tiny replicas of everything under the sun. On the second floor, see how toys have evolved throughout time in one of the nation’s largest antique toy collections.

From the book cover-adorned parking garage to the film vault in the basement, the Kansas City Public Library’s Central Library is packed with character and Instagram gold. In addition to the incredible amount of books, there’s a coffee shop, a children's area and a full-size chess game on the roof.

Want to check out a one-of-a-kind history museum with no strings attached? (Sorry.) Hazelle Rollins owned the world's largest puppet factory from 1935 to 1975, and when it closed the Puppetry Arts Institute was gifted the remaining inventory. Now children and adults alike can use these parts to build their own marionettes. The 3,000-square-foot space includes a research library, a performance area, and puppet workshop space. Swing by and let your imagination run wild.

Both walk-in and guided tours are available at the Kansas City Fed building. The exhibit, built in conjunction with the Denver Mint, gives out free shredded money and allows you to see coinage from across the globe. It is closed on bank holidays, obvs.

Downtown, the American Jazz Museum shares a building with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District. Learn about the birth of jazz in Kansas City through interactive exhibits, including listening stations and custom mixing boards. Among the historic artifacts from the height of jazz's popularity are collections of photographs, sheet music and posters.

If you want to see what's changed (and what hasn't) in 200 years of Missouri, this is the place to find out. Nineteenth-century re-enactors in period-appropriate attire will treat you and your kids to pony rides and puppet shows – just don't pull out your cell phone. 

In Truman's own words, "There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know.” The resting place of the 33rd President was already among one of the most expansive executive libraries in the country, but it just got even better. A recent $25 million renovation has resulted in brand new exhibits as of summer 2021, and the experience has never been better.

Charles Wallace Parker was a giant in the world of carousels, and his namesake museum is a tribute to that legacy. He built hundreds of amusement park machines, ranging from steam to electric, and varying in size from small traveling units up to gigantic amusement park installations. In all, devices and craftsmanship on display span more than 100 years. If the spinning horses seem a bit one-note for you, there are plenty of other carnival-based attractions including penny press machines, a Parker cylinder piano, and an Artizan A-X-1 band organ.

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