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Kansas City, Missouri, USA downtown skyline with Union Station.
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The best things to do in Kansas City

The best things to do in Kansas City include tailgating, chowing down on BBQ, perusing art museums, and listening to lots of jazz.

Written by
Lauren Dana
Brock Wilbur
Ellen Prinzi

Kansas City often gets overlooked in favor of larger Midwest cities like Chicago and St. Louis, but don’t let that deter you from visiting. What Kansas City lacks in size it makes up with character, culture, dozens of world-class attractions, and mouthwatering eats. 

With this in mind, the best things to do in Kansas City include an up-and-coming arts scene, a variety of restaurants serving classic KC cuisine (BBQ, anyone?), and, surprisingly, a ton of fountains. (Yes, you read that right. There are a lot of cool fountains in this city.)

Additionally, aside from being a great sports town, Kansas City also boasts a long jazz heritage and a slew of year-round events. Plus, KC even offers free public transportation since 2020, making it incredibly easy to get around to see all of the city’s highlights – that is, without blowing your budgets on Ubers, Lyfts, or taxis. So, go on and enjoy the best metro in the Midwest before everyone beats you to it.

Best things to do in Kansas City

Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que is well worth the hype. While there are three locations, you’ll definitely want to check out the original one on 47th, which used to be a gas station. Yes, there will be a line, but eating here is almost a rite of passage. Order The Z-Man (slow-smoked beef brisket, smoked provolone cheese, topped with two crispy onion rings on a toasted Kaiser roll) with fries and a half rack of ribs to split with a friend. Do not deviate from the plan!

The Plaza” is KC's premier shopping and dining destination. While you can find all sorts of high-end retail establishments, restaurants, and entertainment venues within its sprawling 15 blocks, this isn’t just another outdoor mall. Instead, think of it as a city-within-a-city where you can walk, shop, eat, and see some beautiful fountains and classic European architecture, as well as more than 30 statues, murals, and tile mosaics.


This little craft-brewery-that-could is now one of the largest in the Midwest. Learn about the incredible history of this native-to-Kansas-City company and its brewing process on a 60-minute tour that ends with free beer. Afterward, make sure to get a photo in the little RV/photo booth and hit up the gift shop to take home your favorite brews. Be on the lookout for various events like Boulevardia, in which the brewery teams up with a handful of local businesses for a fun block party complete with live entertainment, tasty bites, and, of course, brews.

Bar arcades
Photograph: Shutterstock

4. Bar arcades

Before bars-slash-gaming-centers became all the rage on the coasts, homegrown versions of these crossover concepts were already taking root locally. Check out Up-Down KC – which has over 50 retro arcade games from the ‘80s and ‘90s, as well as skeeball and life-size Jenga and Connect Four – before heading to 403 Club for craft brews with a side of competitive pinball. Meanwhile, it's incredibly easy to lose an entire day at Pawn & Pint, which boasts an impressive collection of 1,000 board games.


The Super Bowl champions rule over one of the loudest stadiums in the country. Regardless of your team loyalty, enjoy a beer and brat in the parking lot, and introduce yourself to this long-standing KC football tradition. Tens of thousands of passionate partiers show up hours before kickoff. Will you be among them? If you don’t want to shell out the dough on tickets, the tailgate may be a betterand more affordableway to take in the city's various charms while mingling with fun-loving football fans. 

Known for the giant Shuttlecocks installation out front (go on and take a selfie), The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art houses over 40,000 magnificent works, including centuries-old Japanese art and more contemporary exhibits and mediums such as photography. The Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, which spans 22 acres, is another highlight. What’s more, the Nelson is regarded as one of the best museums in the country, and, best of all, admission is free.


While not much can outshine the Nelson-Atkins, just a short walk away – just look for the pyramid-shaped building with a four-story spider statue out front – is the (much more intimate) Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Open since 1994, this one-of-a-kind museum boasts a collection of modern and contemporary works. It also 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 while admiring a rotating selection of installations and works. Plus, admission and parking are both free.

City Market is also referred to as River Market, so don't let the names throw you off. A Kansas City staple since 1857, City Market is always packed with people, and for good reason. Here, you'll find local produce, hipster goods, restaurants and cafés, home accessories, and more. On weekends, there is a popular farmers’ market, and during the summer months, City Market offers a slew of fun-filled events like live music and festivals.


Built in 1914, this architectural masterpiece is a sight to behold. Marvel at the Grand Hall’s 95-foot ceiling, three 3,500-pound chandeliers, and the six-foot-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.

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.


Jones is a grab-and-go window in a parking lot with great ‘que and even greater service from the only all-female pitmaster team in town. The Jones sisters, Deborah and Mary, grew up learning all the secrets to making great BBQ from their father and have taken their secret family sausage recipe to unparalleled levels of fame. You'll undoubtedly recognize them from their stand-out episode on Queer Eye. Be prepared to get there early in the day if you want to get in on the goods before they sell out.

Kauffman Stadium is one of the oldest and nicest ballparks in MLB. Home of the Kansas City Royals, catching a game here is both affordable and fun. Perhaps its best-known feature is the Water Spectacular, a fountain and waterfall display behind the right-field fence. The outfield concourse allows fans to walk 360 degrees around the stadium. Plus, there’s plenty of parking, which means there are ample tailgating opps.


Formerly known as the Sprint Center, KC's downtown live event stadium is booked most nights with the biggest names in concerts, sports, and everything else across the entertainment spectrum. Whether it's a massive country star, WWE wrestling, monster trucks, comedy tours, or Disney live – this is the place to find it. Make sure to treat yourself to one of the many bars or restaurants across the street in the Power & Light District before (and maybe after) the show. Just make sure to plan ahead, as you and up to 18,000 other folks might be looking for food at the same time.

Next door to the American Jazz Museum is the Blue Room Jazz Club, which offers live music in an intimate setting. The one-of-a-kind music venue, which doubles as a Kansas City jazz exhibit, is a great place to grab a drink and see up-and-coming bands, seasoned local veterans, and big names from the music world. Set aside enough time to fully take this one in, as it really starts cooking closer to 11pm. 


This 235-acre entertainment complex features the largest amusement and water park in the Midwest – plus, it’s a lot less crowded than Disney or Universal. Spend the morning riding coasters and then cool down at Oceans of Fun (as a bonus, access to the water park is included in the cost of admission). We recommend bouncing between the two parks in the depths of summer, as being drenched on a roller coaster tends to cool you off effectively.

Local musicians, singers, and spoken word poets come together at the Mutual Musicians Foundation every Friday and Saturday evening – just as they have been doing since 1930. The walls here are covered in Kansas City jazz history, but don’t expect anything fancy (drinks are served in plastic cups at the bar): Instead, it’s all about the music. Pay the $10 cover and listen to talented players jam all night long.


We cannot overstate how gorgeous this place is – and how much you'll appreciate the break if you're trying to power through this list of KC events. Nestled in the middle of a beautiful 116-acre park, the Ernie Miller Nature Center is home to native birds and creepy crawlies, as well as educational exhibits, a gift shop, and three miles of scenic hiking trails. It’s a great place to come if you’re craving some good ol’ green space in the middle of the bustling city.

There are plenty of small stretches in Kansas City where you can get a considerable amount of drinking done while also not doing any driving; Our personal pick is West 39th Street, which is dotted with funky shops like Prospero’s Books, Noir Arts & Oddities, and Retro Vixen. Eclectic eats also abound, including Miami Ice for frozen treats, Meshuggah Bagels for NY-style bagels, and Q39 for authentic KC BBQ. Lastly, end your night at one of the area’s laid-back bars like Gilhouly's Irish Tavern or The Hi-Dive Lounge.


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 the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Here, visitors can learn more about African-American baseball’s rich history through multimedia displays, collections of photos and artifacts, and film exhibits. Don’t miss the field of 13 bronze sculptures and the museum store.

One of KC's premier distilleries is also the home to a whole host of different experiences. The tour is fascinating, and it even ends with whiskey samples. After, head to the tasting room and restaurant to refuel with elevated pub grub such as deviled eggs and caramelized onion dip. It's hard to go wrong with any of the cocktails offered here, but on principle, you should treat yourself to the Tom Pendergast: a bourbon-and-mezcal mixed drink named for one of the city's political bosses back in the early 20th century.


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. Visitors can also learn about the geopolitical causes of the Great War through short films, storyboards, maps, and timelines. Pro tip: check out the fantastic view of the city from the Liberty Memorial Tower, a monument dedicated to those who served in the war.

With 49 publicly operating fountains, it’s no wonder Kansas City is known as “The City of Fountains.” (Meanwhile, the greater metropolitan area is home to 200 of them.) Ranging from classical and modern to minimalist and ornate, these fountains can be found in parks, plazas, and shopping areas. Perhaps the most famous is the Fountain at Mill Creek Park near Country Club Plaza. Previously known as the J.C. Nichols Memorial Fountain, this aquatic marvel – originally from Long Island, NY, and sculpted by Henri-Leon Greber in 1910 – features four horsemen sculptures, which are said to symbolize four of the world’s most famous rivers, including America’s own Mighty Mississippi. 


Hallmark is headquartered in Kansas City, and the company’s visitors center offers plenty to see, such as a collection of beautifully decorated, life-sized Christmas trees that employees created for Hallmark founder J.C. Hall as Christmas gifts. Also, don’t miss the bow machine, which, with the push of a button, creates perfect star-shaped bows that make for an amazing souvenir. Visitors can also learn more about the company’s 100-year history via a self-guided tour. While admission is free, reservations are required for guaranteed entry.

Animal lovers of all ages will appreciate a visit to the 202-acre Kansas City Zoo. Here, you’ll find a whopping 1,700-plus animals, ranging from alligators to otters, to leopards and beyond. Don’t miss the daily penguin feedings and the Sea Lion Splash. Other highlights include Polar Bear Passage, Helzberg Penguin Plaza, the Tropics Building (which houses otters, monkeys, and porcupines, to name a few), Tiger Trail, and Stingray Bay, Finally, don’t leave without riding the African Sky Safari, a seven-minute ski lift that takes you over the zoo’s Africa section, featuring awe-inspiring animals like giraffes, rhinos, and cheetahs.

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