With more fountains than Rome, more boulevards than Paris, a cornucopia of award-winning chefs, and two million of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, Kansas City should definitely be on your travel bucket list! Here are ten things you can do for free when you visit.
Long dismissed as a “flyover state,” Kansas City is finally getting the credit it deserves as a lively, cosmopolitan city with plenty to do, see, and taste.
Here are 10 of my favorite things to do for free in Kansas City:
1. Ride the Streetcar
Debuting in May 2016, the RideKC Streetcar runs for about two miles along Main Street. Use it to travel between the City Market, Central Library, Power & Light District, and Union Station. If you’d like to continue exploring the city on two wheels, three of the streetcar’s 16 stops offer bike share stations.
2. Step Back in Time at Union Station
Step back in time by visiting the permanent Union Station Stories exhibit that starts at the staircase in the southwest elevator vestibule and continues through mezzanine levels two and three. Return to when train travel trumped air or automobile travel and hundreds of thousands of people traveled through Union Station each year, eating at the Harvey House and getting their shoes shined. This upper-level is also a better spot for photos with the iconic Union Station clock.
Because this post is focused on free activities, I won’t mention Science City, the Planetarium, the Escape Room, the Extreme Screen movie theatre, or the special exhibits that are also part of Union Station. Or that this is where you would board the Gangster Tour.
Pro Tip: Download this free app for your visit to Union Station.
3. Survey Kansas City Like The Scout
One sculpture that gets its own shout out is The Scout, a 10-foot statue of a Sioux Indian on horseback that provides one of the best views of the city. The work of Cyrus Dallin, The Scout won a gold medal at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. After the exposition, it was temporarily erected in Penn Valley Park where it was so loved that local school children launched “The Kids of Kansas City” campaign to raise $15,000 to purchase the sculpture as a permanent part of the city.
Pro Tip: Even with GPS, tracking down The Scout statue can be tricky. Navigate to the corner of W. 31st St and Pennsylvania Ave at the corner of Penn Valley Park. Go north on Pennsylvania Avenue, past a skate park and some tennis courts, until the road ends. Safely park and lock your car, then continue walking north on the gravel path for another 100 yards, or so.
4. Tour Kansas City’s Fountains (and Sculptures and Murals)
Originally built to provide horses, dogs, and birds with water, there are 200 officially registered fountains in Kansas City. Get a complete list of fountains here or follow this self-guided fountain tour to visit 32 of the more popular fountains. My favorite fountain isn’t in the brochure, so be sure to include Pomona on your list of Country Club Plaza fountains. Mix in some of Kansas City’s sculptures, cool walls, and murals for even more fun!
5. Stroll the Country Club Plaza
Because I travel to learn and explore, not shop, I debated whether or not the country’s first suburban shopping district should make the list. However, the beautiful Spanish architecture, JC Nichols Fountain, 30+ statues and murals, and free parking put this site on the list. See the sites via this walking tour and add an element of extra fun and friendly competition with this Country Club Plaza scavenger hunt.
6. Enjoy Green Space Galore
With more than 200 urban parks plus many gardens, arboretums, and walking trails, Kansas City has green space galore. You can find a full list of parks here, but I’ll focus on just a few of my favorites.
Encompassing more than 1,800 acres, Swope Park is twice as big as Central Park. Take that, New York City! A visit to Swope Park could include the Lakeside Nature Center, Kansas City Community Gardens, a picnic, or a walk along the Swope Park Trail. Because this post is focused on free things to do, I won’t mention Starlight Theatre or the Kansas City Zoo, but they both happen to be located at Swope Park.
History and beauty collide at Loose Park, just a few blocks south of the Country Club Plaza. The site was once the location of the Battle of Westport during the Civil War, and a Civil War cannon sits at the south end of the park near 55th & Pennsylvania. More notable is the park’s phenomenal rose garden featuring 3,000 roses of more than 150 varieties. You can also walk the Loose Park Trail which will take you past the Loose Park Pond.
Pro Tip: You’re not supposed to feed the ducks, geese, and other water fowl in the Loose Park Pond because processed food like crackers and bread are harmful to them. Additionally, feeding them increases their dependency on people and reduces their ability to survive on their own. If you ever do feed the ducks at any point, be sure to reference this list of food items that aren’t harmful to them.
Shawnee Mission Park
Over on the Kansas side of the metro area, in the suburb of Shawnee, is the 1,600 acre Shawnee Mission Park. It features a 120-acre lake, endless walking trails, and a 53-acre off-leash dog park with lake access. Deer and other woodland creatures are often seen at the park.
Kauffman Memorial Garden
7. Appreciate Amazing Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum
While the museum is most widely known for its extensive collection of Asian Art, my favorites are the Native American galleries, the Hallmark Photographic Collection, and the Bloch Galleries. The exterior of the museum is equally spectacular featuring approximately 35 sculptures including four over-sized badminton shuttlecocks and a glass labyrinth maze.
Pro Tip: While admission to the museum is always free, parking can be a bit pricey. Depending on the day and time of your visit, you can usually park on the street in the adjacent neighborhoods at no cost.
Fun Fact: TIME listed the Bloch Building addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum as the #1 new architectural marvel in 2007 shortly after it opened.
8. Brave a Big Spider and Enter the Kemper Museum
For a more contemporary art experience, check out the Kemper Museum. You’ll recognize it by the gigantic spider sculpture out front. Unlike the Nelson-Atkins Museum which does charge for special exhibits from time-to-time, the Kemper is always free. The non-permanent collection usually changes about every three months, so there is something new to see several times throughout the year.
Pro Tip: If you really enjoy art and are able to travel to the Overland Park suburb of Kansas City, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College is also free.
9. Fly through The Roasterie
Identified by the DC-3 plane suspended above, The Roasterie is a home grown favorite. Complimentary, 45-minute tours are offered several times a day. Space is limited, so be sure to plan ahead and schedule your tour in advance.
10. Tour the Boulevard Brewing Company
Another local favorite is Belgian-inspired Boulevard Brewing Company. The 60-minute tour concludes with samples in the tasting room, and similar to The Roasterie you’ll want to plan ahead since all available tour tickets are issued on a first-come, first-served basis starting at 10:00 am each day.
What do you think? Have you enjoyed a free outing in Kansas City lately? Anything that I should add to this list?