14 reasons Kansas City should be your next trip

Kansas City has been hitting the headlines in a big way – even before Taylor Swift started showing up in a box at Arrowhead Stadium for the Kansas City Chiefs football games. 

The Chiefs have clinched the Super Bowl trophy three times in the last five years; Ted Lasso, the heartwarmingly wholesome TV show starring KC native Jason Sudeikis, has won dozens of awards; and nearly every travel publication – Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel included – listed Kansas City as one of the top places to visit in 2024.

Despite all this recent attention, Kansas City has long been obsessed with itself in the most Midwestern way: quietly. It’s practically a local ordinance for residents to wear clothing mentioning KC – and perhaps by the end of your trip, you’ll pick up a t-shirt too. While Kansas City is happy to have its turn in the spotlight, at the end of the day, it’s still the welcoming, come-as-you-are cowtown-turned-cool-town that it’s always been.

Ready to see what the Kansas City hype is about? Whether you’re spending a weekend in Kansas City or much longer, here’s a guide to the best things to do in KC.

1. Watch the beautiful game in the Soccer Capital of America

The Kansas City Chiefs might be the city’s best-known sports team, but another kind of football is also drawing big crowds. In March, CPKC Stadium, the first arena in the world purpose-built for a professional women’s sports team, opened for the KC Current’s sold-out season-starting match. This waterside soccer stadium is also helping revitalize a previously ignored section of the south bank of the Missouri River. A beer garden called Two Birds, One Stone and the Origin Hotel are slated to open in summer 2024. 

Local tip: The free-to-ride KC Streetcar will have its route extended from downtown along the riverfront in time for 2026, when Kansas City will host FIFA World Cup games alongside the likes of Los Angeles, Mexico City, Boston and Vancouver.

Want to see the FIFA World Cup in 2026? Get reading on how to get tickets now

Kansas City pit masters barbecue ribs, brisket, pork and chicken slathered with sauces.
Kansas City pitmasters are famous for their barbecue ribs slathered with sauces © Mohammad-amin asareh / Shutterstock

2. Eat Kansas City’s best barbecue…

Kansas City was once home to some of the largest stockyards in the country, second only to Chicago, and smoked meat is big business. KC’s status as one of the best places in the USA to eat barbecue is thanks to Henry Perry, a Black pitmaster who opened a restaurant in the early 1900s. Though his barbecue joint no longer exists, Arthur Bryant’s and Gates Bar-B-Q claim direct lineage and remain stalwarts of the scene.

Kansas City’s barbecue culture is anything but stagnant, and a newer generation of pitmasters has added its own takes on tradition. Joe’s KC serves its legendary Z-Man sandwich from a gas station, while Q39 takes the plates in a slightly classier, but no less authentic, direction. Burnt ends – the fatty, charred ends of brisket – are a Kansas City invention and a must-order dish at any spot worth its sauce. Slap’s BBQ in Kansas City, Kansas, does some of the best. Jack Stack has a wider variety of ribs than you’ll find elsewhere, including lamb.

So where’s the best place to eat Kansas City barbecue? Even locals don’t have a definitive answer. Try as many as you can and decide for yourself.

Local tip: If you’re going to Gates Bar-B-Q, prepare to get an earful as soon as you walk in. “May I help you!” is the restaurant’s trademark phrase, and no matter how long the line ahead of you is, you’re expected to yell back your order immediately. Prep yourself by looking up the menu online before you go.

Food shot from above at Baba's Pantry in Kansas City
Baba’s Pantry in Kansas City was named one of the best new restaurants in the US © Pilsen Photo Co-op

3. …and devour the rest of KC’s incredible food scene

Kansas City’s best places to eat offer menus much more diverse than barbecue, dishing up flavors from far beyond the state and the country. For a celebratory night out, try the sleek darkened dining room at Corvino, one of Kansas City’s top restaurants, or get a group together to sample all the inventive small plates at The Antler Room. 

For cheaper spots to expand your palate, set off on the KCK Taco Trail, which rounds up 60 local taquerias on the Kansas side of the state line. Carniceria y Tortilleria San Antonio and El Camino Real are favorites. Excellent baba ganoush, chicken shawarma and other Middle Eastern flavors await at Baba’s Pantry, a Palestinian American deli named one of the best new restaurants in the country in 2022.

Local tip: Reservations and dressing up aren’t necessary for most restaurants in Kansas City, but it doesn’t hurt to book in advance for higher-end places, if you have your heart set on somewhere specific or want to eat at a certain time.

4. Feel the soul of Black Kansas City at 18th and Vine

The historic Black district of 18th and Vine, southeast of downtown and centered on the intersection in the neighborhood’s name, was a cradle of jazz music and is still a major focal point of Black culture in KC. Learn about musicians – including Kansas City native Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker – instruments and styles at the American Jazz Museum, which also has an after-hours jazz club called Blue Room for live performances. 

Next door is the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, which chronicles the history of Black teams, such as the KC Monarchs and New York Black Yankees, that flourished until baseball became fully integrated.

Vine Street Brewing Co, Missouri’s first Black-owned brewery, opened in 2023 and is already a neighborhood staple. Sip a pint of Jazzman, a black lager that’s the brewery’s signature pour, at its premises in a graffitied limestone former public works building.

Local tip: Jazz-loving night owls should head to the Mutual Musicians Foundation on Fridays and Saturdays. When performers wrap up their evening shows elsewhere, they head to Mutual Musicians to jam. Sessions don’t get going until midnight or later, and Mutual Musicians is the only place in the entire state that’s allowed to sell alcohol all night, thanks to a special exemption from the Missouri legislature.

Get to know Kansas City better by exploring these five shops 

Interior shot of The Rabbit Hole bar in Kansas City
The whimsical Rabbit h0le will delight parents and children alike © Lauren Keith / Lonely Planet

5. Tumble into the magic of children’s literature at The Rabbit h0le

Taking over a 150,000-sq-ft tin can factory, The Rabbit h0le in North Kansas City is a one-of-a-kind spot that’s intriguingly hard to define. Opened in March and dreamt up by two former bookstore owners, the art-filled space celebrates a century of children’s literature, from the 1920s to the modern day, and while the museum is sure to be loved by little ones, adults can enjoy a nostalgic trip down memory lane. At any age, you feel like you’re truly standing inside a storybook. Calling The Rabbit h0le “immersive”, an overused and vague term, doesn’t even begin to cut it. Just visit the Goodnight Moon room for some hard tugs on the heartstrings to understand what we mean.

Like any good artistic endeavor, The Rabbit h0le is still a work in progress. The 1st floor is open, and the 2nd floor is set to be finished by the end of 2024 – plenty of reason to return.

6. Pick your favorites from the collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

The free-to-visit Nelson-Atkins, Kansas City’s most notable art museum, is a cherished treasure and a must-visit for culture vultures. The globe-trotting collection spans continents, showing off ancient Egyptian coffins, works by European masters (including pieces by Monet and Caravaggio) and Chinese bronzes.

But the most iconic and beloved pieces aren’t in the museum at all – they are outside on the lawn. Four 18ft-tall badminton shuttlecocks playfully plunge into the grass on either side of the museum, which represents the net, and they feature on countless KC souvenirs.

The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri.
Learn about WWI at this national museum and memorial © EQRoy / Shutterstock

7. Understand the horrors of war at the National WWI Museum

The United States’ congressionally designated national museum of the Great War isn’t in Washington, DC, but in the heart of the country in Kansas City. The National WWI Museum offers a detailed look into the gruesome conflict through evocative exhibits, including tanks, military uniforms, propaganda posters and replica trenches.

Outside, the Liberty Memorial towers nearly 270ft above the lawn, and you can ride an elevator to the top to see the city from on high on the open-air observation deck.

Local tip: The view of Union Station from the courtyard and the top of Liberty Memorial is the most photographed angle of Kansas City. The courtyard is free for all to access – you don’t have to visit the museum. Tickets are required to go to the top of the Liberty Memorial.

8. See the sights of Union Station

Union Station is the focal point of Kansas City, and many major events take place here. Even at quieter times, this historic building from 1914 has lots to see and do. It’s still a working train station (Amtrak trains leave for St Louis, Chicago and Los Angeles), and its grand Beaux-Arts architecture of huge windows and 95ft-high colorful coffered ceilings is a feast for the eyes. Kids love experimenting and climbing around the exhibits at Science City, and Union Station is also home to a planetarium, a volunteer-run model train gallery and a five-story-tall movie screen.

On the lower level, Union Station hosts a yearly touring exhibition. Opening in May 2024, Disney100 celebrates the works of Walt Disney, who moved to Kansas City when he was nine years old and took drawing classes on Saturdays at the Kansas City Art Institute.

Local tip: The KC Streetcar has its southern terminus outside Union Station, making it easy to park here and ride the streetcar into downtown and the River Market neighborhood.

interior at the Truman Museum in Kansas City
Deep dive on US history at the Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum © David Tjiptogarsono 

9. Get to know the only president from Missouri at the Truman Presidential Library

Harry Truman, the 33rd US president, grew up in Independence, a suburb east of Kansas City. Reopened in 2021 after a $29 million update, the Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum is a behind-the-scenes look at his life, legacy and the world at large in the 1940s and ‘50s. Exhibits include somber artifacts, such as the safety plug from the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, to more lighthearted items like the famous “The Buck Stops Here!” sign.

Local tip: History lovers can spend a full day in Independence by adding on the Truman Home, where the former president lived from 1919 to 1972, and the National Frontier Trails Museum, which covers the Santa Fe, California and Oregon Trails that brought settlers through Independence on their way west.

10. Explore Kansas City on foot

Don’t limit your view of Kansas City to what you see through a car window. Get closer to the urban fabric on a guided walking tour with Urban Hikes KC. These walking tours give you a workout while also taking you on a deeper exploration of neighborhoods and backstreets that many travelers don’t visit, such as the Historic Northeast, the ruins of Quindaro (a stop on the Underground Railroad) and downtown Kansas City, Kansas. Some hikes add snack stops for coffee, wine and cheese, so you can tick more KC foodie spots off your list while checking out the city.

KC Wheel -- with a view of the city scape and another carriage
Opened in December 2023, the KC Wheel gives visitors a new perspective © Lauren Keith / Lonely Planet

11. Take a spin on the KC Wheel

London has the London Eye, Vegas has the High Roller, and Kansas City has the KC Wheel. The 150ft-high Ferris wheel provides a vantage point like the city hasn’t seen before: a bird’s-eye view of downtown from comfortable climate-controlled cabins, which can fit up to six people and are wheelchair accessible.

The KC Wheel is the main attraction of the new Pennway Point entertainment district, and at its foot is a mini golf course. More fun things to do at Pennway Point are still in the works, including bars, a beer garden, food stalls and the LUMI Neon Museum.

12. Go wild at the Kansas City Zoo 

A family-friendly Kansas City attraction for more than 100 years, the Kansas City Zoo encompasses over 200 acres of Swope Park, showing off some 1700 animals from 200 species. In 2023, the zoo added a 650,000-gallon aquarium filled with colorful fish, sharks, eels, a giant Pacific octopus and sea otters. One of the most adorable new residents is Tortellini, an endangered green sea turtle, who was rescued after being injured by a boat in Florida and was deemed unable to be released back into the wild. She has a damaged flipper, and her buoyancy hasn’t quite recovered, so keepers have fitted her with a weighted backpack.

Kansas City is a family-friendly travel destination and has tons of things to do with kids. In addition to the zoo, families should head to Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead to pet farm animals and feed baby goats. Kids also love splashing in the water and climbing around the KC-themed indoor play structures at Wonderscope.

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13. Toast the distilleries and cocktails in “Tom’s Town”

Kansas City was anything but dry during Prohibition, and today, bars and distilleries across the metro still pay homage to the man who kept KC’s nightlife alive in the 1920s: political boss Tom Pendergast. In the Crossroads district, Tom’s Town Distilling Co pours well-made drinks in a sleek art deco–style bar area overlooking its copper distilling vats. Nearby, Swordfish Tom’s serves some of the best cocktails in KC in a basement boiler room. J Rieger & Co went out of business during Prohibition but was reestablished by the founder Jacob Rieger’s great-great-great-grandson nearly a century later in a former brewery in the industrial East Bottoms. Rieger’s “old fashioned” is top notch, but of course, the menu also has a drink called the Pendergast.

Local tip: To understand the history behind the rise of Tom Pendergast and hear other real-life stories of Midwest mobsters and the KC underworld, sign up for the KC Gangster Tour.

14. Eat and drink above the Kansas River on the Rock Island Bridge

Billing itself as the “world’s first entertainment district on a bridge”, the Rock Island Bridge is one of the most creative infrastructure reuse projects in the USA since New York City’s High Line. The 705ft former railway bridge opened in 1905 but has sat abandoned for decades and previously wasn’t publicly accessible. From summer 2024, you’ll be able to stroll 60ft above the Kansas River (also called the Kaw), grabbing drinks from the 50ft long upper-level bar and food from the kitchens below. Walkers, runners and cyclists can use the public crossing to join trails on either side of the river, and docks for kayaks and paddleboards are in the works.

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