Kansas City has been around since the 1850s, so it’s no surprise that the city’s history can be found in its wide array of nationally ranked museums highlighting everything from world-class European art to jazz to a collection of toy miniatures.
Pro tip: If you have a student, teacher or military ID, bring it. You can sometimes get discounts.
The Headliners: Must-see Museums in KC
Ranked the top museum in Kansas City and in the top five US museums, the National World War I Museum & Memorial is home to one of the largest collections of WWI artifacts in the world. With interactive displays, thought-provoking films and eyewitness testimonies help guide visitors through a unique experience, helping visitors understand how the war developed with engaging storytelling.
Tickets are for 2-day admission. Yeah, the museum is so jam packed that they suggest a two-day visit. Tickets are $16 for adults and $10 for kids (kids under 6 are free).
World War Wednesdays: All tickets are $8 every Wednesday. No coupon necessary. No other discounts apply.
Monumental heights: The view from the Liberty Memorial gives you a 360-degree view of downtown KC and is included in your admission ticket. But if you don’t have the time for the museum, tickets to visit the Liberty Memorial Tower are only $5.
Estimated time: AT LEAST an afternoon. I recommend two afternoons. You could also do a full day and an afternoon for anything you didn’t get to.
Must see: the field of poppies (Paul Sunderland Glass Bridge/beginning of museum), Horizon Theater with life-size trenches and crater, a chronology of WW1 (does a great job of visualizing the timeline of the war). Also, see the Posters as Munitions exhibition highlighting WWI propaganda.
The Nelson is, arguably, the flagship museum of Kansas City, known for its iconic shuttlecocks. The shuttlecocks caused a lot of drama when they were installed in 1991 by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje, who were asked to create a large-scale project integrated into the setting of the museum. The artists used a touch of humor in their work, treating the Nelson Atkins museum like a net separating a badminton lawn. They’re now a symbol of Kansas City.
The Nelson is a nationally recognized museum, with a history and collection that would take at least another blog post to highlight. But you can also take a good number of tours to learn more about the museum and its collection. It has an extensive European and Asian collection. (My favorite is the Rembrandt in the Dutch painters section.) You’ll also recognize works from Monet to Picasso to Van Gogh.
Also, the cafe atrium is home to one of the oldest fountains in Kansas City.
Estimated time: anywhere from an hour to a day.
Must see: European art, new Gates of Paradise (contemporary side), the guard (also in contemporary side).
Admission: FREE! (Special exhibits may have a fee.)
Since 1914, Union Station has opened her arms to visitors far and wide and is still an operating Amtrak station. Its architectural beauty alone is worth the visit, with high, gilded ceilings and marble floors that hold the permanent KC Rail Experience exhibit, a planetarium, and an interactive science center Science City. Currently, it’s also home to the Mummies of the World exhibition.
Estimated time: about an hour at each exhibit
Must see: KC Rail Experience, Science City (see below)
Union Station – FREE
Planetarium – $7
Science City – $13.25
Mummies – Varies. Starts at $15.
All these museums take about an hour or so of your time unless otherwise noted.
The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a fascinating self-guided tour and museum for history and baseball fans alike. It’s a celebration of the Negro Leagues in Kansas City and the culture and success that the teams brought to America’s favorite pastime. Lots of famous people stop by the museum from presidents to celebrities, so you may get lucky and see someone!
Kansas City loves some good jazz. Located in the heart of Kansas City jazz at 18th & Vine (the Jazz District), The American Jazz Museum is a museum as vibrant as the musicians it celebrates. In addition to an excellent dive into jazz in Kansas City, visitors can also indulge in some jazz themselves at the Blue Room Jazz Club, and enjoy other community jazz-centered programs, festivals, and concerts.
Adults – $10
Seniors – $9
Children (5-12) – $6
Children (4 and under) – Free!
Imagine a pioneer Walmart stuck in time. That’s basically what happened when the Steamboat Arabia, a frontier merchant supply ship went down in the Missouri River. When the current changed the Arabia was buried in mud, inadvertently preserving it for 132 years. After careful excavation, the Arabia became its own exhibit with a treasure load of what life looked like on the frontier.
Estimated time: about 1-2 hours. Plus, stop by the City Market if you’re there on the weekend.
Must see: the actual Steamboat Arabia, the “general store”
Adults – $14.50
Seniors (60 and older) – $13.50
Children (ages 4 – 14) – $5.50
Children (3 and under) – Free
Learn all about the economy at the Money Museum at the Kansas City Federal Reserve. Enjoy a self-guided tour with audio and iPad guided tour options. See the $40 Million wall, whether you can spot a counterfeit, and design your own currency.
Abstract art lovers, unite! The Kemper is home to some great contemporary art. But be prepared: it’s very contemporary. So if you don’t get abstract art, this one may not be for you.
The Kemper is also home to Cafe Sebastienne, one of Kansas City’s premier restaurants serving contemporary cuisine and surrounding patrons with walls of colorful artwork. Hours vary, so check before you go.
Talk about quirky. Perfect for those who love small things or quirky finds, but not for those of us that are terrified of creepy dolls or clowns.
With over 72,000 tiny objects and toys, this museum is the world’s largest fine-scale miniature collection and one of the nation’s largest antique toy collections on public display.
Ages 5+ – $5
Ages 4 and under – Free
UMKC faculty, staff, and students with ID – Free
Active duty service members with ID – Free
Seriously, so cool. See a dinosaur lab and dig site, daily demonstrations, interactive force and motion exhibits, a maker studio and maze park, a nature center, interactive outdoor center, and a sky bike! The Planetarium provides interactive astronomy education in a 60-foot dome viewing experience.
Estimated time: 2 hours, or an easy way to kill an afternoon.
Planetarium – $7
Science City – $13.25
For the fashionista. Kansas City actually has a pretty rich fashion history. The warehouses of downtown used to be an active part of the garment industry. The Garment District Museum is located in the heart of the Garment District, between 6th and 11th streets and Washington and Wyandotte streets.
When you choose to arrange for a private tour, Ann Brownfield, museum curator, will walk you through the buildings and the museum at 8th and Broadway which tells the story of the history of the garment district. She will also explain the work involved in the design and manufacture of clothing when Kansas City’s garment district clothed the world. Email email@example.com to make an appointment.
Open on Saturdays. $10 per person.
College Basketball Experience (National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame)
The College Basketball Experience is an interactive center and houses the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s a perfect fit for sports fans of all ages.
Youth – $11
Adults – $15
Seniors – $11
Military – $11
Outfield Experience: KC Royals Hall of Fame (Leftfield Corner of Kauffman Stadium)
If you’re new to the KC Royals scene, or a lifelong fan, the Outfield Experience is for you. Learn about the history of the Royals and even about some superstitions. A great spot to check out during a slow inning at the K.
This is my favorite little gem in Kansas City. Granted, I’m a total art geek. Tour the home of iconic American folk artist and muralist. Benton’s surrealist folk paintings were ahead of his time. They’re dynamic and emotional in their storytelling. If you’re unfamiliar with Benton’s work, go to the Nelson and view a selection of his pieces on the second floor or in the auditorium before you visit his home. If you are Benton fan, visit the home earlier in the day for a more private tour.
The Benton House is a charming home in the Roanoke area and held a good many parties in its heyday. The Bentons were known as the Duke and Duchess of Roanoke. And many people dined at their dining table, but Benton didn’t care to talk to the “rich folk” wanting to buy his paintings and often would try to give away a painting before Rita, his wife, could sell it. She was the business side of their family business. The home is left exactly as the Bentons left it, with painted windows and a full studio, and even a kitchen that has seen years of family meals. You can even pick up Rita’s spaghetti recipe.
If you’re unfamiliar with Benton’s work, go to the Nelson Atkins museum first and check out his work (second floor, American Suite), then tour his home. The home does not have as much of his artwork as the Nelson does. He also painted a massive collection of artwork on view in the auditorium of the Nelson that depicts the evolution of America from discovery to industrialism. Fascinating.
Adults – $5
Children (ages 6-12) – $3.50
Children under 6 – FREE
Max rate of $15 per family
Nestled in the Brookside area of Kansas City, the Wornall house is furnished to represent the daily life of a prosperous, pre-Civil War family. Built in 1858 by John B. Wornall in the Greek Revival style of architecture, with bricks hand-fired on the Wornalls’ property, it is one of the four remaining Civil War period homes in the Kansas City area. It housed Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War as a field hospital after the Battle of Westport.
Visitors can do their own self-tour or take a tour with a guide. There are often docents in Civil War-era garb.
You can also take ghost tours of the Wornall House.
Wornall Wednesdays: only $5 every Wednesday.
$8.00 per adult
$6.00 per senior (age 60+)
$6.00 per student (with valid student ID)
$5.00 per child (ages 5-12)
Free for children under 5
The Alexander Majors Barn is the companion museum of the Wornall House. The two are a short distance from each other and run by the same organization.
The Alexander Majors House is one of few surviving antebellum houses in the Kansas City area and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Majors built the house in 1856, on a 300-acre farm. It served as both a family home and headquarters for a successful freighting company, which gave birth to the Pony Express. Today, Majors’ property would span north-south from 75th to 89th, and east-west from Summit to State Line. The house faces west, looking out over what was then Kansas Territory.
Majors was a shrewd man. He built his home right on the edge of the United States, cleverly leasing grazing land on Kansas territory and thus avoiding taxes like a true American.
Admission: (Note, the Majors are not so generous on Wednesdays. No discounted days.)
Self-guided tours: $5.00 per person
Guided tours are priced the same as the Wornall House.
Strawberry Hill Museum (Kansas City, KS)
The Strawberry Hill Museum is a house turned ethnic diversity museum, celebrating the many nationalities represented in Kansas City. The Victorian home was built in 1887 and is an impressive example of Queen Anne style architecture. It became a children’s hospital and orphanage in 1919 during the influenza epidemic. In 1988 the orphanage closed and the building was purchased by the Strawberry Hill Ethnic Cultural Society for conversion into a museum dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Slavic heritage prevalent in the Kansas City, Kansas area.
Adults – $7
Children (6-12 years old) – $3.00
Children (under 6 years old) – Free!
Bit of a drive:
Shoal Creek Living History Museum (North KC)
Jesse James Bank Museum (Liberty, MO)
Clay County Historical Society Museum (Liberty, MO)
Harry S Truman Presidential Library and Museum (Independence, MO)
Vaile Mansion (Independence, MO)
Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum (Atchison, KS)