Your Trip to Kansas City: The Complete Guide

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For those unfamiliar with Kansas City, the mention of its name doesn’t quite conjure up clear images of what to expect like New Orleans or Miami does. And a conversation about Kansas City typically starts with the question, “What state is that in? Kansas? Or Missouri?” For the record, we’re talking about Kansas City, Missouri. And if you don’t have a picture of the city, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. Spanish-inspired architecture, dozens of fountains, lush gardens and parks, and world-class dining, are spread across more than 10 distinctive neighborhoods that make up Kansas City's diverse landscape.

This comprehensive guide will help you plan your visit to the “Paris of the Plains.” 

Planning Your Trip 

Best Time to Visit: Thanks to the many parks and outdoor attractions in Kansas City, the best time to visit is in the warmer months. Summer, in particular, is a fun time due to live music and festivals like Boulevardia. Or head there during the holidays for ice skating at Crown Center and the annual Plaza Lighting on Country Club Plaza, which has been a tradition for nearly 100 years.

Getting Around: Kansas City has reliable public transportation, and the RideKC app or website makes it easy to plan your routes and purchase your fares. Downtown, the Kansas City Streetcar is free to ride, and the route is two miles long, running from Crown Center to River Market. Or consider renting a car or use ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft.

Travel Tip: The beauty of Kansas City lies within its neighborhoods, each with their own distinct architecture and character. When planning, try to pick attractions and activities in as many different ones as possible in order to get a feel for the city.

Things to Do

Kansas City is closely associated with jazz and barbecue, but the city doesn’t box itself into being known for just one thing. Home to rich history, beautiful parks, fine art, and popular sports teams, the city has grown remarkably over the past several years. Whether you’re traveling solo or with your family, there is no shortage of things to do in Kansas City.

Music: Kansas City might historically be known for jazz, but you can find live music in almost every neighborhood from indoor venues to outdoor amphitheaters in every genre. See a musical at Starlight Theater, watch a production of a Shakespeare play in Southmoreland Park, or get a bite to eat while watching a show at Crossroads KC.

Art: The Nelson-Atkins Museum and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art house some of the finest art in the world with frequently rotating exhibits. Best of all, they’re free year-round.

History: Learn more about World War I, fashion, jazz, and baseball at the National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City Garment District Museum, American Jazz Museum, and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Sports: Watch a game at Truman Sports Complex, home to Kansas City’s baseball and football teams, the Kansas City Royals and Kansas City Chiefs (the two stadiums are located adjacent to one another). Or cheer on soccer team Sporting Kansas City, which plays at Children’s Mercy Park in nearby Kansas City, Kansas. For basketball, visit the recently-revived HyVee Arena in the West Bottoms, where minor league team The Kansas City Tornadoes plays. In the spring, the NCAA Big 12 Tournament teams compete in Sprint Center downtown.

What to Eat and Drink

Kansas City’s food and dining scene can be summarized in three distinct categories; barbecue, spirits, and craft beer. There are a lot of opinions on which restaurants make the best barbecue but the most well-known are Gates BBQ, Arthur Bryant’s, Joe’s KC, and Jack Stack, all of which have been established for decades. But beyond barbecue, Kansas City’s dining scene is more diverse than one might expect with German, Scandinavian, Ethiopian, Spanish, Thai, and Caribbean restaurants throughout the metro area.

When it comes to drinks, Kansas City has a rich prohibition history, due to the fact that the city essentially ignored the 18th amendment and continued to operate speakeasies and produce alcohol during the 1940s. Tom’s Town Distilling Company named for prohibition-era political boss Tom Pendergast, and J. Rieger & Co. which was founded in 1886 and revived in 2014, both distill vodka, gin, whiskey, and bourbon. Tom’s Town and J. Rieger spirits are used on a majority of craft cocktail menus at restaurants and bars in the area.

Craft beer is also a huge part of Kansas City’s alcohol landscape, with breweries of all sizes throughout the city. The centerpiece of craft brewing is Boulevard Brewing Company, which was established in the 1980s, and its beer is available in cities across the United States.

Where to Stay

The best places to stay in Kansas City are downtown, on Country Club Plaza, or in the Crossroads Arts District. The largest concentration of hotels are downtown and on Country Club Plaza, however, including well-known chains and historic boutique hotels. In the Crossroads Arts District, art-centric hotels with built-in galleries and frequent exhibits are popular. For those looking for a more homey stay, Airbnb is also a good option where frequent listings include artsy lofts and condominiums in various neighborhoods. Explore and learn more about Kansas City’s different neighborhoods and choose the vibe that works best for you.

Getting There

The best way to get to Kansas City is by flying directly into the Kansas City International Airport (MCI). Once at the airport, order an Uber or Lyft, book a shuttle, or take a public bus directly into downtown, approximately a 30-minute drive. Use our guide to the Kansas City airport to plan your trip and learn more.

Money Saving Tips

  • Many of Kansas City’s museums have no admission fees.
  • Kansas City is full of parks, gardens, and trails that are free, including Loose Park, Theis Park, the Kauffman Memorial Gardens, and the Trolley Trail, all of which are easily accessible and picturesque.
  • Take a self-led sightseeing tour via the Kansas City streetcar, which is free to ride and allows you to hop on and off at your leisure.
  • Discover more free things to do.

Culture and Customs

Though you’re sure to find certain places that stay open after 1 a.m. like a nightclub or bar, Kansas City has a tendency to turn in early with a great majority of restaurants, bars, and nightlife closing around midnight. It is also important to know that many businesses including spas, salons, clothing stores and some restaurants are open through the weekend but are regularly closed on Mondays. If there is a particular place you’re interested in going be sure to check the hours ahead of your trip.

If you’re unsure of something, you can feel comfortable asking a passerby. Locals are notoriously friendly and willing to help point you in the right direction. 

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