Kansas City is incredibly diverse in cuisine, architecture, and art with influences from around the world. This kind of diversity creates a variety of experiences to be discovered, but the good news is you don’t have to spend money to have a memorable time. From navigating a labyrinth to sampling craft beer or taking in art at the world-class Nelson-Atkins Museum, these are the best free things to do in Kansas City.
Philanthropists Ewing and Muriel Kauffman made many contributions to Kansas City’s landscape including Kauffman Stadium where the Kansas City Royals play but the most beautiful is the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden. Always free to enter, and open from 8 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. daily, the gardens are an oasis on Brush Creek. Surrounded by a stone wall, lush flowers and plants accompany the garden's fountains and sculptures. The tranquil setting is the perfect place for a stroll, quiet reading, or reflection.
The Roasterie is a local coffee chain known for roasting and serving its own beans at its shops around the city. The Factory, where the beans are processed, offers ticketed tours daily, but every Thursday it hosts free cuppings (tastings) to the public. Tasters will learn more about aroma, aftertaste, and what makes a quality cup of coffee and experience it firsthand. The event is held from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. but fills up quickly, so making a reservation in advance to hold a spot is required. RSVP by visiting www.theroasterie.appointy.com
The first outdoor shopping mall in the United States, Country Club Plaza sprawls across nearly one million square feet along Brush Creek. The blocks are distinctly European, built in the architectural style of Kansas City’s sister city, Seville, Spain. Best explored on foot, it is lined with brick pathways, statues, fountains, and flowers and trees, providing picturesque window shopping. Be sure to see the JC Nichols Memorial Fountain, beautifully lit at night and often dyed in colors of blue and red in support of local teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals.
Crowning the hill atop Frank A.Theis Park, the exterior of the Nelson-Atkins Museum is as impressive as the artwork it houses. In the sculpture garden a collection of shuttlecock sculptures look they landed from a nearby game of badminton. Try to reach the center of Robert Morris’ glass labyrinth before viewing the other sculptures and visiting the reflecting pool. Inside the museum, there are diverse collections of South and Southeast Asian, Japanese, Chinese, European, and Modern art as well as photography. Stop in Rozzelle Court, modeled in the style of Renaissance Italian courtyards for food and drinks. Admission is always free, thankfully because you might need multiple days to see it all.
On the southern bank of the Missouri River, the Berkley Riverfront lends itself to an afternoon of entertainment. Stroll slowly and take in the sights of the river and Heart of America Bridge on the Riverfront Heritage Trail. Stop for a game of volleyball in the sand courts. Work out on the free outdoor equipment which has QR codes that link to workout videos and instructions. If you have dogs, the 2-acre dog park Bar K is also at the riverfront.
Just a few minutes drive from Country Club Plaza, Loose Park is comprised of 75 acres of open space and manicured grounds. Fountains, footpaths, Loose Lake, and bridges punctuate the park. Pack a picnic, stretch out with a novel, or go for a run. If you have kids, the Spray Park sprayground has fountains and other features they can splash around in. Be sure to explore the Rose Garden where thousands of roses bloom in season and the traditional Japanese Garden. In the warmer months, local yoga studios frequently offer pay-what-you-can pop-ups in the park.
On the first Friday of every month, Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District turns into one big block party. During First Fridays, art galleries and other local businesses stay open late, restaurants offer specials, and live music plays on the street and inside various venues. Certain streets are closed to make the area easily walkable so that you can go from experience to experience. In the warmer months, local artisans, artists, and vendors display their creations outside for an immersive shopping experience. First Fridays takes place year round, no matter the weather.
Take In Contemporary Art
The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is smaller in square footage than the Nelson-Atkins and can easily be digested in one afternoon. Outside, the museum is flanked by metal spiders sculptures by Louise Bourgeois. Inside, an expansive permanent collection including film, mixed media, paintings, photographs, and sculptures frequently rotates in and out of the museum. In addition, the museum puts on between eight and twelve exhibits per year. Inside, Cafe Sebastienne serves a succinct but excellent menu. Dine in interior café, which has bright, contemporary art from floor-to-ceiling or in the light-filled courtyard.
The Kansas City streetcar runs 2 miles throughout a stretch of downtown from Crown Center to the River Market and is always free to ride. Stay on for the full duration of the tracks and sightsee at a leisurely pace or hop on and off to explore the various districts. Stop at the historic Union Station, wander through art galleries in the Crossroads Arts District, and visit the farmer’s market in the River Market. The streetcar operates Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. until midnight, Fridays from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m, Saturday from 7 a.m until 2 a.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Boulevard Brewing Company offers tours of its brewery seven days a week but on Wednesdays they’re free. Learn about the process that goes into every glass of Boulevard Beer, see the facilities and at the end, be rewarded with a visit to the Tasting Room where you can sample some of their most popular beers. Unsurprisingly, the free tours are incredibly popular and are only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Tickets are only given out in-person so stop by the Tours & Rec Center Welcome Desk for them.
For an indoor adventure, bring your family to Kaleidoscope at Crown Center. The Hallmark Cards-sponsored space encourages creativity and is completely free. Kaleidoscope provides materials leftover from Hallmark’s manufacturing process, allowing kids to draw, create, and make anything they can dream of.
Attend a Shakespeare Play in a Park
Nightly for several weeks during the summer months, The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival puts on outdoor plays in Southmoreland Park, just steps away from the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Past plays include Shakespeare in Love, Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, and more. Be sure to check the Shakespeare Festival website for exact festival dates.