Saint Louis Downtown Walking Tour, Saint Louis

Saint Louis Downtown Walking Tour (Self Guided), Saint Louis

Missouri's main city, St. Louis, is a prominent metropolis renowned for its cultural diversity, vibrancy and art. Ahead of the Europeans, the area of today's St. Louis was inhabited by the Native American Mississippian tribes.

French fur traders, who settled on the territory in 1764, named it for King Louis IX of France. That same year, the land was ceded to Spain, and in 1800, was returned to France, who then sold it, three years later, to the United States.

Steamboats first arrived in St. Louis in 1817, and soon established it as a major port on the Mississippi River. Missouri was admitted as a state in 1821, following which St. Louis was incorporated as a city in 1822. It rapidly developed due to the busy port and trade connections. Significant inflow of migrants from Ireland and Germany, between 1840 and 1860, contributed to the almost eight-fold population growth in St. Louis.

After the American Civil War, the city profited through trade with the West. In the first half of the 20th century, St. Louis saw the Great Migration of African Americans from the South, simultaneously undergoing expansion due to industrialization.

Several revitalization efforts, commenced in the 1980s, were focused on the downtown area. Nowadays, high-rising Downtown St. Louis is the regional hub for tourism and entertainment, replete with architectural wonders and the abundance of interactive green space.

An iconic symbol of the city, the Gateway Arch, erected in the 1960s to commemorate America's westward advance in the early 19th century, offers a bird’s eye view of the region for nearly 30 miles in every direction.

Heading west, along Market Street, you can encounter plenty of attractions such as the Old Courthouse, site of the historic Dred Scott case; Kiener Plaza, featuring a playground, fountains and concert area; CityGarden, an urban park and sculpture garden; and Union Station, home to a 200-foot-high Ferris Wheel and 60,000-gallon aquarium.

Surrounding all the fun is the St. Louis architecture, with highlights including the bright red terracotta Wainwright Building, once the world's tallest edifice, designed in 1891; and the historic Campbell House, the former residence of one of St. Louis’s renowned fur traders.

Lined with wide pedestrian sidewalks, Downtown St. Louis is perfectly suited for self-guided walking. For an incredibly entertaining date with the city, swipe right for its Downtown area and embrace St. Louis’s beauty at its heart!
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

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Saint Louis Downtown Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Saint Louis Downtown Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Saint Louis (See other walking tours in Saint Louis)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 12
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Gateway Arch
  • Old Cathedral
  • Old Courthouse
  • Kiener Plaza Park
  • Wainwright Building
  • Citygarden Sculpture Park
  • St. Louis City Hall
  • Ulysses S. Grant Statue
  • Stifel Theatre
  • Saint Louis Union Station
  • Campbell House Museum
  • City Museum
Gateway Arch

1) Gateway Arch (must see)

Commonly known as the "Gateway to the West", the Gateway Arch is a memorial commemorating the westward expansion of the United States. Clad in stainless steel and shaped as a weighted catenary arch, the structure is an iconic symbol of St. Louis and a popular sight, visited annually by more than four million people.

At 630 feet (192 m), this is the tallest accessible building in Missouri and the tallest man-made monument in the United States. Some sources claim that it's even the tallest human-made monument in the entire Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile, the Gateway Arch National Park is the smallest national park in the United States.

The Arch was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen and German-American structural engineer Hannskarl Bandel in 1947. It opened to the public on June 10, 1967. The immediate surroundings of the Gateway Arch were initially designated the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial which was created on the site of the earliest buildings, purposely demolished to clear space for the nascent venue in 1942.

The Arch is hollow and accommodates (in each of its legs) a unique tram system – a chain of eight cylindrical, five-seat compartments that can carry up to 40 visitors at once to an observation deck at the top. Near the top of the Arch, passengers alight and climb a slight grade to enter the observation area. The latter holds up to 160 people and has 16 windows on each of its sides.

Whilst in motion, the trams swing like Ferris-wheel cars, which gave rise to the idea of them being "half-Ferris wheel and half-elevator." The trip to the top and down takes four and three minutes respectively. Other than the trams, there are two more modes of transportation including two sets of emergency stairs (one per leg), and a 12-passenger elevator.

In 1965, the Federal Aviation Administration cautioned that pilots who flew beneath the Arch would be fined and have their licenses revoked. So far, at least ten daredevils have disobeyed this order.

Why You Should Visit:
An iconic thing to see in St. Louis and appreciate the history of its world-renowned waterfront. Very quirky lift mechanism to get to the top, but great views when you get there.

Go early to walk to the (free) small museum prior to the tram car up.
Old Cathedral

2) Old Cathedral

The Basilica of Saint Louis, formerly the Cathedral of Saint Louis, is named for King Louis IX of France, who happens to be the namesake for the city itself. Also known colloquially as the Old Cathedral, this was the first cathedral west of the Mississippi River, built in 1834.

Surrounded by the Gateway Arch grounds, although technically it is not part of the Gateway Arch National Park, the church escaped demolition, luckily, for its historical significance, whereas other neighboring buildings were destroyed to make way for the Arch.

To recognize its importance, in 1961 Pope John XXIII designated it a basilica (a designation given to a church building distinguished for ceremonial purposes from other churches).

Built in Greek Revival style, the temple is noted for its marble altars; a painting of Saint Louis venerating the Crown of Thorns, given by Louis XVIII, King of France and Navarre; and an accurate copy of the painting of the Crucifixion by Diego Velázquez installed here in the latter half of the 20th century.

Engraved in gold over the entrance are the Latin words that read "In honor of St. Louis. Dedicated to the one and triune God. A.D. 1834". Hebrew letters, intended to spell out the Tetragrammaton, are also inscribed in Hebrew above the engraving on the main entrance. An urban legend of unknown origin claims that "the letter Heth was substituted for the letter He, so the inscription merely reads "yachuch", which has no meaning in Hebrew". However, anybody who knows how similar these two letters are, but also the difference between them, can attest that the letters He in the inscription are indeed letters He.

In the basement of the church are a number of artifacts associated with the history of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint Louis, including a bell donated by the governor of the territory of Louisiana in the early 19th century.

Why You Should Visit:
You would be hard-pressed to see more exquisite mosaics on the U.S. soil. Every inch of the wall, ceiling, and floor here is an amazing thing to look at.
Old Courthouse

3) Old Courthouse (must see)

Now part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, the Old Courthouse stands on the land originally donated, back in 1816, by St. Louis founder Auguste Chouteau. His condition was that the land be "used forever as the site on which the courthouse of the County of St. Louis should be erected."

Built as a combined federal and state courthouse, the original Federal-style edifice was completed in 1828, designed by the same firm of Lavielle and Morton which created the Old Cathedral. It was extensively rebuilt, between 1839 and 1862, having the cupola replaced with an Italian Renaissance cast-iron dome, modeled on St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

Throughout history, the building has held many titles including Missouri's tallest habitable building, from 1864 to 1894; the tallest building in Missouri and St. Louis, until 1896, when Union Station was built; and the largest structure within the monument area (created in 1940) until the Gateway Arch was erected in 1965. Today, the courthouse marks the location over which the Arch reaches.

Throughout years, some of the most pivotal court cases in American history have been heard inside this building. Back in 1857, it was here that Dred and Harriet Scott sued for freedom, followed by more than 300 other enslaved African-Americans at various times; and, in 1875, a women's suffrage activist Virginia Minor fought here for her right to vote. The last slave auction at the Old Courthouse was held in 1861.

Why You Should Visit:
The beautiful paintings, carvings, decorations, and spiral staircases make this building worth your time. Arch tickets are sold here, too.

Make sure to climb the stairs to the very top, and to visit the courtroom where the first Dred Scott decision was rendered.
Kiener Plaza Park

4) Kiener Plaza Park

Kiener Plaza, a great gathering spot in downtown St. Louis, offers one of the best views of the Old Courthouse and the Gateway Arch. Because of its central location, the Plaza often plays host to public events including outdoor free movies and a winter festival. It is also regularly used as a rallying point for demonstrations and protest marches.

In the 1800s, the area was home to a jail that used to hold prisoners awaiting trial at the Old Courthouse, including slaves who sued for their freedom.

Originally developed in 1962, the plaza is named for Harry Kiener, a local philanthropist and steel company executive, who was also a former member of the USA Track & Field team competed at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.

His namesake park has a wide stone paved plaza, a number of paths and a grassy lawn that can accommodate a variety of events. Among other amenities here are bicycle parking grove, a shade garden with café tables and chairs, marble circular and organic wooden benches to rest on, as well as a fenced off creative children’s playground with an amazing floor.

In his will Kiener left the city a bequest to build a fountain and athletic statue. Pursuant to that, in the center of the plaza is a fountain with a splash pad and a statue called "The Olympic Runner" by Willam Zorach.

Why You Should Visit:
In between sightseeing, this is a perfect place for parents to sit and recharge, while their kids expend a little extra energy.
The diverse elements of the plaza are supplemented by a bistro area well fitted for an enjoyable family brunch/lunch/dinner outing.
Wainwright Building

5) Wainwright Building

The Wainwright Building in Saint Louis is an iconic early skyscraper that is widely recognized as a masterpiece of architecture. Designed by Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan, the building was completed in 1891 and was named after local businessman Ellis Wainwright. With its ten floors and height of 41 meters (135 feet), the Wainwright Building was one of the tallest structures in Saint Louis when it was built.

One of the most striking features of the Wainwright Building is its tripartite composition, which consists of a base, a shaft, and an attic. This design, inspired by the classical column, was intended to emphasize the building's height and power. Sullivan, who was a leading figure in the Chicago School of architecture, believed that the skyscraper should be celebrated as a modern, functional structure, rather than an imitation of classical styles.

The Wainwright Building is also notable for its use of terra cotta, a type of ceramic material that was commonly used in architecture during the late 19th century. The building's intricate ornamentation, which includes geometric patterns and stylized plant motifs, demonstrates Sullivan's belief that decoration should be integrated with the structure of the building.

Today, the Wainwright Building is owned by the State of Missouri and serves as an office building for state agencies. Despite its age, the building continues to be recognized as a landmark of American architecture and is regularly visited by tourists and architecture enthusiasts. In 2013, it was featured in an episode of the PBS series 10 That Changed America, which highlighted the most influential buildings in American history.
Citygarden Sculpture Park

6) Citygarden Sculpture Park (must see)

Ever since its opening in 2009, Citygarden has prompted many a people to visit downtown St. Louis. Apart from contributing to the city's economy, the popularity of Citygarden has also led to the renewed interest in renovating the 16-block Gateway Mall.

Today it is hard to imagine, though, that prior to being converted to an urban park and sculpture garden, this site comprised two empty blocks of grass and nothing else. The idea to create a space to enable larger artworks to rest on wide lawns, whereas smaller spaces would be reserved for more private areas, was successful.

Currently, there are 24 sculptures here altogether, collectively worth around $12 million, if not more. Among these is a large bronze head lying on its side, by Igor Mitoraj; digital screens displaying walking people, by Julian Opie; and a bodiless pink suit, called “Big Suit”, by Erwin Wurm. Park visitors are allowed to touch the sculptures and even walk inside them. This means, though, that some of the works require more frequent maintenance, such as re-waxing. The materials used in the sculptures vary from metals — bronze, stainless steel, and cast aluminum — to fiberglass and even polyester.

Visitors to the garden can listen to an audio tour by dialing a special number on their mobiles. The tour is narrated by prominent locals (over twenty narrators in all) including former St. Louis Cardinals player Ozzie Smith and St. Louis Symphony Orchestra director David Robertson, as well as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, John Ashcroft, Jenna Fischer, and Kurt Warner.

The garden also features Ginkgo biloba trees, native plants, and spacious sidewalks. It is divided into three horizontal sections, designed to reflect the rivers and other natural characteristics of the St. Louis area. In particular, the northern limestone wall represents the Mississippi River bluffs, while the southern snaking meander wall stands is inspired by the region's waterways. Between the two zones are the rain gardens, larger trees, and larger sculptures, an area that represents a floodplain.

Why You Should Visit:
This park, unlike many other structure parks, allows guests to walk through the sculptures. There are also a few water features – a real treat on hot summer days!
No admission fee and you are free to roam.

Night time provides a nice stroll through the garden filled with unique lighting.
Don't forget to stop into the cafe with patio service or enjoy a lunch from a nearby food truck!
St. Louis City Hall

7) St. Louis City Hall

St. Louis City Hall is a historic building that has served as the center of local government for over a century. Designed by architects Eckel and Mann, the building draws inspiration from the French Renaissance Hôtel de Ville in Paris and features ornamental dormer windows and towers reminiscent of the Chateau de Chambord.

The interior of the City Hall is just as ornate as the exterior, with marble and gold trim adorning the walls and ceilings. The building also boasts interesting murals on the Market Street and Clark Avenue entrances.

Construction on the City Hall began in 1890 and was completed in 1904. Although the building was never fully finished, lacking carved decorations on the ornamental dormers due to a lack of funds, it has still been praised for its splendid architectural composition.

Today, the City Hall houses the offices of the Mayor of St. Louis, the Board of Aldermen, and the St. Louis Department of Public Safety. It is also the venue for the majority of local government meetings, many of which are open to the public.

In recognition of its historical and architectural significance, the City Hall was designated a St. Louis City Landmark in 1971. It remains an impressive period piece of craftsmanship and an important symbol of the city's government and history.

Why You Should Visit:
This old City Hall features a large lobby/atrium with beautiful marble stairs and railings, along with a stunning ceiling. It is worth taking the time to enter the building for this view.
Ulysses S. Grant Statue

8) Ulysses S. Grant Statue

The Ulysses S. Grant Statue outside the City Hall is the work of Robert Porter Binghorst, the first professional sculptor ever to live in St. Louis.

The statue is a public tribute to Grant, who spent six years in St. Louis, before he became the 18th President of the United States. While here, he had met and married Julia Dent and unsuccessfully farmed the land on Gravois, known today as Grant’s Farm. Grant held many jobs here, including selling real estate and clerking in the Customs House. He applied for the position of County Engineer, but was rejected and finally moved away to work for his father-in-law.

As a gift from the Grant Monument Association of Missouri, the statue was dedicated in October of 1888, and as such is the oldest monument installed in the downtown area that stands today.

Originally, it was placed on a site in the middle of 12th Street between Olive and Locust. After the new City Hall building was completed, in 1904, the sculpture was moved to its south entrance. However, the Grand Army of the Republic, objecting that the south entrance was the ‘back door’, eventually succeeded in having the sculpture moved it to its present location, in 1915.

The plaque at the front of the statue depicts the Battle of Lookout Mountain.
Stifel Theatre

9) Stifel Theatre

The Stifel Theatre is a historic performing arts building that has undergone a series of transformations and renovations throughout the years. Originally known as the Municipal Opera House, it was founded in honor of former St. Louis Mayor Henry Kiel and opened in 1934 as part of the Municipal Auditorium and Opera House. The theatre operated until 1991 when it and the adjacent Kiel Auditorium were closed so the auditorium could be demolished and replaced by the Kiel Center, now known as the Enterprise Center.

On October 1, 2011, the Peabody Opera House reopened for the first time since the renovation. The show featured well-known personalities such as Jay Leno, Aretha Franklin, and Chuck Berry and was attended by a full house of 3,100. Since then, the theatre has played host to a diverse variety of performing acts, including touring musicians, comedians, live theatre and dance, and social and political events. Notably, in 2018, the building entered into a 10-year naming rights agreement with Stifel Financial Corp. and was renamed Stifel Theatre.

The Stifel Theatre has a rich history of hosting iconic performances. In 1965, the Rat Pack consisting of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr., with Johnny Carson as the emcee, performed their only televised concert together during a fundraiser for Dismas House, which was the first halfway house for ex-convicts. After being lost for thirty years, a print of the show was found and has since been broadcast on Nick at Nite and released on DVD.

Additionally, in 1978, The Rolling Stones performed one sold-out show at the theatre with a stripped-back, minimal stage presentation. The limited seating at the venue caused fans who were unable to purchase tickets to gather outside the building in protest. A police force with dogs was needed to keep the peace.
Saint Louis Union Station

10) Saint Louis Union Station

St. Louis Union Station is a former passenger train terminal, originally opened in 1894. Designed by Theodore Link, it was the largest station in the world to have tracks and passenger service areas all on one level. In 1903, the station was expanded to accommodate visitors to the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.

Throughout its busiest peak, in the 1940s, the station handled 100,000 people a day, combining the St. Louis passenger services of 22 railroads, the most of any single terminal on the planet. The 1940s expansion had, among other things, a mural by Louis Grell added, which could be seen atop the customer waiting area, depicting the history of St. Louis with an old fashion steam engine, two large steamboats and the Eads Bridge in the background.

As airliners became the primary mode of long-distance travel in the 1950s and 1960s, the massive station became obsolete and too expensive to maintain for its original purpose. By 1961, several tracks had been paved over for parking.

St. Louis Union Station was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, and the last Amtrak passenger train left here in 1978.

In the 1980s, the station was converted into a hotel, shopping center, and entertainment complex. The former – Marriott Hotel – is housed in the headhouse and part of the train shed, which also accommodates a lake and shopping, entertainment and dining establishments. Located on the upper level of the train shed, the Memories Museum features artifacts and displays about the history of the station itself and rail travel in the United States.

Why You Should Visit:
The Grand Hall is magnificent with statues, stained glass and the "whispering arches" at the front door.

A light show happens every hour, from 5-11pm. It is on the ceiling of the historic Grand Hall. There are comfortable seats and a full-service bar.
Campbell House Museum

11) Campbell House Museum

Established in 1943, the Campbell House Museum commemorates the home and Victorian lifestyle of Robert Campbell, an Irish immigrant who became an American frontiersman, fur trader and businessman, and his wife Virginia Kyle Campbell, an American socialite who played host to members of local high society (including President Ulysses S. Grant, James Eads, General William T. Sherman, and botanist Henry Shaw).

During the preparation of an inventory and evaluation of the estate, the invited experts in history, architecture and art were all amazed at the condition of the property and pronounced that, "probably nowhere in America, possible nowhere else, is such an intact and integral display of elaborate and ornate furnishings of the middle Victorian period to be found, as in the Campbell mansion".

During the 1940s, the Campbell House was one of the only museums dedicated to the history and decorative arts of mid-Victorian America. The discovery of the Campbell House photo album allowed for accurate restoration of the interior rooms.

The museum was designated a City of St. Louis Landmark in 1946, and then listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.

During the mid-1980s, its dining room was partially restored, with the elaborate painted ceiling recreated. False wood graining also underwent restoration or recreation wherever needed. In the morning room, wallpaper was recreated to match the pattern in the photos.

In February 2000, another round of restoration started with the packing and storing of the entire museum collection. The exterior restoration was complete by mid-2001, while the interior restoration, began in the Spring 2001, continued until 2005, restoring the house as closely as possible to its appearance in the 1885 photographs.

Why You Should Visit:
Personally guided tours of this meticulously restored and maintained treasure are wonderful.
You truly do step back in time upon entering this house with its beautiful woodwork, artwork, and furnishings.

Don't miss the tour over the holidays when the museum is decorated with antique decorations (be advised, however, that on certain days of the week, as well as in January and February, the tours are by appointment only).
The shop is also very unique, offering lithograph nightlights and books about the St. Louis area.
City Museum

12) City Museum (must see)

Housed in the former International Shoe Company factory and warehouse building, the City Museum consists largely of repurposed architectural and industrial objects. Popular among residents and tourists alike, this place attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, billing itself as an "eclectic mixture of children's playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel." Here, visitors are encouraged to feel, touch, climb on, and play in the various exhibits at will.

City Museum was founded by artist Bob Cassilly, who remained its artistic director until his death in 2011, and his then-wife Gail Cassilly.

Since opening in October 1997, the venue has regularly expanded, adding new exhibits. In 2008, they had a ten-story slide added that starts at the roof and leads down to the Caves' entrance. One of its most popular attractions, the Enchanted Caves and Shoe Shafts, runs through the center of the museum all the way up to the 10th floor.

The original part of the museum, the first floor is home to a life-size Bowhead Whale that guests can walk through to view a large fish tank from the Mezzanine where there is a food court. The floor itself is covered with the largest continuous mosaic in the US, which morphs its way up columns.

The second floor houses The Shoelace Factory, whose antique braiding machines make colorful shoelaces for sale. A circus ring on the third floor offers daily live acts as well as concerts. The building's fifth floor consists of apartments, dubbed the Lofts at City Museum, which range in size from 1,300 to more than 2,800 square feet (260 m2).

The roof has a small old-fashioned Ferris wheel and a wide ramp slide.

Located in front of the building, MonstroCity features two Sabreliner 40 aircraft fuselages suspended high in the air, a fire engine, a castle turret, and other interesting things.

Why You Should Visit:
This place is like the biggest playground in the world, and is quite literally fun for all ages.

Be prepared to sweat and work out! Knee-pads are a must (and sold in their gift shop, if you forget).
Make sure you come on a day with good weather, so you can enjoy the outdoor parts. The extra $5 for the rooftop is worth it.

Walking Tours in Saint Louis, Missouri

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