It’s not often one can say a particular trip was nearly 40 years in the planning.
However, as I stood underneath the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri recently, my mind wandered back to childhood, because when I wasn’t engrossed in comics or kids tv shows, I read through a series of “World Books” my parents had invested in. For younger readers, this was long before the advent of google, or even the internet, so we relied on such books to learn about the world!
The Gateway Arch was classed as one of the seven wonders of the modern world and my young mind was intrigued by the structure and setting. Thinking back, it wasn’t due to a desire to be a structural engineer or architect, but it did help instil that sense off wanderlust that has pervaded my thoughtprocesses so far.
The Arch is a strange being. It has been part of the St Louis cityscape since 1968 and until 2018 was separated from the downtown area of the city by a six-lane freeway. The opening, last year, of the Gateway Arch Park has removed that separation. Now visitors can wander from the Arch and its fascinating underground museum, to the old Courthouse and the very photogenic Keiner Plaza in a few minutes. Due to its stainless steel construction, the Arch appears to change constantly. At first light, it seems to awaken with the city, at night, the lighting creates an ethereal effect as it reflects in the nearby Mississippi River.
The Mississippi played a huge role in the development of St Louis, which was once a major trading post along the river. A huge tableau on the floor of the Gateway Arch Museum shows how St. Louis is at the epicentre of river routes that connect the entire United States. The Illinois and Missouri rivers converge with the Mississippi just a few miles upstream. The historic expansion west, led by explorers Lewis and Clark, ensured St Louis was central to the development of the USA. This is marked by a waterfall and statues which creates quite a talking point in the foyer of the Drury Plaza Hotel at the Arch, which was our base in the city.
St Louis became the crossroads of the country which meant a huge mix of people travelled through or settled there.
The National Blues Museum tells the story of the early migrants who brought the Blues with them to the growing city. When mixed with the ragtime styles that already existed, and Jazz brought upriver from New Orleans, St Louis Blues was born. Musicians such as Chuck Berry, Miles Davis and Tina Turner all honed their craft in the city and today, venues like BB’s Jazz, Blues & Soup are national institutions for aficionados and tourists alike.
St Louis spans over a huge area and whilst there is a defined “downtown” area, it is remarkably quiet. Life in the city appears to centre around the Delmar Loop and West End areas. This is where the historic university, the ornate homes of Millionaires Row and the huge expanse of Forest Park are found. Delmar Loop comes to life at night, with venues like Blueberry Hill, where Chuck Berry performed until only a few years ago. His statue overlooks the restaurant and bar now.
The more sedate Chase Park Plaza Hotel once welcomed Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and every US President since 1922. On the night we called in for dinner, I found it hard to pull myself away from the ornate foyer which must have history coming out off its walls. It really felt like walking back in time.
St Louis is a city with much to offer the visitor, and as an added bonus many attractions are totally free. It was my first visit there, but most definitely will not be my last.
ST LOUIS TOP 10
St Louis takes the crown when it comes to FREE attractions, making it very tourist and budget friendly
St Louis Zoo
Home to over 16000 animals from 700 species in 90 acres and voted the best zoo in the USA and Americas top free attaction
St Louis Science Centre
A place where visitors connect with curiosity. Over 700 interactive exhibits from atoms to oceans and dinosaurs to dark matter
Gateway Arch National Park
The Arch dominates the riverside and downtown area, the walking trails around the base of the arch, the museum underneath it and the Old Courthouse opposite are all free to visit. There is nominal fee if you plan to visit the top of the Arch
Once the Presidential estate of Ulysses S Grant, this is part Museum and part Zoo. The farm is home of Clydesdale horses, bison, elk and antelope which roam freely.
Missouri History Museum
Experience the city from the perspective of the 1904 World Fair and see a replica of the Spirit of St Louis transatlantic plane
Cahokia State Mounds
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this was home to the most sophisticated prehistoric settlement in North America. The excellent interpretive centre shows items uncovered by archeological digs at the site.
World Bird Sanctuary
Families can walk through hundreds of acres to see the conservation of birds and animal species
Laumeir Sculpture Park
An open-air museum where over-sized works of art dot the landscape and where kids have plenty of space to run around and enjoy the scenery
St Louis Union Station
A national historic monument and once the worlds busiest and largest train station. Today this imposing building is a hotel and entertainment complex. The awe-inspiring 3D light show on the ceiling of the Grand Lobby is worth the visit.
Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) Brewery
Tours of the brewery and the brewing process are available as well as a chance to see the famous Budweiser Clydesdale horses