St. Louis is a charming city that sits just west of the mighty Mississippi River. This city, also referred to as the "Gateway to the West", attracts many visitors each year. The city played a pivotal role in U.S. development and expansion, and its many landmarks reflect this time in American history.

If you're in the city and looking for a way to spend the day, one thing is for certain, there is no shortage on things to do at any given time of the year because there are many indoor and outdoor places to go. You can jump to a few different attractions or focus your attention on one or two locations to explore in-depth.

Arch and Westward Expansion Museum

One of the most visited landmarks, the famous Arch, is a great place to spend either a few hours, or even the whole day. At any given time of the year, this landmark is a must see, both inside and out. While this structure is relatively new in terms of history, completed in the early 1960s, it is an important landmark. The Arch was designed to memorialize Thomas Jefferson and his vision of an expanded United States. Today it is part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park.

Gateway Arch
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

The Arch is a remarkable structure and taking the elevator ride to the top was a great experience - I took this ride a few times in different seasons and enjoyed the beautiful views of St. Louis.

You can take an elevator ride up to the top of the Arch and experience the breathtaking views that are in any given season. There was a one-year period I used to visit St. Louis regularly and took the ride up the Arch every chance I could. Once you get to the top, the view is incredible because you can see across the Mississippi River into Illinois on one side and the other overlooks the city of St. Louis.  Even in the winter this is worth a visit, as one of the most beautiful sights is standing inside the top of the Arch and looking down upon a snow-capped region.

A snow-capped St. Louis, Missouri
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Taken in January, circa 2005

Connected to the Arch there is also a theatre and museum dedicated to the history of the U.S. westward expansion. The Westward Expansion Museum closed during 2015 to undergo major renovation. The former museum offers a wealth of information on the westward expansion period in U.S. history, illustrating a timeline of how expansion progressed. Various anecdotes, artifacts, animatrons and a detailed reproduction of how this important part in U.S. history unfolded and helped shape the future of America were showcased. The new museum is redesigned to focus on six "thematic areas": Colonial St. Louis, Thomas Jefferson's vision, St. Louis Riverfront, Manifest Destiny, new frontiers and the Gateway Arch. The museum is described as being a total revamp with all of the animatrons removed and an overall new design. The new museum is expected to open in spring 2016.

Old Courthouse

Also located in close proximity to the Arch, the Old Courthouse is an architectural beauty. In the 19th century this building housed some of the most notable and important cases heard in U.S. courts, including the Dred Scott and Virginia Minor cases; both were pivotal cases that helped shape the future and progression of a relatively new country.  

Today the building is designated as a landmark in both St. Louis and U.S. history. It was an active judiciary building until 1930 and also had served as a public gathering place, and in 1940, ownership of this historical  landmark was granted to the Federal Government. The Old Courthouse is open to the public with restored courtrooms and special exhibits open to the public to educate on the history which took place in St. Louis.

Cruise the Mississippi River

Weather permitting, a riverboat ride on the grand Mississippi River may spark your interest. Located in close proximity to the Arch, just a short walk, you can take an old-fashioned river boat tour.

Riverboats on Mississippi River
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

The tours provide running commentary which explains the area's history and describes the sites located on each side of the river the boat passes. The trip is long enough to enjoy, but short enough to allow plenty of time to see additional landmarks located in this historical section of St. Louis.

Union Station

A landmark located right near the other above major attractions, this is another interesting stop to spend some time in. Once an active train station from 1894 to 1978, Union Station is now a shopper's dream. Restored in 1985, today Union Station stands as a mall full of shops, restaurants, entertainment, a hotel, food court and kiosks. Even if shopping isn't your thing, there's lots else to see while inside, and the architecture is something to marvel at, they don't build them like this anymore. It's also a great place to grab a bite to eat.

St. Louis Zoo

If you're looking for a different kind of experience, the St. Louis Zoo is the type of place to spend either a few hours or, if you like, the entire day. Built in the early part of the 20th century, the St. Louis Zoo has been growing steadily. If you have kids, this might an ideal stop to add to your itinerary while in the city.

Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

There are lots of indoor and outdoor exhibits sure to excite the kids. The St. Louis Zoo is open year round, except New Year's Day and Christmas Day. Admission is free, however, parking is not. Additionally, there may be a nominal charge for some attractions once inside, but most of the exhibits are free to visitors.

St. Louis Science Center

Another family-fun activity, the St. Louis Science Center is a great way to spend time while in the city and can be visited in conjunction with the zoo since it's just a short drive away. There are plenty of hands-on activities for the kids and many things to learn, even for adults this is an enjoyable stop. In one of the exhibits you can even learn how to build your own Arch with "bricks". Once you start attempting to build your Arch, you'll quickly discover it is not as easy as it seems!

Building the Arch at the St. Louis Science Center
Credit: Leigh Goessl/All rights reserved

Other places to visit can be the U.S. Grant National Historic Site, Anheuser Busch, and Purina Farms, to name a few. Additionally, it's worth a look into seeing if there are any festivals or other events going on in the city or on the outskirts, you never know what you might find. During the many visits to St. Louis, I'd stumbled upon some charming places to visit in the surrounding towns.

If you're planning to spend a day in St. Louis, one thing is for sure, there is no shortage of things to do or see, the above are just a few ideas.

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