Elegant and beautiful but modest as well, Kansas City doesn't shout about its attractions, but it should, because Missouri's largest city is a superb vacation destination.
For those who aren't familiar with its charms, the city can be surprising. In Downtown Kansas City, you could be forgiven for imagining yourself in Manhattan or Paris, with such a wealth of stunning Art Deco structures like the Power and Light Building. At the same time, jazz bars like the Green Lady could be in New Orleans' French Quarter.
However, you'll soon settle in. With some of the best BBQ chefs around at restaurants like Hayward's, sporting events ranging from NASCAR to the NFL and the country's premier western show when the American Royal comes to town, Kansas City will draw you in and leave you wanting more.
Kansas City is on the edge of the Great Plains - America's cattle raising and agricultural heartland, and this is reflected in massive events like the American Royal (held every September and October) which blends rodeos, horse riding competitions and the world's largest BBQ contest.
Speaking of BBQ cooking, Kansas City is the best place in America to dine on slow cooked ribs and chicken dishes. The city is crammed full of superb BBQ eateries like Gates, Hayward's and LC's - so don't ruin your appetite with snacks during the day.
Sports fans can really make the most of their visit to Kansas City, with the Royals playing in Major League Baseball, the Chiefs battling in the NFL and two NASCAR weekends every year at the Kansas Speedway.
One of the less well-known aspects of Kansas City is its beautiful early 20th century Art Deco architecture. The city is full of elegant buildings like the soaring Power and Light Building and the Jackson County Courthouse. Join a party with KC Walking Tours to avoid missing any of the sights.
Kansas City is one of America's great musical cities, and if you want to hear high-quality jazz there aren't many better destinations. Check out the schedule at bars like the Green Lady for a night of cool jazz. Alternatively, Knuckleheads Saloon hosts indie and punk acts every night of the week, so everyone should find something to adore.
This impressive neoclassical gallery in the center of Kansas City has been bringing fine art to the people of the city since 1933, and it's a must for all fans of the visual arts. It's free to get in and exhibitions range widely, from contemporary Chinese and African American art to the famous shuttlecock sculptures in the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park. With Impressionist and European baroque paintings including masterpieces like "Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness" by Caravaggio, few American galleries come close.
Kansas City might seem a strange location for America's memorial to the dead of World War One, but this powerful museum grew out of the patriotism of the city's 1920s community, 83,000 of whom contributed to its construction costs. Nowadays, it's the nation's most important memorial of the 1914-1918 conflict. Located just south of the city center, it's built around the 81-meter-high Liberty Tower and features highlights like a French Renault FT tank and evocative replicas of Western Front trenches.
One of the US' leading craft breweries has its home on Southwest Boulevard (hence the name) and a visit to their brewpub is a must for any ale and lager fans. Visitors can take a free 60-minute tour to see how the magic happens, which culminates in the tasting room, or you can pay a little more for a two-hour Smokestack Tour, which features plenty of the brewery's award-winning IPAs paired up with the perfect cuisine. Or you could just throw back a few glasses of 80-Acre or Kolsch Golden Ale.
Kansas City was built around the Missouri River, which has played a big part in its history. To find out more, head down to the River Market district to this captivating museum which exhibits items retrieved from the Arabia, a steamboat which sank in the river back in 1856. In 1987, researchers found the vessel and their haul was a revelation. Now, visitors can tour the galleries to hear the story of the sinking and see astonishingly well preserved foodstuffs and items of clothing. It's like a watery time capsule taking us back to the time of Huck Finn.
The city's main railway hub from 1914 until 1985, Union Station was designed by architect Jarvis Hunt in the fashionable Beaux-Arts style of the period - sparing no expense with vaulted ceilings and plush chandeliers. But its story seemed over in the 1980s when Amtrak moved to a smaller station. However, such a beautiful building couldn't be left to decay, so locals banded together to save it. Nowadays, the station hosts family attractions like Science City - a huge 3D movie theater, a dance performance center, and the Gottlieb Planetarium - placing it right at the heart of the community.
Kansas City doesn't really have a peak tourist season, so you won't be contending with huge crowds no matter when you visit. The climate can be more of an issue, with very high temperatures in high summer (July and August) and winters that can be unpleasantly cold. Try October or May, two months when the weather is comfortable. The start of October is probably the best time to visit, as the city hosts the American Royal, America's premier western culture festival.
Kansas City International Airport is extremely close to the Downtown core of Kansas City and getting to city center hotels from the airport is simple. The cheapest way to reach the city center is via the 129 Bus, which costs just $1.25. However, there are also specific shuttle buses to major Downtown hotels along with taxis from the arrivals terminal. Expect a taxi to cost around $45-50.
Kansas City's Union Station is a stop on the Southwest Chief, which links the city with Chicago and Los Angeles (once a day in either direction), as well as the Missouri River Runner, which connects it to St. Louis twice a day.
If you are coming from the east or west, I-70 is the highway to take, which provides a connection to St. Louis, Chicago and western cities like Denver, Phoenix and Los Angeles. I-29 is the road to take if you are traveling from the north, while you can follow I-49 from destinations to the south.
Greyhound operates intercity bus services to Kansas City from Chicago, Dallas, Denver, St. Louis and indirectly to a huge selection of American cities. Their Kansas City stop is at 10th and Troost, a short distance to the east of the city center.
If you want to stay in a beautiful luxury hotel, the Art Deco Hotel Phillips is Kansas City's finest accommodation option, but there are plenty of mid and high-end alternatives. Some of the most convenient and comfortable include the Courtyard Kansas City Country Club Plaza (where all rooms include small kitchenettes) and the Ameristar Casino Hotel Kansas City, which is handy for gambling and entertainment fans.
Downtown – Downtown Kansas City is usually thought of as the area around the river, Union Station, and the business venues in the Loop - and it's Kansas City's commercial hub. It's home to major attractions like the Sprint Center, which regularly hosts major NCAA basketball events and the diverse restaurants and bars in the River Market area.
Midtown/Plaza – A prosperous area filled with retail districts, restaurants, and family hotels, Midtown makes a great base during a Kansas City vacation. It may not have the same number of attractions as Downtown, but with superb eateries like Room 39 and artistic attractions like the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, it still has plenty to offer.
The Power and Light District – This recently redeveloped area was once just warehouses and workshops, but it's now Kansas City's artistic and musical center. You can dine at hip restaurants like the Chesterfield or hop between lively bars like Johnny's Tavern or Bar Louie. The KC Live complex also features most of the city's most popular nightclubs, making the Power and Light District the best place for younger visitors to stay.
The Kansas City Area Transit Authority links together all of the city's major neighborhoods via their Metro Area XPress buses, where the standard fare is $1.50 per journey. However, the $3-day pass makes sense if you plan to spend the day moving between different attractions. There's also a city center Street Car which runs between locations like Union Station and City Market and is free of charge, so always check to see if it fits in with your sightseeing schedule.
Taxis in Kansas City tend to be relatively cheap and are an excellent way to get around during your stay. The basic meter drop is $2.45, then fares rise by $2 every mile you travel. Uber is also active in the city, and their UberX vehicles charge a basic rate of $1.10, then $0.85 per mile, so can deliver big savings.
The street system in Kansas City is a basic grid, so shouldn't be hard to get around. Finding a parking space can sometimes be trickier, particularly when major events are taking place. However, with 40,000 spaces in the city center, you should be able to find somewhere to park. If you have any worries, the city operates a Click and Park system that allows you to reserve spaces online before you travel, taking the stress out of driving Downtown.
Kansas City has a number of central malls that are great places to find branded goods. The best of these is probably Country Club Plaza in southern Kansas City, where you'll find major stores like American Apparel, Cole Haan and H&M. However, a better place to find unique souvenirs is the Crossroads Art District in the Downtown neighborhood, where you can shop at boutiques like Fortuity, buy fine wines from KC Wineworks and grab a coffee or check out works by local artists at Cafe Gratitude.
Kansas City Market is the best place to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables and gourmet meats, preserves and cheeses, but prices can be steep. If you need to shop for groceries on a budget, try supermarkets like Hy-Vee or Trader Joe's, or independent delis like Cosentino's. The cost of living is very low relative to cities like San Francisco or Chicago, with a pound of apples costing $1.80 and a fresh loaf of bread about $2.
The dining scene in Kansas City is dominated by one food: barbecue. Kansas City barbecue is a unique form of an American classic, being slow cooked and coated with a thick, rich sauce. Head to local institutions like Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue or Hayward's to see exactly how it should be done. But it's not really all about BBQ. The city also has a wide range of excellent Italian eateries, including Garozzo's and Cascone's, you can find wonderful Pho dishes at Vietnam Cafe and high-class steak dinners at 801 Chophouse, so everyone's taste should be catered for. Expect to pay $30 at a high-end restaurant and less than $20 at most mid-range places.