Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park lies in the heart of St. Louis, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Its most obvious landmark is the Gateway Arch, a striking monument to Thomas Jefferson and the United States’ expansion westward. The arch is both 630-feet (192-meters) high and across between the two ends of the arch. Climb to the top for awe-inspiring 360-degree views of the city.
Inside, the Museum of Westward Expansion is a good introduction to the history of St. Louis and the early pioneers. The Old Courthouse lies within the Memorial Park’s 91-acre (37-hectare) borders and has also been turned into a museum.
Locals and tourists alike flock to this bustling green space to spend summer afternoons by the river. The park was designed as a tribute to early pioneers and their exploration of the west after the Louisiana Purchase, when the U.S. government bought a large expanse of territory (which now extends into Canada) from the French.
St. Louis was the starting point of the first expedition by Lewis and Clark into Louisiana. Learn about their journey at the Museum of Westward Expansion, inside the Gateway Arch. Photographs, murals and artifacts, including a teepee and covered wagon, help to illustrate their story.
The 150-year-old Old Courthouse at the center of the park is defined by a domed cupola and rotunda painted with murals. Wander through the courtrooms, which are restored to their original condition. A small museum tells the story of St. Louis, as well as the infamous 1857 Dred Scott case, when a slave tried to sue for his freedom. Although he lost the case, it sparked a debate over slavery that contributed to its eventual abolishment.
After your fill of history, get a bike from Discovery Bike Rentals, located under the Grand Staircase of the Gateway Arch, and explore the riverfront. For some old-style transport, board a replica 19th-century paddle-wheel boat and cruise the river. Purchase a ticket online in advance or try for a spot on one of the boats on the day of your visit. Cruises leave from under the Gateway Arch’s south leg.
Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Park is an easy walk from many of the city’s main attractions downtown, including Washington Avenue. All of the exhibits are open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Winter is the least busy time to visit. Book tickets and rentals in advance if you plan to come between spring and autumn.