St. Louis sits on the Missouri-Illinois border and therefore is right next to the Mississippi River. One of its best-known features is the Gateway Arch, built in the 1960s, which honors Lewis and Clark’s exhibitions west. St. Louis is a major metropolitan area for both Missouri and Illinois, and though it has a population of about 350,000 people, it’s filled with fun things to do for both tourists and locals. Because winter can get rough, peak season is summer and fall. Avoid some of the crowds by making a spring visit, if you don’t mind dealing with a little rain!

Arriving at St. Louis Lambert International Airport

St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) also goes by the name Lambert Field. It’s Missouri’s biggest and busiest airport, though compared to the biggest airports in the U.S. and the world, it is only medium-sized. The airport is located about 20 minutes away from central St. Louis, depending on traffic. You can travel between the airport and the city’s center by taking either I-70 W, or via I-64 W and I-70 N.

Airlines and Non-Stop Flights to and From STL

Several international airlines serve STL, including: Air Canada, Air Choice One, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Cape Air, Delta, Frontier Airlines, Southwest, United, and Xtra Airways. STL airlines offer non-stop flights to many major domestic cities throughout the US. West Coast destinations include Seattle, San Francisco, and San Diego. New England destinations include spots like New York City and Boston. In the south, you can reach places like Tampa and New Orleans. International non-stop flights go to Canada, Jamaica, and Mexico.

Airport Terminals

Two terminals make up the airport. Terminal 1 is the busier of the two terminals, with concourses A through D. All airlines except Southwest fly into and out of Terminal 1. Food options in the terminal are located near the A and C concourses. You’ll find the Hudson News Stand, which is pretty ubiquitous throughout American airports. You’ll also be able to eat at places like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Chili’s, and Jamba Juice. Shopping options include spots to get chargers and electronics, places for souvenirs, and an Eddie Bauer clothing store.

Terminal 2 is mainly the Southwest terminal, though some international flights land here, too, and it is where all the E concourse gates are. Though the terminal is smaller, your food and shopping options are still plentiful. Auntie Anne’s, Starbucks, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, and more are all available in Terminal 2. A candy shop, a sports shop, and an electronics shop are also available for your shopping pleasure in Terminal 2.

Please keep in mind that the terminals are separated by a shuttle. It runs every 8-15 minutes. You can find it at Exit 12.

St Louis Public Library
St Louis Public Library in St Louis.

Transportation to and From the Airport

Rental Cars

Seven rental car companies have desks at the St. Louis Airport: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Thrifty. You’ll find the customer service desks for the rental car companies in the lower level of Terminal 1, between Exit 12 and Exit 17. Most rental car lots are off-site, but you can take a shuttle to pick up your car. Exit 12 and Exit 17 are the two spots the rental car shuttles will pick you up to take you to the designated lot.

Public Transportation

GO BEST Express Airport Shuttle is a shuttle that services the airport. Shuttles from the airport run every 30 minutes from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. If you need a ride to the airport, the shuttle starts running at 4 a.m. Book your trip in advance; this shuttle runs to many St. Louis hotels and convention centers, and it’s a convenient and affordable way to get from the airport to your St. Louis hotel.

You can pick up taxis at Exit 14 in Terminal 1 and Exit 12 in Terminal 2. Two MetroLink stations are also at the airport; in Terminal 1 it’s Exit 1, and in Terminal 2 it’s Exit 12. The MetroLink is a 37-station, 46-mile light rail system that services the entire metro area; this is a great option if you’re traveling to the outskirts of St. Louis. You can also pick up both Greyhounds and local busses at the Exit 12 door in both terminals.

Early Morning: Grab Breakfast

Visit a restaurant known for serving the best breakfast in Missouri. Rooster, a cafe serving delicious crepes, breakfast foods, and lunch options, will start your day off right. Two locations are available, so head to the one closest to your hotel. One is downtown, and that location opens at 8 a.m. The other is on S Grand Street, and that opens earlier, at 7 a.m. If you’re having an early brunch, don’t miss the bloody marys!

The Mud House is another fabulous option for your morning meal. This coffee shop serves full breakfast options, like scrambled eggs and breakfast sandwiches. The Spicy Tofu Scramble is a great vegan option, but it tastes so good basically everyone will want it. You’ll find this delightful coffee-house and breakfast place at 2101 Cherokee Street. It opens at 7 a.m., so you can rise early and get your day started with a filling breakfast and an energy burst from coffee.

Missouri Botanical Garden
Missouri Botanical Garden in St Louis.

Mid-Morning: Parks and Shopping

Make your morning activities all about the beautiful outdoors. Start with the Missouri Botanical Garden, one of the top spots to visit while you’re in St. Louis. The garden is beautiful, with conservatories, international gardens, and a Victorian district that are all delightful to walk through. Take a tour of the garden or visit it on your own terms. Be sure to check out the special exhibits, too. The botanical garden always has something exciting and beautiful on display. It opens at 9 a.m. and the cost for adults to enter is $12. Kids get in free.

Head to Forest Park next, a multi-block park within the streets of St. Louis. This park has lots of walking trails and pavilions. It’s where you’ll find the St. Louis Zoo, the planetarium, and a golf course. Several landmarks dot the landscape, like the Cabanne House and the Jewel Box. You’ll also discover lots of natural wonders, like forests and other natural ecosystems within the park.

Your outdoor activities must include shopping, and Cherokee Street is one of the coolest locations in St. Louis to shop. The street is known as “Antiques Row” so you can imagine that lots of cool antiques shops line the lane. But, antiquing is only one thing to do on Cherokee Street. The street is 12 blocks long, and lots of art exhibits and galleries have opened up along its length. Local cafes and restaurants dot Cherokee Street, too. It’s a uniquely St. Louis spot to visit, so don’t miss it.

Noonish: Stop for Lunch

St. Louis boasts several delicious restaurants that are only open in the middle of the day, so lunch time is your only opportunity to enjoy their mouth-watering food.

Nora’s is a sandwich shop located at 1136 Tamm Ave, and though weekday hours are regular, weekend hours are only from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. They smoke meat in-house, and offer an array of delectable soups and salads along with the creative sandwich menu. Lots of hot and cold sandwich options are available. Try the “For Pete’s Sake” sandwich if you like caramelized onion and smoked brie. Nora’s Salad is wonderfully refreshing if you want something light.

The Ninth Street Deli is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you want to come here, give yourself a little extra time, because it gets crowded thanks to the great reputation and limited hours. This deli has an eclectic mix of art on the walls, and offers an extensive menu of oven baked and cold sandwiches. You can create your own sandwich, or enjoy a bowl of French onion soup or chili. Find this restaurant at 900 Shenandoah Ave.

St Louis Science Center
St Louis Science Center in St Louis.

Early Afternoon: Museums and Learning Centers

Make your afternoon all about learning! St. Louis features several museums and science stops that are fun for the whole family to visit. Choose one and spend your whole afternoon there, or go a little wild and visit more than one.

The City Museum is a 600,000 square-foot museum unlike anything you’ve visited before. It has a playhouse for kids, gigantic exhibits of found objects, and some eclectic architecture you must see with your own eyes. The museum has caves, and within the caves you’ll find the start of a 10-story slide. Rooftop access is also available depending on the season. Honestly, this experience is more like an obstacle course than anything. The museum staff recommend you wear close-toed shoes and bring a flashlight. They also sell knee pads to help you get through some of the tighter spaces.

The St. Louis Science Center is actually a collection of science buildings. You’ll discover a planetarium and a science museum in this 300,000 square foot spot. The main building has dinosaur exhibits, chemistry exhibits, life science information, and more. You’ll find giant machines and a flight simulator within the Science Center. There’s also a big garden section, which is pretty cool to visit if you get sick of being indoors. The Science Center is located in Forest Park, so getting there via public transportation is pretty simple.

For people who’d rather have a quieter afternoon, take a trip to the Missouri History Museum. Exhibits on the 1904 World’s Fair and St. Louis’s history as a city are always open. You’ll learn lots about Missouri and St. Louis when you visit, though admittedly this museum will be more fun for adults than it will be for kids. Lots of exhibits rotate throughout the year, so you might learn something about World War I or the Civil Rights movement in Missouri when you visit. The best part? Admission to this museum is free!

Gateway Arch Old Courthouse
The Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse in St Louis.

Late Afternoon: the Gateway Arch

Many attractions in St. Louis close around 5, which is why you should make the Gateway Arch your last stop. It’s open until 10 p.m., so save this dynamic and famous landmark for the end of your day. If you’d like to view the Gateway Arch from the water, riverboat cruises are available to get you spectacular views of the majestic structure. If you’d like to go all the way to the top, you can do that. Get a Journey to the Top ticket in advance, so you can lock down a late afternoon time slot. You’re allowed to get in line 30 minutes before the time on your ticket.

If you’re afraid of heights, look at the arch from the ground, then head to the Old Courthouse nearby. This historic building has fantastic historical exhibits about slave and women’s rights fights.

Dinner Time: Your Style of Dining

Want to celebrate your time in St. Louis with a fancy meal? Get dinner reservations at the Crossing. This fine dining restaurant combines French and Italian cooking styles to create simple yet delicious dishes. Local ingredients are a big part of the farm-to-table menu, so you’ll be eating authentic Missouri and Illinois cuisine when you dine here. Choose four courses from a tasting menu, or order a la carte. Try the Grilled Beef Tenderloin menu option if you want to be especially wowed.

Not everyone wants to sit through an upscale meal. If cheap eats are your style, then Blues City Deli is your destination. This deli takes some of the best deli traditions and brings them to one menu. Looking for New York style sandwiches? What about po’ boys? The menu here is simple, but extensive. Hot dogs, salads, and sides are also available. Try the roast beef in any form, because who doesn’t like roast beef on a sandwich? You’ll find the spot at 2438 McNair. The interior is really cool; the staff has papered the walls with blues paraphernalia.

Looking for something a little off-the-wall? Mango Peruvian Cuisine will hit the spot. This restaurant is on the upscale side, and it’s a loft-style establishment, which means eclectic artwork and fabulous hospitality. Stir fries, stews, and rice dishes make up the entrée portion of the menu. Vegetarian options are available, and are denoted on the menu with a little leaf. They also have gluten-free options if you want to talk to your server. Try the Pescado a la Chorrillana if you’re a fan of fish, or the Tallarin Verde if you’re a vegetarian.

Missouri History Museum
Missouri History Museum in St Louis.

Where to Stay in St. Louis

Hotels

Find luxury accommodations in St. Louis by choosing the Ritz-Carlton, the Westin, the Four Seasons, or the Hilton at the Arch. These four- and five-star hotels offer the very best in amenities, and during low season in St. Louis you can usually find deals that will bring prices down, making them more affordable for a splurge on a romantic weekend or a celebratory trip.

You’d probably rather save your money for sightseeing, which makes perfect sense. In that case, check out spots like the Crowne Plaza Hotel St. Louis Downtown or the Red Roof Inn Pluss St. Louis at Forest Park and Hampton Avenue. These mid-range hotels offer affordable rates, good accommodations, and are centrally located. But to save even more, stay away from the city center and bike or take public transportation to your destinations. The Quality Inn Airport St. Louis and the Super 8 St. Louis Airport offer extremely affordable rates, and the airport location certainly is convenient for quick trips.

Vacation Rentals and Hostels

From rooms in houses to entire apartment suites, St. Louis’s residents offer many great vacation rental options. If you’re looking for privacy or traveling with a large group, a vacation rental is often more convenient. Plus, when you rent a house, you can spend time in a St. Louis neighborhood instead of always being in the bustle of the city or by major highways. For extended trips, vacation rentals feel more like home away from home than hotel rooms do.

St. Louis doesn’t offer many hostel accommodations like you might be accustomed to finding in bigger cities. However, the Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel is a well-rated, affordable hostel. Though it’s called a youth hostel, travelers of all ages are welcome, and bikers, river travelers, and families get discounts. This hostel’s central location is hard to beat when you’re traveling on a budget. You usually won’t need reservations, but it’s a good idea to call ahead of time just to make sure.

St. Louis has lots of American history and culture to show you. Perhaps you want to visit beautiful outdoor areas, learn about important movements in our nation’s history, or see one of the coolest museums you’ve ever heard of. Lots of events, like ball games and concerts, happen during the St. Louis summer, which is why that season is one of the most popular times to visit. By the way, many neighborhoods in this city are beautiful, so skipping an activity in favor of a walk is always a neat idea.