10 Things Every First-Time Visitor to St. Louis Should Know

What's up with the Arch? Plus, parking, traffic, cabs and more

First time in St. Louis? We think of it as a typical, mid-size Midwest city full of friendly, helpful people, but it might help to know a thing or two.

1. Visit the Gateway Arch

The Arch grounds and museum are still undergoing a massive reconstruction project (almost finished) to better connect the city’s most famous skyline element with the rest of downtown, and during this phase, your visit begins at the nearby Old Courthouse. You can still ride to the top of the Arch, watch movies, visit the gift shop and take a cruise on the Gateway Arch Riverboats.

Gateway Arch—work in progress

2. Find the Free Attractions

St. Louisans love free stuff (who doesn’t?), so we‘ve made sure that some of our best attractions charge no admission. Naturally, you may have to pay for parking and special experiences, but the idea is to empower the least privileged among us to access the best the city has to offer. The list of free attractions includes Saint Louis Art MuseumSaint Louis ZooSaint Louis Science CenterMissouri History MuseumHolocaust Museum and Learning Center, Old Courthouse, Pulitzer Arts FoundationContemporary Art Museum St. LouisAnheuser-Busch Brewery TourInside the Economy MuseumLaumeier Sculpture ParkLewis & Clark State Historic SiteSaint Louis University Museum of ArtUlysses S. Grant National Historic SiteWorld Chess Hall of FameCathedral Basilica of Saint LouisPurina Farms Visitors CenterMildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, and the Moto Museum. You’re welcome.

The Saint Louis Art Museum is free.

3. Use the Downtown Guides

Super-friendly Downtown CID (Community Improvement District) Guides, equipped with radios and iPods, are happy to help you find an attraction, suggest a restaurant, walk you to your car or hotel, etc. Call 314.280.4817 to request a Guide.

4. Plan for St. Louis Traffic

Morning and evening rush hour traffic can be agonizingly slow, but the rest of the day enjoys relatively congestion-free driving. Plan accordingly.

5. Pay the Parking Meters

St. Louis city has installed new parking meters in a number of popular neighborhoods, so be on the lookout. There will be a four-digit number posted at your parking space; make a note of it. Then find the nearby kiosk and follow the easy directions. You can pay with coins or credit card and get a receipt.

6. Hailing Cabs—Do It With Your Phone

You can’t hail a taxi in St. Louis like you can in New York; you have to call, text or go online. A universal ride-finding app is in the works (a response to Uber and Lyft). A few cab companies you can call: Laclede CabYellow Cab, St. Louis County Cab, ABC Cab, Checker Cab, St. Louis American Cab Co. Plus, there's a free downtown Ecab pilot program designed to take passengers a few blocks. There's an app, or you can call 314.675.0295. 

7. MetroLink Light Rail

MetroLink, our light-rail system, connects downtown St. Louis with St. Louis Lambert Airport, the Central West End, The Loop, Clayton, and Belleville, Illinois. It’s fast, clean and comfortable, and food is not allowed. No one asks you for a ticket to get on a train, but you better have one in case an agent asks you for one during the ride. Make sure the ticket is validated (full instructions on the ticket vending machines at all stations).

MetroLink light rail

8. Bicycles: Streets and Trails

Thanks to a growing population of bike enthusiasts, St. Louis is becoming a biking haven, with dedicated bike lanes on many streets and an extensive network of hiking/biking trails throughout the region, on both sides of the Mississippi. Plus, you can take your bike on MetroLink. Rent a bike downtown at Big Shark Bicycle Company for $10-$15 per hour.

Biking over the Mississippi

9. Missouri Wine Country

Naturally, some of those bike trails pass by vineyards in Missouri wine country, just 45 minutes outside St. Louis along Highway 94. It may surprise some visitors to learn that Missouri boasts a booming wine industry producing world-class wines with mostly French hybrid grapes. Believe it. There are more wine regions easily reached from St. Louis in Hermann and Ste. Genevieve.

Highway 94 Wine Country

10. Pardon the French

St. Louisans pronounce some place names oddly, particularly if those places are French: Gravois (GRAV oy), Bellefontaine (bell FOUN ten), Soulard (SOO lard), Des Peres (duh PAIR), Florissant (FLOOR uh sent), Carondelet (kron duh LET), Creve Coeur (kreev core), Chouteau (SHOW toe), and De Baliviere (duh BAHL uh ver) are just a few.