The 21 Best Kansas City Museums

One of my favorite things to do when I visit a new city is to check out the different museums. Living in Kansas City, I have the luxury of visiting just about all of them.

So, I’m here to share my favorite Kansas City museums and the one’s you might not find worth your time. You can explore ancient Egyptian tombs, the history of Jazz, Impressionist masterpieces, the largest collections of historic toys, and more. From major exhibits to neighborhood cultural attractions, there’s a whole world to explore at Kansas City’s renowned museums, galleries, and historic places.

photograph at the Nelson Atkins Museum

Our city is packed with all sorts of cool spots, from the big-name museums to those quirky little places tucked away in the neighborhoods. No matter what you’re into—be it art, science, history, or architecture—Kansas City has got something for you. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon, especially if you play your cards right and hit up the free museum days throughout the year. Trust me, it’s worth taking a day or two to wander through Kansas City’s best museums.

The Absolute Must-Do Museums ✅

If you can see all the Museums on this Kansas City list, do it. But if you’re time is limited, these are my favorites:

  • National WWI Museum and Memorial (for history and war buffs)
  • The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Arts (a free museum for art lovers)
  • Arabia Steamboat Museum (my favorite museum in Kansas City)

Explore the top 21 Kansas City museums

National WWI Museum and Memorial

The National WWI Museum and Memorial of the United States

Address: 2 Memorial Dr, Kansas City, MO 64108

In the heart of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, just a stone’s throw away from Union Station, you’ll find the National WWI Museum and Memorial of the United States. For anyone with even a sliver of interest in the part the U.S. played in WWI, this place is a goldmine of knowledge and insight.

This was the first museum I visited in Kansas City and one I bring out of town guests to regularly. The museum is amazing, you can take an elevator to the top of the monument and views are incredible of downtown from the top of the monument as well as from the monument base level.

What started as a tribute to local heroes who fought in the war has evolved into the premier museum for WWI in the United States. Since its opening in 1926 as the Liberty Memorial museum, and especially after its designation in 2004 by Congress as America’s official WWI museum, it’s been a beacon for history buffs. Housing the most extensive collection of WWI artifacts globally, with over 300,000 items, it offers an unparalleled look into the Great War.

The museum experience begins with a poignant walk across a glass bridge under which lie 9,000 red poppies, symbolizing the staggering loss of military lives, with each flower representing 1,000 fallen soldiers.

Spread over two floors, the museum doesn’t just showcase relics; it brings history to life with two movie theaters that screen documentaries about the war, alongside a century’s worth of artifacts, documents, photographs, and uniforms.

The galleries themselves are a journey through time, detailing the origins of the conflict, the nations involved, the alliances formed, and the outcomes. It’s an exhaustive guide to the hows, whats, wheres, and whos of WWI.

Dominating the skyline above the museum is the Liberty Memorial National Historic Landmark, a towering 217-foot structure that stands as a solemn reminder of those it honors, positioned majestically in the main courtyard at the museum’s entrance.

To truly appreciate everything the museum has to offer, from its galleries and halls to its movies and outdoor spaces, you’ll want to set aside at least two hours. It’s not just a museum; it’s a journey back in time, offering a profound glimpse into the past and a space to reflect on the sacrifices made for the future.

The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Shuttlecocks on the lawn at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Address: 4525 Oak St, Kansas City, MO 64111

One of the city’s most well-known cultural buildings—thanks to the iconic shuttlecocks on the front and back lawns—the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is just as impressive once you make your way inside. 

With almost 40,000 artworks in its permanent collection, you’ll find thousands of paintings, sculptures, photos and drawings displayed throughout a sprawling complex of galleries and halls. If you’re a first-time guest, make a beeline for Vincent Van Gogh’s Restaurant Rispal at Asnières and then head to the Photography galleries in the Bloch Building that display a creative history of the medium from daguerreotypes to 21st-century processes. 

Returning visitors can explore the collection of Chinese landscape paintings is one of the finest in the West, and the museum’s holdings of Chinese ceramics and decorative arts are also noteworthy.

Make sure to spend some time walking the grounds and exploring the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park that surrounds the museum.

There’s arguably too much art at this institution—at least, too much for one day—but we’re not complaining.

General admission to the Nelson-Atkins museum and most galleries is completely free. Admission to featured exhibitions requires an additional ticket purchase.

Plan for at least two hours to see a good portion of the museum galleries, halls, and outdoor spaces. 

Fun Fact: The museum was named in honor of William Rockhill Nelson, cofounder and editor of the Kansas City Evening Star, and Mary McAfee Atkins, a local teacher.

Arabia Steamboat Museum

Steamboat Arabia Display
Photo Credit: Arabia Steamboat Museum

Address: 400 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64106

If you’re on the hunt for a museum experience in Kansas City that’s anything but ordinary, you’ve got to check out the Steamboat Arabia Museum, nestled in the vibrant City Market area. This is my favorite museum in Kansas City and one I have brought all my out of town guests to experience. So, at this point, I’ve been here at least 6 times.

This place is an absolute treasure trove, housing an astonishing array of items rescued from the Steamboat Arabia. Back in 1856, this steamboat met its fate in the Missouri River, sinking with 200 tons of supplies destined for pioneers on the Western frontier.

Strolling through the museum, you get to dive deep into the stories of early American pioneers—people who depended on steamboats like the Arabia for their survival and livelihood. The museum does an incredible job of bringing this slice of history to life. With short films and hands-on exhibits, you’re not just learning about the past; you’re stepping into it.

The Steamboat Arabia Museum offers a unique window into the life and times of the American frontier, making it an unforgettable stop for families and history enthusiasts visiting Kansas City.

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum

Negro Leagues Baseball Museum display

Address: 1616 E 18th St, Kansas City, MO 64108

Nestled in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) stands as the only institution dedicated to preserving and honoring the rich history of African-American baseball and its significant role in the social progress of the United States.

In July 2006, the NLBM was honored with National Designation by the United States Congress, a testament to its significance as “America’s National Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.” This designation underscores the museum’s role not just in preserving history, but in highlighting the contributions of African-American athletes to the nation’s cultural and social fabric.

Visitors to the NLBM embark on a self-guided journey through the annals of history. The exhibit is richly detailed with text panels, an extensive collection of photographs, artifacts, and several film exhibits. These elements are woven into a comprehensive timeline that chronicles both the evolution of baseball and the pivotal role of African Americans within this narrative.

While the length of the tour can vary according to interest, it’s recommended to allot at least an hour to truly immerse oneself in the exhibit and fully appreciate the depth of the stories and achievements it celebrates.

American Jazz Museum

KC Jazz Legends section of the American Jazz museum in Kansas City

Address: 1616 E 18th St, Kansas City, MO 64108

Located in the historic 18th and Vine district, and sharing its home with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the American Jazz Museum serves as a home for the preservation of American jazz music. This museum celebrates the legacies of jazz legends such as Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald through a collection of engaging exhibits. Some of my favorite exhibits were Duke Ellington’s original sheet music, one of Ella Fitzgerald’s iconic dresses, and Louis Armstrong’s trumpet alongside his personal lip balm.

The layout of the museum is thoughtfully done, creating an immersive atmosphere that echoes Kansas City’s deep ties to the jazz movement in America. It offers a journey through the history of the 18th and Vine area and its pivotal role in the KC jazz scene. Interactive exhibits provide a hands-on experience, inviting visitors to piece together jazz tunes, instrument by instrument. Given its small size, allowing for around an hour should suffice to see and experience it all.

Adjacent to the museum, the Blue Note Jazz Club enriches the experience with live music offerings. With an array of free events like Monday Night Jam Sessions, Jazz @ Noon on the first and second Thursdays, and the Indigo Hour every Friday, the club brings the museum’s stories to life. Additionally, regular jam sessions on Friday and Saturday nights ensure that the spirit of jazz is always in the air, making it a perfect complement to the museum visit.

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

statue in front of Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Address: 4420 Warwick Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64111

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is Missouri’s first and largest contemporary museum. It’s also one of several free museums in Kansas City. The museum is one level with just a permanent collection as well as a few exhibit spaces that change on a regular basis.

One of the highlights beyond the exhibit spaces is the cafe with it’s eclectic art and nice outdoor space. Plan for 30-60 minutes to see everything.

National Museum of Toys and Miniatures

house miniature replica at National Museum of Toys and Miniatures

5235 Oak St. Kansas City, MO 64112

Located on the UMKC campus, the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures houses an impressive collection that appeals to both toy enthusiasts and miniature aficionados alike. As the world’s largest collection of fine-scale miniatures and one of the nation’s largest collections of historic toys, it offers a treasure trove of nostalgia.

This museum is located down the street from me and within walking distance, so it’s one I love to bring my friends and family to when they visit Kansas City. The lower level is devoted to miniatures and doll houses. The upper level has an additional display of doll houses with miniatures but is mostly focused on toys.

Visitors can explore diverse exhibits showcasing the craftsmanship behind these cherished items. Engaging videos and displays offer insight into the artistry behind miniature making. The museum’s origin story adds an intriguing layer, stemming from the personal collections of the Hall (of Hallmark) daughters, which eventually led to the establishment of this remarkable institution.

For those with a penchant for collecting or an appreciation for the intricacies of miniatures, this museum is a must-visit. The dollhouses upstairs evoke fond memories, while the bottom floor’s array of miniatures captivates with its diversity and craftsmanship. To top it off, the gift shop offers a nice selection of items to take home, ensuring a memorable visit from start to finish.

Wornall Museum

Civil war display at the Wornall House Museum in Kansas City

Address: 6115 Wornall Rd, Kansas City, MO 64113

Another Kansas City museum located walking distance for me is the Wornall Museum. The house was built in 1858 for John Bristow Wornall, his wife and two sons.

In 1863 the family has to abandon the house because of Civil War Order No. 11. The house then became a field hospital during the Battle of Westport (that happened just a few miles from the home) during October of 1864 involving 22,000 Union soldiers and 8,500 Confederate soldiers.

The family doesn’t move back to their home until 1874.

This museum has a fascinating history that includes the life of a wealthy merchant and farmer, slavery and the Civil War. Today the house is one of four surviving pre-Civil War homes (Antebellum homes) in Kansas City.

Fun Fact: John Wornall paid $2,500 in 1843 for 500 acres. Most the land has been sold, but the house stands on that original acreage.

Alexander Majors House Museum

The Alexander Majors House in Kansas City, Missouri, is more than just an old building. Built in 1856 for Alexander Majors and his family, this house was a busy spot. It wasn’t just a place where they lived; it was also the headquarters for Majors’ freighting company, which was a big deal back then for moving goods across the country. What’s cool is that the house was built facing west, which means Majors could literally look out towards the future – the vast Kansas Territory that lay beyond.

This house has a bit of a unique story because of its location too. It was right next to a dirt road that led from Westport Landing straight to the Santa Fe Trail. That dirt road is now State Line Road, which marks the border between Kansas and Missouri. So, in a way, the Majors House has seen the evolution of this area from a dusty trail to a modern-day boundary.

Now, the place is on the National Register of Historic Places, which means it’s recognized as a significant piece of American history. It’s a reminder of those early days of expansion and entrepreneurship, and it’s pretty fascinating to think about how this house and the people in it were part of the bigger story of how the West was developed.

Thomas Hart Benton Home & Studio State Historic Site

Address: 3616 Belleview Ave., Kansas City, MO 64111

Visiting the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio State Historic Site is like stepping right into the daily life of one of Missouri’s most famous artists of the 20th century. Benton, known for his vivid portrayals of American life and culture, lived and worked in this home, leaving behind a space that feels like he just stepped out for a moment. The studio, originally a carriage house, is exactly how he left it, with his paintbrushes still in coffee cans, paints all around, and an unfinished canvas waiting for his return. It’s a place frozen in time, especially poignant because Benton passed away right there in 1975.

Beyond the walls of his home and studio, Benton’s legacy is immense. His art, especially the series “A Social History of the State of Missouri” displayed in the Missouri Capitol, showcases his unique talent in capturing the essence of American life. Born in Neosho, Missouri, in 1889, Benton’s roots ran deep in the state, not just through his family’s historical significance but through his contributions to art and culture, making the Thomas Hart Benton Home and Studio a must-visit to truly understand this iconic figure’s life and work.

Harris-Kearney House

Address: 4000 Baltimore Ave, Kansas City, MO 64111

Nestled in the historic Westport neighborhood of Kansas City, Missouri, the 1855 Harris-Kearney House stands as a testament to the city’s rich heritage. This Greek Revival mansion, boasting the distinction of being the oldest brick residence in Kansas City, was originally the home of Col. John ‘Jack’ Harris and his wife Henrietta. Constructed in 1855, the house was relocated to its present address at 4000 Baltimore in 1922, preserving its historical significance for future generations to appreciate.

Designated as a National Historic Landmark on October 18, 1972, the Harris-Kearney House Museum offers visitors a unique opportunity to step back in time and immerse themselves in the ambiance of the past. The house is open to the public for guided tours and private viewings.

The Money Museum

displays at the money museum in Kansas City

Address: 1 Memorial Dr, Kansas City, MO 64198

When exploring museums in Kansas City, don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. Offering both walk-in and guided tours, this museum provides a fascinating look into the world of finance and economics.

Partnering with the Denver Mint, the museum features an exhibit showcasing shredded money and coinage from various countries. Visitors can witness firsthand the process of currency processing and handle a real gold bar. When I visited, my goal was to see the historic Harry S. Truman coin collection for an article I was writing about all the Truman attractions in Missouri. I imagine, the interactive displays make learning about the U.S. economy fun for all ages.

Operating hours are Monday through Friday from 9:30 AM to 4 PM, with the exception of bank holidays. It’s a must-visit destination for those interested in economics and monetary history during your time exploring Kansas City’s museums.

Union Station

Address: 30 W Pershing Rd, Kansas City, MO 64108

From the Southwest elevator head to Mezzanine levels 2 and 3 to see 5,000+ square feet of permanent exhibit that captures the rich and diverse cultural history of the Station through significant stories and beautiful artifacts. There is a great photographic history of the Kansas City Union Station that includes everything from Fred Harvey and the Harvey Girls

Union Station also has an 8,00 square foot Model Train Exhibit with 80 trains running on a daily basis. It nearly doubles in size during the Christmas holiday season. This is located on the North end of Grand Plaza.

In the In the Northeast corner of Grand Hall you’ll find a gallery that features and celebrates art, artifacts and stories of the twelve railroads that joined together in 1906 (forming Kansas City Terminal Railway) to build Union Station.

TWA Museum

Address: 10 Richards Rd #110, Kansas City, MO 64116

The TWA Museum is hands-down the coolest aviation spot in Kansas City. It’s set up in the old TWA headquarters, and you get to tour it with volunteers who used to work there, showing you around all the cool exhibits and planes.

This place should definitely be on your KC top ten list. It’s packed with awesome stuff, from actual planes to old flight simulators and detailed models. Seriously, it’s a hidden gem that needs more shoutouts and support.

Fun fact: e Howard Hughes owned the airline, and legends Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart flew for them!

Kansas City Museum

3218 Gladstone Blvd. Kansas City, Missouri 64123

Situated on a sprawling 3.5-acre property, the Kansas City Museum comprises five original Beaux-Arts style buildings, each contributing to the city’s architectural legacy. Of these structures, Corinthian Hall stands as the sole building to undergo extensive restoration and renovation. Once a stately mansion, Corinthian Hall now boasts four floors housing captivating history exhibits and mesmerizing art installations. Visitors can immerse themselves in the past as they explore approximately 400 artifacts and countless images sourced from the museum’s extensive archives.

Adding to the immersive experience are site-specific art installations crafted by talented Kansas City-based artists. For those keen on delving deeper into the history and architecture of the museum, guided tours are available, providing invaluable insights into the site’s evolution over time. Additionally, visitors can savor a taste of nostalgia at Elixir, a charming soda fountain located within Corinthian Hall, or enjoy a delightful meal at Café at 3218, enhancing their visit with culinary delights amidst the museum’s historic ambiance.

Science City at Union Station

Science City, powered by Burns & McDonnell, is a hit for its awesome “Visitor Experience” and is a local favorite for being super kid-friendly. It’s packed with over 300 fun, hands-on exhibits and always has cool STEM events going on. Every year, it’s the go-to spot for loads of kids (and kids at heart) who are eager to learn and play with science. It’s basically the best place around for getting your hands dirty with science experiments and having a blast while doing it.

The Regnier Family Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City

Address: 433 E Red Bridge Rd, Kansas City, MO 64131

Wonderscope is the only non-profit children’s museum in the area focused on giving kids and their families fun STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) learning experiences.

It’s got a huge space, with 30,000 square feet inside for exploring and a half-acre outdoor area that’s open all year for more adventures, all designed with a cool Kansas City vibe. Plus, getting there is a breeze, whether you’re taking public transport or driving on the big roads.

Shoal Creek Living History Museum

Address: 7000 NE Barry Rd, Kansas City, MO 64156

Shoal Creek Living History Museum has been around since 1975, tucked away on 80 acres inside Hodge Park. It’s got 21 old-timey buildings, including 17 real log cabins and houses from the 1800s, making it feel like you’ve stepped back in time. You can visit any day from morning till evening for free, unless there’s a special event going on.

Grab a walking tour brochure at the entrance and explore at your own pace, chill out for a picnic, or hit the trails. Need to book something like a school trip or a wedding? Check their website. The first Saturday of the month is free, and other events cost just $5 (kids under 5 get in free). When the buildings open up, actors do skits and demos to really make the place come alive, and the money they raise helps keep the museum going.

Black Archives of Mid-America

Location: Horace M. Peterson III Building; 1722 E. 17th Terrace Kansas City, MO 64108

Founded on May 8, 1974, by Horace M. Peterson III, The Black Archives of Mid America plays a vital role in preserving African American history and culture. As a nonprofit organization, it dedicates itself to being an educational resource, covering a broad spectrum of the African American experience, from music and art to education and religion, and beyond. The mission of The Black Archives is to ensure the rich history of African Americans in the Midwest is not only preserved but shared widely.

One of the key features of The Black Archives is its permanent exhibit, “With My Eyes No Longer Blind,” named after a poem by Langston Hughes. This exhibit offers a comprehensive overview of the African American journey in Kansas City, tracing its roots from the era of the Lewis and Clark expedition through to the mayoral tenure of Emanuel Cleaver II.

Through both digital and temporary exhibits alongside this permanent fixture, The Black Archives provides a profound insight into the contributions and struggles of African Americans, serving as a crucial educational tool for the community.

Hallmark Visitors Center & Museum

Address: 2450 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, MO 64108

Discover how a teenager from Nebraska turned two shoeboxes of postcards into an iconic Kansas City company.

Exhibits share you a glimpse into the rich history and creative spirit of Hallmark and there is a great film that showcases Hallmark’s 100+ year history.

Attendance is limited and reservations are required.

Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum

truman library

Address: 500 W US Highway 24, Independence, MO 64050

Just 20 minutes from Kansas City is the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and Museum in Independence. While not located in Kansas City, if you visit KMCO, this museum should be on your list of things to do.

The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum was established to preserve the papers, books, and other historical materials relating to former President Harry S. Truman and to make them available to the people in exhibits and for research.

This is a well-rounded and comprehensive look at the only president who came from Missouri and features a vast holding that include historical documents related to the Korean War and NATO, as well as the Berlin Airlift, and the Manhattan Project. In addition, you’ll find documents associated with desegregation of the Armed Forces.

Permanent museum exhibits include Truman: The Presidential Years, which encompasses 10,500 square feet and features two ‘decision rooms’ where you’ll learn what considerations informed Truman’s actions regarding major issues and events of the day.

Additional video and audio presentations also illustrate activities on the international stage during his presidency. Inside Harry S. Truman: His Life and Times, this exhibition covers his early years and family to his political career, and return to “Mr. Citizen.” It’s a comprehensive look at a pivotal presidency.

Explore the top 21 Kansas City museums featuring Egyptian tombs, Jazz history, Impressionist art, historic toys, and more. A must-visit list for culture lovers.

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