St. Louis’ Gateway Arch is impressive. I remember seeing it on Interstate 70 when I was 10 years old.
My father, mother, brother and I were on our summer family vacation, driving from California to Virginia. My father pointed it out as we drove past it. I don’t remember thinking any more about it than I thought about other “stuff” I saw along the way. However, thinking back, the Gateway Arch probably was the most impressive thing I saw on the road during that trip, hence the reason I remember the experience. Well…there I was almost 40 years later, back at the Gateway Arch. This time I wasn’t driving by, I was parking.
Founded by explorers and frontier families pushing west, St. Louis was where these explorers of a young United States went into the western territories, starting with Lewis and Clark. Also, because it was in the shadows between slave and non-slave states, it has been both a destination, and a gateway to other lands. It was through this gateway that the United States discovered America. The Gateway Arch commemorates Thomas Jefferson, and St. Louis’s role in the westward expansion of the United States.
Standing 630 feet tall, The Gateway Arch is the nation’s tallest monument. Its 17,000 tons of steel and concrete is an impressive sight. And, the view from the top isn’t bad either.
Tip #1: Start early
This goes for both arriving and ticketing. Order your tickets online for the “Journey To The Top.” This will save valuable time. I highly suggest arriving in the morning, before 10AM, especially during the busy summer months. There is a security line similar to what you find at the airport. You will have to pass through metal detectors, have your bags scanned, and take off your belt and shoes.
Use the time afterwards to visit the Museum of Westward Expansion. The museum preserves some of the rarest artifacts from the days of Lewis and Clark, and you can explore the world of the Native Americans.
Tip #2: Take the Journey To The Top
The “Journey to the Top” is interesting. You’re put inside of a pod that seats 5 people, and the door closes. There’s a small window, but there’s nothing to see as you’re inside the arch. The slow four-minute ride to the top might be torturous for the claustrophobic, but the upside is that it only takes three minutes going down.
The view from the top is amazing. On a good day, it’s said that you can see 30 miles in all directions. For me, I just like being able to say “I’ve been to the top”.
Tip #3: Take the Riverboat Cruise
The Riverboat Cruise departs right outside of the Gateway Arch. The riverboat is a replica of a 19th century paddle-wheel boat. During the one-hour cruise down the Mississippi River, you’ll enjoy nice views of the city, the Arch, and learn about the role this working river still plays today.
Advanced ticket purchase is recommended. Save up to $4 on your sightseeing cruise when you purchase the Captain’s Combo! (One-Hour Sightseeing Cruise and “Journey to the Top” of the Gateway Arch). Cruises run March through November.
Tip #4: Go to The Old Courthouse
It’s an historical landmark, it’s free, directly across the street from the Arch, and is one of the most historically significant buildings in St. Louis. This makes it a must do when visiting the Gateway Arch.
Built between 1839 and 1862, The Old Courthouse is the site where an enslaved husband and wife, Dred and Harriet Scott, sued for their freedom, and Virginia Minor sued for a woman’s right to vote.
Today, this 19th-century courthouse features restored courtrooms, a decorated dome, dioramas that depict the history of the courthouse, along with films and galleries depicting the history of St. Louis.
While there, check out The Museum Shop. It carries a wide selection of books (especially children’s books), videos, and educational toys; including a large selection of items related to St. Louis’ history, black history, and the Dred Scott case.
Tip #5: Spend the day in St. Louis’ Core of Discovery
The Core of Discovery provides many options for exploring St. Louis. You can rent bikes, cruise up and down the Riverfront, sit along the fountains at City Garden, or take a walking tour.
There are two great walking tours that start off from The Gateway Arch. See the history of the United States reflected in the evolution from Victorian mansions, to shining modernist masterpieces on the Architecture Tour. The Visual Arts Tour is all about exploring Downtown St. Louis’ treasure chest of great visual art work. Since all of this is located within just a few blocks of each other, it’s possible to combine both walking tours into one tour.
For more tips and information on visiting The Gateway Arch, visit their website at: http://www.gatewayarch.com/