Are you always on the lookout for new adventures? Gary and I are continuously searching online and talking to others for suggestions on trips and destinations. This lead me to think back on a previous vacation, more than 15 years ago where I toured the St Louis Gateway Arch. I shared with Gary the details of the work vacation I had taken to St. Louis making mention that you can actually travel to the top of the arch.
One can describe the experience of seeing the city of St. Louis from the gorgeous vantage point of 630 feet up, but the description does not replace seeing it for yourself. You need to be part of the entire experience.
The St Louis Gateway Arch is a Nation Park and Landmark, Gary had seen the Gateway Arch once, years earlier when he drove through St. Louis. What he didn’t know was that you can actually ride a tram (or tuna can, as I described it) up to the top of this National Monument.
We were longing for our next long romantic weekend. St Louis is only a 7-hour drive from our home in Wisconsin, the perfect driving distance for a long romantic weekend. Gary was up for the adventure and I was looking forward Exploring more of St. Louis.
St. Louis Gateway Arch History
In 1954 Dwight Eisenhower signed the order for the construction of the National Park. The landmark was constructed as a memorial to Thomas Jefferson’s role in opening up the West, to the pioneers who shaped history and to Dred Scott who sued for his freedom at the Old Courthouse.
More than 40 city blocks were demolished to build the National Park. This demolition was an extreme commitment by the city taking out riverside blocks of warehouses and businesses. A commitment that many locals did not approve of. The project was estimated to cost 30 million dollars, and many locals thought the city money should be used for more practical matters. The city called upon the government to help with three-quarters of the price tag.
The National Park and Landmark includes the Gateway Arch, The Old Courthouse and the Museum at the Arch and reflects St. Louis’ role in the westward expansion of the United States.
Planning your visit to the St. Louis Gateway Arch
St. Louis is filled with so many amazing things to see and do, you have to be selective and decide what you are going to do and how much time to allot to each adventure. We gave ourselves one entire day to visit the Arch and National Park.
Available activities for the day included:
- Tram Ride to the top of the Arch
- Documentary movie
- Shopping at The Arch Store
- Riverboat Cruise
- Helicopter Ride
- Old Courthouse
We chose to visit the park, enjoying the newly renovated grounds, take in the museum and watch the documentary movie, take the tram to the top of the Arch, go on a Riverboat Cruise and do a little shopping at one the Arch stores.
St. Louis Arch Tickets and Prices
Tickets can be purchased online prior to your visit. Advance purchase is strongly recommended, tickets for Gateway Arch attractions frequently sell out. Tram tickets are timed, planning is necessary to time things right.
For everyone’s safety, all visitors to the St. Louis Gateway Arch must pass through an airport-style security checkpoint. Please allow up to 30 minutes to go through security on a busy day.
Keep in mind, unfortunately, the Tram Ride to the Top of the Gateway Arch may not be fully accessible to visitors with mobility impairments. Don’t let that stop you from visiting the arch. There is a lot to do without the Tram ride to the top of the Arch.
Tickets can be purchased individually or as combo packages. At the time of writing adult ticket prices are as listed but subject the change.
- Tram tickets – $16
- Documentary tickets – $7
- Riverboat Cruise tickets – $22 to $55 cruise with many options.
- Combination tickets – $20 to $40 depending on your choice of activities
- The Old Courthouse is free to visit
When looking to book your tickets in advance use this link – Buy St. Louis Arch tickets or call 887-982-1410
St. Louis Gateway Arch and Park Hours
The park grounds are open for visitors from 5 am until 11 pm year-round.
The Arch is open with Summer hours 8 am – 10 pm and Winter hours 9 am – 6 pm. Keep in mind that the last Tram for the day leaves 1 hour before closing.
The Old Courthouse hosts a variety of things free activities such as daily ranger-led talks, exhibit galleries, and restored courtrooms as well as a History Channel film about Dred and Harriet Scott’s quest for freedom. The Old Courthouse is open 8:30 – 4:30 daily
Cruise hours vary, contact them for daily times.
Check out the St Louis Arch hours and events to learn about upcoming activities and programs.
Visiting the Gateway Arch and Park
Our visit to the Gateway Arch started by taking the Metro from our hotel to the park. It was nice to not have to take our car when wanting to get around St. Louis. The Metro dropped us off at one end of the park, giving us plenty of time to hold hands and enjoy the walk to the entrance of the Gateway Arch. Taking in the breathtaking view of the newly landscaped park surrounding the Arch.
Everything was so different from when I had last been to the Arch. The way visitors experience the Gateway Arch and the park surrounding it has been greatly transformed. Thanks to a 380 million dollar renovation project, 46,000 square feet of museum space underneath the base of the Arch was added giving visitors a look at St Louis history as well as the process of building the arch.
The park surrounding the Gateway Arch is now manicured and gorgeous. Rolling hills, water fountains for drinking, and landscaped gardens make this National Landmark beautiful and welcoming. In addition to the new park, visitors were given a new entrance to the Arch that is more welcoming.
After entering the entrance to the Arch and going through an airport type security, you first enter the new Museum. There is no cost to visit the museum area but you do need to go through the security gates. (I thought I’d take a picture of security, to give you an idea of what to expect, only to find out it is not allowed. I may have been talked to sternly about it.)
Good this I took a picture of this area just inside the doors before you reach security. You can see it has the airport feel going on.
In addition to adding the new museum under the Gateway Arch, a snack bar and a gift shop are available in the same area to those not wishing to ride the Tram to the top of the Arch.
Gateway Arch Tram
Riding to the top of the Gateway Arch is a scary and exciting adventure. The arch has an 8-car tram ride that brings visitors (five per car) to the top of the structure.
The trams that transport you to the top are a bit claustrophobic, or as Gary puts it, “conveniently cozy” (with a mischievous smile and a wink), but well worth the venture. The door has a small window, and though it many times you can see flights of stairs outside the windows. I kept picturing someone having to use all those stairs. That picture make that tiny “cozy” tram seem very appealing.
Your tickets to ride the tram are timed. Every effort is made to make sure that it is not too crowded at the top. You are able to stay at the top as long as you like. They want everyone to be able to enjoy the view.
Once at the top there are windows on both sides, one side faces the river and the other side faces the Old Courthouse. You have an amazing view either way.
The old Courthouse is part of this St. Louis Landmark. The gorgeously restored building is worth a visit just for the historic architecture. Most important, the Courthouse is where Dred Scott sued for his and his wife’s freedom. And lost both cases.
It is 630 feet to the top of the Gateway Arch which is more than the height of 2 Statues of Liberty. The Arch is as tall as it is wide.
The Gateway Arch is not just a historical landmark its an experience all in itself.
Fun Facts about the Gateway Arch
• For the construction of the Arch stainless-steel pieces of the arch were shipped to St Louis from Pennsylvania and were assembled on site. Welders had to work extraordinarily carefully to ensure their measurements were precise—the margin of error allowed was less than half a millimeter. The Arch’s two legs were built separately and if the measurements were off by as little as 1/64th of an inch they would not have joined at the top.
• The arch is the tallest memorial in the United States and the tallest stainless steel monument in the world.
• The tram takes only four minutes to get to the top and three minutes to travel from the top to the bottom.
• Due to the curved shape of the arch, a regular elevator couldn’t bring visitors from the base to the top. Dick Bowser, a college dropout whose family was in the elevator business, was asked to design the system in just two weeks. His solution was a tram that’s part elevator and part Ferris wheel—it’s the very system that still lifts visitors to the top of the arch today.
• Presidents are not allowed to visit the Arch or ride the Tram to the top. The secret service has forbidden it because of the tight confined space.
• President Dwight Eisenhower is the only president to have ever been to the top of the Arch. In 1967 at the age of 77, Eisenhower visited St Louis to deliver a speech and insisted he visit the Arch. His trip was done while the Arch was not open to the public.
• In 1960 the construction of the Arch was 13 million dollars and the currently completed renovations totaled 380 million dollars.
St. Louis Riverfront Cruise
You could spend the entire day at the Arch. The surrounding park extends all the way to the water and the St. Louis Riverfront Cruise. The one-hour riverboat cruise explores the muddy Mississippi. Riverboat cruises operate March through November.
Riverfront Cruises offers many different cruises. Specialty cruises, such as a night cruise, a dinner cruise or even a haunted cruise is available in addition to their daily cruises. A great addition to your Arch experience.
On the narrated cruise, you pass under several bridges and see the historic Laclede’s Landing entertainment district and the Soulard area. Soulard is worth its own trip. The area features a huge farmer’s market and the Budweiser Brewery tour.
Strolling the waterfront, holding hands was a romantic way to explore St. Louis. Taking the tram together to the top of the arch, arms around each other, holding hands, kissing and together looking down on the city. What a perfect day! Even the rain did not stop us.
With 11 acres of parkland and 5 miles of walking and biking paths, this can be an entire day’s adventure.
Hotels near the Gateway Arch
Hilton St. Louis at the Ballpark is a modern high-rise hotel in downtown St. Louis is a 14-minute walk to the Gateway Arch. With a rooftop bar, featuring fire pits, panoramic city views, and live DJs during weekends. An indoor pool, fitness center, and rooms with arch and ballpark views.
Rates per night at the time of publishing average $135 per night.
Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis At The Arch is cross the street from the Old Courthouse, this stately hotel is 0.4 miles from the Gateway Arch monument. With modest rooms in an elegant property with an indoor pool & complimentary hot breakfast.
Rates per night at the time of publishing average $120 per night.
Hampton Inn St. Louis-Downtown is a contemporary hotel with free hot breakfast & Wi-Fi, plus an Irish pub/restaurant & indoor pool. This straightforward hotel is a 9-minute walk from the Gateway Arch.
Rates per night at the time of publishing is $129 per night
St Louis Union Station is a historic hotel. Its castle-style building overlooks a grand fountain, this refined hotel in a former railway terminal, and is 3 miles from the Gateway Arch.
At the time of publishing, rates average $110 and up depending on your choice of regular room or historic rooms.
We chose to stay at the St. Louis Union Station Historic Hotel. It was a little further from the Arch but we chose to experience Metro transportation while we were there. But at only 3 miles from the Arch, we could have easily walked if it were not for the rain.
To see our blog post about our stay at the Historic Union Station check out St Louis Union Station Hotel Feature and get a glimpse at what it’s like to stay at such a unique hotel.
Adjacent to the St Louis Union Station Hotel is the all new Union Station Aquarium and family entertainment area. This is an amazing place for fun. Check out out post with Things to do at Union Station Aquarium, St. Louis Missouri.
Restaurant near the Gateway Arch
After a long day at the Arch. Gary and I headed back to Union Station to relax. Having taken the Metro from Union Station to the Gateway Arch, we returned the same way and boarded just ahead of the mobs of Busch Stadium fans soon to be filling the Metro. We arrived in the back of Union Station where there is a large parking lot and also where all the construction is for the new St. Louis Aquarium.
We realized in the middle of all the construction was a restaurant called Landry’s Seafood House.
Gary asked the manager how Landry’s was affected by the construction. They shared with us the challenges of the lengthy construction project. Most of Landry’s patrons come from Union Station and local foot traffic. The easy access from the sidewalk and across the street was now unavailable. Patrons have to go out of their was and walk around the construction to get to the front door.
Any restaurant that can weather 2 years of construction deserves to be patronized. It was one of the best decisions we could have made. The view was great and the food was fantastic.
During dinner, we enjoyed watching the deck-side Fire and Light Show. Wow. Over 5000 choreographed lights and leaping flames set to the rhythms of popular music.
After dinner, it was fun to stop and feed the Koi that we enjoyed watching deck-side during dinner.
It is worth the extra effort it takes to go and eat at Landry’s Seafood House.
We had an amazing time exploring St. Louis Gateway Arch, strolling through the newly renovated park, taking the tram to the top of the Arch, exploring a Riverfront Cruise, and finally relaxing back at our hotel.
St. Louis is a city filled with many things for couples, families, and kids of all ages. With so many options it was hard for us to make a list of our top recommendations. We did our best. You’ll want to see our list of Top 21 Things to do in St. Louis. Many of the activities on the list are free.
They are almost 2600 historic landmarks in the United States, each playing a significant role in US history. We’d love to hear about your experience visiting a Historical landmark. We may need to put it on our list of places to visit.
Note: We were a guest of Explore St. Louis, which covered a portion of our expenses. All opinions, are our own.
Gary & Michelle
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