St. Louis’ French Heritage

St. Louis was founded by a Frenchman, named after a sainted French king, and nicknamed “the Paris of the West” during pioneering days. Today, the city’s “French Connection” is very much on view in its architecture, historic sites, fleur de lis images and by hosting one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the nation.

Day One

1. Laclede's Landing

30 mins - 1 hour

Drive through St. Louis’ historic Laclede’s Landing entertainment district. Named for Pierre Laclede, St. Louis’ French founder, The Landing (as locals call it) is a nine squareblock area of restored warehouses on the Mississippi River where Lewis & Clark departed to explore the Louisiana Purchase territory and steamboats once transported their cargoes of cotton, tobacco and trade goods. Today, the warehouses have been converted into clubs, bars, restaurants and offices. | Get Directions

2. Gateway Arch

1 - 2 hours

Arc de Triomphe, indeed! No group trip to St. Louis is complete without viewing the Gateway Arch, which sits high atop the “Left Bank” of the mighty Mississippi. French explorers Louis Joliet and Jesuit priest Jacques Marquette began mapping the “Big River” in 1673.

Fun Facts regarding the architectural symbols of St. Louis and Paris:

  • Gateway Arch: 630 feet high; stainless steel; completed in 1965; $11 million to construct the Arch; $2 million to build the tram system; Eero Saarinen, architect
  • Eiffel Tower: 986 feet high; wrought iron; completed in 1889; $1.5 million; Gustave Eiffel, engineer | Get Directions

3. Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral)

1 - 2 hours

Count your blessings at the church known to St. Louisans as the Old Cathedral. When the city was founded by Pierre Laclede in 1764, the land on which the Old Cathedral sits was reserved for Roman Catholic worship and a log church was built. A larger log church replaced the original on the same site in 1776. This was the only church of any denomination for St. Louisans until about 1816. The 1834 Greek Revival structure that stands today was the first Cathedral west of the Mississippi River and the fourth Catholic church to grace the site. The title “basilica” is given by papal decree to a historically significant sacred space. | Get Directions

4. Old Courthouse

1 - 2 hours

Stroll from the Arch to the Old Courthouse to view a remarkable set of dioramas depicting French Colonial architecture in Old St. Louis and galleries filled with objects that were important to daily life in Old St. Louis. Built from 1839-1862, the Old Courthouse features restored court rooms, exhibit rooms on St. Louis’ history and its beautifully decorated dome. | Get Directions

5. CityGarden

30 mins - 1 hour

Like the sculpture garden of Paris’ Musee Rodin, St. Louis’ Citygarden is an artistic Eden in the heart of a major city. The outdoor attraction blends lush plantings and internationally renowned sculpture with the delights of water, stone, architecture and landscape design. Citygarden is completely open and accessible to the public 365 daysa-year. On display are twenty-five pieces of sculpture by internationally renowned artists. | Get Directions

6. St. Louis City Hall

30 mins

While driving by, groups can take note of St. Louis’ City Hall (1873) which is modeled after the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris. A statue of the city’s French founder, Pierre Laclede, stands west of the Market Street entry to the building. | Get Directions

7. St. Louis Union Station

1 - 2 hours

A few blocks further west of City Hall is St. Louis Union Station (1894), which was modeled after the design of the French fortress of Carcassonne and was once the world’s busiest rail station. In the evening, watch a free, panoramic light show projected on the massive ceiling. | Get Directions

8. Soulard Neighborhood

1 - 2 hours

A driving tour of Soulard, St. Louis’ oldest neighborhood, showcases brick row houses, blues music clubs, corner taverns and the oldest operating farmers market in America. Soulard celebrates its French heritage each year by hosting one of the nation’s biggest Mardi Gras celebrations. There’s always a “bon temps” vibe in this lively, friendly neighborhood. | Get Directions

Stop and shop any Wednesday – Saturday where St. Louisans have shopped since 1779 – Soulard Farmers Market. Owned and operated by the City of St. Louis, it is the oldest farmers market in the country.

9. Lafayette Square

1 - 2 hours

The Marquis de Lafayette, France’s leadership contribution to the American Revolutionary War effort, visited St. Louis in 1825. He made such an impression on the citizens that they named the city’s first designated park in his honor. Lafayette Park in St. Louis, founded in 1836, is the oldest public park west of the Mississippi. The elegant neighborhood surrounding the “squared park” is known as Lafayette Square. The area’s circa 1870 –1880 “painted ladies” have been called the finest and largest collection of Victorian-era architecture in the country | Get Directions

Day Two

1. Church of the Holy Family

30 mins - 1 hour

Founded in 1699 in nearby Cahokia, Illinois, the Church of the Holy Family is the oldest continuously operating Roman Catholic parish in the United States and the oldest church west of the Allegheny Mountains. It was established by French priest Father St. Cosme who worked with two French laborers to build a log rectory and chapel. The original log church was destroyed by fire in 1783 and the first Mass was offered in the current log church in 1799. Constructed of black walnut timbers in the traditional French Colonial vertical log style, the Log Church is only one of five built in this style that still exists in North America. | Get Directions

2. Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (New Cathedral)

1 - 2 hours

The life of Saint Louis IX, crusader King of France (1214-1270) and the city’s namesake and patron saint, is vividly portrayed in the vestibule of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Built in 1907, this incredible structure combines Byzantine and Romanesque architecture styles with one of the largest collection of mosaics in the world. Pope Paul VI called the church “the outstanding cathedral of the Americas.” More than 41 million pieces of tesserae in 8,000 colors fill more than 83,000 sq. ft. | Get Directions

3. Missouri History Museum

1 - 2 hours

The museum’s permanent (and free) Currents Gallery includes remnants of the city’s French fur trading past, Parisian fashions and ephemera of the original settlers’ French cultural customs. | Get Directions

4. Saint Louis Art Museum

1 - 2 hours

A sculpture of the city’s namesake and patron saint, Louis IX, titled “Apotheosis of St. Louis” greets visitors outside the main entrance to the Saint Louis Art Museum. Prior to the creation of the Gateway Arch, this statue, which graced the main plaza at the 1904 “Meet Me in St. Louis” World’s Fair, was the symbol of the city. Groups can experience the museum’s extensive collection of French Impressionist works and French Empire furnishings and decorative arts. The Saint Louis Art Museum’s permanent collection is open to the public free of charge. | Get Directions

5. Central West End Neighborhood

1 - 2 hours

After lunch, allow free time for groups to stroll and shop along the tree-and-sidewalk café-lined streets of the Central West End neighborhood. Antique shops, boutiques and even a store named Left Bank Books add a Parisian flare to the streetscape. Note the beautiful cast iron street lamps, from the early 1900s, that illuminate major intersections. A decidedly French stop in the West End is Bissinger’s. | Get Directions

6. Bissinger's French Confections

30 mins

St. Louis’ French heritage is tastefully on display at Bissinger’s French Confections. Bissinger, one of the last handcrafted chocolatiers in the world, has been making fine French confections for more than 400 years and takes pride in the fact that it has not sacrificed quality ingredients, taste or craftsmanship to produce more candy at a lower cost. In the 1600s, King Louis XIV of France granted the Bissinger family the honorary title of “Confiseur Imperial.” During the late 1600s, Bissinger’s lists the nobility of Europe, heads of state, Ludwig of Bavaria, the Rothschilds, and Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine as loyal Bissinger’s enthusiasts. In 1845, Karl Frederick Bissinger immigrated to the United States. Eventually, his son moved to St. Louis to continue the family tradition of creating amazing chocolates. | Get Directions

7. St. Louis Walk of Fame

30 mins - 1 hour

Groups can stretch their legs and learn about St. Louis’ famous citizens in The Loop neighborhood – home to the St. Louis Walk of Fame. At 6501 Delmar, look for “Jazz Cleopatra” Josephine Baker’s star. Also “starring” along the Walk of Fame are St. Louis’ French founders Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau, William Clark who explored the Louisiana Purchase territory, music legends including Chuck Berry, Scott Joplin, Miles Davis and Tina Turner and more than 100 other significant St. Louisans from all fields of endeavor. | Get Directions
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