You’ll be hard pressed to find a vacation destination with more railroad-related attractions than St. Louis.
From the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River at St. Louis (still in use!) and Union Station, once the largest train station in the country, to the Museum of Transportation crammed with historic trains and the miniature Wabash Frisco & Pacific Railroad with steam train rides along the Meramec River bluffs, St. Louis’ railroad history is a treasure trove for visitors to explore.
Then visit St. Louis Union Station, once the busiest railroad terminal in the United States—more than 100,000 passengers passed through here during the station’s heyday in the mid-1940s when it was called “The Grandest Station in the Nation.” The spacious, elegant Grand Hall now serves as lobby for the St. Louis Union Station Hotel (a Doubletree by Hilton) and also houses a restaurant.
Theodore C. Link, St. Louis architect and former railroader, designed the station which opened on Sept. 1, 1894. The station’s breath-taking features can still be seen today: Romanesque arches, a 65-foot barrel vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows including the “Allegorical Window” depicting U. S. cities with main train stations — New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.
Of particular interest to kids is the famous “Whispering Arch.” The arch stretches about 40 feet across the “Allegorical Window” and the main doors into the Grand Hall. A visitor standing at one end of the arch can whisper at the wall and another visitor at the other end can hear what he or she said.
A special new attraction at Union Station is the unique 3D projection of colorful vignettes on the Grand Hall’s ceiling in the evenings.
After a visit to the station, head to the Saint Louis Zoo where kids of all ages (even grown-up ones) love the Emerson Zooline Railroad. The train takes visitors on a 20-minute narrated tour weaving through tunnels and past animal exhibits on a mile-and-a-half round trip. Visitors can de-board the train at any of the Zooline’s four stations, visit the exhibits nearby and re-board for a trip to the other stations.
The Zooline Railroad is one of the Zoo’s most popular attractions. Since its opening in 1963, fun ride has transported more than 35 million visitors.
For a real train-lovers treat, visit the St. Louis Museum of Transportation, a St. Louis County Park chockfull of examples of all modes of transportation including, of course, rail.
The museum, located on 129 acres in St. Louis County, has one of the two first man-made railroad tunnels west of the Mississippi River and more than four miles of switching and exhibition track.
The museum also houses a collection of automobiles, buses, streetcars, aircraft, horse-drawn vehicles and riverboat materials and a nationally acclaimed research library of transportation-related memorabilia and documents.
For a grand finale to your train-centric visit to St. Louis, book a short trip on an AMTRAK train. For just $3 each way, you can take a 45-minute trip to Alton, Ill. in the morning and come back to St. Louis in the afternoon or evening. Or take the Missouri River Runner to Washington, MO or to Jefferson City in the morning returning in the evening. Some departures and arrivals can be done from and to suburban Kirkwood’s historic station.
St. Louis Museum of Transportation (St. Louis County Park)
2967 Barrett Station Road
St. Louis, MO
Summer hours through Labor Day:
9 a.m. – 4 p.m., Monday – Saturday
11 a.m. – 4 p.m., Sunday
Admission: $8, age 13 and up; $5, age 3-12
Charge to ride miniature train: $4 per person for the day
Saint Louis Zooline Railroad
One Government Drive
St. Louis, MO
Operates 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. daily all year long, weather permitting
Cost: $5 or save with a Safari Pass
Passengers in wheelchairs can ride in a large area on the train car with fold down seats for companions.
Wabash Frisco and Pacific Railroad
199 Grand Ave.
Operates Sundays, May – October, rain or shine
11 a.m. – 4:45 p.m. (departures every 20 minutes; last train leaves at 4:15 p.m.)
Requested donation: $4 per ticket; children three and under, free.
Guest Blogger Kathie Sutin a freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri contributed to this blog.