We’ve been to Kansas City many times yet, somehow, I never knew anything about Union Station. I can plead nothing but ignorance. Luckily I am ignorant no more and can’t wait to return to Kansas City to see and do more at Union Station!
Union Station was built in 1914, opening on October 30. In 1917 almost 80,000 trains came through the station. The Union Station Massacre, an attempt to free mobster Frank Nash, happened here in 1933.
As the airline industry grew and rail traffic declined many shops in the station began to close. In 1973 only 6 trains were coming through the station per day and by 1983 only Amtrak and the Lobster Pot restaurant remained in the building. Amtrak left in 1985 followed by The Lobster Pot in 1989.
In 1996 voters in Jackson, Clay and Platte counties in Missouri and Johnson County in Kansas approved a one-eighth of a cent bi-state sales tax to restore and redevelop Union Station and create a science museum. The tax raised $118 million toward the total $250 million project. The remaining money was raised through private donations and federal funds. November 10, 1999 marked the opening of the fully restored Union Station. Amtrak returned in 2002.
It’s an amazing history for a truly glorious building.
And while there is much to do there, the history of the golden age of rail travel remains. A huge model train display sits at the west end of the Grand Hall across from the post office. It fascinated my girls! There is also a Lionel Train display in an area off the North Waiting Room. Follow the signs to the Freight House Bridge, formerly the Pencoyd Railroad Bridge, which serves as a pedestrian crossing over the train tracks. From here you can look down upon trains in the yard below and maybe even stand above a train as it passes through!
You can also get a “hands-on” with trains at The Great Rail Experience; explore vintage rail cars, see artifacts, learn about the people who rode and worked the rails and try the locomotive simulator.
Another spot of great interest to me was the Irish Museum and Cultural Center. Located in the lower level of the west wing, at the base of the escalator, we were drawn here instantly. It’s a lovely little center with plenty of information on anything Irish in Kansas City, a very nice genealogy room and a kids corner with books and activities to keep the kids busy.
I think the “star” of Union Station, though, is Science City, an interactive science museum. There is no end to the things you can do there. We didn’t do half of it… And we spent the better part of a day there. My girls played with water, made music, dug for dinosaur bones, slid through “sewer” pipes, worked with pulleys, saw animals, climbed in a helicopter and so much more. Some of the areas were definitely geared toward older kids- things like exploring the human body, a crime lab and S.O.A.R. Laboratories. Nice.
We took a break from Science City to take in a movie on the Extreme Screen but couldn’t fit in one at the Gottlieb Planetarium.
Union Station also hosts traveling exhibits. We saw the Narnia Exhibition and are very interested in upcoming exhibits like Chocolate the Exhibition and Ink and Blood.
Union Station also features live theater at City Stage.
If all the exploring makes you hungry there are a few options within Union Station:
- The Harvey House Diner serves a full breakfast menu all day long and has Blue Plate lunch specials, burgers, home made pies and hand dipped shakes.
- Fast Tracks Deli offers a quick bite when you’re on the go; sandwiches, salads and brick oven pizzas
- Pierpont’s is known for it’s steak and seafood- some say it’s the best in Kansas City.
- The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory- ’nuff said
- There is also a concession stand near the Extreme Screen with drinks, popcorn, nachos,pretzels and candy.
Helpful Information for your Visit
Much of Union Station, except the shops and restaurants, is closed on Mondays. Except on certain holidays. The schedule can be found here.
Entering Union Station is free but the exhibits and attractions do carry a fee.
Tickets may be purchased by phone or at the ticket counter.
An ATM is available on the lower level Theater District.
Lockers are availabe to rent for 50 cents. These are located in the Theater District near the restrooms and at the Science City entrance on the lower level.
A nursing area is available in the women’s restroom in Festival Plaza.
Strollers and wheelchairs are available on site. Strollers are for rent, wheelchairs are first come first served but carry no fee.
There is both a parking garage on the west side of Union Station and parking in front of the building. Charges may apply.
Where to stay: