Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse
St. Louis, MO
Reciprocal: America the Beautiful ($3 discount on tram adult tickets OR free Arch entry with no ride.)
Full Price Admission Cost:
- Tram Ride: $13 adults; $10 for kids 3–15; kids under 3 are free
- Arch Entry Only: $3 adults, children 15 and under free
- Old Courthouse is free
WWWW Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
If you’ve ever driven through St. Louis, you’ve definitely seen the Arch. If you’ve ever visited St. Louis, you may have even seen it up close. That said, unless you’ve been there in the past few years, I highly recommend making a return visit to this timeless attraction.
My family and I recently had the pleasure of seeing the Gateway Arch—as well as the neighboring Old Courthouse—up close and personal.
My husband and I had been to the Arch before, and I once rode it to the top as a child, but our son had only ever seen the monument once. Considering how he was 5 months old at the time though, he definitely didn’t remember it. Therefore, we set out on this particular adventure for him specifically.
However, what we found was that we all benefited from the trip. It was exciting, engaging, and super educational—all things that the WWWW clan looks for in an attraction.
The Gateway Arch
We started our day outside of the Arch. It truly is spectacular to look up at from the ground, and the boys spent a bit of time out on the grass staring up at the magnificent monument while I went to fetch our tickets for the tram ride to the top. Once I had tickets in hand, we went on in.
To get to the tram ride you actually have to enter a set of doors under the Arch itself. The building you enter was once a museum that celebrated westward expansion, but the museum is currently closed for construction and due to open as a brand new attraction sometime this year.
What is in the building under the arch is a huge timeline noting significant dates in the history of the Arch, a super cool stone mural, and a movie all about the Arch that plays multiple times throughout the day. There is also a place to pick up Junior Ranger books, which kids can fill out in order to earn a badge.
We missed the movie, but we were able to grab a Junior Ranger book, check out the timeline and the mural, and have discussions about the meaning behind the monument, as well as what an architectural wonder it is. I was surprised by how engaged Brendon was in all of this—but then, the Junior Ranger book may have provided some motivation there.
The Ride to the Top
Soon enough, it was our turn to ride the tram. Honestly, I wouldn’t really call it a tram. Instead, it’s a crazy combination of an elevator, escalator, and ferris wheel, and I was absolutely fascinated by the way it worked. Unfortunately, Brendon was terrified of the ride to the top and wouldn’t take the time to appreciate it with me.
Before we boarded the elevator/escalator/ferris wheel/tram, a kind staff member talked a bit about the history of the Arch. We were also shown a video and given the chance to play an Arch trivia game. I thought these were nice touches.
The ride up was uneventful except that I had a worried boy on my hands. It was pretty cool that you could look through the glass door and see how our mode of transportation was working though!
When we got to the top, we were allowed to roam freely in a fairly small space and look out windows down onto the city. The floor was curved just as you might imagine, and this made Brendon even more uneasy. In fact, he was so afraid he refused to look outside. This was a real shame because the views were absolutely incredible. I loved that you could see the river and the stadium from up above.
After a few minutes of looking around, we got in line to ride back to the bottom. Once again, the ride was uneventful, and when we arrived on the first floor Brendon was thrilled to be back on solid ground.
We spent a few more minutes discussing the monument and filling out the Junior Ranger booklet before claiming Brendon’s badge and moving on our way.
The Old Courthouse
Our next stop was the Old Courthouse. A visit to this building is free and well worth seeing. The building is absolutely gorgeous, and it houses many of the museum exhibits that once lived in the room under the Arch. There is also a Junior Ranger program in this building, but we opted out of this one because we were all getting hungry and tired and knew we wouldn’t want to stick around long enough to finish the booklet.
That said, we did stay for a bit and enjoyed many of the displays about the history of St. Louis. We especially enjoyed learning about Lewis and Clark. Additionally, it was a great way to expand upon Brendon’s knowledge of pioneers, especially since we are planning to dive deeper into that time period pretty soon.
The Gateway Arch and Old Courthouse are must-see attractions while you’re in St. Louis. They stand side by side, so there’s no problem leaving one to get to the other, and both are beautiful buildings with a rich history.
- Parking can be found all around the Arch. That said, it all costs money, and you likely won’t find anything for less than $5 to $10.
- Bring a camera! This attraction presents tons of photo opportunities.
- If your child is afraid of heights, consider allowing them to skip the ride to the top.
- Give yourself a few hours to see it all. We were there for 3 hours and still didn’t see everything.
- Get a Junior Ranger book. It makes the whole experience much more engaging for young visitors.
- Bring a picnic to eat in the grass near the arch. You’ll get lunch with a view!
Books to Read
- My America: As Far As I Can See: Meg’s Prairie Diary by Kate McMullen
- Dear America: Across the Wide and Lonesome Prairie by Kristiana Gregory
- Apples to Oregon by Deborah Hopkinson
- If You Traveled West in a Covered Wagon by Ellen Levine
- You Wouldn’t Want to Explore with Lewis and Clark by Jacqueline Morley
- What Was the Lewis and Clark Expedition? by Judith St. George
- I Am Sacagawea by Brad Meltzer
- To the Top! By Amanda Doyle
Videos to Watch
- Crash Course History: Westward Expansion
- The Lewis and Clark Song
- Afraid of Heights? This is Not the Job for You
- The Gateway Arch Construction Memories
- Lewis and Clark: Great Journey West
Activities to Do
- Play Oregon Trail: American Settler on a tablet or smartphone
- Play The Oregon Trail Card Game
- Make your own arch blocks.
- Explore your campground and make a map like Lewis and Clark.
Things to Discuss
- If you were a pioneer, what would you hope to find in the west?
- If you made your own monument, where would it be, what would it look like, and what would it represent?
- Would you have gone on the Lewis and Clark expedition had you been invited? Why or why not?
Other Area Attractions
Below are some of the other great attractions in this area. We try to keep things affordable, sticking to free and cheap attractions and/or museums and zoos on reciprocal lists. If an attraction is affiliated with a reciprocal program or offers free admission, I have noted that beside the attraction listing. To learn more about saving money using reciprocal programs, see this post.
- City Museum
- St. Louis Zoo — free
- St. Louis Science Center — free
- The Magic House — ACM
- Missouri Botanical Garden
- St. Louis Museum of Art — free
- Missouri History Museum — free
- The MUNY — some free tickets
Closest Places to Stay on a Budget
- MO State Park: Dr. Edmund A. Babler Memorial State Park — 42 mi
- IL State Park: Beaver Dam State Park — 53 mi
- Passport America: Timber Trails Campground — 59 mi
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