Most Magical Museum: There is no place in the world like City Museum (701 N. 15th St., 314/231-2489, www.citymuseum.org , hours vary, $10 after 5 p.m. on Fri. and Sat.) — and that’s not hyperbole. Spend an hour or a day in this artist-designed wonderland, and come away with experiences that include walking through an enchanted forest and clambering into a rooftop school bus that teeters over the city.
Most Iconic Landmark: At 630 feet, the Gateway Arch (St. Louis Riverfront, 877/982-1410, www.gatewayarch.com , Labor Day–Memorial Day 9 a.m.–6 p.m. daily, Memorial Day–Labor Day 8 a.m.–10 p.m. daily, $10 adult, $7 youth, $3 child) is the tallest national monument in the United States. Approximately one million visitors ride the tram to the top of the Arch each year.
Best Escape to Europe: The Cathedral Basilica (4431 Lindell Blvd., 314/373-8240, www.cathedralstl.org , daily 7 a.m.–5 p.m., guided tours by appointment; call in advance to schedule, free) rises like a gorgeous European landmark along historic Lindell Boulevard. Newer than most American cathedrals, yet imbued with the grandeur of centuries-old churches, the cathedral is well worth a tour for architecture and history buffs alike.
Best Haunted Mansion: The Lemp Mansion (3322 DeMenil Pl., 314/664-8024, www.lempmansion.com , no regular hours; call ahead to schedule tour, free; “haunted” tours are $15) is beautiful and historic, to be sure — but it’s also the home of dark local legends. Take a tour of Lemp Mansion and you’re certain to acquire new St. Louis knowledge (along with a few goose bumps).
Best St. Louis Microcosm: Bustling with life all year round, the Soulard Farmers Market (730 Carroll St., 314/622-4180, www.soulardmarket.com , year-round Wed.–Fri. 8a.m.–5 p.m., Sat. 6 a.m.–5 p.m., free) is more than just a one-stop shop for fresh produce. The market also hosts live entertainment, sells St. Louis delicacies (like Gus’ Pretzels), and offers some of the best people-watching in the city.
Best Place for Green Thumbs: The 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden (4344 Shaw Blvd., 314/577-9400, www.mobot.org , daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Memorial Day–Labor Day open Wed. until 9 p.m., closed Christmas Day, $8 adult, free for children) features some of the best horticultural displays in the nation. Don’t miss the Climatron, the first geodesic-dome greenhouse ever built.
Best Roadside Attraction: Sculpted by Bob Cassilly (the same genius behind the City Museum), the giant snapping turtles of Turtle Park (Oakland Ave. and Tamm Ave., south of Forest Park, dawn–10 p.m., free) occupy a whimsical oasis off Highway 40. Visitors can stroll around these gigantic critters — and even climb on top of them.
Best Free Attraction: The City of St. Louis is wonderfully generous with its cultural institutions: The art museum, history museum, and many other attractions are free. But it’s the world-renowned Saint Louis Zoo (1 Government Dr. in Forest Park, 314/781-0900, www.stlzoo.org , daily 9 a.m.–5 p.m., free) that has visitors and residents returning again and again to see the charismatic megafauna that call this place home.