St. Louis is a city with a rich history and vibrant modern culture. From its early days as a fur trading post to its development into a major industrial hub, St. Louis has evolved over time while still retaining its unique character. This blend of old and new makes for an exciting destination for visitors and residents alike.

A Brief History of St. Louis

St. Louis was founded in 1764 by French fur traders Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau. They established a trading post on the west bank of the Mississippi River, recognizing its strategic location near the confluence of three great rivers – the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Illinois.

In 1803, St. Louis became part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. It soon became an important frontier city and bustling port. By the mid-19th century, St. Louis was one of the largest cities in America and a thriving industrial center.

Key events in St. Louis history include:

  • 1904 World’s Fair that brought international attention and helped launch the city into the modern era
  • Construction of the Gateway Arch, completed in 1965, now an iconic symbol of the city
  • Hosting of the Summer Olympics in 1904, the first Olympics held in the United States

Today, St. Louis still celebrates its French colonial roots and fur trading beginnings. Historic buildings, museums, and cultural sites around the city trace its evolution into a diverse urban center.

Blending Old and New

Part of what makes St. Louis special is how it blends history with modern amenities and tastes. Here are some of the ways past meets present in the city:

Historic Architecture

St. Louis has several historic districts showcasing architectural styles from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Some highlights include:

  • Laclede’s Landing – One of the oldest sections along the riverfront, with cobblestone streets and century-old brick warehouses converted into restaurants, shops, and nightlife.
  • Lafayette Square – This tranquil neighborhood has Victorian-style homes and apartment buildings from the 1870s.
  • Cherokee Street – A historic hub for the city’s Antebellum architecture with ornate ironwork and limestone facades.

Many historic train stations, churches, and homes around the city have been preserved or renovated, adding character and old world charm.

Modern Attractions

At the same time, St. Louis has plenty of contemporary attractions:

  • The Gateway Arch – An iconic feat of modern engineering and centerpiece of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. Visitors can take a tram ride to the top for panoramic city views.
  • City Museum – An eclectic museum housing avant garde sculptures and architectural wonders perfect for kids and adults. Features include a 10-story slide, rooftop Ferris wheel, and dozens of climbable tunnels.
  • The Loop – A trendy district with indie shops, music venues, cafes, and restaurants along Delmar Blvd.
  • Forest Park – One of the country’s largest urban parks at 1,300 acres. Hosts regular festivals and events at modern venues like The Muny amphitheater.

Food and Drink

The St. Louis dining scene offers both classic tastes and contemporary flair:

  • Toasted ravioli – A beloved local appetizer dating back to the 1940s when a cook accidentally dropped breaded ravioli in hot oil.
  • Frozen custard – Rich, creamy ice cream invented in St. Louis over 100 years ago at stands like Ted Drewes.
  • Farm-to-table – Modern restaurants like Vicia utilize local farms and artisanal ingredients for their seasonal menus.
  • Craft breweries – Beer aficionados can sample unique brews at urban breweries like 4 Hands Brewing Co.
  • Food trucks – Mobile eateries serving everything from lobster rolls to Korean tacos have become popular.

Embracing the Past While Looking to the Future

For both longtime residents and visitors, St. Louis offers the chance to immerse yourself in history while enjoying everything a 21st century city has to offer. The blend of old and new creates a distinctive atmosphere.

While the iconic Gateway Arch symbolizes St. Louis’s pioneering spirit of expansion and innovation, historic areas like Soulard with roots in the French colonial period add nostalgia and old-world character.

St. Louis pays homage to its past while welcoming the future. Locals have a deep appreciation for their history, evident in the many lovingly preserved buildings, monuments, and traditions. At the same time, the city enthusiastically embraces progress and change.

The eclectic mix of historic charm and cosmopolitan modernity make St. Louis a one-of-a-kind midwestern destination. Whether you’re seeking hidden architectural gems, enjoying a cool craft brew, or taking in St. Louis’s storied history, you’ll find the city strikes the perfect balance between its rich past and dynamic future.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting St. Louis

Here are some common questions about experiencing the blend of old and new in St. Louis:

What are the top historical sites I should visit in St. Louis?

Some top historical sites include:

  • The Gateway Arch and Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
  • The Old Courthouse where the Dred Scott case was first tried
  • The Missouri History Museum in Forest Park
  • The Missouri Botanical Garden, founded in 1859
  • The Chatillon-DeMenil Mansion from the early 1800s
  • Lafayette Square for Victorian architecture

What are some of the best modern attractions in St. Louis?

Top modern attractions include:

  • The City Museum
  • The St. Louis Wheel at Union Station
  • The Saint Louis Zoo
  • The Saint Louis Science Center
  • The Loop neighborhood
  • Forest Park

Where can I sample some of the classic St. Louis food specialties?

Some top spots to try St. Louis favorites like toasted ravioli, gooey butter cake, frozen custard, and pork steaks include:

  • Adriana’s on The Hill
  • Charlie Gitto’s downtown
  • Fitz’s Bottling Company
  • Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
  • Sugarfire Smokehouse

What are some ways to experience both the old and new in St. Louis?

Suggestions include:

  • Take a historic site tour by day and enjoy dinner with live music at a modern restaurant or bar by night
  • Stay at a historic boutique hotel then visit contemporary attractions like the St. Louis Wheel
  • See the variety of architectural styles by taking a walking tour through neighborhoods like Lafayette Square and The Loop
  • Visit the 1904 World’s Fair site at Forest Park during the day and check out modern mixed-media art exhibits at Laumeier Sculpture Park in the evening

What time of year is best to visit St. Louis?

Spring and fall are popular for mild weather and festivals like the Soulard Mardi Gras celebration. Summers bring outdoor concerts, baseball, and street fairs. Many historic sites and holiday events take place in winter too. There’s something unique happening every season.


St. Louis offers an intriguing blend of history and modernity. From the cobblestone streets of Laclede’s Landing to the soaring Gateway Arch to dining on classic St. Louis cuisine, visitors can fully immerse themselves in the city’s old world ambiance. But attractions like the whimsical City Museum, contemporary parks and museums, and vibrant entertainment districts reveal St. Louis’ cosmopolitan flair as well. The combination showcases a diverse and welcoming midwestern city embracing its storied past while looking to the future.