What is the St. Louis Gateway Arch? A futuristic-looking “Gateway to the West,” commemorating St. Louis as the starting point for Westward expansion in the United States. At 630 feet tall, it towers over downtown.Why am I here?I'm on a short winter holiday road trip with my boyfriend; we only have one day in St. Louis. The Gateway Arch is the one thing everyone seems to always mention about a visit to the city.Journey to the Top The Gateway Arch is part of a national park that also includes the Museum of Westward Expansion (located inside the Arch) and the Old Courthouse, the setting of the famous Dred Scott trial (located a couple blocks away). But what everyone talks about is going to the top of the Arch—so that’s what we're here to do.We bought tickets for Journey to the Top online ahead of time, as we thought we'd be beating back crowds to get to the top. But people apparently don’t like visiting the Gateway Arch when it’s below freezing outside. Most of the crowds funnel in during summer, when you can also stroll around the Arch grounds comfortably, but it’s probably never a bad idea to buy tickets in advance.A security checkpoint—like an airport security line without the shoe removal—starts the journey inside the Arch. Tramcars then take you to the top: they’re tiny, and they feel like a carnival ride. Each tramcar consisted of several small pods with five 1960s-era molded-plastic seats, as if they were rejected props from an old sci-fi movie. The cars are also designed to sway, so it felt like we were tipping forward and backward during the four-minute ascent.View from the TopThe view was much better than what my camera could capture. Windows on either side of the space give truly “gateway” views: Downtown St. Louis to the west, and Illinois and the Mississippi River to the east. If you time it right, you can get a birds-eye view of a Cardinals baseball game at Busch Stadium; otherwise, it’s pleasant to look out at Anheuser Busch, the Courthouse, and to watch the barges and riverboats cruise the Mississippi.You can stay at the top as long as you want; the whole excursion took us about an hour, from the waiting area to the tram trip back down.The VerdictSee it. The views really are great from the top—but even if you don’t go up, the St. Louis Gateway Arch is striking even from ground level. You can get a great photo of the entire thing from the stairs by the riverfront.Photos: Saint_Louis_Gateway_Arch_20120317_187 by Philip Leara; Kiener Plaza Looking at Old Courthouse and Arch by Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, NPS / cropped from original; St Louis by Nan Palmero; and St. Louis Arch - Downtown View by Daniel Ramirez. All photos under CC BY 2.0.
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