There are many ways to visit a new city. You can step on a narrated trolley tour, sample the local cuisine on a culinary tour or learn more about the architecture that gives a city its character.
Here is a sampling of some great Midwest city tours.
Eat Saint Louis Food Tours
Pete Manzo, founder of Eat Saint Louis Food Tours, started his culinary tour company because he wanted other people to get to know the food and culture of the Hill, one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Louis and a very tightknit Italian community. He can host groups of up to 80 people.
Manzo founded the company six years ago. He had grown up around food, as his family started an Italian grocery store in the area when they first came to the U.S.
“Myself and my family and siblings grew up working in the family business,” he said. “We grew up around food.”
The Hill walking tour takes about three hours.
“I really believe the best way to experience this tour is on foot because the area itself is one square mile,” Manzo said. Guests stop and sample cuisine at roughly six tastings as they walk around and learn the history of the area.
“I think a lot of people choose this tour because it has a lot of things St. Louis is known for,” Manzo said, including St. Louis-style pizza, toasted ravioli and charcuterie. In between tastings, he stops at historical points of interest and tells visitors a bit about the local architecture.
Eat Saint Louis Food Tours also offers walking tours of the Soulard historic district and Maplewood. Soulard is home to many beer companies and was founded by beer barons who built beautiful homes and buildings in a European-inspired style. Maplewood is his newest tour, focusing on vegetarian and vegan fare.
Nebraska Tour Company
Nebraska Tour Company’s Old Market Walking History Tour is one of the most popular tourist activities in Omaha, said Alan Rust, chief experience officer for the America Tour Company. Old Market, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, is celebrating its 50th anniversary as an entertainment district. Revitalized in 1970, the area quickly became a visitor favorite with its cobblestone streets and beautiful architecture.
“There’s so much going on, so much history and an eclectic mix of art galleries, restaurants, bars and shops,” Rust said. “That’s why it is the most popular tour.”
Large groups are welcome; they just need to book in advance. Nebraska Tour Company also offers a three-hour walking food tour of the area, which is led by foodies and includes food tastings and one cocktail.
At the end of 2020, the company will begin offering tours of the Blackstone District, which is about 5 years old and built up around the Blackstone Hotel, which opened its doors in 1916. The hotel is being refurbished and will reopen in August as a luxury hotel. The walking tour will include historic sites in the district, among them points of interest in the former Blackstone Hotel. The company will also offer a walking food tour of the district, including food tastings and a cocktail.
If a guided tour isn’t your thing, Nebraska Tour Company also offers self-guided walking or biking tours and customized chauffeured tours.
Twin City Tours
Minneapolis and St. Paul sit across the Mississippi River from each other but are different places in terms of built and natural environments. Twin City Tours, founded by Douglas Rosenquist, shows visitors the many differences by taking them through cathedrals and churches and the beautiful homes and buildings of the golden age of architecture.
Even though Minneapolis and St. Paul are 10 miles apart, “they are not identical twins,” Rosenquist said. “They are fraternals with wonderfully unique features.”
Groups that take his tour have a hard time deciding which city is more beautiful.
“It is never a clear decision,” he said. “Both are uniquely beautiful.”
St. Paul’s Summit Avenue is a highlight because of its Victorian-era homes that were built by the early mercantile class. St. Paul was the commercial center and the uppermost harbor on the upper Mississippi River. It is known for its commercial buildings, high-rises, the domed Capitol and the architecture of its cathedral.
Minneapolis, the city of lakes, is 13 miles up the Mississippi River from St. Paul. It started out as a milling town.
The early movers and shakers in the area believed that the beautiful lakefront properties across the city should remain open to the public, so they wouldn’t allow private ownership of lakefront property, Rosenquist said. Instead, the city’s wealthiest people built beautiful homes in the Italian, French and Scandinavian styles on the perimeter of the publicly owned lakefront property.
Dodge City Trolley
Dodge City, Kansas
Dodge City earned its reputation in the late 1800s as a rowdy Wild West town full of saloons, soldiers, cowboys and gamblers. Its two most famous lawmen — Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp — played a part in giving Dodge City its wild reputation. Today, Dodge City attracts Western aficionados from all around the world who want to see firsthand how the West was won.
Dodge City Trolley offers daily, one-hour narrated tours of Dodge City, from Fort Dodge and Boot Hill Cemetery to the feed lots and meat plants that sustain the town.
The trolley drives visitors right into one of the biggest feed yards in town and to Fort Dodge, which is how Dodge City came to be in the first place.
Robin Bailey, tourism coordinator for the Dodge City Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she likes to give visitors a taste of everything that makes Dodge City special. It gives them ideas on where they would like to spend more time while in town.
“A lot of people, especially international travelers, have never seen a feed yard or know what it is about,” Bailey said. “The smell is part of the perk. They really enjoy it.”
The convention and visitors bureau also offers a walking tour through downtown Dodge City. Tourists follow the Dodge City Trail of Fame, a trail marked by sidewalk medallions and statues that commemorate famous Dodge City events; residents, like Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp; and celebrities that put Dodge City on the map, like the cast of “Gunsmoke.”
Chicago Architecture Center
The Chicago Architecture Center organizes many architectural tours around Chicago, including by river cruise. Its most popular tour, Historic Treasures of Chicago’s Golden Age, takes visitors to see some of the icons of the Chicago’s skyline, buildings that best represent Chicago’s Golden Age, from 1890 to 1930.
Much of Chicago was destroyed by fire in 1871; but by 1890, it had risen from the ashes, bigger and better than ever before. The Chicago Architecture Center tour takes visitors to see 10 of the most famous buildings from this era on Michigan Avenue and State Street. Tour guests can go inside four of these buildings.
The Palmer Hotel, which has hand-painted ceilings and Tiffany light fixtures, is a highlight of the tour. The Chicago Cultural Center is another stop. The building used to house the main branch of the Chicago Public Library.
“The mosaic work is astounding, and it has the largest Tiffany dome in the world,” said Leslie Clark Lewis, a volunteer docent who leads this and other tours for the Chicago Architecture Center.
The Carbide and Carbon Building is another building guests can explore. The 1920 Art Deco building began its life as an office building. It has since been turned into the St. Jane Hotel.
The walking tour is an easy mile-and-a-half walk and takes about two hours. Large groups can schedule in advance so that additional docents can be brought on. Each docent will lead 12 individuals.