World-class museums, edgy puppet theaters and out-of-the-way bookstores: Travel + Leisure readers ranked America’s biggest cities by their cultural street cred.
4. Kansas City
These Are America’s 20 Most Cultured Cities
4. Kansas City
As the No. 1 city for affordability, Kansas City offers serious bang for your cultural buck. Its three main museums—The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (home to one of the few Caravaggios in the United States), the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art—all boast free admission. KC also scored in the top 5 for concerts, which could include the Lyric Opera at the iconic Kauffman Center, or sets at the Blue Room, the venue inside the American Jazz Museum. And while Kansas City won the survey for barbecue, it also made the top five for its interesting chef-driven cuisine—like the Crosstown District’s Grünauer, helmed by Viennese chef Peter Grünauer, which offers a Germanic Sunday brunch, or frühschoppen.
When she first visited Washington, D.C. as a 12-year-old, Elizabeth Avery was blown away by two cultural landmarks—both of which were away from the National Mall.
“To this day, I remember my wonder upon seeing the beautiful Islamic Center and the Neo-Gothic National Cathedral,” says the founder of travel site Solo Trekker 4 U. Today, the D.C. denizen and self-proclaimed “culture vulture” still gets a thrill discovering the city. Some of her favorite only-in-D.C. experiences, she says, include the often-overlooked embassies, which offer a lot of free events. “From Irish jigs to the Austrian Embassy's musical series, or Bulgarian folk dancers,” she says, “you can travel around 18 countries while saving on airfare.”
Those dense layers of artistic and international culture made our nation’s capital one of the top cities for “culture vultures,” according to Travel + Leisure readers. In the latest America’s Favorite Cities survey, readers ranked 38 cities on the kind of categories that, as Avery says, “give cities their unique vibrancy”: their art scenes and sense of history, as well as their theater communities, live music, and bookstores.
Another factor that, for better or worse, contributed to the cultural atmosphere: some well-versed, even snooty, locals. And why not? In one top 20 city, you can hear concerts played on period instruments Beethoven would have used, and in another, you can watch the nation’s longest poetry reading—even if it’s in a dive bar.
Great culture, after all, need not be limited to museums and concert halls. After a stimulating day of D.C. culture, Avery says she likes to head to Vienna—or the closest approximation. “I love the Kafé Leopold,” she says, of the Viennese café in Georgetown, “for their authentic Sacher Torte.”