The Independent Parent: 'What can we do in St Louis with our children?'

Q. I'm visiting a relative in St Louis, Missouri in May, and will be taking my three young children. While I'm busy my husband would like to take the children out each day to do some fun things. Any suggestions?
F Thomson, via e-mail

A. May is a fantastic time to visit Missouri, when the summer humidity will not yet have set in. Your husband's first port of call should be the 630ft Gateway Arch (001 877 982 1410; www.gatewayarch.com) on the banks of the Mississippi River. Trams head to the top of the arch every ten minutes for stunning views of St Louis and the Mississippi. The arch opens 9am-6pm daily until Memorial Day (30 May), and tickets cost $10 (£5.60) for adults, $7 (£3.90) for 13- to 16-year-olds and $3 (£1.70) for under-12s.

From here they can hop aboard a steamboat for a narrated sightseeing cruise about the history of the best-known river in the US (001 877 982 1410; www.gatewayarchriverboats.com). Tours depart daily every hour and a half and cost $10 (£5.60) for adults and $4 (£2.20) for children aged three to 12.

For a more hands-on experience, visit The Magic House (001 314 822 8900; www.magichouse.com) at 516 South Kirkwood Road, where children can descend a three-storey slide and even make their own burglar alarms. Through May it opens from noon-5.30pm from Tuesday to Thursday, noon-9pm on Friday, 9.30am-5.30pm on Saturday and 11am-5.30pm on Sunday. Tickets cost $6.50 (£3.60) for adults and children over two.

I'm sure your children would enjoy a visit to the St Louis Science Center (001 314 289 4444; www.slsc.org) at 5050 Oakland Avenue. Here, visitors can learn what it's like to live and work in space aboard the Boeing Space Station. On May 13 there's a "camp-in" at the museum, where children and their parents can enjoy a night in the planetarium. The centre is open 9.30am-4.30pm from Monday to Thursday and on Saturday, 9.30am-9.30pm on Friday and 11.30am-4.30pm on Sunday. Admission is free. The camp-in runs from 5pm on 13 May until 10am the following morning and costs $40 (£22.20) for adults and children.

If your children aren't worn out yet, they'll enjoy clambering round Monstrocity, an outdoor playground at the City Museum (001 314 231 2489; www.citymuseum.org) at 701 North 15th Street. It features a castle with a dungeon and moat, the bodies of two aircraft, a fire engine and a tree-house. The museum also contains the World Aquarium, where visitors can pet stingrays and crawl through waterfalls. A combination ticket, which includes the museum, Monstrocity and the Enchanted Caves, costs $13.50 (£7.50) for anyone over two. The aquarium costs $5 (£2.80) extra. In May, the museum is open 9am-5pm on Wednesday and Thursday, 9am-1pm on Friday, 10am-1pm on Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday; it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

When the children are feeling peckish, treat them to Ted Drewe's frozen custard (001 314 481 2652; www.teddrewes.com) at 6726 Chippena. Ted's father (also Ted) began producing this St Louis speciality in 1929. Try a "concrete" - a shake so thick that you can turn your cup upside down without spilling a drop.

West of St Louis is the restored historic city of St Charles (001 800 366 2427; www.historicstcharles.com). It was here in 1804 that adventurers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark prepared to find a route to the Pacific on the orders of President Thomas Jefferson. The annual Lewis and Clark Heritage Days take place on May 21 and 22, when the town reverts again to the early 19th century.

St Charles is also the starting point for the 225-mile Katy Trail State Park (001 800 334 6946; www.mostateparks.com/katytrail), a hiking and biking trail built on the old Missouri-Kansas-Texas railroad. You can rent bikes along the route.

A fun way to finish the day is a trip to a Cardinals baseball match (001 314 421 3060; www.stlcardinals.com). The Family Pavilion is open before and during games and includes a batting challenge and pitching areas. Fred Bird, the Cardinals' mascot, roams the ground to meet children. Tickets range from $9 (£5) to $43 (£23.90). For more ideas, go to www.visitmo.com.

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