The capital of Kansas, Topeka is perched on the Kanas River and is home to a good number of cultural attractions, including numerous art galleries, live theatre houses and local symphony and opera companies. For fans of fast cars, the city also offers world class motor racing, with Heartland Motorsports Park featuring a legendary quarter-mile drag strip.
Despite its assortment of cultural venues Topeka remains fairly unknown within tourism circles, lending the city a calmness and tranquillity that is hard to find along the more well-trodden tourist trail. What’s more, Topeka also has its fair share of truly unique landmarks and places of interest that will appeal to those who like to return home from their travels with a story to tell. We’ve picked out 14 of the best.
Climb to the top of a magical cupola
One of Topeka’s most impressive architectural landmarks, Kansas State Capitol has served as the capital of Kansas since the state’s inauguration in 1861. Spanning six floors, the building’s interior is quite simply stunning, with the centrepiece attraction being its magnificent cupola. Guided tours invite visitors to climb the cupola’s 296 steps via a narrow and steep stairwell, before enjoying a close up look at the inner and outer domes, as well as views out across the city, from the top. Tours are free of charge and last around 40 minutes.
LOCATION Southwest 8th & Southwest Van Buren
Explore a museum dedicated to an iconic stuntsman
Throughout the 1960s and 70s the daredevil feats of Evil Knievel captivated the world, and visitors to Topeka can explore his life and career at a museum dedicated to the fearless stuntsman. The Evel Knievel Museum is packed full of memorabilia and information about his intrepid career, as well as many of the original obstacles that Knievel jumped down the years, including trucks and shark tanks. Other highlights include several battered helmets that recall the innumerable accidents that befell him, and the chance to embark on a virtual jump yourself.
LOCATION 2047 Southwest Topeka Boulevard HOURS Tues-Fri 10am-6pm Sat 9am-5pm Closed Sun-Mon
See a collection of historic aircrafts
Anyone with an interest in aviation history will find the Combat Air Museum a fascinating place to explore. A major educational institution as well as a popular tourist attraction, the museum is located on an active air field and is home to a remarkable collection of aircrafts dating from the earliest aviation period to the current day. Standout exhibits include the largest collection of WWI replica aircraft in the Mid-West, a variety of historic aircraft engines, and a gallery of military aviation art. Visitors are also regularly treated to the spectacular sight of Air Force fighter jet and Army helicopter conducting live operations.
LOCATION Topeka Regional Airport, 7016 Southeast Forbes Avenue
Immerse yourself in Topeka’s vibrant arts scene
On the first Friday of every month, the bustling North Topeka Arts District sees hundreds of people swarm the streets to visit galleries, meet local artists and, purchase some of the creative wares on display. Called the First Friday Artwalk, the event is a hugely popular monthly celebration of art, music, shopping and food, providing the perfect opportunity to pick up a gift or souvenir with which to remember your Topeka adventure.
Admire a unique public art installation
Created in 2000 in protest against the pedantic demands of local dogsbodies who ordered its maker to clean up his land, Truckhenge is one of Kansas’s most unique public art installations. Featuring several disused elevated trucks angling up towards the sky, each daubed with slogans such as “Rise Up” and “Freedum Isn’t Lost,” the installation is housed on a privately owned farm but welcomes curious visitors who call in advance. As well as its trucks, the site is also home to other homemade ramshackle artworks.
LOCATION 4124 Northeast Brier Road
Meet an array of exotic animals at a city zoo
Located within the vast green expanse of the 210-acre Gage Park, Topeka Zoo is home to nearly 400 exotic animals from all over the world, offering the perfect opportunity to immerse children in the wonders of the natural world. As well as its live animal exhibits, the zoo also features a kids’ petting area, a carousel and train that circles the park, and one of the first indoor tropical rain forests in America.
LOCATION 635 Southwest Gage Boulevard HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Visit a community centre fighting injustice
It’s hard to think that the location of Equality House, directly opposite the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, is a coincidence. In stark contrast with the church across the street, the rainbow-coloured building promotes LGBTQ tolerance through its role as the headquarters of the non-profit organisation Planting Peace, where it works on a range of human rights initiatives as well as a providing a community gathering place. Visitors can come by the house, take photos, and enjoy the community garden.
LOCATION 1200 Southwest Orleans Street HOURS 24/7
Marvel at a kalaedoscopic community-made mural
Another of Topeka’s eye-catching public artworks can be found in the neighbourhood of Chesney Park, where a sprawling wall is emblazoned with colourful, evocative images from the city’s past. The concept behind The Great Mural Wall of Topeka dates back to 2006, when local neighbourhood officials came up with the idea of promoting community pride through artistic endeavours in order to curtail the spread of graffiti. Today the vibrant mural provides one of the most visually arresting landmarks anywhere in the city.
LOCATION 1969-1999 Southwest Western Ave HOURS 24/7
Soak up some Kansas history
Visitors keen to immerse themselves in Kansas’s fascinating past have the perfect opportunity at the Kansas Museum of History. An award-winning cultural institution, the museum tells the story of the people of Kansas through more than 30,000 square feet of exhibits and displays spanning the prehistoric through to the modern era. Among the museum’s highlight are a full-sized Southern Cheyenne style tipi and a recreation of a 1950s Kansas diner.
LOCATION 6425 Southwest 6th Avenue HOURS Tues-Fri 9am-5pm Sat 9am-8pm Sun 1pm-5pm Closed Sun
Catch a live performing arts show
A renovated art deco venue dating back to the 1940s, Topeka Performing Arts Center plays host to a packed annual programme of music, dance, theatre productions, and more, offering the perfect chance to catch a live show during your visit to Topeka. The space also features the 120-seat Hussey Black Box Theatre and several smaller event spaces that host entertainment events, banquets, receptions, and meetings.
LOCATION 214 Southeast 8th Avenue
Learn about the history of US racial segregation
Housed within the Monroe School in Topeka, once one of four all-black elementary schools in Topeka, Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site plays an enduringly vital role in educating people about the era of racial segregation in the US. Through a range of interactive displays, the museum explores the history and achievements of the Civil Rights movement, with a specific focus on the role of the 1954 Supreme Court decision that brought desegregation to public schools across the nation.
LOCATION 1515 Southeast Monroe Street HOURS Tues-Sat 9am-5pm Closed Sun-Mon
Kansas Children’s Discovery Center
Designed for the purpose of inspiring creativity and a lifelong love of learning, the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center makes for a perfect family outing on a rainy day in Topeka. The venue features a huge assortment of hands on exhibits and daily programmes exploring science, careers, art, building and more. Among the most popular areas are a Build Gallery where children can perform woodworking with real tools and make things to take home, and a car repair shop where they can check the engine and change the tyres on a small car.
LOCATION 4400 Southwest 10th Avenue HOURS Tues-Fri 9am-3pm Sat 10am-5pm Sun 1pm-5pm Closed Mon