Perched on the Kanas River, Topeka is one of the jewels in the state of Kansas’ crown, packed full of history, natural beauty, and welcoming Midwestern vibes.
Visitors to the Kansas capital have a wealth of great things to see and do that could comfortably keep them occupied for days on end. Whether it’s museums, historic landmarks, nightspots, or outdoor adventure that floats your boat, there’s something to suit every taste. To help inspire those who fancy heading to Topeka, we’ve put together a list of 12 of the most essential attractions and activities to enjoy across the city.
Climb to the top of a captivating 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.
Southwest 8th & Southwest Van Buren / Mon-Fri 7.30am-5.30pm Sat 10am-3pm Closed Sun
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 highlights are a full-sized Southern Cheyenne-style tipi and a recreation of a 1950s Kansas diner.
6425 Southwest 6th Avenue / Tues-Fri 9am-5pm Sat 9am-8pm Sun 1pm-5pm Closed Sun
Take a stroll around a picturesque lake
Forming part of a vast 1,000-acre public park, Lake Shawnee is one of Topeka’s finest outdoor attractions. Located a quick drive southeast of downtown, the man-made lake draws over a million visitors every year who come to enjoy the scenic surroundings and the array of facilities that include a family sports complex, volleyball courts, a golf course, boat rentals, an arboretum, beautiful gardens, a fishing dock, picnic areas, and a campsite. There are also foot trails that take you around the lake.
3137 South East 29th Street / Mon-Sun 6am-11pm
Admire a collection of historic aircraft
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 aircraft 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 jets and Army helicopters conducting live operations.
Topeka Regional Airport, 7016 Southeast Forbes Avenue / Mon-Sat 9am-4.30pm Sun 12pm-4.30pm
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 cutting-edge galleries, meet local artists and, purchase some of the diverse assortment of 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.
Head to a vibrant entertainment district
In recent years the historic North Topeka business district, set across the Kansas River from downtown Topeka, has emerged as a dynamic neighbourhood brimming with artistic flair. Known as the NOTO Entertainment District, the area is dotted with public art, including impressive sculptures and attention-grabbing murals. Together with numerous studios and galleries, all complemented by boutiques, restaurants and Redbud Park – a performance art venue during the summer months – this compact, buzzing area has grown to become the city’s most happening place to be.
Explore a museum dedicated to an iconic daredevil
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the daredevil feats of Evil Knievel captured the world’s imagination, and visitors to Topeka can explore his life and career at a museum dedicated to the fearless stuntman. 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.
2047 Southwest Topeka Boulevard / Tues-Fri 10am-6pm Sat 9am-5pm Closed Sun-Mon
Catch a live performing arts show
An elegantly-renovated Art Deco cultural venue dating all the way back to the 1940s, the Topeka Performing Arts Center plays host to a packed annual programme of music, dance, theatre productions, and more, offering the perfect chance for visitors to Topeka to catch a live show during their stay. The historic venue also features the 120-seat Hussey Black Box Theatre and several smaller event spaces that host entertainment, banquets, receptions, and meetings.
214 Southeast 8th Avenue
Learn about the history of US racial segregation
Housed within the Monroe School in Topeka, and once one of four all-black elementary schools in Topeka, the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site plays an enduringly vital role in educating people about the infamous 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.
1515 Southeast Monroe Street / Tues-Sat 9am-5pm Closed Sun-Mon
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 hailing from all over the world, offering the perfect opportunity for visitors 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.
635 Southwest Gage Boulevard / Mon-Sun 9am-5pm
Let the kids loose at a discovery centre
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, art, construction, and more. Among the most popular zones are a Build Gallery where children can perform woodworking with real tools and make things to take home as mementoes, and a car repair shop where they can check the engine and change the tyres on a small vehicle.
4400 Southwest 10th Avenue / Tues-Fri 9am-3pm Sat 10am-5pm Sun 1pm-5pm Closed Mon
Marvel at a magnificent former train station
Listed on the Register of Historic Places, the Great Overland Station is without question one of Topeka’s most impressive historic landmarks. Constructed between 1925 and 1927, the former train station was the brainchild of acclaimed architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood and served as a passenger depot before later being transformed into an office space, and then a museum. Today the station terminal remains as beautiful as ever and receives a steady stream of visitors who come to admire its eye-catching architecture.
200 North West Railroad Street / Thurs 10am-7pm Fri-Sat 10am-4pm Sun 12pm-4pm Closed Mon-Weds