Sitting on the banks of the Arkansas River, Little Rock is home to a thriving New South culture encompassing vibrant nightlife, a burgeoning food scene and world class attractions. The city’s Downtown is a perpetually bustling area with the majority of its entertainment spots and historic landmarks, as well as its commercial and office buildings.
Little Rock is best known around the world for the crucial role it played in American Civil Rights history, after nine African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957 but were denied entry causing a national crisis. More recently, the city was home to Bill and Hillary Clinton, with Bill announcing his candidacy to become President on the steps of the Old Statehouse in October 1991.
Needless to say, residents and visitors are rarely stumped for things to see and do in the city; there are many unique and unusual sights and activities on offer, linked to everything from Hollywood to rubber fish and craft beer. Here is our list of 14 unique things to do in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Learn about the Civil Rights Movement at Little Rock Central High School
When the Little Rock Nine tried to attend their first day of class at Little Rock Central High School in 1957 they were prevented from entering. President Eisenhower was forced to intervene and the episode became one of the more significant in the Civil Rights Movement. Learn all about this momentous period of African American history through a guided tour of the high school via the National Historic Site’s visitor centre. Tours must be booked at least 24 hours in advance as the school is still operating in its normal capacity during term times.
2120 W Daisy L Gatson Bates Dr.
Tours: Mon-Fri at 9am & 1pm
Go with the Wind at The Old Mill
An authentic replica of an old water-powered grist mill, this eye-catching structure appears in the opening scene of the classic 1939 film Gone with the Wind and is believed to be the only building remaining from the famous movie. Built in 1933, it was designed to look old so it would appear as if it was constructed in the 1800s. As for the park itself, it is decorated with sculptures of toadstools, tree stumps, and a tree branch-entwined bridge that connects the mill to the rest of the park. The Old Mill is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is well worth a visit.
3800 Lakeshore Dr., T.R. Pugh Memorial Park, North Little Rock
See the city’s quirky side on an adventure walking tour
Sign up for an interactive scavenger hunt, then explore the city using your smartphone on various quests that include a zombie apocalypse storyline, and clue-based adventures. Each game is designed to lead players to some of the main city sights in the most creative and unusual manner from one checkpoint to the next. For a look at all the adventure and scavenger walks available in Little Rock, visit Viator by clicking here.
Sit back and people-watch at The Bernice Garden
When visiting Little Rock’s Downtown, take time out to sit back on a bench and reflect in the welcoming environs of the Bernice Garden. This privately owned plot is open for all to enjoy; a community garden and event space furnished with sculptures by local Arkansas artists. These take colourful, often unusual shapes, formed from all sorts of materials and with a strong focus on sustainability. People congregate under the canopy, discuss the new art installations, attend concerts or browse markets selling everything from farm produce to antiques. There’s also a garden of wild flowers and herbs, frequented by bright butterflies.
1401 S Main St.
Ride the River Rail Electric Streetcar
Public transport in Little Rock has moved on since the 19th century, although perhaps not entirely. But one upside to the rather slow-moving evolution of the city’s transit system is the continuing presence of the oh-so-charming River Rail Electric Streetcar. A vintage streetcar system comprising electric trolleys, it officially ceased operating in 1947 but was revived in 2004 and today spans a 3.4 mile line connecting Little Rock with North Little Rock on the other side of the Arkansas River. The streetcars stop at several popular tourist attractions and operate every day.
600-662 N Main St.
Explore the River Market district on foot
For some, the River Market district is the lifeblood of Little Rock’s downtown scene. For others, it’s a place to do business, to grab a bite to eat, or simply to meet up with friends and catch some live music. Whatever your outlook, the River Market district has become indelibly linked with daily life in Little Rock. Visitors will find a wealth of cuisine from every part of the globe, skilled local artists practising their crafts, live musical performances in the River Market pavilion, and national acts at the amphitheatre. You can browse local produce at the farmer’s market or shop for clothing in nearby boutiques. Meanwhile the scenic Riverfront Park offers an abundance of outdoor activities in a relaxing environment.
400 President Clinton Ave.
Get crafty at Rock Town Distillery
Like many cities and towns across America, the popularity of craft beer in Little Rock has been sky-rocketing for several years. At the epicentre of the city’s craft and spirit-making endeavours is the Rock Town Distillery. The award-winning distillery runs tours that allow visitors to observe the spirit-making process in full and learn how the humble grain can be transformed into bourbon, vodka and gin through the magic of alchemy, and simple brewing techniques. After touring the facility comes the bit you’ll all have been patiently waiting for: the tasting sessions. The tour takes around 30 minutes and ends in the gift shop where you can pick up some of the products brewed on-site to take home with you. Be sure to bring your ID, and remember: the minimum drinking age in America is 21.
1201 Main St.
Tours: Tue-Sun 2pm, 4pm and 7pm, closed Mon
Dine with live entertainment at South on Main
America does an excellent line in restaurants with live entertainment and in Little Rock the place to go for such a ‘fusion’ experience’ is South on Main. Diners can gorge themselves silly on mouth-watering southern cuisine while enjoying rock and jazz performances, literary readings and even movie screenings. Like the food, the entertainment is locally sourced and there’s also a bar area serving good old Southern favourites such as the mint julep, a classic cocktail featuring bourbon, water, crushed or shaved ice, and fresh mint.
1304 Main St.
Mon-Fri 11am-2.30pm, 5-10pm, Sat 5-10pm, Sun 10am-2pm
Encounter culture with a conscience at Heifer Village & Urban Farm
While cultural centres usually exist to stir the imagination and provide intellectual nourishment for visitors, Heifer Village has an even more high-minded ambition. Teeming with galleries, interactive hands-on exhibits and activities, the educational facility is mainly concerned with raising awareness – and money – for the fight to end hunger and poverty across the world. To this end, programmes and events are held throughout the year for school groups, families or anyone who wants to drop in. Visitors can take part in a half-hour guided tour of the village or explore on their own.
1 World Ave.
Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, closed Sun
Learn about women’s rights at the ESSE Purse Museum
This natty little building presents a homage to the humble (and not so humble) handbag. Through a clever decade-by-decade review of the 20th-century American woman’s bags, and their contents, the permanent exhibition here tells you much more about social change than about fashion. Focusing on the period between 1900 and 1999, the exhibits tell the tale of a new freedom for the American woman as she was able to leave the confines of the home and encounter big changes, gaining the right to vote, living through the austerity of the Great Depression, getting energised by Dior’s post-war New Look, and entering the office workforce. The museum also hosts regular temporary exhibitions.
1510 Main St.
Tue-Sun 11am-4pm, closed Mon
Observe art at Arkansas Arts Center
One of Little Rock’s most distinguished art institutions, the Arkansas Arts Center houses an internationally respected drawing collection, an award-winning Children’s Theatre and a Museum School. It features works of art that span from the 1400s to the current day, including genres like drawing, contemporary craft, painting, photography and printing. Many iconic names from the arts world, such as Monet, Renoir, Redon, and Rivera, are represented here, exploring themes of beauty, nature and the human condition. Entry to Arkansas Arts Center is free.
501 E 9th St.
Tue-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 11am-5pm
Eat at the Billy Bass Adoption Center
The Billy Bass animatronic fish gimmick may have faded into relative obscurity after taking the world by storm in the 1990s – making its founder extremely rich in the process – but those who retain an affection for the kitsch singing prop will be pleased to learn of the Flying Fish restaurant in Little Rock. Here, hundreds of the once ubiquitous novelty items can be found tacked to a wall or ceiling as a quirky tribute to the latex curio, which belts out classic tunes including Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” and Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” Often, diners visiting the restaurant donate another to the collection, which has now topped an impressive 300. But fear not, the owners take the batteries out, leaving you to enjoy your Cajun grub in peace.
511 President Clinton Ave.
Sun-Thurs 11am-10pm, Fri & Sat until 11pm
Visit the H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden
Located at the far end of Main Street Bridge in the centre of Little Rock, this impressive gate and garden stands as a symbol of friendship between South Korea and America – and a salute to the ancient tradition of martial arts. Named after American Taekwondo Association Eternal Grand Master HaengUng Lee, considered the grandfather of martial arts throughout the world, the gate is painted in traditional Korean colours, while behind it sits a quiet and contemplative garden that provides an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. A reflective pool dominates the centre of the garden, while a bust of the Eternal Grand Master Lee appears in front of a wall of black granite.
101 E Markham St.
Discover regional history at Old State House Museum
The admission of Arkansas to the Union, a fatal knife fight between two prominent legislators, and the vote to officially join the confederacy and secede from the United States are just a few epoch-making events that have taken place at this venerable edifice in downtown Little Rock. Visitors can come and walk in the footsteps of some of the key protagonists in these seminal episodes while admiring the Greek revival style architecture. Since 1947, the building has housed a museum designed to preserve, share and celebrate the history of Arkansas and its people. More recently, the state’s most famous son, President Bill Clinton, held his election night celebrations here in both 1992 and 1996.
300 W Markham St.
Mon-Sat 9am-5pm, Sun 1-5pm