Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Missouri: St. Charles turns on the charm

Everything old is new again in St. Charles, a place where locals make the most of their historic surroundings to create a vibrant, charming town that consistently proves popular with tourists.

Located on the banks of the Missouri River just outside St. Louis, St. Charles has seen its share of history, including Missouri’s first state Capitol and Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery. Today, the historic downtown and several nearby attractions put old buildings to new use.

Courtesy St. Charles CVB

“The city dates back to 1769,” said Carol Felzien, communications coordinator for the Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau. “South Main Street is 1800s architecture, with lots of shops and restaurants. There’s a winery and little microbrewery.”

The South Main Street area is easily explored on foot, and group leaders can either plan guided tours or turn their travelers loose to see the sights on their own. For independent spirits, the CVB offers an iPod walking tour of downtown, which provides audio and video guides to the different historic buildings and points of interest.

Not far away, French Town is a second, lesser-known historic district that features French-style architecture, several cultural attractions and a number of antique shops.

An artistic enclave

One of the most significant repurposed buildings in St. Charles is the Foundry Art Centre, a large old building at one end of historic Main Street.

Courtesy St. Charles CVB

Created as a railroad-car manufacturing facility in the 1940s, the foundry later closed and sat dormant for years. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a community effort helped turn the facility into an arts center with gallery space for artwork exhibition and studio space where local artists can work.

Today, the Foundry Art Centre is the cultural headquarters of St. Charles, hosting concerts, art shows, lectures, luncheons and other events. The permanent galleries on the bottom floor feature a series of changing exhibitions of work by local and regional artists. In the upstairs section, some 25 working artists have studios; there they can be found creating paintings, sculptures, fabric art, pottery and other art forms.

“The woman who was the original director had the vision that this would be a great place for a gallery, because there’s so much natural light,” Felzien said. “The studios are all open to walk in, ask questions and watch the artists work.”

With advance notice, the CVB can arrange for artists to be on hand to talk with visiting groups or set up special catered lunches in the center’s atriu

More Missouri Special Section:

Missouri Photo Slideshow

Branson breaks new ground
Hannibal as America’s hometown
At the trailhead in Independence
Kansas City’s power and light
St. Charles turns on the charm
St. Louis is a city for the senses
The Jesse James connection

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.