Best Things to Do in Manhattan KS, the Little Apple (2024)

Whether it’s a college football game, military service, or another reason that brings you to The Little Apple, here’s what to do in Manhattan, Kansas.

Where massive herds of bison once roamed the range, munching on native prairie grasses of the Flint Hills and cooling off in the Kansas River, Manhattan was established by settlers in 1850. Sponsored by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, they arrived in northeastern Kansas and named the town in honor of the larger, better-known city back east.

Home to the Kansas State Wildcats, Manhattan offers a distinct college town atmosphere. To its east is Fort Riley, an Army post originally established to protect settlers traveling westward on the Oregon, California, and Santa Fe Trails. In more recent history, Fort Riley was home to the 1st Infantry Division, or as it’s better known, the Big Red One.

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Have You Visited the Little Apple?

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1. Explore Kansas State University

You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, and you can’t have a college town without a college. So when you visit The Little Apple, touring the K-State campus is one of the most collegiate things to do in Manhattan, KS. You may have heard terms like Purple Pride, K-State Proud, and the Wildcat Way. But once you set foot on the K-State campus, you experience them not as catchphrases, but as the lifeblood pumping through the K-State community. Put on some purple and go explore campus, one of the most intellectual things to do in Manhattan, KS.

2. Grab a Bite (or a Beer) in Aggieville

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Full of bookstores, coffee shops, cheap eats, and beer joints, an area just off campus where students congregate is integral to most college towns. Manhattan has Aggieville.

While the six-block area just south of Bluemont Avenue has been closely associated with the university since the late 1800s (and the district is named after K-State’s original mascot) traditions have evolved with the times.

Gone are the days when the goal post was uprooted from the football field and carried by the celebrating masses to Aggieville. And in its place, at least since 2007, is a new tradition of Fake Patty’s Day. Occurring the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, this massive celebration is attended by current students, alumni, and anyone else who wants to join in the festivities. No matter what time of year you visit, spending time in Aggieville is one of the most fun things to do in Manhattan, KS.

Sage Advice: Speaking of green, keep an eye out around town for a Green Apple Bike. The good news is that these Granny Smith apple-colored bicycles are available for free on a first-come, first-served basis to help you get across campus or to the other side of town. The bad news is they can be as rare as a leprechaun to find! And, before you hit the road on any bicycle, be sure you know these important biking rules!

Related Article: The Best College Towns in the Midwest

3. Visit Johnny Kaw

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After experiencing Aggieville, if you need to burn off some calories from that BBQ pulled pork mac ‘n cheese at Kite’s Bar & Grill or stretch your legs after a pitcher of beer, stroll the few blocks to Manhattan City Park. A paved path encircles the green space, and in the southeast corner, you can’t miss the 25-foot statue of Johnny Kaw. Created by a horticultural professor, Dr. Filinger, at K-State in 1955, this fictional Johnny was a larger-than-life character who dug the Kansas River Valley, invented sunflowers, and controlled the weather.

Fun Fact: Johnny Kaw had two pets, a wildcat (like the K-State mascot) and a jayhawk (like the University of Kansas mascot). The two scrapped constantly, and in one of Dr. Filinger’s stories about Johnny Kaw, he described the Dust Bowl as the result of their fighting.

Sage Advice: If you like breaking up road trips with fun pit stops like Johnny Kaw, you’ll love this list of 50+ additional roadside attractions from across the country.

4. Discover the Flint Hills

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While The Big Apple has Central Park, The Little Apple has the Flint Hills. Atop these rolling hills full of flinty limestone and smooth shale sits the largest remaining area of unplowed tallgrass prairie in North America. In town, you can visit the Flint Hills Discovery Center, an interactive science museum that explains the uniqueness of the Flint Hills. Or, you can go beyond the city limits and discover the Flint Hills first hand by hiking the 2.6 mile (4.2 km) Konza Prairie Nature Trail.

Sage Advice: If you are looking for an alternative hike, consider climbing to the whitewashed “Manhattan” letters embedded in the side of Manhattan Hill above Tuttle Creek Boulevard. Or you can walk to the “KS” letters that adorn a hill on the east side of town above the river.

Related Article: See the USA – Visit Kansas, the Sunflower State

5. Savor the Local Flavors

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Hiking is going to make you hungry, so make time to visit these local eateries, one of the most delicious things to do in Manhattan. From the most important meal of the day (breakfast or brunch) to dessert after dinner, these are some of my favorite local eateries in The Little Apple.

The Chef

In a college town where chain restaurants dominate the breakfast scene, The Chef stands out. While there’s nearly always a wait, you can sip coffee and create a sidewalk chalk masterpiece to help pass the time. The pancakes bananas foster and buenos dias frittata are two of our family favorites!

Bourbon & Baker

While my K-State students tend to nosh on cheap eats when I’m not around, they are always excited to head to Bourbon & Baker for a treat when I visit them in The Little Apple. I’d describe the menu as Midwest meets Southern comfort. In a tapas bar. Try the chicken and waffles, the cornbread sliders, and the duck fat French fries!

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Call Hall Dairy Bar

There are many great benefits of visiting a town with an ag school, including fresh milk, eggs, butter, cheese, and flour. But one of the tastiest things to do in Manhattan, KS is to order ice cream at the Call Hall Dairy Bar. Each year, K-State students whip up and serve more than 20,000 gallons of ice cream, and every flavor is amazing! But when you visit Manhattan, KS, be sure to try K-State’s signature flavor, Purple Pride. In case you’re wondering, fresh blueberries are what create its Royal Purple color.

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Varsity Donuts

Whether you like your donuts at sunrise or after a night in Aggieville long after the sun has set, Varsity Donuts is there for you. From 6:00 am to 10:00 pm, step inside the nearly century-old former drugstore to order a teal-frosted, pink-sprinkled Barbie donut or a purple-on-purple K-Stater. If you need donuts (or a mac ‘n cheese grilled cheese, side of bacon, or corn dog) after a late night in Aggieville, then visit the Varsity Donuts truck in the alley out back Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays until 2:30 am.

6. Take Time to Smell the Flowers

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On the northwestern corner of campus, about a ten-minute walk from the Call Hall Dairy Bar, are The Gardens. Part of Kansas State University, this nearly 20-acre green space is full of bright colors that continuously wrap color around the former K-State Dairy Barn and Milk House that now serves as The Gardens’ Visitor Center making this one of the most beautiful things to do in Manhattan, KS.

Sage Advice: Funding for The Gardens is incredibly limited, so consider donating at least $2 per visit when you enjoy this beautiful place on the edge of campus.

7. Take a Walk on the Wild Side

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About two miles southwest of the K-State campus, the Sunset Zoo is small, but nicely done. From a flock of flamingos to a pair of cheetahs, Sunset Zoo is home to about 300 animals in spacious, natural enclosures, and visitors are able to get close to many of the animals. And despite its size, Sunset Zoo is committed to conservation, especially when it comes to cheetahs, endangered in the wild and at great risk of extinction.

Frequently Asked Questions About Manhattan Kansas

Where is Manhattan Kansas?

Manhattan, Kansas, is located in Riley County in the northeastern part of Kansas. It’s about 120 miles west of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, about ten miles north of I-70.

What's the Distance from Fort Riley to Manhattan KS?

It’s about a 30 minute (17 mile) drive from Fort Riley to Manhattan KS. The fastest route between Fort Riley and downtown Manhattan is via KS-18.

How Many People Live in Manhattan Kansas?

Manhattan, Kansas, is a town of about 54,000 residents. Additionally, about 25,000 students attend Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

What County is Manhattan KS In?

Manhattan, Kansas, is located in Riley County where it is the largest city and the county seat.

Where is Aggieville in Manhattan KS?

Aggieville is a six-block area just south of Bluemont Avenue and the Kansas State University campus. Known for its bookstores, coffee shops, cheap eats, and beer joints, it emanates a fun college town vibe, especially on weekends and game days.

What Airports are Near Manhattan KS?

Manhattan has a regional airport that operates under the airport code MHK. American Airlines offers regular flights in and out of the Manhattan Regional Airport daily.

You can also visit Manhattan, KS, by flying into the Kansas City International Airport (MCI) or the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport (ICT). It’s about a two-hour drive to Manhattan from either the Kansas City or Wichita airports.

What is the Little Apple?

The Little Apple (or sometimes the Little Apple City) is a nickname for the Midwestern college town of Manhattan, Kansas. And, despite being named after a world-renowned city, the Little Apple town is often misspelled as Manhatten and Manhatton.

Why is Manhattan, Kansas, Called the Little Apple?

The white settlers who arrived in the area in 1855 were sponsored by the New England Emigrant Aid Company. Although the company was founded in Boston, the settlers decided to name the town after the Big Apple, Manhattan, New York. Since Manhattan, Kansas, is just a smidge smaller than it’s namesake back east, it’s known as the Little Apple.

Have You Visited the Little Apple of Manhattan Kansas?

What did you do in Manhattan, KS? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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