Your Complete Travel Guide to Louisville, Kentucky
If you only do three things
1. On the way to the races
The famous twin spiers of Churchill Downs have dominated the Derby since Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark founded the track in 1875. Although races still take place here, including the eponymous annual Kentucky Derby, you don’t need to bet for feel flush. Adjacent to the Downs, the Kentucky Derby Museum is as close as Derby Day guests can get without a ticket. The museum celebrates the splendor of the historic 120-second horse race with interactive exhibits and documentaries. Tickets include a 30 minute walking tour of Churchill Downs which visits the paddock and exclusive areas of the track. Across the street, barely changed since 1922, Wagner’s Pharmacy is the legendary brunch spot for jockeys, grooms and sportswriters.
2: Learn more about Muhammad Ali
Louisville’s tallest light fixture happens to be The The greatest: Muhammad Ali. Birthplace of the revered boxer, the city pays homage to Ali’s legendary status in the modern six-story Muhammad Ali Center, a place to learn about Ali’s life and his civil rights struggles, as well as a non-profit humanitarian center that gives back through educational and personal development programs. The self-guided Footsteps of Greatness tour immerses you in the world that helped shape the young boxer and activist, including Ali’s starting gym and a glimpse into his humble childhood home, the Muhammad Ali Childhood Home Museum . Pay your respects at Cave Hill Cemetery, the champion’s final resting place.
3. Drink the bourbon
At the epicenter of bourbon whiskey production since the 1800s, experience an old-fashioned VIP bourbon tasting at Hermitage Farm’s Barn 6 in a working stable alongside resident Thoroughbreds. With its urban bourbon boom holding firm, robust new brands are springing up in Louisville’s old factories. In the nearly two-mile stretch of “Whiskey Row,” discover the tastes of distiller Angel’s Envy, whose production facility is beautifully intact and industrial-chic. There’s also Peerless, a craft distillery in an authentic 1912 tobacco warehouse. In a restored 1880s distillery, Doc Crow’s stocks a staggering amount of bourbon paired with comforting Southern smoked meats. The Bourbon Urban Trail will guide you through Louisville’s boozy bourbon heritage. Alternatively, hop aboard a Bourbon City Cruiser tuk-tuk for expert guidance. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience offers guided tours highlighting the brand’s 18th-century namesake, Evan Williams, whiskey maker and wharfmaster, with a presentation on the distillation process.
3 essentials for culture lovers
1. Architectural Old Louisville
Louisville once thrived on the tobacco and bourbon trade, and its wealthier families built posh Victorian mansions in the center of Old Louisville resplendent with whimsical turrets and towers, gargoyles and serpents, floral garlands and stained glass windows . As the urban revival of the 1960s swept across the United States, many cities tore down their golden age mansions. Today, Louisville’s Registered Historic District is home to the largest restored Victorian neighborhood in the United States. Spread over 48 city blocks, a heady mix of Romanesque, Gothic, Queen Anne and over-the-top Beaux-Arts houses sit side by side on stately boulevards and pedestrianized courtyards. For highlights, take a 90-minute guided walking tour with Louisville Historic Tours and visit the stately home of the leading lady, the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum.
2. Listen to live music
As Louisville’s eclectic music scene vibrates around the world, its intimate downtown and neighborhood clubs host live music most nights. On the banks of the Ohio River, the Waterfront Wednesday free seasonal concert series takes place on the last Wednesday of each month (April through September). At the start of the summer lineup is the annual three-day Memorial Day weekend festival, as well as the Kentucky Reggae Festival. The Louisville Jazz Fest fills the Iroquois Amphitheater each August, while on Sundays in September there’s a free jazz festival in Tyler Park. Other annual outdoor summer festivals worth noting in the diary include the Beatles tribute event, Abbey Road on the River, the Louisville Funk Fest, the Kentuckiana and Louisville Pride Festivals, and the Kentucky State Fair.
Each September sees the return of the four-day Bourbon & Beyond rock n’ roll, bourbon n’ food festival. The country’s biggest annual rock and heavy metal festival, Louder Than Life, kicks off the following weekend.
3. Black Heritage Experiences
We all benefit from exploring the full story of a place. The Unfiltered Truth Collection features exhibits and immersive tours that showcase the lasting impact black Louisvillians have had on the city’s history and culture, from the accomplishments of the black jockeys who once dominated horse racing to activists who fought for political and social reform. In the 19th century farmhouse, Locust Grove, you can learn what life was like during slavery. At the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, guests will meet an actor portraying Louisville native Tom Bullock, the first black American to write and publish a cocktail book. Roots101, meanwhile, is a museum dedicated to chronicling the African-American journey from Africa and all ports in between, while the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage is a collaboration of educators, artists, and historians. honoring the rich cultural heritage of African Americans in Kentucky.
3 experiences for nature lovers
1. Hike in the Jefferson Memorial Forest
Created by the city in 1945 to honor military veterans, this wooded tribute is a treasure for all who visit. Boasting approximately 6,600 acres of slopes covered in mature second-growth hardwood trees, it is the largest municipal urban forest in the United States spanning approximately 10 miles from end to end. Bordered by scenic trails and streams, it is essential habitat for migratory birds and 275 species of trees, shrubs and ferns. There’s also a fishing lake, outdoor recreation facilities, and a visitor center with trail maps, hiking supplies, and books.
2. Park Life
Louisville is nicknamed the city of parks for good reason. First designed by visionary Frederick Law Olmsted in 1891, Olmsted’s system of parks forms a unique part of the fabric of the city. Since 2005, a multi-million dollar initiative to add thousands more acres of conservation land to the park has been underway. Just west of downtown, the 85-acre Waterfront Park offers stunning views, free concerts, and the Big Four Bridge where a spiral ramp winds its way to connect to a disused railroad bridge, now redeveloped in a one kilometer long stretch for pedestrians and cyclists.
A breath of fresh air, the 23-acre water feature and wildflower-studded waterfront botanical gardens are proof that great beauty can be born from ruin. Located atop the former Ohio Street Dump, $65 million in upcoming features include a Japanese garden, conservatory and visitor center. Origin Park, meanwhile, is a 600-acre, $1 billion oasis that will be located on the north bank of the Ohio River, just across from downtown.
3. Floyds Paddle Fork
Winding through nearly 100 kilometers of scenic upland grassland, farmland and lowland forest, Floyds Fork empties into the Salt River, flowing even more freely until it empties into the river Ohio. Located a 20-minute drive from downtown Louisville, the 4,000-acre Parklands offers some of the best hiking, paddling, kayaking, and canoeing in the area. Considered a Class I waterway, Floyds Fork is moderately difficult. Blue Moon Canoe & Kayak of Kentucky rentals will help you get out on the water.