Things to do in Louisville, KY

More About Louisville

Poised on the banks of the Ohio River, Louisville blends small-town charm with urban sophistication. The city's claim to fame is the Kentucky Derby. The race at Churchill Downs has been a national event for more than 120 years. Many of us first learned of the city from a baseball bat. Today, the rebuilt Louisville Slugger Factory is another major draw. The city itself has been revitalized with a bustling riverfront district that features the inviting Riverfront Plaza. Tourists may take scenic river cruises aboard The Belle or The Star. Louisville is also blessed with a dynamic arts scene, featuring the Kentucky Center for the Arts, as well as several fine museums and annual festivals. For dining, the city offers about 2,500 restaurants, highlighted by the festive "Restaurant Row" on the Bardstown Road corridor.

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Louisville is known for...

Five of Louisville's most unique features and characteristics.

1. The Kentucky Derby:

The Run for the Roses. The two most exciting minutes in sports. The fastest two minutes in sports. The Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs in Louisville and is preceded by the two week festival, which includes a parade, hot-air balloon races, a steamboat race, concerts on the waterfront, and the largest annual fireworks show in North America (Thunder Over Louisville). The city takes on an "anything goes" attitude on Derby weekend, and those who don't attend the Derby watch the race on TV at Derby parties. While tickets for seats are expensive and difficult to get, general admission costs $40 and grants access to the paddock area and the infield. The infield is a picnic and a party (a wild one), but you can still participate in all the Derby traditions: hats, mint juleps, betting, and singing "My Old Kentucky Home" before the race.

2. Bourbon:

Bourbon is a whiskey that must be made from a grain mixture containing at least 51% corn, and although bourbon can be made anywhere in the US, it's long been associated with Kentucky. While you can venture about the state on the Bourbon Trail, Louisville offers a more compact version: the Urban Bourbon Trail. Consisting of 14 bars and restaurants with excellent bourbon selections, the Urban Bourbon Trail has a passport that bartenders at each location can stamp. The "prize" for visiting all the locations is recognition as a citizen of Bourbon County and a t-shirt. You could also just enjoy the spirit at any one of the bars on the list. Many Louisville bars stay open until 4 a.m., so the bourbon enjoyment can continue long into the night.

3. Food:

Although Louisville is the home to KFC and is Colonel Sanders' final resting place, it's quickly becoming known for its local food movement. Farmers and farmers markets are supported by restaurants like Harvest, Mayan Cafe, Eiderdown, and Proof on Main, who promote their use of local, seasonal ingredients in their dishes. There's also a growing food truck population. Louisville food traditions include the Hot Brown sandwich, invented at the Brown Hotel, bourbon balls, and the Modjeska, a caramel-covered marshmallow.

4. Sports Legends:

Apart from the Kentucky Derby, Louisville's big sport is college basketball. Despite the lack of a major league baseball team, the city is really known in sports for Louisville Slugger bats, first made by the Hillerich family in the late 1880s. Today, visitors can tour the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory (easily found by looking for the 120-foot Slugger on Main Street) to see how the bats are made. Louisville's other famous sportsman is boxer Muhammad Ali, who was born in Louisville and lives here today. Visit the Muhammad Ali Center to learn about The Greatest's career and vision. 

5. Parks:

From the Olmsted parks system (that's Frederick Law Olmsted, the same guy who co-designed New York's Central Park) to Watefront Park, Louisville has no shortage of outdoor space for bike riding, Ultimate Frisbee, picnics, and walking. Iroquois Park provides a great view of the city, and the Iroquois Amphitheater hosts free summer movies, as well as concerts. There's more outdoor summer music at Waterfront Wednesdays at Waterfront Park, an 85-acre park along the Ohio River, easily accessible from downtown. Those looking for something a little more rugged, head to Jefferson Memorial Forest (one of the nation's largest urban forests) for camping, hiking, and kayaking or canoeing.