(UPDATED OCTOBER 2020) Louisville is located along the Kentucky/Indiana and sits along the beautiful Ohio River. It offers Southern charms, a great bourbon scene, the legendary Churchill Downs horse racing track, and a few surprises. On my visit, my daughter, Taylor, and I enjoyed great eats, a fantastic zoo, world-class museums, and much more. Here are a dozen fun things to do in Louisville, Kentucky, that you might want to add to your future travels.
1. Taste the Luscious State Dish
Louisville is home to the original Hot Brown sandwich, created at the historic and swanky Brown Hotel. The hotel’s casual Lobby Bar restaurant is where I recommend enjoying the iconic sandwich. Admire the beautiful, fresh flowers, intimate seating arrangements, expensive clocks, and other decors that set the Brown Hotel apart from its competitors. The Lobby Bar even serves the Hot Brown sandwich into the wee hours of the night.
The Hot Brown was created over 100 years ago by an employee of the Brown Hotel. Close your eyes and picture thick-sliced turkey over toasted buttered bread, topped with a delicate Mornay sauce, juicy tomato, crispy bacon, then dusted with paprika. Oh, yeah!
2. Explore the Louisville Zoo
The Louisville Zoo, a 134-acre complex with 1700 or more animals, is a great facility to see your favorite kinds of animals. The gorillas, meerkats, Asian elephants, and polar bears were our favorite.
Glacier Run’s Bear Habitat was adorable, housed with cute sea lions, playful seals, polar and grizzly bears. “Better the Bond Between People and Our Planet” is the zoo’s mission statement, achieved by a pleasant guest experience, dedication to conservation, and excellent care of the animals.
If you’ve never explored a Herpaquarium, the Louisville Zoo is a great place to learn all about alligators, snakes, chameleons, Gila monsters, and much more. Don’t skip Lorikeet Landing, where you can feed the adorable and colorful birds nectar for a small fee.
3. Wander Around NuLu
NuLu is one of Louisville’s hottest parts of town. This trendy address has boutique shopping, incredible murals, and fantastic restaurants. My favorite stores to find some great buys are Six Sisters Boutique, Revelry Boutique + Gallery, and Mahonia.
Venture over to Royal’s Hot Chicken for a delightful meal. Royal’s serves Nashville Hot Chicken, adult milkshakes, and fantastic Southern sides in an adorable eatery complete with fresh flowers.
My favorite item dish was the Baked Pimento Cheese with bacon jam, served in a darling tiny cast iron skillet. The Nashville Chicken Tenders certainly didn’t disappoint, and you have to try the tasty sauces to dip them in. Choose them in classic fried, or four Nashville style levels hot: some heat, hot, x-hot, and gonzo. Royal has an impressive selection of craft beer, too.
4. Explore Iconic Kentucky Derby Museum
Go to Churchill Downs for a grand informational tour of the iconic Kentucky Derby Museum. You don’t have to be a horse lover or even a racing fan to enjoy this unique museum.
From the wall of winners (horses and jockeys) to Riders Up (a simulator experience), 360-degree film, or enjoying a slice of Derby-Pie from the museum’s Derby Cafe, Tayor and I loved it all.
The Kentucky Derby, possibly the most stylish event of the year, is known for the fabulous fashions and the “most exciting two minutes in sports.” Some of these fashions are showcased at the museum.
A guided tour of Churchill Downs comes with the admission ticket. Did you know that not only the Kentucky Derby is run on that specific day but around 17 other races as well? It is business as usual at Churchill Downs, but only the Kentucky Derby with its 160,000 guests has that notoriety.
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5. Show Off Your Selfie
Several spots in Louisville are designated “selfie spots”. Museum Row, Louisville’s Main Street, is home to some of the favorites such as the Louisville Slugger Museum, which boasts a 68,000 pound, 120-ft tall baseball bat, and 21c Museum Hotel David statue, a 30-ft tall gold replica of Michelangelo’s 16th-century marble statue of David.
Jennifer Lawrence fans can get their photo under her mural/hometown hero banner at 6th & Main streets, at the Kentucky Center for the Arts Building. I loved the Wall Street of Whiskey mural! Tag #louisvillelove and maybe they will share your photograph.
6. Dig into Tasty Breakfast Fare
Start your day with a magnificent breakfast from Wild Eggs, a downtown eatery. The food is sensational and the decor is bright and cheery.
Taylor swears by their Chocolate Chip Pancakes with bacon, but I indulged in something a little more exotic, the Mr. Potato Head Casserole. It was indeed a phenomenal dish, with layers of vegetables, hash browned potatoes, and eggs. The flavors married well together. The sweet tea is on point, too.
7. Learn More About Louisville
The Frazier History Museum is an excellent place to visit in the heart of downtown. It has rotating exhibits as well as temporary ones. When we visited, the Hunger Games touring exhibit was there. Taylor and I are both fans, so we loved it!
Besides the Hunger Games exhibit, the museum also had a cool prohibition offering and Lewis & Clark display. The miniature toy soldier gallery is awesome, too.
From here, visit the iconic Louisville Slugger Museum, filled with baseball memorabilia and exhibits that are fun for the entire family. The Louisville Slugger Museum is within walking distance of the Frazier History Museum, plus you get to see the fun and main street of town.
Another dynamic Louisville attraction to visit is the Muhammad Ali Center, where you will learn about the famous boxer and philanthropist’s career, achievements, and beliefs. Learn the hardships he went through and how he successfully got through using his six core principles: Giving, Respect, Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, and Spirituality.
8. Eat the Best Lunch in Louisville
For lunch, pop in Mussel & Burger Bar, a top-ranked hip American bistro with a stellar reputation. Taylor and I sat at a high top table in the bar for a super relaxing meal. The gourmet burgers and macaroni & cheese are two items that are sure to please your palate.
I chose to eat the Southern Bell Burger (a recipe with fried green tomatoes and pimento cheese that suits Louisville, Kentucky’s Southern reputation!), and Taylor had the 4 Cheese Mac & Cheese with bacon and brown butter crumble. Both were very tasty. We loved the ambiance at Mussel & Burger Bar.
9. Travel Deep into the Earth
Louisville Mega Cavern is an enormous man-made cavern that can be explored from a mega tram that goes deep into the Earth. It is a 17-mile green-building technology that allows space for storage, mining, recycling, underneath the city, and is the first of its kind in the world.
Mega Cavern features ropes challenge course, cavern ziplining (the only one in the world!), and motorbike paths for the more active travelers. A newer option is the “funderground adventure” by E-bike, where you can bike in the only underground bike attraction in the country.
Taylor and I both loved visiting the unique Mega Cavern. The tour operators are entertaining; be sure to tip them! There is also a special holiday offering that you can read about here.
10. Sail on an Iconic Vessel
Spend your last evening in Louisville cruising on the Ohio River in one of the incredibly popular and historic paddleboats. Both the Belle of Louisville and Mary M. Miller, the newest member of the fleet, offer evening sightseeing and dinner cruises.
For a few more dollars, you can add the dinner buffet option to your trip. You will want to pick this option because the food on the boat is really tasty. The cruise’s first hour features a well-stocked buffet with fried chicken, beef brisket, salad, green beans, mashed potatoes, and more. Desserts are sliced pound cake, pie, and cookies. Tea, water, and coffee are unlimited.
After enjoying the buffet, head outside for the best views while sailing the Ohio River for two full hours. Have your camera ready for when you sail under the Big Four Bridge, one of Lousiville’s most beautiful sights, that changes colors (LED lighting) from sundown to 1 AM.
Inside, a DJ narrates the tour and plays music the entire cruise. He also welcomes requests. Once he started playing the Bee-Gees, he and I became fast friends.
11. Sample Kentucky Bourbon
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is in the heart of Louisville’s Whiskey Row, is a great place to take a tour to learn how they make Bourbon You may even get to sample the mash as you go through your tour. Once you’ve filled your head with the alchemy of it all, sample the beloved Kentucky gold beverage for yourself in the tasting room.
Another downtown distillery to experience is Angel’s Envy that offers a tasting in The Finishing Room after your tour. Reminder: guests must be 21 years old to sample America’s native spirit.
Where to Stay in Louisville
Downtown Louisville has several hotels to choose from. First, the Aloft Louisville Downtown is a great fit for business travelers and those wanting convenience and a wealth of amenities. The Aloft is a Starwood Hotels brand offering loft-inspired rooms with vibrant colors and sleek fixtures. They were designed with a seasoned traveler in mind. Intimate seating groups are scattered throughout, while swanky music provides the background ambiance.
My top pick for accommodations in Louisville is the first of the 21C Museum Hotel brands. This luxury hotel combines fun and functional rooms with custom-designed furniture and impressive 21st-century art in a downtown street corner location. All are welcome to browse the stellar thought-provoking galleries that are spread over two floors at the 21C Museum Hotel Louisville MGallery. They also have a spectacular restaurant, Proof on Main, that is as lovely to see as to eat there.
Guests of the 21C Hotel will appreciate the spacious rooms in a 19th-century warehouse, wide range of room choices, 24-hour gym, and the special touches throughout the facility, like the rubber ducks in the showers, red penguins around the hotel, and tasty snacks and souvenirs in the small gift nook. If you’re not familiar with this brand, there are nearly a dozen around the Midwest and South, and their followers are totally devoted.
This gorgeous hotel has been inducted into Historic Hotels of America, is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation founded in 1989. I always appreciate these hotels as I know they have been denoted for their achievements including “maintaining their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity”. Today, there are more than 300 hotels with this designation between Washington DC, USVI, Puerto Rico, and 44 of the 50 United States.
Spread the #LouisvilleLove
Louisville, Kentucky, wowed me with its many attractions and beautiful scenery. My favorite parts of visiting Louisville were photographing the fantastic bridges and touring the Kentucky Derby Museum. You can also drive 20-minutes across the bridge into Indiana and get your gambling fix at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino from Louisville.
We hope you will consider these things to add to your Louisville, Kentucky travels and love this chick city as much as we do.
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