(UPDATED FEB 2023) Louisville offers an unforgettable experience with its unique Southern charms, renowned bourbon scene, and the iconic Churchill Downs. On a visit with my daughter, we had a blast exploring the city – from dining on exquisite eats to enjoying an award-winning zoo and museums. We also treated ourselves to staying in one of Louisville’s most beloved hotels! If you’re looking for some exciting avenues to explore during your travels, here are twelve fun things to do in Louisville you won’t want to miss.
1. Explore Iconic Kentucky Derby Museum
Get ready for a grand tour of the legendary Churchill Downs, home to one of America’s most beloved sporting events – The Kentucky Derby. From spotting famed horses and jockeys on the Wall of Winners to experiencing some thrills in Riders Up (an awesome simulator ride), you’ll find yourself immersed in all things horse racing!
With an admission ticket comes access to interesting exhibits like 360-degree films, fabulous fashions from past Derbys (showcased at the museum), as well as delicious bites from their very own Derby Cafe.
Did you know that not only the Kentucky Derby (the most exciting two minutes in sports) is run on that specific May date, 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.
2. Explore the Louisville Zoo
From cuddly polar bears, gorillas, and Asian elephants to exotic Gila monsters, Louisville Zoo is the perfect place explore an array of creatures that inhabit this planet. Take your children on a wild journey through Glacier Run’s Bear Habitat (seals, grizzly bears, sea lions) and Lorikeet Landing where they can get up close with these magnificent animals while learning about conservation. This is all the while fulfilling the zoo’s mission statement “Bettering the Bond between People and Our Planet”!
The Louisville Zoo is a 134-acre complex with over 1700 animals.
Fun Fact: If you’ve never explored a Herpaquarium, the Louisville Zoo is a great place to learn all about alligators, snakes, chameleons, and more.
3. Wander Around Louisville’s NuLu District
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. Eat a Legendary Hot Brown
Visit the elegant and historic Brown Hotel in Louisville for a truly extraordinary experience! Tour its beautiful lobby, admire the fresh flowers, and expensive clocks that add to its luxurious ambiance. Then, treat your taste buds with their classic Hot Brown sandwich – created over 100 years ago by an employee at this very hotel.
This delicious dish is layered with thick-sliced turkey on toasted buttered bread, smothered in irresistible Mornay sauce, finished off with juicy tomato slices & crispy bacon, then dusted with paprika…absolutely mouth watering! Stop by The Lobby Bar restaurant any time of day (or night!) to experience it.
5. Show Off Your Selfie in Louisville
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 a Tasty Breakfast
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 were great together and the sweet tea is on point.
7. Learn More About Louisville, KY
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 and we loved the ambiance at Mussel & Burger Bar.
9. Explore the Awesome Caverns
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!
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.
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
Experience downtown Louisville like never before when you unwind in one of the city’s many luxurious hotels. With a modern and vibrant twist, the Aloft Louisville Downtown is a stellar accommodation designed to keep corporate travelers comfy with sleek fixtures, intimate seating and cool tunes playing softly in the background.
For those looking for something extra special, there’s also 21C Museum Hotel Louisville MGallery– bringing together upscale design features with thought-provoking art exhibitions taking over two floors. Floors that all are invited to explore endlessly without ever having to leave the hotel!
Well-appointed rooms at the 21C Museum Hotel combine functionality with impressive 21st-century art, while the hotel sits in a downtown street corner location. There is 24/7 access to the gym, rubber ducks in the showers, red penguins adorning each corner, and a great souvenir shop offering tasty treats for purchase.
Grab a bite at Proof on Main, the onsite restaurant with charming decor, a divine menu, and excellent service.
It’s easy to see why this luxurious hotel has become so beloved among its devoted followers! This prestigious property is part of Historic Hotels of America’s exclusive program which recognizes hotels that maintain their original character while upholding a sense of place.
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.
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