Whether you call it Derby City, the Gateway to the South or simply The Lou, Louisville is a fantastic American city. Of course, there’s the Kentucky Derby, but also an incredible art scene, lots of history, great food, and yes, bourbon!
Here’s how to ensure you have a fun weekend in Louisville.
Louisville is synonymous with the Kentucky Derby. While it’s fun to sip on mint juleps while cheering on your favorite horse, there are lots of opportunities for a derby experience without the price tag and rigmarole.
Locals often skip the big day, opting instead for opening weekend, the Thursday before the Derby, the Kentucky Oaks (which is still expensive, but less so than the main event), or the Friday night before the derby, under the lights.
If you’re not in town during the derby, you can still catch races through the season, or sign up for a tour, which operates most days. The track puts on Derby After Dark about once a month, featuring cocktails, and night racing. Check their website for details.
The Ohio River
Louisville sits on the Ohio River, just across from Jeffersonville, Indiana. There are a few ways to cross it, but my vote goes to the Big Four Bridge. Originally built as six-span railroad bridge in 1895, it’s now limited to pedestrians and bicyclists. Exploring during the day is great, but the nighttime lights are spectacular.
FAT Friday Trolley Hop
Art, wine and a trolley? Sign me up! This year-round free event lets you explore the Clifton, Crescent Hill and Butchertown neighborhoods via trolley! Held on the last Friday of every month from 6-10:30pm, folks hop on the Frankfort Avenue Trolley to checkout shops, restaurants and galleries along the Frankfort, Mellwood and Story Avenue corridor. Many establishments host live music and entertainment, there’s lots of wine to be drunk and art to be ogled. Plus, many shops offer trolley hop specials.
Sports in the Lou
Louisville doesn’t have a professional sports team, but the city loves their collegiate teams. The biggest game of the year has to be the University of Louisville vs the University of Kentucky basketball game. If you want to go, get your tickets, hotel and car early. The city is a madhouse!
There are mixed reviews of the Louisville Slugger Museum— some baseball fans love it, while others say your snap a photo outside with the huge bat and move on. If you do go in, be sure to get your hands on a bat used by one of baseball’s biggest names—ever heard of Mickey Mantle, David Ortiz and Derek Jeter? Yep, you get to hold the actual bats these guys used! There’s at least one bat from every MLB team. You may opt for a guided 30-minute factory tour, where you’ll see bat making in action. Every entry fee includes a complimentary souvenir mini bat which can be personalized—just ask when you get there!
And of course any sports lover must pay homage to The Greatest. Louisville native Mohammed Ali made such a huge impact on the world, and the Ali Center is all about continuing his legacy.
Located in downtown Louisville, the three-level center houses award-winning exhibits and galleries that explore Muhammad Ali’s legendary life, as well as individual values, inner strength, character, and how to be the greatest person you can be. I’m feeling inspired just thinking about it!
Where to Eat
There’s no shortage of great places to dine. Food fanatics will love 610 Magnolia, the fine dining concept from Chef Edward Lee. Select a four- or six-course meal of modernized southern cuisine. Lee oversees the kitchen at the more casual Milkwood, which does Asian-inspired southern food. Think green curry boudin sausage; Kalbi braised beef shortribs; and collards and kimchi.
Proof on Main makes for another memorable meal. Not only is the food fantastic, but the restaurant’s very interesting collection of modern art will certainly give you lots to talk about!
For the best burgers, tacos and barbecue, hit up Hammerheads in Germantown. It feels divey, but the food really delivers. And for an excellent cocktail, it’s all about the Silver Dollar, named one of Esquire’s Best Whiskey Bars.
Check Out the Bourbon Trail
What’s a trip to Kentucky without a little bourbon? Kentuckians first started making the stuff in the 1700s, and for some reason they just never stopped. You could just drink the stuff in a bar, but let’s be honest: going to the source is much more fun! Nine distilleries make up the official Bourbon Trail, including Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Grab a passport at the first, then collect stamps as you go. Get all nine and they’ll send you a t-shirt—though hitting all nine would be pretty hard unless you have a few days. Unlike wine or beer tasting, the distilleries don’t give you enough hooch to get buzzed. The drive is beautiful, so enjoy the countryside as you check out a few.
A Step Back in Time
History buffs will adore a stroll through Old Louisville, the second largest Victorian neighborhood in the country. Tour some, or if you’re voyeuristic (who isn’t?), stroll the hood at dusk so you can see into some of the houses.
It may sound a little weird to visit a cemetery, but Louisville is home to an epic one. Picturesque Cave Hill Cemetery started in 1848. The former farmland serves as the final resting place for many notable people, including THE Colonel Sanders. You can find excellent maps on their website, as well as sign up for history tours.
Have you been to Louisville? What are some of your favorite spots?