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Figuring out how to spend the perfect weekend in Louisville? As one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachians, this city is such an underrated destination in the United States. It truly encapsulates what Kentuckians take pride in – American spirit and legacy – and continues to grow even while taking care to preserve what makes the city so special.
There’s something for everyone whether you’re traveling here alone, looking for a romantic getaway, or even coming with kids. Just check below for all the best ideas from where to go, what to see, and where to eat.
Where to Stay in Louisville: The Brown Hotel
When deciding where to stay for your weekend in Louisville, the number one answer should be The Brown Hotel. This historic 16-story hotel was first opened in 1923 and very much helped locals enjoy the roaring 20s. Think a free roaming lion cub, a golden throne, and much more! It’s also during this time that another one of Louisville’s claim to fames was invented in the form of The Hot Brown. This open-faced turkey sandwich made with creamy Mornay sauce and crisp bacon was and still is a favorite for late night revelers.
Today the hotel manages to combine opulence with a relaxing, friendly atmosphere. With nearly 300 guest rooms designed to capture the hotel’s historic beginnings and its prime location downtown, it really is the perfect place to stay.
What to Do and See During Your Weekend in Louisville
Churchill Downs Racetrack
If there’s one thing most people think of when they think Louisville, it’s the world famous Kentucky Derby. Every year in May, people from all over gather at Churchill Downs in their Sunday finest to bet on races and sip their mint juleps. This annual tradition has been going on since 1875 and is easily the most popular thing to do.
Of course, Churchill Downs has activities all year round, so don’t worry if your weekend trip doesn’t coincide with the Derby’s May dates.
Tour around Old Friends Equine Sanctuary
For horse lovers who want to see a different side to Louisville, book a tour at the Old Friends Equine Sanctuary. This sanctuary was founded by Bostonian Michael Blowen, who learned the very uncomfortable truth of what happens to race horses when it came time to retire.
Blowen decided that these beloved racehorses deserved a much better fate than “finding a new home in Maine.” He founded Old Friends Equine in 2003 to allow horses to live out the rest of their lives in dignity and today houses well over a hundred happy creatures.
If you’d like to visit, there are a few different tour options offered from a general guided tour to a founder’s tour with Blowen himself. And if you’re a really huge horse lover, there’s the “Every Horse on the Farm” tour which lasts 3 hours and will allow you to, as the name suggests, meet every single horse that currently calls Old Equine home.
Louisville Slugger Museum
Another thing Louisville is known for? The Louisville slugger, of course! This baseball bat goes way back to at least 1884 when, according to company lore, a 17-year-old Bud Hillerich made the first professional bat for Pete Browning. Bud worked at his father’s woodworking factory in Louisville and offered to make Browning, aka “The Louisville Slugger,” a new bat when he witnessed his break during a game.
Over the next hundred+ years, this baseball bat has become one of the most famous bats out there and used by MLB players all over. You can learn more about its history and even take a factory tour at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. While the tour will be around 30-minutes, you’ll want longer to enjoy all the museum’s exhibits. And don’t forget – you can get your mini-bat souvenir personalized!
Muhammad Ali Center
You can’t visit Louisville and not pay homage to the city’s most famous local – Muhammad Ali! Truly one of the greatest athletes of all time, Ali was born here in 1942 and this is where his global boxing career began.
To learn all about Ali’s life – including both the good and the ugly – you have to stop into the Muhammad Ali Center. This three-story center has all sorts of interactive exhibits and galleries dedicated to his legacy. Don’t skip the shadowboxing exhibit so you can try swinging some punches for yourself.
The Ohio River Big Four Bridge
This former six-span railroad bridge connects Louisville with Jeffersonville, Indiana and spans about half a mile across the Ohio River. Built in 1895, The Big Four Bridge was in use until 1969 before becoming a pedestrian bridge in 2013. Today you can walk or bike across it and enjoy some seriously scenic views.
The best time, though, is at night when you can see the bridge lit up like a rainbow thanks to an LED lighting system wrapped all around its ironwork.
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
One of the most underrated places to go outdoors in the US, the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is a must-visit no matter when you plan your weekend to Louisville! Originally founded by Isaac W. Bernheim when he endowed his 16,000 acres of land to Kentucky, the forest has around forty miles of trails that focus on reconnecting people with nature.
Berheim focuses on collaborating with artists to create installations around the trails and even has an Artist in Residence program that’s been going on for over forty years. When I visited, I had the chance to see Thomas Dambo’s Forest Giants in a Giant Forest as well as Jayson Fann’s Spirit Nest.
Stoneware & Co.
For one truly unique souvenir to take with you from Louisville, stop by Stoneware & Co, one of the last pottery companies in the country. Craftsmen from all over have gathered here to skillfully transform lumps of clay into beautiful pieces of art since 1814. For an extra Louisville touch, take a look at their many Fleur de Lis designs.
Stroll through Historic Old Louisville
For those of you who enjoy seeing some historic architecture while traveling, you’ll want to make time to stroll through the beautiful Old Louisville district. It’s currently home to the largest contiguous collection of Victorian mansions in the country and makes for an incredibly pretty walk. I highly recommend booking the 60-minute Historic Walking Tour to learn more.
Fun fact: Despite its name Old Louisville is not the oldest part of the city!
Republic Bank First Friday Hop
If your weekend in Louisville coincides with the first weekend of the month, don’t miss out on the Republic Bank First Friday Hop in Downtown Louisville. During these first Fridays, 40+ boutiques, galleries, eateries, and more stay open later so locals and visitors alike can meander through.
Where to Eat and Drink During Your Weekend in Louisville
When it comes to where to eat and drink in Louisville, the list is incredibly long. Besides the state’s history with Bourbon, the city itself has a very underrated gastronomy with all sorts of dining experiences. Here are just a few to get you started.
The Bourbon Trail
First things first, bourbon! If you enjoy a nice, stiff drink than you can’t visit Louisville without indulging in Kentucky’s most famous export. One of the best things to do is to head out on The Bourbon Trail, which covers 42 distilleries around the state. I particularly enjoyed Bardstown Bourbon Co., which is a little outside of Louisville in Bardstown, aka the Napa Valley of Kentucky. The distillery is located on a hundred acres of farmland and also offers a full-service restaurant, making it perfect for a lunch or dinner stop in between tastings.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Not on the Bourbon Trail but very much worth the visit is Buffalo Trace Distillery. As the America’s oldest continually operating distillery, Buffalo Trace is teeming with history as well as some seriously delicious bourbon. Be sure to book a tour with Freddie Johnson, a third generation employee who remembers spending his childhood running around the grounds.
For some fine dining, make a reservation at 610 Magnolia. This Asian-American-owned restaurant is run by Chef Edward Lee and is an elevated take on the Southern Table. Everything is sourced locally and responsibly. The best way to enjoy Chef Lee’s dishes is with their multi-course tasting menu that’ll leave both your palate and your stomach happy.
On the flip side, Hammerheads is a much more casual spot that’s made a name for itself for both its incredible food and beer selection. Located in an old house in Louisville’s Germantown neighborhood, you’ll know it instantly by the huge shark decor hanging up outside. Get ready for some seriously delicious pub grub!
And there you have it – a few ideas for how to spend an exciting weekend in Louisville! This is such a fun city with much more history than you’d imagine, some great ways to get outdoors, and, of course, a fantastic food and drink scene. With just a few days you’ll see why Kentuckians take such great pride in Derby City.