Churchill Downs – it’s more than just the Derby. Of course, you absolutely should make it a priority to attend the decadent and depraved Kentucky Derby at least once in your lifetime, but just checking out any old race is worth the trip. Not every city is built around horse racing, fine bourbon and gambling. Come partake in a Mint Julep and see what all the fuss is about. The everyday events of Churchill Downs still offer live music, happy hours and food trucks.
Louisville is home to a number of flourishing local breweries. In addition to the home-grown beers, we have quite a few bars that serve fine craft beers that would impress even the staunchest beer snobs.
The Kentucky Derby
“The most exciting two minutes in sports.” Yeah, pretty much. Although we drag it out to two weeks with the Kentucky Derby Festival and fabulous parties, the race is kind of the whole point. Our entire city is flooded with beautiful people (not that we aren’t already beautiful people, but more of them) that come to the track dressed to the nines to partake in a bourbon and a gentleman’s sport.
Thunder Over Louisville
North America’s largest fireworks show. Come get your America on and watch things explode to Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” It is truly a sight worth seeing. People come from miles around to gather down by the Waterfront and enjoy the fireworks and fried foods of the Chow Wagon.
First Friday Trolley Hop
The First Friday Trolley Hop is self-described as a “showcase of Louisville’s downtown Main, Market and Fourth Street corridors.” On the first Friday of every month, hop on a Trolley as early as 5:00 PM for a FREE come-and-go-as-you-please tour of downtown Louisville and NuLu. The Trolley line includes galleries, Louisville-original restaurants, unique boutiques, shops which offer fine wine and bourbon tastings, theaters, home décor shops and nationally acclaimed and historical Caufield’s Novelty and costume shop… or you can disembark at the Flea Off Market.
The Palace Theater is arguably the most beautiful venue in the city. This Spanish Baroque-style theater first opened its doors in 1928. The ornate theater is designed to resemble a Spanish courtyard. Its vaulted ceilings are a deep blue, adorned with twinkling stars. Over the years it has hosted an impressive lineup of Broadway shows, films and contemporary entertainment.
Headliners Music Hall
The building that is now Headliners Music Hall was once a cafeteria for the neighboring bourbon factory. During prohibition, big bands used the hall for rehearsal before their performances at The Brown and Seelbach hotels. The stage of Headliners is graced by the smallest local bands to the internationally touring, burlesque shows, story slams and more.
Kentucky Derby Museum
We Kentuckians often take for granted that we’ve known how to make a Mint Julep and bet on a horse race since the womb. If you’d like to learn how to Kentucky like the rest of us, visit the Kentucky Derby Museum. Here you’ll learn all kinds of fascinating things about the history of the track, the horses themselves, bourbon (of course) and everything you could ever want to know about Kentucky Derby minutiae.
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
This five-story, 180,000 square foot gothic-style structure served as a tuberculosis hospital from 1926 – 1961 during a time when TB was epidemic. It has received international recognition as one of the “most haunted” places to visit. Two-hour tours, four-hour tours and overnight tours are available.
Kentucky Kingdom & Hurricane Bay
This amusement park has been a part of Louisville culture since 1987 (longer than some of us have been alive). The park sprawls over 63 acres of roller coasters, bumper cars, water rides, wave pools and “rivers” of the “lazy” and “adventure” variety.
Just eat a damn Hot Brown already. This place invented them:
Huber’s Winery and Vineyards
Although this does require a trip across the river, Huber’s Farm has long been a Louisville tradition that is worth the trip. Pick your own pumpkins and apples, take a tour of the winery and vineyards, take a hayride and enjoy some ice cream and cheeses produced on-site. It’s a charmingly rustic getaway that isn’t too far away.
Waterfront Wednesday / Big Four Bridge
Everyone and their brother, sister and cousins come out to the Waterfront under the Big Four Bridge for Waterfront Wednesday. This is a free concert gives us a reason to relax by the waterside, sip a few beers and enjoy some good tunes while mingling with the good people of our city. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be here the last Wednesday of every month.
The Big Four Bridge is worth checking out on its own, music or not.
This festival found its humble beginnings over a decade ago as a gathering of local musicians in Tyler Park. Now, it is recognized as one of the region’s most popular music festivals. Over the years it has presented acts such as My Morning Jacket, Pretty Lights, Widespread Panic, Umphrey’s McGee, The Flaming Lips, Outkast and Jack White.
The Kentucky Science Center
…it’s not just for kids. The Science Center has been presenting after-hours adult series such as the science of sex, of food, of beer… of course, local food trucks make an appearance, as well as a cash bar. The museum is open after closing to the general public for a kids-free experience. Although, even during normal business hours, it’s pretty sweet. There’s a 4-Story Digital Theater now that even plays feature-length Hollywood films in addition to documentaries.
21c Museum Hotel
This Louisville-based boutique hotel is also a contemporary art museum and home to the acclaimed Proof on Main restaurant and bar. The museum is open 24 hours a day and is free admission even if you’re not a guest in the hotel. It is the antithesis of a cookie-cutter chain hotel. 21c provides a unique experience that words cannot do justice.
Kentucky Center for the Arts
This theater brings everything to the stage, from nationally touring Broadway series to local theater artists. Sophisticated yet a bit eccentric at times, it is a cherished center of culture in downtown Louisville.
Bluegrass Balloon Festival / Great Balloon Race
Part of the Kentucky Derby Festival, the balloon glow is a beautiful way to get into the spirit of Derby season. Come check out the hot air balloons before their big race bright and early in the morning. We wont judge you if you don’t get out of bed on time to make it to the race.
Actors Theater is dedicated to producing new plays that will engage a diverse audience and merit national recognition. This spring will mark the 40th consecutive Humana Festival of New American Plays. This festival is a first look at original works of American playwrights. Theater enthusiasts travel from around the world to enjoy the excitement and culture of the festival.
The Silver Dollar
A relatively recent addition to the Louisville scene, the Silver Dollar has quickly risen to fame and is nationally recognized as one of the best bourbon bars in the country. This firehouse-turned-Bakersfield-honky-tonk serves over 100 bourbons and rye whiskies and original bourbon cocktails which change seasonally, in addition to some phenomenal down-home, Mexican-influenced cooking. Chicken and waffles? Yes please.
Flea Off Market
Food trucks, live music, and local vendors (and Bloody Marys, Margaritas and beer, of course). This destination of the First Friday Trolley hop is worth taking the time to spend the day. You’ll find locals peddling records, original artwork, arts and crafts, books, and much more. The Flea Off Market is great place to experience the culture of the city all weekend long, the first weekend of every month.
Even beneath the streets, Louisville has exciting attractions. Come get subterranean and try out the world’s only zip line course or one of the nation’s few underground aerial ropes course. During the holiday season, the MegaCavern puts on Lights Under Louisville – 17 miles of underground passageways filled with holiday lights.
Frazier History Museum
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill, stuffy history museum that your parents used to drag you to. Many exhibitions are interactive and many change frequently. Exhibitions include live demonstrations of 16th century rapier and dagger techniques and Victorian self-defense techniques with a gentlemen’s cane by museum interpreters. In the no-so-distant past, the Frazier hosted a mythical creatures exhibition.