What to do in Louisville during the Kentucky Derby

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What to do in Louisville during the Kentucky Derby

Thunder Over Louisville

A massive fireworks show along the Ohio River.

(Photo via Daniel Dempster Photography / Alamy)

Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon/miniMarathon

A marathon and half marathon around the city of Louisville

(Photo via EmilyRS/Flickr)

BeerFest

Sample local and national craft beers at the Fest-a-Ville grounds.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Great Balloon Race

Hot air balloon races and events (weather permitting).

(Photo via © Richard Wong / Alamy)

Great Steamboat Race

The Belle of Louisville takes on the Belle of Cincinnati in a steamboat race down the Ohio River.

(Photo via AP)

Downs After Dark

A nighttime horse racing event at Churchill Downs to kick off the Spring Meet.

(Photo via collin93/Flickr)

Horse Barn Tours

Some horse barns, like Old Friends, have retired derby horses that you can visit on a tour

(Photo via Buddy Mays / Alamy)

Parties

Derby parties range from the traditional Barnstable Brown to the wild Maxim party to the local favorite Pimento Cheese Social.

(Photo via Stephen Cohen / Getty Images)

Early morning workouts

Head to the track early to watch the horses' morning workouts.

(Photo via AP)

Watch the Derby at Keeneland

If you don't have tickets to the main event, Keeneland race track in Lexington, Kentucky, hosts a viewing party that's a fun alternative.

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Pegasus Parade

Floats, balloons and marching bands parade down Broadway in downtown Louisville.

(Photo via tonybaize/Flickr)

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The race may only be two minutes long, but in Louisville, the Kentucky Derby celebration lasts two weeks. Here's a run-down of the best things to do in the days leading up to the Derby:

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What to do
There are a slew of events leading up to the race, which takes place the first Saturday in May. For two weeks before, the Kentucky Derby Festival features things like Thunder Over Louisville, an epic fireworks show, and balls and parties for days. Click through the slideshow above to see some of the best things to do at the Kentucky Derby.

What to eat
Louisville is a foodie city, and a lot of the restaurants are locally owned. Some favorites to try include Bistro 1860 and Rye. A lot of Louisville's top spots increase their prices during Derby, but others, like Holy Grale and Feast BBQ, are good bets and don't require reservations. As for signature dishes, try the hot brown sandwich, originally made famous at the Brown Hotel, though you can get it elsewhere, too.

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What to drink
Bourbon, silly! Even if you don't make it out to Louisville's famous Bourbon Trail, there are plenty of bars like Proof on Main and Meta serving cocktails. (There's also an urban bourbon trail in the city, but the real thing is much better.) Over Derby weekend, Louisville bars (which usually stay open til 4 a.m.) don't close, so you can party around the clock. And of course, we can't neglect the famous mint julep. If you're coming to Derby, you need to have one, but be prepared for hefty prices and might not be made with the highest quality whiskey.

When to book
Last-minute travel to the Kentucky Derby is easier than you'd think. You can usually find ticket deals on Craigslist, especially if the weather forecast calls for rain or heat. Even if you get to Louisville without tickets to the race, you shouldn't have a hard time acquiring some. Hotels are a little trickier, and prices skyrocket around this time, but at this writing there was still availability over Derby weekend, especially if you don't stay downtown. Another alternative is to check out home exchange sites like Airbnb or louisvillederbyhomerental.com.

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Related: 10 little known facts about the Kentucky Derby

10 Little Known Facts About the Kentucky Derby
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