All the Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky

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Louisville is Kentucky's largest city, and it goes big when it comes to the things it's best known for: Bourbon distilleries, a little horse race called the Kentucky Derby, and its rich history. But if you're planning a visit to this special place, why stop there? There's something for every type of urban explorer to enjoy, and we've rounded up the places and experiences that belong on your must-do list.

Whether you're headed to Kentucky for racing's biggest day, plan to hit the bourbon trail(s!), or you're simply looking to spend a weekend soaking up the city's southern charm, there's no dearth of fantastic sights to see, places to stay, and things to taste in Louisville.

While the Derby—which takes place on the first Saturday in May each year—is certainly the city's busiest period, Louisville remains a winning tourist destination year round. Sports fans shouldn't miss a chance to check out where the big event takes place, nor should they skip the Louisville Slugger Museum. You'll also find family-friendly parks, art exhibits, and several hip, walkable neighborhoods to wander in. When your belly starts to rumble, try a Hot Brown (a local delicacy!) and save room to sample a few chocolatey bourbon barrels from Muth's Candies for dessert.

Need some inspiration? Check out a few of our favorite ways to make the most of your days in Derby City.

What to Do

Churchill Downs

Perhaps the city's most famous landmark, the twin spires of Churchill Downs have presided over the Derby since Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark (grandson of William Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark Expedition) founded the track in 1875. Races are still held there regularly, but you don't need to be placing a bet to have a good time. The Downs is also home to the Kentucky Derby Museum, where you can learn about the history of the race, jockeys, horses, and tour some exclusive areas of the track. 2024 will be a huge year for the facilities, as the Kentucky Derby will celebrate its 150th run.

137th Kentucky Oaks
The track at Churchill Downs is one of LouisvilleRob Carr - Getty Images

Bourbon Trail

It may not have to be made in Kentucky to be called bourbon, but there's no denying that Kentucky is synonymous with this form of whiskey. Comprised of more than a dozen beloved bourbon distilleries including Maker's Mark, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve, the Bourbon Trail serves as a sort of choose-your-own-adventure of whiskey: you choose when and where you visit to explore the distilling process, enjoy tastings, and discover the secrets to what makes Kentucky bourbon such a standout.

Urban Bourbon Trail

If you're more into the eating and drinking portions of bourbon discovery, you don't have to leave the city limits to enjoy some of the best the country has to offer. The Urban Bourbon Trail was designed in 2008 to highlight some of the many bars and restaurants in Louisville making standout food and drinks with bourbon. You can even get a special Urban Bourbon Trail passport from the Louisville Visitor Center and collect stamps from the stops on the list.

Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

Louisville's always been a sporty town, and one of its biggest claims to fame are the iconic, eponymous baseball bats. The factory and museum, where the company still makes about 1.8 million bats a year, has been in operation for more than 130 years. There you can find out all about the role the bats have played in baseball history, get a hands-on look at how bats get made, see versions used by the likes of Ted Williams and Babe Ruth, and see the towering 120-foot bat that marks the factory entrance.

louisville slugger bat factory
The Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum is marked by the huge bat statue thatGetty Images

Muhammad Ali Center

We told you it was a sporty town! Venerated boxer Muhammad Ali was among the many luminaries who called Louisville home. These days, the city pays homage to Ali's greatness (you might've noticed the Louisville airport was named after him in 2019). The Muhammad Ali Center serves as a place to learn about Ali's life, and gives back to the community in his memory through educational and personal development programs.

Speed Art Museum

Kentucky's oldest and biggest art museum has expanded in both size and ambition since it first opened in 1925; imaginative past exhibitions include "Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art." Its collection of Western art dates back to the 14th century, and there's a lot to learn from its displays of African and local indigenous pieces, too. The museum has also redoubled its commitment to showcasing the work of past and contemporary Black American artists, so there's never been a better time to go.

Iroquois Park

When you need a break from the Bourbon Trail, why not hit the forest trails? Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park and many other parks across the U.S., masterminded this 725-acre gem where you can hike, picnic, mountain bike, and play a variety of sports. Take in sweeping views of woodlands and downtown Louisville at the North Overlook; in warmer weather, catch a concert at the 2,400-capacity Iroquois Amphitheater.

Blackacre Nature Preserve and Historic Homestead

Exploring this historic nature preserve is another tranquil, family-friendly way to spend a few hours outside in Louisville. Hike past a small waterfall, then stop to feed some horses, cows, and goats for a spell. Oh, and about that last part: It's B.Y.O.A.A.C. (bring your own apples and carrots!).

portrait of goat eating carrot
Feed friendly farm animals and take a hike at Blackacre, open 7 days a week.Kiki Van Gool / EyeEm - Getty Images

Kentucky Science Center

Another excellent place to check out if you're traveling with kids, the Kentucky Science Center will keep their brains and hands busy with stimulating play centers and interactive build challenges like "Who Forted"—if your inner third-grader is giggling right now, that's the idea.

Craft Breweries

Kentucky may be known for its spirits, but Derby City also has a thriving beer culture with a number of fan-favorite craft breweries dotted around town. Against the Grain has both a smokehouse and a pubhouse where you can explore its extensive menu of brews with esoteric names like There Gose the Neighborhood and Beerknuckle Bockser. Or try Gravely Brewing Co.—which bills itself as the world's first music brewery—to take in some tunes with your suds. Then there's Apocalypse Brew Works for irreverent and adventurous spins on classic styles.

Big Four Bridge

Feel like a little interstate travel? The Big Four Bridge spans the Ohio River and the state border, connecting Louisville with Jeffersonville, Indiana. Originally built as a railroad bridge in 1895, it was decommissioned in the '60s and reopened as a pedestrian bridge in 2013 as part of the Louisville Waterfront Park (one of the city's numerous urban oases). Walking across is about a 2 mile round trip, and a great way to take in some of the city's natural beauty. For something extra special, you can pay to have the bridge's nightly lights customized to the colors of your choice.

High water and the Big Four Bridge
The Big Four Bridge is one of the most stand out sights of Louisville, spanning the Ohio River to Indiana. Thomas_Kelley - Getty Images

Ohio River

You can admire the Big Four Bridge from the Ohio River, as you balance on a stand up paddle board (or SUP, as its devotees call it). The Endless Summer Paddle Company offers beginner lessons and on-the-board yoga classes, making for a great way to get to know the area's waterways up close. Class prices include the gear, so you don't need to bring anything—ideal for travelers.

Belle of Louisville

If paddle boarding isn't for you, there's an even more leisurely way to float along the Ohio River (with access to a full bar, no less): Step aboard the Belle of Louisville, a steamboat that's over 100 years old. This National Historic Landmark has been carrying revelers along the water since the early 1930s, after its initial use as a packet boat carrying freight (you can alternately cruise on a younger boat, the Mary M. Miller, so-named for America's first woman steamboat captain). There are two-hour sightseeing excursions to suit every taste and budget, including a Harbor History tour and after-dark trips that'll have you dancing under a full moon.

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The Belle of Louisville’s trusty engines are even older than the boat, dating back to the mid-1880s.Mark Gibson - Getty Images


The East Market District, bordered by the downtown, Butchertown, and Phoenix Hill neighborhoods, also goes by "NuLu" (short for "new Louisville"). Though its bustling central area full of shops, bars, galleries, and restaurants is only about five blocks long, there's plenty to discover. There's a lot to eat and drink, too—in addition to two of the city's buzzy bourbon breweries, Rabbit Hole and Angel's Envy, take advantage of the array of food tours. Don't forget to try small-batch ice cream flavors like limoncello pound cake at Louisville Cream.


Like its neighbor, NuLu, Butchertown is a walkable, downtown-adjacent area that's an ideal place to wander, shop, and enjoy some nightlife (including Vernon Lanes, a refurbished eight-lane bowling alley and bar). The preservation district, which got its name from its past as a meatpacking hub, includes the sprawling Mellwood Art Center, full of artist studios, stores, restaurants, and Mellwood Antiques and Interiors, a 45,000-square-foot maze packed with vintage treasures.

Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (KMAC)

Art lovers shouldn't overlook this institution largely dedicated to crafts and traditional folk art, which sits on West Main Street's Museum Row near the Speed and the Louisville Slugger Museum. Current and former exhibits showcase international and local artists alike, including a 2023 co-presentation of the Korea Fiber Art Bienniale.

Live Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass music was born in 1940s Appalachia, and continues to thrive in small clubs and dedicated festivals today. Band members pluck twangy tunes on stringed instruments, such as the mandolin, five-string banjo, and the upright bass, often soundtracking multi-part harmonies. If you've never had the chance to see bluegrass performed live, Louisville is a great place to do it: Late Blue Grass Boys frontman Bill Monroe, born in Kentucky, was considered "the father" of the genre. Enjoy bluegrass and country music onstage at Merle's Whiskey Kitchen, or stop by NuLu's Goodwood Brewing on Saturday afternoons for an hours-long bluegrass jam session.

Where to Stay

21c Museum Hotel

The 21c hotels (and their colorful penguins) have become famous for their blending of quirky-yet-luxurious boutique hotel sensibilities with awe-inspiring art exhibition spaces—and the Louisville branch is the original. Easily spotted due to the gold, multi-story reproduction of Michelangelo's David out front, the hotel features a luxurious, modern feel with upscale amenities such as an on-property spa and an acclaimed restaurant. Playful touches are scattered everywhere, like those famous penguins, and artwork is integrated throughout, like the rotating gallery on the main and lower levels with more than 9,000 square feet of exhibition space. It's easily the hottest hotel in town, so plan in advance if you're hoping for an artful stay.

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21c Museum Hotel is one of the most luxurious places to stay in Louisville. Courtesy 21c

The Brown Hotel

Opened in 1923, this historic hotel is a bona fide Louisville landmark. Its rooms have played host to a bevy of celebrity guests in its nearly 100 years of operation, and with its Georgian-Revival façade and modern amenities, it remains the most elegant and historic place to stay in Louisville. Even if you aren't booking a room, no trip to Derby City would be complete without stopping over to sample the famed Hot Brown—an open-face turkey sandwich topped with bacon and smothered with cheesy mornay sauce that has become an iconic part of the city's culinary tradition—in the place where it was invented.

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The Bellwether

While this boutique hotel in the Highlands neighborhood opened in October 2021, its buildings have a history dating back to the early twentieth century: They were home to a police station and an electrical switching station, now marked by lovingly-restored details including WWII-era murals. Today, each room features stunning Art Deco-influenced decor serving nods to the past (the four-bedroom, two-bath Highland Station apartment is ideal for a luxurious group getaway). Nostalgic, the hotel's aptly-named restaurant, offers upscale spins on comfort food, such as its Hot Pockets and Sloppy Joes, alongside oysters and duck confit.

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bellwether hotel apartment
The BellwetherLang Thomas Interiors

Where to Eat

Proof on Main

Tucked inside the 21c hotel, Proof on Main shows off its own artsy side on the table, as well as the gorgeously-papered walls. The culinary team uses their commitment to local produce to infuse classic European and American dishes with southern flare. Think: Chicken liver mousse served with buttermilk biscuits and garden pickles, shrimp risotto with country ham broth, and roasted chicken with creole gravy. The bar, which features more than 120 Kentucky bourbons, is a favorite of locals and out-of-towners alike.

Royals Hot Chicken

There's no food Kentucky is better known for than fried chicken, which arguably makes hitting a joint known for Nashville-style hot chicken while in Louisville akin to blasphemy. If that's true, blasphemy tastes great. The chicken here is heartily sized and comes in five spice levels (yes, "none" is an option, as are breading-free chicken and fried tofu), the sides are irresistible, and the milkshakes (which can be blended with pie or made "adult" with added bourbon) are an ideal way to cap off a night.

Jack Fry's

Originally opened in 1933 as a sort of pre-TV sports bar, Jack Fry's has been through numerous changes of hand and facelifts over the years, but the core character of the place retains its old-school feel with walls covered in vintage pictures, juxtaposing the white tablecloth setting. Nowadays, the food skews modern American with French and southern accents that make it a romantic but unfussy place to enjoy date night.

Dish, Cuisine, Food, Steamed rice, Takikomi gohan, Rice, Ingredient, Risotto, Recipe, Produce,
Jack FryCourtesy of Jack Fry's

Mayan Cafe

If you need a break from Louisville's numerous sources of delectable southern delicacies, Mayan Cafe boast the city's best Mexican food, in the form of a sit-down restaurant and a popular food truck. At the restaurant, look for Yucatan-inspired flavors in classic dishes like cochinita pibil and scallop ceviche, along with sides like a surprisingly craveable lima bean preparation and grilled cactus. From the food truck, expect standout staples like tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, as well as the Yucutan version of a tostada known as salbutes.

Impellizzeri's Pizza

There's some debate over whether "Louisville-style pizza" deserves a special moniker. But no one questions the deliciousness of Impellizzeri's rendition, which claims to be the original; a deep dish number covered in an extreme (some might even say obscene) amount of gooey cheese.

Logan Street Market

Food halls are an amazing way to sample multiple local treats in one sitting. You'll find dozens of options—as well as offerings from city artisans—in this 25,000-square-foot destination, opened in 2019 on the site of the old Axton Candy and Tobacco Warehouse. Grab a pint at Wild Hops Brewery, and enjoy the Mexico-meets-the-American-south fare from FOKO for lunch.

Mark's Feed Store BBQ

Good luck trying to get Louisville residents to agree on which spot deserves "best BBQ" honors, but there's no disputing the fact that Mark's Feed Store is a city classic. First opened in 1988, the business has since grown to six area locations, but we recommend the Highlands neighborhood location for the best atmosphere. Come for the "burgoo" (a meat stew particularly popular in Kentucky) with a side of onion straws, and stay for a slice of buttermilk pie. Grab a bottle of Mark's special-blend sauce to go on your way out.

Muth's Candies

This Nulu sweets spot has been making candy since the 1920s, always adapting with the times—according to Muth's, during World War II, devoted customers even shared their sugar rations to keep the store in business! Several of the store's confections are tasty tributes to local culture, from the chocolate-covered bourbon barrels (old-fashioned bourbon balls) to the Modjeska, a caramel-coated marshmallow made from a "sacred" passed-down recipe.

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