Louisville, Kentucky…the home of the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Louisville Slugger bats. Named after King Louis XVI of France, the city was founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark. Muhammad Ali and Jennifer Lawrence were born and raised here. One third of all bourbon comes from Louisville. It’s home to several stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. And in 2012, Louisville was the only city in the US to make Zagat’s list of “8 Awesome Foodie Getaways Around the World.” This all adds up to make Louisville an excellent place to visit, as well as a great home base for exploring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Tim and I have visited Louisville twice, discovering the best spots to visit. We also made it our home base for touring all eighteen distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (read about that here!).
Louisville may seem like a small town but there is a lot to see and do here. In this post, we cover 12 great things to do in Louisville, Kentucky.
Best Things to do in Louisville
#1 Churchill Downs
For the most exciting way to spend an afternoon in Louisville, go to Churchill Downs. Watch the races, drink mint juleps, and place your bets. Even if you lose it’s tons of fun.
Churchill Downs is the home of the Kentucky Derby. The race is held every year on the first Saturday in May and it is the longest continually running sporting event in US history (the first race took place in 1875). The horses run just 1.25 miles. It’s a short, fast race that has earned it the nickname “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”
This is our favorite spot in Louisville. I grew up going to the races at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland, so to be able to watch the races here at Churchill Downs was something special.
Races are held mainly during the spring and fall months. It is best to check the Churchill Downs website before planning your visit.
Want to learn more about the history of the Kentucky Derby? Visit the Kentucky Derby Museum, located at Churchill Downs.
#2 Enjoy some of Louisville’s Best Eats
It’s no secret that when we travel, we love to eat. Louisville has some great spots to try and during our two visits to the city, we sampled as many as possible. A few of our favorites were Jack Fry’s, Mayan Cafe, El Taco Luchador, and the Mussel & Burger Bar.
Read more about the best eats in town here.
#3 Get a Taste of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
You’re in bourbon country, y’all!! While you are in Louisville, consider sampling some of Kentucky’s best bourbon.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a collection of bourbon whiskey distilleries. Most of the distilleries are located outside of Louisville, near Lexington and Bardstown. To get to these, you will either need to rent a car or take a tour.
However, you can visit seven of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail labels right in Louisville: Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Rabbit Hole, Angel’s Envy, Michter’s, Old Forester, and the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse. If you do not have the time to venture out into bourbon country, these spots offer tastings and tours, giving you the chance to get a taste of the Bourbon Trail.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: If you are traveling with kids, the Evan Williams Experience gets our top pick. Family friendly, this tour illustrates the history of Evan Williams bourbon with videos and a fully immersive experience that kids could find interesting. And yes, there’s a bourbon tasting at the end, perfect for the parents.
Want to learn more about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail? Check these out:
Kentucky Bourbon Trail: The Ultimate Guide
The Best Distilleries to Visit on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
#4 Muhammad Ali Center
Want to be inspired? The Muhammad Ali Center is a state of the art museum that tells the story of Muhammad Ali’s life. During your visit, watch a powerful movie about Ali’s life and take part in interactive exhibits. Trust me, it’s not another boring museum.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Start with the movie on the top floor and then work your way down through the museum. Allow 1 to 2 hours for a visit here.
#5 Louisville Mega Cavern
Do you want to zip line at the world’s only fully underground course? If not, you can skip zip lining and tour 17 miles of man-made passages on their Mega Tram. This is a destination that is exciting for the entire family.
For more information, including operating times and ticket prices, visit the Mega Cavern website.
#6 Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co.
Yes, Louisville is the place to visit for bourbon, but at Kentucky Peerless Distilling you can sample some moonshine and bourbon. This is a relatively new spot in Louisville, although the Kentucky Peerless name goes way back to the 1800’s. Bourbon production just started again with their first bourbon release in 2019.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: Tours and tastings are offered Monday through Saturday. Check the Kentucky Peerless website for full details. They have an awesome gift shop, perfect for bringing home moonshine souvenirs and gifts.
#7 Louisville Slugger Field
Baseball fans may want to watch a game here during baseball season. This is the home of the Louisville Bats, a minor league baseball team.
#8 Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
Here’s another stop for baseball fans. Louisville Slugger has been making bats since 1884. While you are here, you have the option of taking a factory tour, exploring the museum, or visiting the gift shop. We loved seeing the Bat Vault, where a copy of almost every different bat the factory has made is on display. For kids, there are batting cages and a very small Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.
The perfect souvenir for baseball fans: While you are here, design your own personalized bat. It makes a great souvenir or gift for friends and family.
#9 Cave Hill Cemetery
Cave Hill Cemetery is a gorgeous spot in downtown Louisville. It is also the final resting place for Muhammad Ali and Colonel Sanders. Come pay your respects and enjoy the scenic drive through this oasis in urban Louisville.
#10 Have a Drink at the Brown Hotel Lobby Bar
This is a historic spot in downtown Louisville. In fact, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Have you ever heard of a “hot brown sandwich?” Well, that has its origins here.
The Brown Hotel was recently renovated, making it a top spot to stay while in Louisville. Or, just sip on bourbon or order dinner at the Lobby Bar. It’s worth at least a peek inside!
#11 Conrad-Caldwell House Museum
Located in historic Old Louisville, this house is one of the best examples of Richardsonian Romanesque Architecture. The house was built in 1893 and has been home to two Louisville families. It’s a beautiful spot to visit, especially for those with an interest in history or architecture.
PRO TRAVEL TIP: It is worth it to walk or drive around the neighborhood here. This is Old Louisville, with historic houses in a beautiful setting, all in downtown Louisville.
#12 Enjoy the View from a Rooftop Bar
There are a few rooftop bars in Louisville. We visited the 8UP Elevated Drinkery and Kitchen, which actually sits right on top of the Hilton Garden Inn. This is a nice spot to try. The views over Louisville are decent and the drinks were good.
Alex&nder is a rooftop bar that is located at the Copper and Kings brandy distillery. Enjoy craft cocktails and views of the city from the bar.
With More Time in Louisville
With more time, there are a few more things to see and do.
The Big Four Bridge
This pedestrian bridge is awash in a rainbow of colors at night. From here, you get an interesting perspective of the Louisville skyline. This bridge connects Kentucky with Indiana so you can walk from one state to the other.
Fourth Street Live
Looking for Hard Rock Cafe, TGI Fridays, or the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse? They can all be found here, along with many more restaurants, bars, and activities for the entire family. Fourth Street Live also hosts concerts and events. For the full schedule, visit their website.
If you have any questions about the best things to do in Louisville, let us know in the comment section below.
More Information for Your Trip to Louisville
LOUISVILLE: Don’t miss our guide to the Best Places to Eat in Louisville.
KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL: Pick out which distilleries to visit in our article Best Distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. For information on how to plan your visit, don’t miss our Guide to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Itinerary.
MAMMOTH CAVE: Mammoth Cave is a national park in Kentucky and it makes a great day trip from Louisville and Nashville.
NEARBY DESTINATIONS: Asheville, North Carolina makes a great weekend destination. You can also spend a few days in Nashville or visit nearby New River Gorge National Park.
USA TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in the United States, check out our article Best USA Road Trips, which has 18 sample itineraries for your next big adventure. You can also see more travel itineraries on our Travel Itineraries page and our National Park Itineraries.
Are you planning a trip to the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.
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This is awesome activity when this pandemic ends. Thank you for sharing!
Hello and thank you for this very complete post! I wanted to ask if besides Louisville you recommend another city worth getting to know in Kentucky? Thank you!
Bardstown is a very small, historic town that has several great bourbon distilleries and some historic pubs/hotels to visit. Lexington is nice too but we haven’t spent much time here. And this isn’t in Kentucky (it’s just over the border in Indiana), you can visit the small, quirky town of Santa Claus where everything has a Christmas theme. Cheers, Julie
We are road-tripping down from Canada starting this weekend and will be in Kentucky sometime next week. Can you just go to Churchill Downs and tour most of the grounds yourself? We are a large group and hoping not to have to pay for much. Really just hoping to see a race and the paddock… Up here, at Woodbine, you get in for free, they have a small history section and it only costs you money to bet on the races (and buy drinks and such) but the grounds are entirely free. Just wondering what we are in for in Kentucky!
It is exciting to hear that you will be visiting Kentucky! With regards to Churchill Downs it would be best to check their direct website for details as they may have different pricing and policies for different events. Here is the direct link: https://www.churchilldowns.com/ You might check the “Calendar” menu first to see what events are occurring during your time of travel. And then check the “Visit” menu for information about tickets, general admission, parking, etc. Happy Travels! Tim
Did you eat at Lilly’s on Bardstown Road? Absolutely my favorite when I am in Louisville.
No, but I’ll put it on our list for our next visit. Thanks!
I’m sad that Actor’s Theatre of Louisville wasn’t on your list. Please visit it next time. Especially if you are there during the Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Your blog has been a great resource as we plan our first trip to Louisville.
Is there any particular tour of Churchill Downs you would recommend? Trying to decide if we should do the Around the Track Golf Cart tour, or some combination of the Historic Walking, Barn and Backside, and/or Behind the Scenes tours.
I don’t have any specific recommendations. Just pick the one that sounds the most interesting to you. Have fun! Cheers, Julie
Louisville has so many cool things to offer. I was absolutely obsessed with horses of all sorts when I was younger, so Louisville was always on my bucket list because of Churchill Downs. And even though I still haven’t checked “Go to the Kentucky Derby” off my list, the museum there is so fun.
Hi Amanda! I’d go back to Louisville just to go to Churchill Downs again. We’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby (or the Preakness even though we grew up in Maryland) but I’m sure it would be tons of fun. By the way, we are big fans of you and your travel blog! Thanks for commenting! Cheers, Julie