Louisville, Kentucky’s largest city, is known for many things: The Kentucky Derby, Louisville Sluggers, excellent food and of course, bourbon. There’s so much to do in Louisville, from museums to parks to steamboats, to a giant man-made cavern and a sanatorium known as one of the most haunted locations in the world, that you might not even have time to taste all that bourbon! So dive into this exciting city on the Ohio River and plan a long stay, because there’s plenty to keep you busy.
5 Things You Must Do in Louisville
Stroll Museum Row
Downtown Louisville’s Museum Row is home to more than half a dozen attractions along a stretch of five historic blocks. 21c Museum Hotel is a combination boutique hotel and contemporary art museum featuring only 21st century artists and open 24 hours a day to cater to insomniacs and early risers alike. The KMAC Museum, which keeps more expected hours, is another contemporary art museum that focuses on the relationships between artists and their chosen materials. The Kentucky Science Center is a leader in inquiry based learning and has interactive exhibits and programs that cater to children, families and adults at their flagship location in Louisville. And don’t miss the Speed Art Museum, which is Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum. The galleries showcase art from different countries and centuries, and the Art Sparks gallery gives visitors of all ages a hands-on experience that will leave them looking at art in a whole new way.
Have a Drink
You can’t visit Kentucky without tasting a little (or a lot of) bourbon. Start your day (or week) of drinking at the Frazier Kentucky History Museum and Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center. Continue your tastings on Museum Row at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. True aficionados can take a drive outside the city to visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and its collection of rare whiskey artifacts, before resuming their tour of the many distilleries with tasting rooms in Louisville. If bourbon isn’t your thing, there’s also a thriving craft beer scene in the city.
Hang Out at the Waterfront
Yes, Waterfront Park is a park, but it’s so much more than playgrounds and picnic space. Rent a bike and take a peddling tour, making sure to stop by the Lincoln Memorial and some of the great public art scattered around the area. Take a ride on a boat or a paddle down the Ohio River in a canoe or kayak and you might get a glimpse of the University of Louisville’s award winning women’s rowing team out for a practice. Grab a bite to eat from one of the food trucks or restaurants, then end your day with a trip over the Big Four Bridge, a railroad bridge built in 1895 that became a pedestrian crossing in the 1990s and connects Waterfront Park to Jeffersonville, Indiana. Check it out at night when the LED lighting system that wraps around the iron fretwork of the bridge is in action.
Once you’re on the Indiana side of the river, you must check out one of National Geographic’s top 200 parks in the country: the Falls of the Ohio. This national natural landmark boasts bike paths, hiking trails, one of the world’s most accessible Devonian-age fossil beds, fishing, birding and more. Round out your visit with a look inside the Interpretive Center, where you’ll learn more about the history of the park and how the Ohio River shaped the country as we know it today.
Louisville is known for its eponymous baseball bat, the Louisville Slugger, and a trip to the city wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the factory and museum. See how the bats are made and find one used by your favorite player before posing next to the giant bat sculpture. Another can’t miss Louisville site is Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Tour the derby museum, catch a live race and sip a mint julep while you take in the view. Your last sports stop in Louisville is The Muhammad Ali Center, dedicated to the life, legacy and ideals of the famous boxer and humanitarian. See artifacts related to Ali’s legendary career and learn about the six core principles that fueled his journey.
5 Things You Might Not Have Considered in Louisville
Take a Ride
Hop on the Belle of Louisville, the only remaining steamboat from the great American packet boat era, for a ride into the past. The purely steam-powered and paddlewheel-propelled boat was built in 1914 and, along with its newer sister boat the Mary M. Miller, hosts brunch, lunch, history and sunset rides along the Louisville Waterfront. Sightsee, enjoy a meal and learn about the history of the harbor and these magnificent vessels.
See the Architecture of the Past
Louisville is home to the largest collection of Victorian homes in the US. The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, named for the wealthy businessmen who resided there in the 1800 and 1900’s, is one of the finest examples of Richardson Romanesque architecture and has been fully restored to Edwardian Age standards. It had all the latest innovations when it was built in the 1850s, including interior plumbing and electric light. Take a guided tour to see the beautiful architecture and details of the house, along with a large collection of the previous owners’ possessions and exhibits about the history of Louisville.
Walk with Giants
The Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is home to almost 16,000 acres of land for visitors to explore. Donated to the state by philanthropist Isaac W. Bernheim and designed by the Frederick Law Olmsted firm, the Bernheim is home to a nationally-renowned 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 varieties of trees, shrubs and perennials, as well as 40 hiking trails, a lake to fish in, an edible garden and more. For the forest’s 90th anniversary in 2019, Danish artist Thomas Dambo constructed three giant sculptures, using recycled wood from the region. Whether you pose with the giants, attend an annual festival or just relax in the park, time at Bernheim makes for a memorable day.
Descend into the 100 acre, manmade Louisville Mega Cavern for a variety of experiences you won’t find anywhere else. Start gently with a historic tram tour, before taking on the 90-minute walking or bike tours, mega zip lines or extreme ropes course – the only fully underground ropes challenge in the world. The cavern was created by a massive limestone quarry blasted out by miners over 42 years, before being purchased for use as an environmentally-conscious high security storage facility. Since then, the cavern, which is actually the largest building in the state of Kentucky, has also become the largest volume recycling center in the state, as massive amounts of recycled concrete, brick, rock and dirt were off-loaded into the space to fill holes and create floors and internal roads.
Investigate the Paranormal
Waverly Hill Sanatorium was built as a tuberculosis hospital almost one hundred years ago, and the building that still stands on the site was once considered one of the most modern and well-equipped facilities around. Today, the sanatorium is known as one of the most haunted locations in the world. Waverly Hill hosts paranormal, historical and investigative tours along with an annual haunted house.