It’s difficult to name all the great things to do in Louisville, KY in one article, but let’s start with a bit of background on the city. Louisville is the largest city in the southern state of Kentucky and sits on the Ohio River. It’s named for King Louis of France and is in the northern part of Kentucky, close to the Indiana border. Given the city’s position on the Ohio River, historically, its primary industry has been based around shipping. Louisville has a population of 602,000 people. It has earned the nickname ‘Derby City’ because it hosts the annual Kentucky Derby horse race, held at the Churchill Downs racecourse.
Let’s take a deep dive into the city and take you on a quick journey to explore all the great things to do in Louisville, KY on your visit.
Churchill Downs is the racecourse most famous for hosting the annual Kentucky Derby. The dirt racetrack is one mile long and was first opened and used in 1875. The renowned course is named for Henry and John Churchill, who leased the land for the course for their nephew. Although the Kentucky Derby is by far the most famous event that takes place at Churchill Downs, there are many other races you can enjoy. A visit is a great thing to do in Louisville, KY, when you’re in town.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail started in 1999 with the focus of promoting the bourbon industry in Kentucky. In the beginning, the trail included seven distilleries in the region. Today, there are 18 stops along the trail, and there’s even a visitor center in downtown Louisville. Although there are 18 sites on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, these are not all within Louisville. There are six distilleries along the trail within the city limits.
Each participant on the trail gets a passport, which is stamped by every distillery visited. If you manage to visit all 18, you’ll become the proud owner of a Bourbon Trail t-shirt. If you can remember doing them all, that will be an even bigger achievement. Even just sticking to the Louisville distilleries could get quite messy if you have a drink in each. Given the quality of Kentucky bourbon, hitting up some of the stops on the trail is an entertaining thing to do in Louisville, KY.
The Muhammad Ali Center
This historical museum on the waterfront is dedicated to one of Louisville’s finest sons, Muhammad Ali. The museum has six floors and opened in 2005 to celebrate the life and achievements of the world’s greatest boxing champion. As well as looking at his boxing career and prowess, the museum also focuses on his six principles. These are the principles that Ali lived by every day. They are confidence, dedication, giving, conviction, spirituality, and respect. The museum encourages visitors to take these principles on board and live as Ali did. It’s a very positive and upbeat attraction and one of the best things to do in Louisville, KY.
Tickets required, available online or from the ticket office, $9-$14
Historic Frankfort Avenue
Historic Frankfort Avenue corridor is Louisville’s entertainment, shopping, and dining mecca. The area has many historical features, such as the Three Mile Tollhouse and Spect’s Saloon. There’s a wide range of shops and stores, selling everything from wine to antiques to outdoor gear. Restaurants offer a diverse choice of cuisines, so you can be sure there’s something to suit everyone. If the weather is good, there’s nothing better than eating and drinking outside while watching the world go by. Visiting Frankfort Avenue is one of the best things to do in Louisville for the atmosphere alone.
Kentucky Derby Museum
It’s difficult to overestimate just how prestigious the Kentucky Derby is in Louisville and on the racing calendar. The Derby makes up one of three races run at Churchill Downs that form part of the Triple Crown. The other competitions are The Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. To win the Triple Crown, competitors must triumph in all three races in the same year. To make things a little harder for them, they’re only permitted to enter the Kentucky Derby one time. It is, quite literally, a once in a lifetime opportunity. Because of the tradition of the race and the importance to the local economy and people, it’s only natural that there would be a museum to detail its long and distinguished history. The Kentucky Derby Museum is one of the best things to do in Louisville – even for visitors who don’t care much for horse racing.
Tickets required, available online or at the entrance, $8-$15. A variety of packages are available.
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Louisville, KY, then look no further. If graveyards tickle your fancy, take a stroll on up to Cave Hill Cemetery and worship at the grave of the chicken man himself, Colonel Sanders. Alternatively, if that isn’t creepy enough, get yourself over to Waverly Hills Sanitorium. This beautiful but abandoned building stands testament to Louisville’s fight against tuberculosis. These days, it stands empty but is a haven for ghost hunters and lovers of all things that go bump in the night. If you happen to visit around Halloween, you can even take part in a haunted tour. Having a look at the site is a great free thing to do in Louisville and takes you back in time to experience a bit of the city’s history.
Frequently Asked Questions by Travelers About Louisville, KY
We’ve compiled answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the city and all the great things to do in Louisville, KY. These will help your research, planning, and general education about all this fantastic southern city has to offer visitors and residents alike.
What food in Louisville known for?
There is a slew of famous foods that everyone should try when they visit. Eating out and experiencing local foods is one of the best things to do in Louisville. Burgoo is a famous stew from the city. It’s spicy, made from beef, and usually served with cornbread or muffins. The dish dates back to the Civil War and is usually prepared in massive batches for special occasions. You can, however, find it in restaurants throughout Louisville. Another traditional meal that should feature on your list of things to do in Louisville is the Hot Brown. Created at Brown’s Hotel in the city, this is an open-face sandwich, stuffed with bacon and turkey and slathered with Mornay sauce. However, the biggest thing the state of Kentucky is known for, obviously, is its fried chicken. You can find several KFC Buffet outlets throughout the city if you’re craving the stuff on your vacation.
What is there to do in Louisville, KY for free?
Head along to the Big Four Bridge on the Ohio River at Louisville Waterfront Park. The bridge, which spans a total of 2,525 feet, connects the states of Kentucky and Indiana. The Big Four used to be a railroad bridge but is now used exclusively for pedestrians and cyclists. No motorized traffic can utilize the bridge deck. As well as being a beautiful structure, few can resist the temptation to stand with one foot in Indiana and the other in Kentucky. Being in two states at once is one of the unique free things to do in Louisville, KY. If you visit at night, once the sun has gone down, the bridge is lit up, and it’s a beautiful sight.
What is there to do in Louisville, KY at night?
Hit up the quirky 21c Hotel to visit the first museum dedicated solely to 21st Century art. The Louisville location of 21c has some fantastic art installations and permanent exhibitions on display. There’s always a range of special events throughout the year, too. Art galleries are pretty unusual to find in hotels outside Las Vegas, so this is an enjoyable site. It’s one of the great free things to do in Louisville at night. The gallery is open 24/7.
Louisville tends to fly under the radar when it comes to choosing big cities to spend vacation time in. This is pretty sad as it’s a brilliant city and there are so many things to do in Louisville that you won’t find anywhere else. Not only does it have unique Southern charm, but it’s seen many areas regenerated over the past few years. It attracts excellent art exhibitions and runs popular events and festivals throughout the year. The population of the metro Louisville area continues to steadily grow, bringing in new people, skills and business. Louisville International Airport serves the city and broader metropolitan area, and there’s a vast range of high-end and budget accommodations to suit all tastes. We hope we’ve convinced you of all the best things to do in Louisville, KY, on your next visit.