On the border of the Mason-Dixon Line, Louisville is often called the ‘Gateway to the South’. The biggest city in Kentucky offers a unique blend of southern and midwestern culture. Here baseball, cowboys and bourbon reign supreme.
Kentucky, in general, may be an overlooked tourist destination, but the narrative doesn’t pass the test. Not that locals care, they’re too busy keeping the city’s budding culture 100% its own.
Louisville is home to enough attractions to fill an itinerary twice this size, offering visitors a great mix of history, culture, art and sport. Here you can explore the home of the world-famous Kentucky Derby and the birthplace of Mohammad Ali. Before venturing down the Ohio River on a century-old steamboat.
So let’s dive in and guide you through the ultimate itinerary for three days in Louisville, Kentucky.
Where to Stay
There are several great spots in Louisville to base yourself for the weekend. Each district has its own personality that blends the unique position of Louisville on the map.
The Old District is one of the biggest such areas within the USA. On foot you’ll be able to see the many Victorian-era homes plus explore the local university campus.
Downtown is easy to get around on foot, plus gives easy access to four distilleries that are on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Butchertown, however, is our pick for the best place to stay in Louisville. Warehouses have made way for waterfront parks, providing great accommodation for all budgets. Additionally, many of the top attractions are a short walk away.
When to Go
Louisville comes with pleasant temperatures for most of the year. The city may be considered culturally a part of the south, but the geography hasn’t changed. Louisville gets cold in the winter.
Mid to late spring and early fall are wonderful times of year to explore the River City. The perfect temperatures bring locals to the parks, especially after the winter months. Venturing down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail also provides epic scenery during the two seasons.
Summer brings the heat, but is more than manageable. Plus, it’s the height of baseball season, so summer is a great time to explore the Slugger Museum and watch a game.
Day 1: Baseball, Art & Bridges
Start off your three days in Louisville by touring one of the top attractions in town, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. As you walk along Museum Row towards the building, it’s likely that you will notice the towering 120ft (36.5m) baseball bat before the brick structure.
The factory has been turning out exceptional baseball bats since 1884. The Hillerich and Bradby Baseball Bats, also known as the Louisville Slugger, are still made here to this day. Join a factory tour that explores the making of the bat from start to finish. Plus, at the end of the tour, you’ll receive a mini bat replica of the legendary Louisville Slugger.
The museum itself is encompassing and draws you in from the moment you enter. Featuring hundreds of historical bats, including the one used by the iconic Babe Ruth in his last home run and many hands-on exhibits, you won’t want to leave. Well, maybe once you experienced what a 90 mph (145kmoh) fast ball flying at you feels like!
Next up, the Kentucky Museum of Art. Known by locals as the KMAC, the museum separates itself from other similar galleries around the United States. This is because the KMAC celebrates the process of making art as much as the end result.
Since its relatively humble beginnings in 1981, the museum has grown to be a centerpiece of creativity in the wider community and now encompasses an expansive four-story complex in downtown Louisville.
Other prominent galleries may house collections from around the world, but the Kentucky Museum of Art will give you an immense appreciation for heritage of the craft within the Blue Grass State.
With some fun indoor activities under your belt, it’s time to enjoy some of the best outdoor spaces Louisville has to offer. Beginning at Waterfront Park, join locals enjoying an afternoon picnic or getting in a leisurely stroll. The park sits on the surging Ohio River and continues to grow in size.
The Waterfront Park is now home to 85-acres of public space, slowly replacing rundown industrial sites that had long been sitting dormant. With beautiful views of the river, there are also a series of bridges that cross into the state of Indiana.
One way to wander along the river is to follow the popular Promenade. If you have the kids along for the trip, then head to the Adventure Playground before exploring the Swing Garden.
Waterfront Park is also a common spot for many of Louisville’s top festivals and live events. None bigger than the Thunder over Louisville, which is the annual celebration and official beginning of the Kentucky Derby Festival. See what’s on in the park when you’re in town here.
Since you’re already at Waterfront Park, why not embark on a fun trip across the Ohio River into Jefferson, Indiana? The Big Four Bridge is one of the best attractions in Louisville, with over 1.5 million people crossing the bridge every year.
The historic bridge was constructed in 1895 and is just shy of a half-mile (800m) in length. Back then, the Big Four Bridge was an important part of the local railway system, but in the 1960s it was converted to a pedestrian-only path. Thus earning its humorous nickname, the ‘Bridge that Goes Nowhere’.
Not only does the bridge allow you an easy way into Indiana, but the path is quite scenic. With views of the city skyline plus the Ohio River, walking or cycling the bridge is a great way to top off a fun afternoon in Louisville. If you feel like cycling across, head to Wheel Fun Rentals for a bike rental in close proximity to the bridge.
Kentucky Derby aside, the one thing that put Louisville and the Bluegrass State on the map has to be bourbon. With the city and several surrounding towns being major locations on the famous Bourbon Trail, it would be remiss not to try some outstanding local liquor.
We have allocated time to venture along the Bourbon Trail on day 3, but you can begin the adventure on Louisville’s Main Street with four fantastic distilleries. The four distilleries are Evan Williams Experience, Old Forester, Angel’s Envy and Michter’s.
All four have something unique to offer, along with an understanding of just how snobby locals can be about bourbon. Not that we’re complaining, it’s the passion for the craft that allows Kentucky to make some of the best bourbon on earth.
Where to Eat
For lunch near the Ohio River, head to Proof on Main. The restaurant serves up both delicious new-America fare to go alongside their captivating decor. Grab a local bourbon on the rocks for a bougie but fun lunch experience.
Lilly’s Bistro may sound like a basic spot for dinner, but at the helm is the award-winning Kathy Cary. The food here is locally sourced, and the menu reflects the changing seasons. Order the evening special for one of the best meals in town.
Day 2 Old Town, Kentucky Derby & the Belleville
What to Do
After one too many bourbons it may be hard to get up in the morning, but after a hearty breakfast it’s time to begin our second day itinerary. Walk off the morning meal with an exploration of Old Louisville. The historic district is just north of the city’s University of Louisville and just out of downtown.
Covering just shy of 50 blocks, the historic district is one of the largest in the United States and the largest district featuring such an immense display of beautiful Victorian-era architecture. Visitors will also love the sheer number of stained windows, creating a vast array of colors throughout the neighborhood.
The streets are lined with oaks that change in the fall, making a trip to the district in September and October a sight to behold. But any time of year, a walk along the stately homes will be a pleasant way to begin the day. With the added bonus of guiding you towards the Speed Art Museum.
The museum is the largest and oldest museum of art in Kentucky and features work from around the globe. A visit here will perfectly complement your time at KMAC. Walk the halls that feature collections of ancient, classical and contemporary art, focusing on western society. Come here to see works by Monet and Rembrandt.
From the Speed Art Museum, take some time to explore the University of Louisville Campus. Wander through William B. Stansbury Park or get up close to impressive Cardinal Stadium, home to the university’s Division I football team.
With some casual morning fun behind us, let’s hit up arguably the top attraction in Louisville. The city is home to the world-famous Kentucky Derby and while nothing beats seeing the race in action, the Kentucky Derby Museum is an impressive consolation prize.
The museum is engaging from the get-go and celebrates the incredible history of the event from its beginning in 1875 through every race since. Visitors will love the exhibits, including The World’s Greatest Race, the largest horseshoe on planet earth plus a resident thoroughbred. The Kentucky Derby Museum also goes into great detail about all the action that happens off the track.
Upon entry, you’ll be granted access to the famous Churchill Downs Racetrack where the Derby takes place. Plus, along the way you can sit back and take in the vast 360 degree film display.
Louisville may be known for bourbon and horse racing, but one of the most famous figures of the 20th century was born right here. Muhammad Ali, cultural icon and famous boxer grew up in Louisville and now there is a museum dedicated to the amazing life of arguably the city’s most famous resident.
The Muhammad Ali Center is located along Museum Row and is an immense six-story museum with a theater, fascinating displays, a plaza and a gallery. One of the top attractions in the center is a replica of the boxing ring used by Ali at his renowned training camp in Deer Lake.
Visitors can also explore the vast display of memorabilia and artifacts that tell the story, not only of his career but the impact Muhammad Ali had on the world.
From the Muhammad Ali Center, you’ll be a quick walk to the Belle of Louisville. The Belle got its start back in 1914 and is the oldest Mississippi River steamboat that still operates to this day. The historic boat originally worked along the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, before being transported to the Ohio River in the 1960s.
While you would have experienced splendid views on the Big Four Bridge, you’ll love casually making your way down the Ohio River onboard such a historic steamboat. You can even enjoy dinner on the boat, while watching the sun go down over Kentucky.
Where to Eat
One of the best spots on Louisville for brunch is the local favorite, Garage Bar. Known for the wrecked cars that line the patio, Garage Bar comes with beignets, breakfast pizza and top brunch cocktails. Plus, the spacious patio is perfect on a pleasant morning.
For lunch, make a beeline for Taco Luchador. You may be far from Mexico, but the tacos are delicious, especially when paired with Luchador’s cheap and creative margaritas.
End a monumental day in Louisville at Jack Fry’s. The local institution is easy to miss, so keep an eye out as you won’t want to skip their menu loaded with wonderful eats. From there, wander down Bardstown Road for some happening nightlife.
Day 3 Road Trips, Bourbon & Science
What to Do
Starting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in the morning sounds like a dangerous idea. Indeed, you’re probably right. But exploring the 70-mile (113km) trail will take some time and under the early morning light you can see the gorgeous countryside that exists around Louisville.
All up there are 38 distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, providing the perfect excuse to embark on a road trip and see more of Kentucky. The state produces 95% of the world’s bourbon and at any point in time, there are 9 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky.
As you pass by some distilleries on the trail, eventually it will become an acceptable hour to sample some of the famous local produce. With so many exceptional distilleries to visit, we’ve taken on the arduous task of narrowing the list down to three.
Woodford Reserve – It may be the smallest distillery on the trail, but as the oldest, Woodford Reserve has a wonderful story to tell. The property is a National Landmark placed among picturesque rolling hills.
Heaven Hill Distillery– This distillery makes our top three, as it’s the home of the Bourbon Heritage Center. Enjoy a tour and tastings of their iconic Elijah Craig and Evan Williams bourbon.
Jim Beam American Stillhouse – You may prefer to spend time at lesser-known distilleries, but it’s hard to beat their extensive 90-minute tour. Capture the bourbon making process from beginning to end.
If you choose to stick around Louisville, then you’ll find no shortage of fun things to do. One of the best things to do in Louisville with kids is to visit the Kentucky Science Center. But keep in mind that the museum has plenty for young and old, so don’t be surprised if you walk away having gotten just as involved as the kids.
The Science Museum opened in the 1870s as a natural history museum. But through its long and interesting history, it slowly became the Kentucky Science Center that the locals know and love today.
Now the center encompasses two buildings, one that comes with an incredible four-story theater. Some of the other top attractions include hands-on workshop labs, plus the Science in Play. Where kids can learn how to build roller coasters in real time.
Other popular destinations that are great for families, couples and friends include the Louisville Zoo and the Louisville Mega Cavern.
Where to Eat
Known for their fantastic toast (yes, they’ve taken toast to another level) Toast on Market is a great spot for breakfast on day 3. With outdoor dining in the Market District, pair your breakfast treat with a signature morning cocktail.
When venturing down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, there are several great places to eat. But the Stave takes the cake. Near to Woodford Reserve, the Stave comes with an extensive homegrown menu. But make sure you leave room for their signature blueberry pie.
Louisville may not be at the top of your bucket list, but any trip will give you a newfound appreciation of Kentucky’s biggest city. Placed along the wonderful Bourbon Trail, the city has so much to offer visitors thanks to its long and fascinating history.
Getting around town on foot is easy, with many of the city’s best attractions, including Museum Row in close proximity to each other. This allows visitors to experience the culture from start to finish, without breaking it up with a car ride through traffic.
The city may be known for horses and bourbon, but Louisville is a destination for foodies. Restaurants combine southern flair with American and international cuisine to give visitors plenty of choice. In combination with museums, galleries and parks, you’ll have a challenging but fun time fitting everything into your own itinerary.