Each May, about 168,000 locals and tourists stream into Churchill Downs to witness America’s greatest horse race, the Kentucky Derby. While the Derby is a must-do event, it’s also a time of year when hotels book up and attractions close because everyone else wants to see the Derby, too. Visiting the City of Beautiful Churches another time of year means you can take advantage of Louisville’s horse-racing traditions, but still see everything else that makes the city so awesome. Here’s our list of 10 things to do, see, eat and drink in Louisville over a long weekend.
Sleep Among Art and Artifacts
The 21c Museum Hotel is known for its amazing contemporary art collection scattered throughout the 91-room property, and available to guests and the public at no charge. Louisville is the location of the first 21c in the collection. If you prefer a historic vibe, the 1923 Brown Hotel has been restored with period art, glass and antiques, as well as artifacts from favorite hometown son Muhammad Ali.
The Louisville food scene is a rich as is befitting a modern Southern city; you’ll need to plan for lots of eating opportunities. Con Huevos offers Mexican brunch with jalapeño potatoes that shouldn’t be missed. At Noosh Nosh, try the barrel-aged maple syrup on the dish of your choice.
And, They’re Off!
No, not everything in Louisville centers around the Kentucky Derby, but horse racing is part of life here, and when in Rome…head to the Kentucky Derby Museum to learn about the sport, the tradition and the roses. The museum is open seven days a week, so you can check it out even if you aren’t in town during racing season. On the days leading up to special events, the museum offers extended hours, walking tours, and golf cart tours.
Try Some Bourbon
It’s the official drink of the state, and you can’t leave without trying it. Tours where someone else is driving are a particularly good idea. Mint Julep Experiences extends their fun and educational offerings during select competition weekends. If you want to go it alone, Angel’s Envy Distillery on Main Street offers tours by reservation. If you just want a perfectly crafted cocktail, head to Rye on Market Street (yes, they serve spirits other than rye).
Take a Swing
Even if you don’t know an RBI from the OPS, you likely have heard of the Louisville Slugger. And, if you are a baseball fan, well, this place is probably already on your list. No matter your opinion on the national pastime, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory warrants a visit. Snap a selfie in front of the 129-foot baseball bat sculpture outside. Inside, see how they are made and get one branded with your name.
Classical, ancient and modern art are on display at the recently expanded Speed Art Museum, which is housed in a wonder of modern architecture designed by Kulapat Yantrasast. Refer to it as “the Speed” and folks might think you’re local. Art and exhibitions at the Asia Institute Crane House showcase the area’s cultural diversity.
Dig in at Dinner
Chef, author and TV host Edward Lee has become the spokesman for Louisville’s amazing food scene. Dine at Whiskey Dry, MilkWood or 610 Magnolia, the three local eateries he owns, to experience his artistry for yourself.
Listen to Bluegrass
After the bourbon and the horses, this is Kentucky’s most legendary export, so don’t miss some fast-paced banjo and mandolin. Bluegrass Anonymous is a great place to find the schedule of who’s playing when you are in town. Popular venues include Gerstle’s and Headliners Music Hall.
Sample a Modjeska
Muth’s Candies are world famous for their Modjeskas, caramel candy with marshmallow in the center. They are named for the also-famous Helena Modrzejewska, a Polish actress who immigrated to Louisville. Your dentist won’t like them, but you will. Bourbon balls and other signature treats are also on the Muth’s menu.
In addition to food, music, bourbon and horses, Louisville is known for its leafy, green outdoors (yes, Kentucky bluegrass runs throughout). Two outdoor gems perfect for exploring include Locust Grove, a restored 1792 mansion with gardens, and Cherokee Park, which was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead.
Pronounce Louisville Correctly
Finally, as you explore, don’t forget to speak like a local. The name of the city is “Lou-ah-vul,” not “Lou-ee-ville.”
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