Our summer travels took us to Louisville and I found myself falling in love with the hospitable people and gorgeous backroads. This Louisville Visitor’s Guide will steer you towards all the best things to do in this friendly and easy-to-get-around town!
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Louisville Visitor’s Guide
Things to Do
You can’t visit Louisville without making a stop at the legendary Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs! The museum and short movie are very well done and, if you have time, definitely sign up for one of the guided tours that take you into the paddock, jockey’s area, and grandstand.
Probably the 2nd most popular location to visit in Louisville (or 1st if you’re a baseball fan) is the Louisville Slugger Museum. Now I’m not especially into baseball but I loved this place! Like Natty Guy had to practically drag me out of there loved it! Learned so much during the tour – like every player has their own bat made to custom specs. Who knew? Not me. I just thought they grabbed whatever was next in the old bat pile and hit with that. A visit here will take about 1.5-2 hours.
If there’s a sport I’m less into than baseball, it would definitely be boxing. But because Muhammad Ali had such a rich history outside of the sport, I wanted to visit the Ali Center. It’s another extremely well-done museum. We especially liked the virtual boxing ring, replays of old bouts, and the many fantastic quotes attributed to Ali. Plan to spend 2-3 hours here.
Other attractions worth a peek include:
- Old Louisville, with its historic homes and buildings,
- 4th Street Live, a collection of restaurants/bars, shops, and special events near the Brown and Seelbach hotels,
- The Kentucky Science Center with its parabolic mirror at the entrance, perfect for unique selfies,
- and the Speed Art Museum, Kentucky’s largest, oldest and most renowned.
As a Day Trip
Forty-five minutes to an hour outside of Louisville is the town of Bardstown, often dubbed “The Most Beautiful Small Town in America“. While I find that a bit of stretch, it is a quaint, little place to stop, grab lunch and walk around for a bit.
The Old Talbot Tavern and The Rickhouse are both popular dinner spots while dining at the lunch counter at Hurst Discount Drug brings back memories of getting a milkshake with my grandmother at Woolworth’s. Shaq & CoCo had an amazingly well-curated collection of furnishings, gifts, and clothing!
Bardstown also serves as a bit of a gateway to Bourbon Country. As I mentioned in this post, we’re not bourbon drinkers, but on this trip, we decided to take advantage of the beautiful day to see the grounds of Willet and Maker’s Mark. Reserve in advance if you’d like a tour. Personally, we were fine just to wander on our own and take in the scenery. There are so many more distilleries in the area, if it’s an interest of yours, you could easily spend a few days exploring the venues and countryside.
Where to Stay
The Omni Louisville was our home for four nights on this trip. It hit all our requirements: great location, well-reviewed, modern rooms, and a rooftop pool (for our summertime visit). It also had a couple of surprises that we enjoyed:
- There is an awesome “hidden” speakeasy in the hotel! Hidden behind an unassuming sliding door during the day, the venue opens in the evening and has a great cozy vibe, delicious cocktails, and even a small bowling alley inside.
- The Falls City Market was conveniently located on the far side of the hotel. Lots of locales used it for their morning coffee, etc. and we found it a super-convenient place to pick up breakfast or a quick snack.
If you are a fan of historic properties (which I normally am), consider a stay at the Brown or Seelbach hotels. The Brown Hotel is famous for creating the “Hot Brown” sandwich while The Seelbach Hotel is known for its Rathskeller. This basement room was a favorite haunt of F. Scott Fitzgerald and features the world’s only surviving Rookwood pottery room. Our reason for not staying at these properties was simply the lack of an outdoor pool during the hot summer months.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, is the 21c Hotel. This new(ish) brand combines a boutique hotel experience with a built-in contemporary art museum. 21c first caught our attention when we were looking for hotels in Lexington. While we ran out of time to explore that property, we did visit the Louisville location and we’re blown away by their well-thought-out exhibits and the equally hip on-site restaurant (see below).
Places to Eat
If you don’t stay at one of the classic hotels, you’ll definitely want to stop by for a drink or meal so that you can check out the lovely, old-world interiors! In that same area is Brendon’s Catch 23 where the warm jar of king crab and butter with grilled sourdough makes for a decadent starter.
Mama’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ is a great, casual lunch or dinner spot. There are 2 locations in Louisville. The BBQ is top-notch and the accompanying coleslaw is one of the best we’ve ever had. Another casual favorite is the Garage Bar. They specialize in wood-fired pizzas and are near a few breweries (Akasha and West 6th NULU) if you’re looking to do some bar-hopping.
For fine Italian dining, check out Porcini in the Crescent Hill neighborhood. And last, but not least, plan a visit to Proof on Main. This is the house restaurant at the 21c Hotel and they provide not only an excellent meal and craft cocktails but a surreal and contemporary art experience. Be sure to check out the:
- Incredible artwork in both the bar and each dining room area,
- Restrooms with miniature TV eyes embedded in the mirror that watch you as you clean your hands,
- Men’s room with one-way glass hung above the urinals allow the men to peak outside at all the people walking by,
- The Countdown Clock in the dining room! The story says that the owner (shown on the right below) went to a fortune teller that revealed to him the exact moment of his death. He hung this clock as a reminder to himself (and all) to live each moment to its best. The restaurant is sold out to his many family and friends for the night that the clock expires.
Enjoy your stay in Louisville and tell me about your favorites in the comments below. For more travel posts like this Louisville Visitor’s Guide, click here.
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