The 16th largest city in the United States is well known for being the heart of The Bluegrass State of Kentucky. Known as the home of the Kentucky Derby, the birthplace of world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, the Slugger Bat Museum, and the famous Kentucky ‘hot brown,’ Louisville is said to be a city in the middle of it all, a sweet mix of both Northern and Southern hospitality all rolled into one. Louisville is nearly a 3 hour drive from Nashville (175 miles), a 2 hour drive to Indianapolis (115 miles), a 1½ hour drive to Cincinnati (100 miles), 3½ hours to Columbus (200 miles), 4 hours from St. Louis (260 miles), and nearly 5 hours from Chicago (300 miles).
Top 10 Attractions
1. Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum – The iconic Kentucky Derby is what has truly put Louisville on the map (our map anyway!). See thoroughbred horse racing take place each year in two meets: the spring meet, which runs from late April to early July and the fall meet, which opens in late October and closes in late November at the end of Thanksgiving weekend. The Kentucky Derby is always held on the first Saturday in May. The Kentucky Derby Museum features two floors of exhibits and displays which explore the history and traditions of the Kentucky Derby, as well as the history of the racing. General admission to the museum is $14 for adults and $6 for children.
2. Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory – Featuring a 120 feet long World’s Largest Baseball Bat leaning against the side of the building, this place is a must see for baseball fans, although you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy a visit. Interactive exhibits, baseball memorabilia and bat factory tours explore the history and production of the legendary Louisville Slugger. Approximately a million bats are produced here each year. Factory tours, held seven days a week, last approximately 25 minutes. On days and hours when the factory is not operating, bat making demonstrations may be offered. Admission is $11 for adults and $6 for children.
3. The Muhammad Ali Center – An international cultural and educational center and museum, the Muhammad Ali Center welcomes visitors to the Ali Center are able to explore the journey of the famed boxer’s life and his legacy through interactive exhibits and educational programming representing the core values of respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, giving and spirituality. Admission is $9 for adults and $4 for children.
4. The Belle of Louisville – Built in 1914 and first named the Idlewild, the Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating Mississippi style steamboat in the world and a National Historic Landmark. A regular cruise schedule is offered May through October, including lunch and dinner sightseeing cruses, sunset and moonlight cruises, special event cruises such as holiday themed cruises, bluegrass lunch cruises and more. Admission prices range from $15 – $43 for adults and $9 – $27 for children.
5. The Louisville Zoo – The state zoo of Kentucky features more than 1,300 animals, which are exhibited in naturalistic settings representing various geographical areas and habitats. Several daily activities, scheduled programs and tours offer interactive experiences. Attractions at the Louisville Zoo include a zip line, climbing wall, three-story adventure course, 4-D Ride Theater, water play area, antique carousel and more. General admission is $15.95 for adults and $11.50 for children.
6. Bluegrass Indoor Carting– Enjoy outdoor go karts inside! This elaborate indoor kart system recently opened in June 2011 and is the only indoor carting facility in the state of Kentucky. One race is $18 for adults and $15 for children.
7. The Frazier History Museum – Located along Museum Row on Main in Downtown Louisville, this museum explores 1,000 years of history through permanent and visiting exhibits, featuring American and international artifacts. General admission to the Frazier Galleries is $10.50 for adults and $6 for children.
8. Louisville Mega Cavern – It opened to the public for tours in 2009. This man-made cavern has evolved from a quarry, mined for limestone from the early 1930s to the early 1970s, to a civil defense shelter during the Cuban missile crisis of the early 1960s, to its current function as a massive, secure and environmentally green commercial storage facility and a unique tourist attraction. Encompassing about 100 acres with over four million square-feet of underground space, the Louisville Mega Cavern is part of 17 miles of corridors and passageways beneath the city of Louisville. Because of natural insulation, the average temperature in the cavern is about 58 degrees year round, making this a cool place to visit in any weather – hot, cold, rainy or windy. If your visit is during the warmer months, be sure to take a light jacket. They even have the world’s only fully underground zip-line course (which is ranked the number one attraction in Louisville by TripAdvisor)! Tram admission is $13.50 for adults and $8 for children. Admission to the zip line is $59 for adults.
9. Louisville Science Center – The region’s leading resource for informal science education, this museum is designed to encourage all ages to explore science through interactive exhibits. Also located along Museum Row on Main, this museum features four floors of exhibits and an IMAX theater. General admission is $13 for adults and $11 for children.
rong> The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts – It houses three performing arts theaters, where visitors and locals alike are able to enjoy performances by the Louisville Ballet, Louisville Orchestra, Kentucky Opera, The Broadway Series and Stage One. Even if you don’t plan to see a performance at the Kentucky Center, do plan to see KentuckyShow!, a 32-minute large screen, multi-media film presentation, which is open to the public during scheduled hours every day of the week, except Monday. Narrated by Ashley Judd, the film explores Kentucky’s majestic landscape, diverse cultures, rich history and more through stunning images and stirring music.
Fourth Street Live! – Opened in 2004, Fourth Street Live! is an entertainment, dining and retail complex located in the heart of downtown. A popular nightlife and gathering spot for visitors and Louisvillians alike, the complex is home to about 15 restaurants, bars and clubs, as well as a food court and a few retailers. In addition, many special events and free concerts take place at Fourth Street Live!
Rivue – Located atop the 25th story of the Galt House Hotel, this dual revolving restaurant not only offers great views of the city skyline, but also offers an incredible assortment of cuisine. Ranging from “fresh squeezed juices in drinks, to organic French Chickens, lettuce grown at an agroponic farm, to wild caught and sustainably sourced seafood.”
The Blind Pig – Once you get over the silly name, you’ll have discovered one of the cities true hidden gems, which was ranked by Gayot as one of the 40 hottest restaurants in America. Their menu changes every few weeks, but current selections include Braised Pork Belly for $24, Clare Island Salmon for $20 and Ratatouille for $8.5.
The Cheesecake Factory – Since first opening in Beverly Hills in 1978, these restaurants have become well known for their fun atmosphere, huge portions and more than 200 menu selections to choose from. They offer 50 cheesecakes and specialty desserts, with some that are only offered seasonally. These include: Key lime cheesecake, Chocolate Chip Cookie – Dough cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake (available from October – holidays), Pineapple Upside-Down Cheesecake, and after thanksgiving they even have a peppermint Bark Cheesecake!
Buca di Beppo – Owned by Planet Hollywood, Buca di Beppo specializes in immigrant Southern Italian food. Vintage photographs cover the walls, in fact each restaurant is said to have more than 2,500 pictures. The food is served family style, where each item is shared among the dinner party. A select number of locations have a lunch menu, with individual-sized portions. All restaurants have a Pope table, a large table in a room to itself, with a bust of the pope in the center. Most locations also have a room right across from the kitchen, where you can watch them cook – chefs even come over and talk to you and even let you sample dishes.
Hard Rock Cafe – Located downtown in the 4th Street Live! complex between Liberty Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, it is within walking distance of the Kentucky International Convention Center and just minutes from the city’s performing arts theaters. It features memorabilia from local artists Tantric and Flaw, and Muhammad Ali with the Beatles. Rock n’ roll classics featured throughout the cafe include items from Madonna, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and “the King” himself. They also feature an outdoor Aerosmith display, the first of its kind in a Hard Rock Cafe.
Those with kids will especially want to make the two hour drive to Indianapolis to visit the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which we rank #1 on our list of the 10 Best Children’s Museums In America. This 472,900 square foot world class museum is spread across five floors of exhibits, making it the single largest children’s museum in the country. It is perhaps best known for it’s beloved Dinosphere, which contains a working paleontology lab, hands-on simulated fossil “digs,” several life-size simulated dinosaurs, and one of the largest collections of real fossils and dinosaur art in the country. Take note of the life-sized replica of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, which is the third most complete T. rex fossil in the world. Throughout the museum, over 10,000 artifacts are on display, including a 55-ton steam engine, a working 1927 carousel, and the largest waterclock in North America.