Once again we look forward to the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the 30th most populous city in the United States. The estimated population taken in 2015 is 615,366 and covers a land mass of 380.46 sq. miles with 17.23 sq. miles. Most famous for the Kentucky Derby but it’s also famous for the Louisville Slugger, where the Major League bats are produced and where their museum is located. Louisville is a cultural crossroads. It's where Southern hospitality meets big-city amenities. Where the farms of rolling bluegrass hills meet a revitalized downtown on the rolling Ohio River. Where real Civil War stories are told at the site of a Great American Novel. And where horseracing and a heavyweight champion have made Louisville a world-famous sports destination for kings and commoners alike.
Things to do in Louisville
Kentucky Derby Museum- celebrates, engages, and educates visitors about the extraordinary experience that is the Kentucky Derby. One of the main attractions in the Louisville region, the Kentucky Derby Museum showcases the history, hospitality, and tradition of the world-renowned event. The Kentucky Derby Museum is one of the top Louisville attractions.
The museum features an array of world-class exhibits, including the Guinness World Record’s Largest Horseshoe, Resident Thoroughbred and Miniature Horse, and The World’s Greatest Race, all of which have attracted visitors from all over the world to admire.
Admission to the museum includes a historic walking tour of the Churchill Downs Racetrack, The Greatest Race exhibition, a state-of-the-art 360-degree high-definition film, and access to all of the permanent and temporary exhibits and displays.
Louisville Mega Cavern- presents the opportunity for a vast underground adventure where visitors can explore the history, geology, mining, and building technology of Louisville. It is also home to the world’s only underground zip line course.
Once a limestone mine that was found in the 1930s, the vast man-made cavern is part of 17 miles of corridors that run beneath the city and provides an array of exciting educational and fun-filled adventures for visitors of all ages.
Historic Frankfort Avenue- known as “The Avenue” by locals, Frankfort Avenue is a section of road that connects some of Louisville’s most charming and historic neighborhoods. This vibrant corridor brims with character and is home to unique and locally owned boutiques, trendy art studios, galleries, and bustling cafés and restaurants and an array of attractions to explore, including the historic Peterson-Dumesnil House, the Louisville Water Company, and the American Printing House for the Blind. More than 30 locally owned restaurants offer a variety of dining options, from alfresco to fine dining, while a wealth of boutiques and shops sell everything from vintage items and clothing and outdoor gear to home décor, wine, and books. If you are wondering what to do in Louisville, Kentucky today, this is a great place to start exploring.
The Big Four Bridge- The Big Four Bridge is a former railroad truss bridge that spans the Ohio River, connecting Louisville with Jeffersonville in Indiana. Constructed in 1895, the six-span bridge spans a length of 2,525 feet (770 m) and is 547 feet (167 m) and was converted into a pedestrian and bicycle bridge in 1969, earning it the nickname of the “Bridge That Goes Nowhere.”
Access to the bridge is limited to pedestrian and bicycle use, offering people from Louisville, Jeffersonville, New Albany, and Clarksville a scenic and safe way to travel between the cities.
There are urban green spaces on either end of the bridge, featuring lawns, fountains, pavilions, and a children’s playground where people can relax and enjoy the outdoors.
Kentucky Science Center- Located on West Main Street on Louisville’s “Museum Row” in the West Main District of downtown, the Kentucky Science Center is the largest hands-on science museum in the state of Kentucky.
Founded in 1871, the center was formerly known as the Louisville Museum of Natural History & Sciences and then as the Louisville Science Center. The center is made up of two adjacent buildings. If you are looking for fun things to do in Louisville, Kentucky with kids, the Kentucky Science Center is a great place to visit.
The 150,000 square foot main building was built in 1878 as a dry goods warehouse. The second building, the 37,000 square foot Alexander Building, was built in 1880. Today, the center features a four story digital theater, a Science Education Wing with hands-on workshop labs, and three floors of interactive exhibits.
Muhammad Ali Center- the Muhammad Ali Center is a cultural center and museum devoted to champion boxer Muhammad Ali. Opened in 2005, the museum is part of “Museum Row” in the West Main District of Louisville.
The six-story building features a 40,000 square foot two-level theater, interactive exhibits, galleries, and a plaza. A walkway that connects the center to other downtown attractions was added in 2013.
One exhibit is a mock boxing ring that was recreated from Ali’s Deer Lake Training Camp. A two-level gallery displays his boxing memorabilia and his history. The center offers education outreach in the form of films, lectures, and tours.
Louisville Zoo- is a zoological park located on Trevilian Way in Louisville’s Poplar Level neighborhood. Established in 1969, the zoo is sometimes referred to as the Louisville Zoological Garden and the State Zoo of Kentucky. The 134-acre zoo exhibits more than 1,500 animals in their natural habitats.
Some of the exhibits include Africa, Australian Outback, Glacier Run, Gorilla Forest, and more. The zoo is known for its conservation efforts and its work with endangered species. Other features of the zoo include the Conservation Carousel, Zoo Tram Shuttle, Zoo trains, and a petting zoo. The zoo also has concessions, playgrounds, and gift shops.
Belle of Louisville & Spirit of Jefferson- Belle of Louisville is the oldest Mississippi River steamboat still in operation, and it is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The steamboat was launched out of Pittsburgh, PA in 1914 and was used as a ferry between Memphis, TN and West Memphis, AR.
Later it was used to ferry people between Louisville and the Rose Island and Fontaine Ferry amusement parks. In 1963, the steamboat was extensively repaired and rebuilt. In that same year, the Spirit of Jefferson was built and began cruising on the Mississippi River in St. Louis.
Today, the Belle of Louisville and Spirit of Jefferson offer a variety of cruises on the Ohio River.
Actors Theatre of Louisville- is a performing arts theater located on West Main Street in downtown Louisville. Founded in 1964 when two local companies merged, the theater has been known as the State Theater of Kentucky since 1974.
The theater is housed in two historic buildings, the Myers-Thompson Display Building and the adjacent old Bank of Louisville building. In 1972, the two buildings were connected, and the Pamela Brown Auditorium with a seating capacity of 637 was added to the rear of the two buildings.
A second auditorium, the Victor Jory Theatre, which has a seating capacity of 159, was added in 1973. The theater is also well known for its Humana Festival of New American Plays program.
Louisville Slugger Field- opened in 2000, Louisville Slugger Field is a baseball stadium with has a seating capacity of more than 13,000 people and is the home of the Louisville Bats baseball team and the Louisville City FC professional soccer club.
The stadium is unique in that an old train shed has been incorporated into its design; visitors enter the stadium through this train shed, which was formerly the Brinly-Hardy Company warehouse. It also features 32 private suites, concessions, press facilities, and a children’s play area. Visitors can see both the state of Indiana and the Ohio River from the stadium.
Baseball fans should make time to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory where you can watch bat making demonstrations and go on guided factory tours.
Best restaurants in Louisville
10 Magnolia- regulars to chef Edward Lee's tables know to expect the unexpected. Eating at 610 is an exercise in willing submission as Lee's six-course, prix fixe menus change nightly based on market-fresh ingredients. Wine-paired tasting menus range from amazingly affordable to budget-be-damned lavish, and the pace of dinner here is always relaxed.
Lilly’s- since launching her venerable, upscale-casual spot a quarter century ago, chef-owner Kathy Cary is credited with spurring the farm-to-table movement in the city's dining rooms. Her diligent sourcing of local products creates menus with savory goodies such as Fried Oysters and Weisenberger Grits with chipotle butter and sautéed spinach, and the Kentucky Sirloin Strip with red-and-yellow pepper confit, truffled mashed potatoes, button mushrooms, veal jus, and lobster butter.
Seviche- innovative Latin-fusion food is on the menu at chef-owner Anthony Lamas's cutting-edge restaurant in the city's Highlands neighborhood. Lamas marries liquor, citrus, and seafood in dazzling seviches such as his oyster-bloody Mary shooters (Miyagi oysters, tomato, horseradish, and vodka); and draws on his Latino lineage with his authentic Brazilian Feijoada of smoked meats, black beans, farofa, chorizo, and greens.
Proof on Main- Chef Michael Paley shows no fear of bold textures and rustic flavors such as his Octopus Bagna Cauda and Roasted Bison Marrow Bones, but his gift of transforming simple foods into the sublime makes visiting seasonally a must. Visit the bar to sample dazzling libations created by the award-winning crew of craft-cocktail makers and take in the contemporary art displays at the 21c Museum Hotel, which houses Proof.
Varanese- after Cleveland-born chef-owner John Varanese started cooking in famed kitchens throughout the South, he never returned home. Today his eclectic menu blends fried green tomato with bibb, goat cheese, and crispy prosciutto, and pairs pecan-encrusted mahimahi with whipped sweet potatoes and honey-butter sauce. During warmer weather, the glass-paneled front of the restaurant is retracted, opening the entire dining room to the outside.
The Oakroom- set within the historic Seelbach hotel, this AAA Five Diamond restaurant is a luxurious spot where tables are adorned with white tablecloths, lead crystal, and weighty silver. Chef Bobby Benjamin serves exotic treats such as Kobe Short Rib with grilled peach and red dandelion and Australian Ostrich Tartare with thyme pancake and mustard-seed marshmallow. The restaurant's bourbon selection is outstanding, and if you ask ahead of time, you can arrange for a tour of its century-old wine cellar.
Mayan Café’- since moving here from the Yucatán Peninsula more than 20 years ago, chef Bruce Ucan has wowed locals with the little-known but lush and complex flavors of his Mexican homeland. Ucan skillfully marries local foods with Mexican flourishes to yield flavors familiar to few Americans. Vegetable lovers won't want to miss such delicacies as tok-sel lima beans, yuca cake, grilled cactus, and "forbidden" black rice; and pork fans must stop at the Cochinita Pibil roasted in a deep-red achiote sauce and topped with pickled onions.
Havana Rumba- there are few places in town with a richer vibe on a busy weekend night than Havana Rumba. Patrons often wait for hours for plates of Cuban tapas and large dishes of Vaca Frita (shredded beef grilled crispy with peppers, garlic, and lime juice) and Lechon Asado (citrus-marinated, slow-roasted pork). They don't take reservations, so arrive early.