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Belles on Location

11 Top Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky

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When visiting Louisville, it is a matter of which of the top things in town to do first.

1. The  view of the Louisville skyline from Indiana

Situated on the Ohio River at the Falls of Ohio, the Louisville metropolitan area is often referred to as ‘Kentuckiana’. The largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Louisville has a thriving restaurant and arts scene.

2. Contemporary art

Well-preserved street scapes colliding with contemporary art.

“The Raft” by artist Armando Marino, part of the outdoor exhibit at 21c Museum Hotel located at the corner of 7th and Main Streets.

3. 21 c Museum Hotel

There are many things about this contemporary art museum and hotel to take advantage of when visiting Louisville, even if not staying as an overnight guest.

Obvious reasons to go ga-ga over this crazy chic spot include the iconic red penguins in the lobby; Proof on Main, the establishment’s outstanding restaurant and bar; and then last but not least, the restrooms.

They are work of art in themselves, oddly cool and as all the best busy public ladies’ rooms should be, so conducive to whelping new friendships that you may just make a new best friend or two.

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One of my favorite things about 21c Museum Hotel was the interactive screen by the elevators where letters land on your various body parts and may or may not tell you secrets of the universe. I seriously could have played for hours.

4. The Muhammed Ali Center

Opened in 2005 the Muhammed Ali Center has already had a profound effect on the city, becoming a beloved downtown centerpiece of Louisville’s Museum Row.

The center’s mission is to “preserve and share the legacy and ideals of Muhammad Ali, to promote respect, hope, and understanding, and to inspire adults and children everywhere to be as great as they can be.”

As someone who isn’t exactly a boxing fan, I was surprised by how moving and enjoyable the center was. Truly one of the great things to do in Louisville, I would highly recommend dedicating at least a couple of hours to this attraction to anyone.

You may also like The Ultimate Kentucky Bourbon Tour!

The Muhammed Ali Center is beautiful from all angles.

5. Horse racing and Churchill Downs

The Kentucky Derby Museum was renovated in 2010 with exhibits that give fresh insight into the economics, history and significance of the first of the Triple Crown races (as well as the Kentucky Oaks which happens on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby).

I visited the museum and the famous racetrack for a party hosted by Louisville CVB and Kentucky Tourism. Given that it was an exceptionally good food & beverage party, I was okay with the fact that I couldn’t get a good look at the track in the dark.

(See bourbon demonstration below – sorry – no pictures of the “baked potato and grits bar” – use your best imagination and picture it piled in a martini glass).

But if anyone’s wondering, I would love the chance to go back to visit during the daytime (hmm… the first weekend in May would work for me), but I’m not complaining!

6. Confessions of a Kentucky Bourbon Priss Pot

I felt a bit like re-writing the US national anthem, changing the line about  “amber waves of grain” to something Kentuckified like: “amber bottles of grain”.

I still wouldn’t call myself a stark raving mad bourbon fan, but in this state that is responsible for producing 95% of the world’s supply, it’s hard to argue with the fact that there may just be bourbon and a bourbon cocktail available somewhere in Louisville to suit anyone’s taste.

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The Seelbach cocktail from the Seelbach Hotel’s famous bar was, according to legend, invented in 1917 when a bartender added Champagne to a Manhattan by mistake.

7. Louisville Mega Cavern

Although used for various purposes these days including storage of everything from boats to the original film reels of The Wizard of Oz to the secret recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken, these man-made caverns were originally mined for limestone starting in the 1930s.

During the early days of the Cold War, the massive cave system, which is known for its unmatchable stability, was designated as a bomb shelter in case of nuclear attack for 50,000 people who were on a special list.  The displays and narrative about this time in history were interesting and just campy enough to give the experience that little bit of extra entertainment value.

During the Christmas season, the caverns are lined with Christmas lights for “Lights Under Louisville,” where visitors are allowed to drive in their own vehicles through the extensive display. In addition to the guided tour, there is also a very popular underground zipline tour available.

8. The Conservatory at The Galt House

The three stories high atrium built over Fourth Street between the two towers at The Galt House Hotel (our awesome hotel host for Travel South Showcase) is its most distinguishing architectural feature.

Ten thousand square feet, housing a bar with a fish tank built into it, a friendly 24-hour cafe, and plenty of tucked away seating areas that still somehow manage to feel cozy, this inviting space has a great Louisville vibe, day or night.

9. City Taste Tours of Louisville

This food tour manages to give a good overview of the city and the opportunity to sample some of the insider food options that would be difficult to find on your own during a short visit to Louisville. Stops included Kizito’s cookie shop, located in “The Highlands” in the Tyler Park neighborhood and Lynn’s Paradise Cafe (funky and fun atmosphere, and yummy breakfasts.)

You may also like: Pink Lillies, The Kentucky Oaks and Louisville’s Version Of Prom

Kizito, the “cookie lady,” is originally from Uganda and moved to Louisville as a youth and began baking her famous cookies and selling them out of a big straw bowl she would wear on top of her head.

From the City Taste Tour: The final resting place of Kentucky businessman and folk hero, Colonel Harlan Sanders in the sublime oasis, Cave Hill Cemetery.

10. Kentucky Candy

Kentuckiana candy is as ubiquitous as water – or maybe even bourbon in Louisville.

Charming white chocolate jockey caps from Cellar Door Chocolates and The Gault House hotel that showed up in my hotel room one evening.

A visit to the candy museum at Schimpff’s Confectionary verified my suspicion that behind every great candy is a Travel Belle.

Also discovered on the City Taste Tour was Schimpff’s Confectionary in Jefferson, Indiana.

Among the several local candies we tasted, was the Modjeska, a heavenly caramel covered marshmallow. The melt in your mouth candy was named after Madam Helena Modjeska, a famous actress from Poland who often appeared on screen with John Barrymore in the late 19th century.

My friend Andy and I both marveled at how the caramel managed to be amazingly rich and gooey, yet didn’t stick to our teeth. Yes, these are the things that in my mind make a good town great.

11. Louisville’s nightlife and The Hyatt Hotel

The Hyatt Hotel, located in the middle of the bustling Fourth Street Live entertainment district, was just the place to launch our last evening in Louisville.

Currently, the hotel is undergoing a $5.8 million renovation of its public spaces following a nice upgrade to their rooms last year.
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The best city breaks always come with a final observation, and maybe even a confession.

Related Video: Louisville: Home To All Things That Are Great

Here’s a short video with some other great things about Louisville and more reasons to visit!

Observation

People in Kentucky are truly obsessed with basketball and take March Madness to an entirely new level.

Confession

I’m sleeping with my MacBook Air. (If it weren’t for all the things to do in Louisville, it would have been too easy to stay in my plush bed at the Hyatt catching up on work.)

As much as we got to experience during our time here, I may not be done with Louisville just yet. At least I hope not!

All photos property of and by the author. Please email for reuse guidelines.

This trip was sponsored by several parties, including the Travel South Showcase. All opinions my own.

About the author

Margo Millure lives in Richmond, Virginia. She is a portrait photographer, writer and founder of Travel Belles. Learn more about her at www.MargoMillure.com.

This article has 14 comments

  1. Krista

    WOW!! Fantastic photos, Margo. 🙂 I had no idea there were so many interesting things to do and see in Louisville. Mmm, now I’m craving chocolate. 🙂

  2. D.J. - The World of Deej

    Great list…I’ve lived in the South my entire life and have never been to Louisville…Perhaps it should be added to my list…

  3. Katy

    This is just stunning, Margo! I knew nothing about Louisville before I read this, now I have yet another place to add to my bucket list. And I also now have serious MacBook envy. Do you think Apple will give me one if I ask nicely?!

  4. Abby

    Um, I think it rivals Vegas for things to do! I love Easter candy — the candy pics are ridiculously mouth-watering. Wow!

  5. Christina

    What a lovely roundup. Looks like you had a great time! I went to Louisville once and enjoyed the races and museum at Churchill Downs. I’m with you… it would be fantastic to be there for the festivities during the first weekend in May… maybe someday.

  6. Zita

    Great photo post Margo. I love the second picture!

  7. Riccardo

    Margo, you have an amazing talent to find beauty and glamour in what other might consider a simple and plain city! Your postings are so entertaining – always.

  8. Paula (Americana the Beautiful)

    I’m completely ignorant about Louisville and this proved the extent of my ignorance, You found such delightful places that will certainly go on my intinerary for when I make my way there!

  9. Margo Millure

    thanks, Riccardo! I appreciate that – You’ve made me smile today 🙂

  10. Margo Millure

    thanks for all the nice comments, everyone. Louisville is definitely a great place to visit. My friend, Buffy, who is from Louisville commented on our facebook page that Louisville is “the biggest little city.”

  11. Cailin

    I love Louisville, such a fun city. I can’t wait to return and use some of your recommendations 🙂

  12. Ayelet - All Colores

    I know someone who lives in Kentucky, yet had no idea of all there is to do there! Love the idea of food tours 🙂

  13. Brandon Moore

    Thanks for giving MY TOWN!!!!! all these kind words. I grew up in Southern Indiana as a kid, then was trapped in Florida for 23 years. Finally moved back to the Louisville area 2 1/2 years ago, and have never been happier! I have yet to run out of things to do, see or experience here!

  14. Dian Emery

    I was amazed to discover on our recent visit that Louisville is a happening town. Amazing food, tons of stuff to do, and friendly people – I’d love to go back during the Kentucky Derby celebrations.

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