While Louisville is ranked the 29th largest city in the entire United States, it holds the title of the largest city in Kentucky with a population of over 600,000 in the city and over 1.2 million in the entire metropolitan region. This makes it a mid-sized city and offers plenty to explore, whether it be museums, art galleries, parks and nature trails, bourbon tours, sporting centers and events, or even ghost hunting!
What is Louisville Famous For?
Bourbon and horse racing! Many consider the best bourbon to come from one of the Louisville distilleries, which you are able to tour.
Louisville is also the home of the annual Kentucky Derby, and there are many nods to the horse racing culture scattered throughout the city, including horse statues with custom designs.
Although these are probably the top two things people think of when they hear Louisville, or even when they hear Kentucky, the city boasts a lot more to do in addition to horse racing and drinking bourbon.
Let’s go over the many attractions of Louisville that are worth a visit if you are in the area.
Churchill Downs is where the Kentucky Derby happens every May (exceptions due to COVID-19 have occurred in the last few years, though, so be sure to check out the schedule on their website).
Of course, you can visit any other time of the year, as well, even if there are no races going on. You can book a tour through the Derby Museum to see the grounds. If you do want to attend a race, there are others that happen outside the Derby event, too, and you are even able to place bets. The biggest and most exciting event, however, will always belong to the Derby itself.
In fact, visiting Louisville in April, you will find many events leading up to the derby, such as Thunder Over Louisville, an air show and fireworks display.
You can tour the various distilleries and taste the famous bourbon yourself on the Bourbon Trail. There are several options for this tour, including those which take you outside Louisville itself and around the state. You can browse itineraries on the KYBourbonTrail website to pick the one that suits you.
While you have to be 21 or older to sample the bourbon on these tours, those under the age of 21 are permitted to tour the facilities alongside their legal aged companions.
Slugger Museum and Factory
Louisville is famous in Major League Baseball due to the production of the slugger bats. The Louisville Slugger is the 2nd most used bat in the MLB, with nearly 20% of players choosing one.
You can tour the factory itself, browse the museum, and even have a custom slugger bat designed.
Muhammed Ali Center
The famous boxer Muhammed Ali was born in Louisville. He was the first person to win the world heavyweight championship three times.
The Muhammed Ali Center is a museum dedicated to his legacy, featuring permanent galleries and exhibits, as well as hosting temporary events.
Kentucky Kingdom is an amusement park featuring several roller coasters, a water park (Hurricane Bay), and a variety of rides/activities to suit all ages.
Like other amusement parks, Kentucky Kingdom is seasonal and should open in May (barring any unforeseen circumstances, particularly those related to COVID-19 restrictions).
Waverly Hills Sanatorium
In the early 1900s, tuberculosis was widespread and the Sanatorium was used to house ill patients. It is now a historical site in Louisville and particularly popular during the month of Halloween, although you can visit any time of the year. Just be sure to book a reservation.
There are general historic tours, as well as private ghost hunting and guided paranormal tours.
Big Four Bridge
The Big Four Bridge used to be a railroad but now functions as a pedestrian only crossing. The bridge itself is half a mile long and connects Louisville with Jeffersonville, Indiana on the other side, spanning the Ohio River.
You can see the Louisville skyline from the bridge as you cross state lines by foot! The bridge is open to both walkers and cyclists, and while it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, going after dark is often the best time. At night, the bridge is illuminated with huge LED lights that change colors, making it a truly unique and mesmerizing experience.
Fourth Street Live
Fourth Street Live is located in downtown Louisville and serves as a hub for entertainment, food, and drinks. Live music is often featured, but of course the schedule varies day to day so it is best to check the 4thStreetLive event page to see what is going on when you visit.
Regardless of what is going on, Fourth Street Live is a great district to take a stroll and grab dinner and/or drinks. Maybe catch some live music while you’re there, or do a bar crawl.
Speed Art Museum
The Speed Art museum offers different exhibitions that change frequently, so it is a good idea to check their website for current and upcoming exhibitions before purchasing tickets.
This is a great stop for anyone interested in art, but it also offers much more than just access to the gallery, with after hours events, lectures, and more.
Despite Louisville being a city, it offers several parks with vast trails that make you feel like you are nowhere near an urban environment.
Some of the parks include E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park, offering not only a trail for those on foot, but soccer fields, walking tracks, swimming, and even archery. Cherokee Park and the Parklands of Floyds Fork also offer multiple trails suitable for different skill levels and interests.
You are likely to see deer and other wildlife while on these trails, as well.