My hometown of Louisville, Kentucky is a city full of surprises – for those that have never visited, that is. Many people are surprised when they find out that Louisville is the 16th largest city in the country.
Or that Louisville is friendly to immigrants and refugees.
Or that Louisville is a haven for theater fans, with one of the best theatre scenes in the country (yes, it’s possible to be a full-time working actor in Louisville. How awesome is THAT??).
Or that Louisville is an incredible city for art & culture, with dozens of expertly curated and world-renowned museums. Or that Louisville is a foodie city. Or that Louisville is totally, and proudly, weird.
Most people associate Louisville with bourbon, the Kentucky Derby, Muhammad Ali, Jennifer Lawrence (PS, we did theater together growing up, I’ll sign autographs later), KFC, and – if they’re from the Midwest – basketball. And all of those things are totally accurate and true, but there is SO much more to Louisville!
There are so many amazing places to visit in Louisville – I’m still discovering them, myself! I’m madly in love with my home town and I want you to fall in love with it, too. So let’s get started! Here’s a complete guide to things to do in Louisville.
By the way, did you know that we have a bunch of other posts about Louisville? It is my hometown, after all! Take a look below at our other Louisville travel guides.
- 34 Amazing Places to Eat in Louisville, KY
- The 27 Best Breweries, Distilleries, & Bars in Louisville, KY
- 15 Perfect Things to Do on a Romantic Getaway to Louisville, KY
We also have a Podcast episode all about Louisville! Horse races, bourbon, baseball bats, and a…death tunnel? Today we tell the story of Lia’s hometown: Louisville, KY! We trace the history of the city from its frontier origins to the modern-day. Louisville’s history runs deep, and it’s not always pretty. So pour yourself a bourbon and tune in. Unless you’re driving – that’s not cool.
Listen above or just click here to launch your Podcast app! Oh, and don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes.
We’ve also compiled all of our suggestions for where to go, what to do, where to visit, what & where to eat, and what & where to drink (and taste bourbon) into one downloadable PDF Local’s Guide to Louisville. Subscribe below to get the download and save it to your smartphone or tablet to take with you on your trip to Louisville!
Things to Know About Louisville, Kentucky
Most Louisville residents have a slew of facts about Louisville that they’re ready to rattle off at a moment’s notice. It’s one of those unspoken things that we all do, like asking every other Lousivillian we meet what high school they went to before any other question, or taking pictures every time there’s a particularly stunning sunset and posting them all over Facebook and Instagram (there are like 3 insanely gorgeous sunsets a week in Louisville, and I’ve known about all of them for the past 10 years even though I’ve been living on the other side of the country. Louisvillians LOVE their sunsets!)
Here are some of my favorite things you should know about Louisville, Kentucky. For more random Louisville facts, this list is fantastic.
- Louisville has the best tap water. Like, the country voted, and we won. It’s clean and a little bit sweet, and at some point during your visit, if you happen to mention water is in Louisville within earshot of a resident, chances are they’ll jump in and enthusiastically agree. We LOVE talking about how good our water is, and we’re really proud of it!
- A bunch of famous people are from Louisville, and everyone in Louisville can rattle off a list of their favorites. Muhammad Ali, Tom Cruise, Hunter S. Thompson, the list goes on and on. But if you’re curious, just look around Louisville for the giant murals celebrating our famous Louisvillian heroes: everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Diane Sawyer has their own corner of a building high above Louisville! Check out the Hometown Heroes website for more information about each of these famous Louisvillians.
- The official drink of the Kentucky Derby is the Mint Julep. The official drink of Louisville is the Old Fashioned. The unofficial drink of everyone in Kentucky is bourbon! The Mint Julep was actually invented in West Virginia, but Louisville invented the Old Fashioned. Y’all are welcome. Check out our other Louisville post for way more information about drinking in Louisville.
- You’ll see Fleur de Lis all over Louisville. It’s the official symbol of Louisville (it’s on our seal!), and for us it symbolizes Louisville pride and #LouisvilleLove. It comes from Louis XVI of France, the namesake for Louisville.
- Louisville is both a Southern and a Midwestern city. It’s weird. We haven’t really adopted either identity exclusively. We’ve got a Southern twang and a Southern politeness and we love Southern food, but we’re pretty darn Midwestern, too. I think the divide stems from way back when Kentucky played Switzerland in the Civil War: we never decided which side we were on, and we’ve been stuck in between ever since. A friend of mine once took an unofficial poll on Facebook, and 50/100 people claimed allegiance to each region of the USA. Personally, I identify with both depending on what I’m talking about!
- If you’re going to Louisville, you have to eat a Hot Brown. It’s the signature dish of Louisville. It’s essentially an open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon that’s been smothered in a creamy butter sauce called Mornay, and topped with tomatoes and crispy cheese. Words do not do it justice. You’ll just have to eat one yourself. I’ve got a whole post about where to eat in Louisville, including the best places to get a Hot Brown and more typical Louisville foods!
- Louisville is a city rich in art, culture, and theatre. We LOVE supporting the arts in Louisville. In fact, we have a professional theatre, ballet, opera, orchestra, and even children’s theatre! From the amazing museums in Louisville to the vibrant independent theater scene, there is so much to see and do for lovers of art and culture in Louisville! We’ve got plenty of suggestions below.
- Louisville has the largest fireworks display in the country. It’s called Thunder Over Louisville and it kicks off the Kentucky Derby Festival each year, which is an amazing annual celebration that leads up to – you guessed it – the Kentucky Derby!
Things to do in Louisville, Kentucky
Museums in Louisville
Louisville is a city for people who love museums. It’s got plenty, and they’re all varied and excellent. Here are our faves.
The Speed Art Museum
Located adjacent to the University of Louisville’s campus in Old Louisville, the recently renovated Speed Art Museum is the oldest, largest, and foremost museum of art in Kentucky. Called one of “The World’s Most Beautiful New Museums” by Travel & Leisure Magazine (the building is rad, seriously… you should visit just for the selfie) the museum features rotating exhibitions on a diverse array of ancient, classical, and modern art.
- Speed Art Museum | 2035 South Third Street,Louisville, KY | FREE on Sundays
Technically 21C is a Museum Hotel. Like, you can sleep … at the museum. Which is awesome, and secretly one of my childhood dreams (did anyone else read this book when they were little?!). But it’s also an extremely cool contemporary art museum to visit at any time of day (the museum is open 24/7) and one of my all-time favorite attractions in Louisville.
The first thing you’ll notice is the giant gold Statue of David out front, parked in front of the bedazzled limo, and adorned with giant red plastic penguins. And trust me, it’s all uphill from there. The galleries change frequently, so you might find an installation on Feminist art, or possibly a live dance performance. Or, dine in an art gallery at Proof, the amazing restaurant located inside 21C!
- 21C Museums Hotel | 700 West Main Street, Louisville, KY | FREE
Museum Row on Main
21C isn’t the only incredible museum on West Main street. This stretch of historic downtown is home to Museum Row, a conveniently located collection of some of the best museums in Louisville. These are our favorites.
- At the Frazier History Museum, you’ll learn about the story of bourbon, the role of Kentucky in the Civil War and the Lewis & Clark expedition, and the complex story behind Louisville’s segregated and redlined West End. You can also peruse ancient weapons and an extensive historical miniatures collection all while learning about history through eerily realistic giant wax figurines and expertly acted re-enactments and choreographed fights (Louisville is a theatre city, remember?). Pick up your ticket here.
- Frazier History Museum | 829 West Main Street, Louisville, KY
- You’ve heard of Louisville Slugger bats, right? Did you know they’re all made right here in Louisville at the Slugger Factory? Taking a tour of the Louisville Slugger factory at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is one of the coolest and most unique things to do in Louisville. Not only can you try your hand at the batting cage using bats from famous baseball stars, but you’ll walk away with an awesome souvenir: a mini Louisville Slugger bat! Finding the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is easy: just look for the world’s largest Baseball Bat. It’s 120 feet tall.
- Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory | 800 W Main St, Louisville, KY
- Love art and crafts? The KMAC museum is for you. The Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft “explores the relationship between art and craft by identifying art as big idea and craft as the intersection between process, materials and labor.” So you might find a contemporary art exhibit woven from cloth, or crafted from clay, or blown from glass. It’s free, so stop in and take a look!
- Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft (KMAC) | 715 West Main Street, Louisville, KY | FREE!
- Muhammad Ali was one of Louisville’s most famous residents. And the Muhammad Ali Center, which was co-founded by Ali himself during his lifetime, is dedicated the his life and legacy. As honest as it is informative, the museum expands beyond Ali’s illustrious boxing career and examines, with a critical eye, the man himself – with all of his flaws – as well as the racist and conflicted society from which he emerged.
- Muhammad Ali Center | 144 N. Sixth Street, Louisville, KY
Day Trips from Louisville
Louisville is in a prime location to take day trips. And I’m not just talking about Lexington, Cincinnati, Bloomington, and Indianapolis, all of which are under 2 hours away. There are so many amazing ways to spend a day trip from Louisville! Here are a few of our favorites.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail
One of the best day trips from Louisville is to go bourbon tasting on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! Although there are plenty of distilleries in Louisville, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a whole different experience.
As you drive out of Louisville and into the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country, you’ll see what I mean.
Hands down, our favorite distilleries to visit are Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark: if you have to limit yourself to just one single day trip from Louisville, those are the bourbon distilleries we recommend.
But if you can swing it, give yourself some time to pick up a passport and complete the whole trail! You can book a tour with Louisville-based Mint Julep Tours who will take care of the planning (and most importantly, the driving) for you.
- Maker’s Mark Distillery | 3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto, KY
- Woodford Reserve Distillery | 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, KY
Mammoth Cave National Park
Feel like spending a day underground? Mammoth Cave is the longest recorded cave system in the world, a National Park, AND a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Put on your best Derek Zoolander spelunking outfit and explore 360 miles of cave.
How much cave is there? There is SO MUCH CAVE. It’s mammoth! Get it?! You can actually take a boat ride UNDERGROUND, and then go check out the cave where Jesse James once hid from the law (and the sun).
Once you emerge from your descent into the underworld, there are plenty of daylight activities: canoeing, fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, horseback riding, balloon rides, even zipline tours! Mammoth Cave is a fantastic place to take a day trip from Louisville. For more info about Mammoth Cave including its fascinating history, here’s a great Mammoth Cave guide from Gypsy with a Day Job.
- Mammoth Cave | 1 Mammoth Cave Pkwy, Mammoth Cave, KY
Red River Gorge
Red River Gorge is one of the best outdoor adventure destinations in Kentucky! Located in Daniel Boone National Forest, Red River Gorge is chock full of camping, hiking, rock climbing, and even ziplining. One of the most famous sights and hiking trails in Red River Gorge is to a stunning natural rock bridge.
Even if you’d rather observe your nature from within the air-conditioned comfort of your car, Red River Gorge is a must-see: a one-hour, 46-mile scenic byway winds through the Red River Gorge, dotted with beautiful scenic overlooks. Rent a cabin, throw on your favorite flannel shirt, and get wilderness-y!
- Red River Gorge | Robbie Ridge Rd, Stanton, KY
Where to Get an Adrenaline Rush in Louisville
Looking to get your blood pumping? These are our favorite high-octane things to do in Louisville!
Louisville Mega Cavern
2 words: Underground. Zipline. That’s right. Zip through a freaking enormous limestone cavern underneath the city of Louisville. It combines 2 things that Lia’s terrified of but Jeremy loves: spelunking and ziplining! And, if you’re wondering, there is nothing else like this in the entire world. How rad is that?! And while you’re down under, there are tons of other ridiculously nonsensical and super cool activities you can do too, like an underground aerial ropes course or even an underground bike tour. So. Freaking. Cool.
- Louisville Mega Cavern | 1841 Taylor Ave, Louisville, KY
There was not a single year of my childhood that I didn’t have a season pass to Kentucky Kingdom, Louisville’s own awesome amusement park. Even after the park was purchased by Six Flags and everything turned into overpriced food and awkward rock music, my friends and I were all hooked. So when Kentucky Kingdom closed while I was in college, I was heartbroken. I had like, an existential crisis. Like “is this IT? Is my childhood officially over?” And not just me, either. Louisville mourned the loss of Kentucky Kingdom. And then, years later, like a phoenix rising from the Six Flags-destroyed ashes, Kentucky Kingdom (and its awesome waterpark, Hurricane Bay) re-opened. And like, after dusting off all the rides and a new coat of paint, It’s pretty much things it went back in time to the good ol’ days of my childhood. This is one of those stories with a happy ending, and the ending is that now we can all ride roller coasters in Louisville again!
- Kentucky Kingdom | 937 Phillips Ln, Louisville, KY
There is nothing as heart-poundingly exciting as watching your money sprint away from you down a track. Err, I mean a horse. That’s what I meant. Horse racing is SO thrilling, and cheering on your horse with a screaming crowd during a 30-second stretch is just as exciting at the Kentucky Derby as it is any other day at the track, particularly if you’re like us and only ever bet $2 at a time. Plus, there’s a fantastic museum you can tour even during the off-season, the Kentucky Derby Museum. And, because I know some of you are side-eyeing me hard, yes – horse racing can be problematic for animal lovers like us. I grew up with horses, and I love them dearly. And while the sport has inherent risks, a good racehorse is a horse is loved, healthy, well-fed, and treated like a king, and today’s jockeys, trainers and owners know that. This article sums up our feelings about it pretty well.
If you want to learn more about the care of racehorses and see where they are raised, this tour takes you to two horse farms which have an 80 year history and have raised over 200 stake horses, you will also be served a delicious southern lunch during the tour. Also, check out our first-timers guide to Derby!
Zipline in Jefferson Memorial Forest
Feel like swinging your way through a forest canopy? Guess what, Tarzan? You don’t have to go to Costa Rica for that: you can do it right here in Louisville. Tackle 5 treetop obstacle courses with 39 exciting crossings like the Log Swing, Wobbly Ladder (oh my god, I got wobbly just thinking about that) 2 Tarzan swings and 5 exhilarating zip lines at Zipline Kingdom in Jefferson Memorial Forest. FYI, for those of you wondering “but is this fat girl safe?” the maximum weight is 285 lbs.
- Zipline Kingdom Jefferson Memorial Forest | 11311 Mitchell Hill Road #101, Fairdale, KY
Where to Go for a Walk in Louisville
Sometimes, the best place to get to know a place is by foot. Here are my favorite places to go for a walk, stroll, hike, or whatever you want to call it (jaunt? walkabout?) in Louisville!
Waterfront Park & the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge
Where can you walk from one state to another? Louisville, y’all. Head to Waterfront Park in downtown to take in one of Louisville’s legendary sunsets over the Ohio River. Seriously, Louisville has amazing sunsets. I think it’s a valley thing? They don’t have those kinds of sunsets elsewhere, I’ve checked.
The entire Waterfront Park stretches along the bank of the Ohio River in front of Downtown Louisville, and it’s a beautiful place to stroll or bike along the water, with paths running all the way long the waterfront and down scenic River Road.
Dominating the park is the Big Four Bridge, where you can stroll to Indiana, take a quick look, and stroll righhhhhht back again (I kid, Indiana is great). Check out the Waterfront Park Events Calendar to see what’s happening during your visit – there’s always something going on!
- Louisville Waterfront Park | 1147 River Road, Louisville, KY | FREE!
I mentioned my love for Old Louisville above, but it deserves another shout-out. Old Louisville is freaking gorgeous, with its historical landmarks and restored Victorian Homes and Central Park and tucked-away walking paths (Belgravia Court) and even a fountain at beautiful St. James Court.
Whether you’re taking a historic walking tour of Louisville or a self-guided Old Louisville Walking Tour, Old Louisville is the most beautiful neighborhood in Louisville to stroll around. Pro tip: if you’re a big nerd who plays Pokemon Go, like we are, Old Louisville is an excellent place to do so. Start at St. James Court, you’re welcome.
- St. James Court | 1387 S 4th St, Louisville, KY
Cave Hill Cemetery
Historic Cave Hill Cemetery is the most beautiful and largest cemetery in Louisville. Stroll through its quiet, garden-adorned grounds past ponds and mausoleums and think about the nature of life, the universe, and everything.
You can even print out a free informative Cave Hill Cemetary map and pay your respects to some of Louisville’s most famouse residents: you’ll find the graves of Colonel Sanders, Muhammad Ali, and Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. among many other famous historical people.
- Cave Hill Cemetery | 701 Baxter Avenue, Louisville
Cherokee Park is a big, beautiful park in Louisville winding through the Highlands. It’s hilly and forested over 389 acres, and through it wind myriad walking paths, hiking trails, biking routes, and even a 2.4 mile scenic loop that you can walk or do by car if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t get lost easily and is able to follow signs (this disqualifies me– though I hear the secret is to keep turning left to stay in the park, and turn right to exit!).
The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who not only designed New York City’s Central Park, but also Louisville’s other major parks, Iroquois and Shawnee, as well as the city’s four parkways. Olmstead believed in the healing power of nature and its ability to refresh the soul, and probably the best way to do that is to get off the scenic loop and check out some of the hiking trails surrounding the park. The main trial is like a second loop surrounding the scenic loop, so it’s easy to pop in and out of the trails where you like. Taking the trails means you get to discover hilly forests, boardwalks over swampy areas, and even a bird sanctuary!
If you’re feeling more social, check out Dog Hill where you can always find dogs and their owners gathering, or Hogan’s Fountain where there’s a fountain from 1905 featuring a statue of the Greek God Pan, a large gazebo (the Witch’s Hat), a basketball court, and a play place! So go for a drive, a stroll, or even a hike or trail run, you Olympic athlete, you!
- Cherokee Park | 745 Cochran Hill Rd. Louisville, KY
Waterfront Botanical Gardens
Located on what was once the Ohio Street Dump, the Waterfront Botanical Gardens is now a gathering place for nature lovers, flowers, and butterflies!
As of today, the Gardens have developed 4 of their 23 acres into an edible garden with adjoining waterfall fountain, native gardens, and pollinator gardens, where you can see plants like coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and bee balm. You can also take a walk down the new winding path which takes you down to the Butchertown Greenway, planted with colorful flowers along a waterfall stream.
The plans for the future include a Japanese garden, a children’s garden, and a conservatory, which will be the Botanical Garden’s crown jewel housing tropical plants. Admission is free!
- Waterfront Botanical Gardens | 1435 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY
The Parklands of Floyds Fork
The Parklands of Floyds Fork is located miles away from downtown, where you’ll find a more rural part of the city with one of the best parks in Louisville! This area also happens to be 5 minutes away from where I grew up, and I’m still getting used to the idea that a giant park replaced the tiny one whose empty parking lot was where I drove a car for the very first time in my life. But nostalgia and ghost stories aside, the Parklands are rad.
While I do call it a “park”, it’s actually 4 separate parks which spans over 4000 acres. This place is seriously ENORMOUS! You can do so many activities here, from Mountain Biking, Paddling down 22-miles of Floyds Fork, to exploring 60-miles of hike-bike trails; there’s something for every kind of walker, cycler, and hiker! You’ll find information about each park, access points, bike rentals, pathways and more right here.
- The Parklands of Floyds Fork | 4002 South Pope Lick Road, Louisville, KY (exact address will depend on which park you want to visit)
Historical Attractions in Louisville
Louisville is an old city, and it played an important role in the early days of this young country. To discover the history of Louisville, head to these historical landmarks in Louisville!
The Falls of the Ohio
Technically, the Falls of the Ohio is in Clarksville, Indiana, but the Ohio River is in between Kentucky and Indiana so I’m gonna count this one. If we’re talking history, the Falls of the Ohio goes back way before Lewis & Clark – although it’s actually the place where they first met. It even goes back way before the indigenous inhabitants of this fertile valley. In fact, it goes back 390 million years.
The Falls of the Ohio offers a unique glimpse into the distant past: its fossil beds are among the largest naturally exposed Devonian fossil beds in the world. Learn about the history of the Land that Louisville now sits on and then go fossil-hunting on the shores of the Ohio!
- The Falls of the Ohio | West Riverside Drive, Clarksville, Indiana
The Belle of Louisville
When we first visited Louisville, Jeremy did a double take as we strolled down the waterfront. “Is that a STEAMBOAT? Like, and actual steamboat?!” Yup. As if emerging from the annals of river-city history, the Belle of Louisville was floating down the Ohio River towards us in all of her glory.
Built in 1914 and originally named Idlewild, which I love, the Belle of Louisville is still operating to this day alongside her much younger sister, the Mary M. Miller.
Take a lunch or dinner cruise – which we think is incredibly romantic – or just hop on board and pretend it’s the early 1900s and you’ve got a shipment of bourbon to send down the river!
- Belle of Louisville | 401 West River Road, Louisville, KY
The historic home of Lucy Clark – sister of General George Rogers Clark, of “Lewis & Clark” Fame – was a meeting place for important American luminaries in the late 1700s. Presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson, John James Audubon, Cassius Marcellus Clay (not Muhammad Ali, I was confused too), and both Lewis and Clark—among others—all passed through Locust Grove.
Locust Grove has been beautifully preserved and maintained as a museum and a National Historic Landmark, and serves as a unique example of early Kentucky architecture, craftsmanship, and history.
- Locust Grove | 561 Blankenbaker Lane, Louisville, KY
Antiquing in Louisville
Museums are great places to soak up history. But for a different kind of historical experience, you’ve got to go Antiquing in Louisville. There’s like, a TON of awesome places to go antiquing in the area – so much so that most of my friends have entirely furnished their homes with antiques.
And what’s unique to the antiquing in Louisville is that it totally reflects the history of Louisville: you’ll find everything from bourbon barrels to tiny ceramic moonshine growlers to cast-iron Fleur de Lis, and you’ll want to take all of them home and furnish your house like a Louisville Victorian. It’s hard to pick, but these are the 2 biggest and most well-known antique markets in Louisville to go treasure hunting.
- Mellwood Antiques & Interiors | 1860 Mellwood Avenue, Louisville, KY
- Fleur de Flea | 947 E Breckinridge St, Louisville, KY
- Louisville Antique Market | 845 E Jefferson St, Louisville, KY 40206
Nightlife in Louisville
To find out what’s happening while you’re in Louisville, just pick up a copy of LEO Magazine at any local coffee shop. Or, peep what’s going on online at LEO Weekly. During the week of our visit, there was free live concert on the waterfront (Waterfront Wednesday), an “improvisational music” concert at a bar, a Poetry Festival, a Playwriting Festival, and a Disco Dance Party – all under $5.
Nightlife in Louisville tends to involve art, culture, and an arms-wide-open welcome of absolutely anyone who wants to participate, so dive right in and you’ll be welcomed warmly. There is always something going on!
See a Play in Louisville
I’ve mentioned it before – several times – but Louisville has an incredible theater scene. Not only has the city produced Hollywood actors such as Jennifer Lawrence – who I actually studied theater with in middle school! – Ashley Judd, Jennifer Carpenter, and Tom Cruise, but the independent Louisville acting scene is thriving.
Most theater aficionados have heard of the world famous Humana Festival of New Plays in April, but Louisville produces excellent theater year-round. Pick up a LEO Weekly to see what’s playing. Some of my favorite local theater companies and venues are:
- Theatre  | The Alley Theatre | Commonwealth Theatre Center| Looking for Lilith | Pandora Productions | Bunbury Theatre | The Bard’s Town Theatre | Actor’s Theatre Louisville
Get a Drink in Louisville
Looking for a place to drink – or maybe dance? Check out my list of the best bars in Louisville, from breweries to bourbon bars and more. If you’re looking for a hidden speakeasy, we’ve got our favorites in this post.
You can also book a tour of 3 different bars to sample bourbon and cocktails, and you save your feet a little as the tour is on a tuktuk!
Visiting Louisville in the Fall or Summer
If you’re visiting Louisville in the fall, I’ve got an entire post dedicated to autumn seasonal events: things to do in Louisville in the fall.
If you’re visiting in the summer, make sure to check out 2 of my favorite Louisville events: Waterfront Wednesday, a free monthly concert on the Ohio River waterfront; and Shakespeare in the Park which is the longest-running free Shakespeare festival in the country and also happens to be THE BEST ONE.
The Best Neighborhoods in Louisville to Visit
Louisville is a very large city, and most of its locals divide it mentally into four parts: West End, East End, South End, and Downtown. And while each part of Louisville has its own highlights, for the purposes of your trip to Louisville, I’m choosing to focus on the Downtown area and its surrounding neighborhoods.
The neighborhoods below are easiest to get around without having to rent a car by walking, biking, or taking public transit. Also, there is a higher concentration of awesome stuff to do for visitors to Louisville. So even though us locals have love for the West End, East End, and South End, Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods are the most tourist-friendly parts of the city.
That said, if you rent a car, you’ll be able to explore the South End, West End & the East End much more easily. You can find a comprehensive guide to all of the neighborhoods in Louisville on the GoToLouisville website.
Downtown is where you’ll find the gorgeous city skyline of Louisville, Slugger Field, the Waterfront with its many bridges (you can walk to Indiana!), and Museum Row.
Museum Row is my favorite part of Downtown Louisville: it’s gorgeous and historically restored, with these beautiful old brick facades. You can’t help but imagine yourself in a historical steamboating town smuggling barrels of bourbon downriver when you walk down West Main street! For more information, click here.
NuLu stands for New Louisville. That’s right, Louisville is cool enough to have its own neighborhood nicknames, like SoMa in SF or SoHo in NYC. It was founded in recent years thanks to an upswing in development in a part of Downtown Louisville that didn’t have a whole lot going on.
Now, it’s the hottest part of Louisville, super walkable, and a lot of fun to explore. Rad new shops, art galleries, bars, breweries, and restaurants seem to be opening in NuLu daily.
When I was growing up in Louisville, The Highlands was THE place to be. I spent every weekend in high school walking up and down Bardstown Road, moodily drinking coffee from Highland Coffee and smoking angsty cigarettes while writing poetry in scenic Cave Hill Cemetery. (Yes, I was one of THOSE teenagers.)
Today, you’ll still see plenty of youth hanging out on Bardstown Road, but it’s also a hotspot for many of Louisville’s best restaurants, bars, breweries, and the biggest and most beautiful park in Louisville: Cherokee Park.
For more information and things to do in the Highlands, head to the Highlands Neighborhood Guide we published on our Louisville travel blog.
Old Louisville is home to the largest collection of historical Victorian homes in the world. Suck it, San Francisco! It’s 48 blocks of gorgeous, mansion-esque, Victorian homes and I want to live in all of them.
Oh, and it’s also one of the most absolutely beautiful neighborhoods in Louisville.
I highly recommend visiting St. James Court and strolling around, through Central Park and the adorable walking paths that wind through the gorgeous Victorians.
There are a few restaurants, coffee shops and breweries in Old Louisville – plus a whole college campus – and you can take historical walking tours and a sightseeing tour in a tuk-tuk as well. Stay there, if you can! Our favorite vacation rental is in this area. For more information about Old Louisville, click here.
When I was growing up in Louisville – and even more so, when my mom was growing up in Louisville – Butchertown was that one part of Louisville that always sort of … smelled. That’s because “Butchertown” is not a name pulled out of thin air: there is actually a meat processing plant that STILL operates in this part of Louisville. But, it doesn’t smell so bad anymore – and on the weekends, it doesn’t smell at all!
Why am I suggesting that you visit a meatpacking district? Y’all, because it’s cool as hell. Butchertown has this uber-cool industrial renaissance thing going on, with some of the best restaurants in town, a brandy distillery, art galleries and performance spaces, and some seriously hip shops. Learn more about Butchertown here.
Germantown is was founded in the 1800s by, you guessed it, German immigrants. This historic Louisville neighborhood is populated by “shotgun houses,” long, skinny homes that you’ll find sprinkled throughout certain neighborhoods in Louisville. It’s also home to some awesome places to eat in Louisville (and some delicious German food, of course) and – of course – some of the best places to drink beer in Louisville, as well.
By the way, don’t get confused when you see signs for Schnitzelburg: no, this isn’t a rude anti-Germantown slur. It’s actually a sister neighborhood to Germantown. Read more about Germantown here.
How to Get Around Louisville
I did say above that it’s possible to get around Louisville without a rental car, if you’re so inclined. And if you’re sticking to the neighborhoods above, it is! You will need a rental car if you’re venturing out to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or some of the other day trips from Louisville, and having a car does make it easier to get around Louisville – parking is easy, cheap, and plentiful – but here are some other ways to get around Louisville.
Louisville’s public transportation system is called TARC (The Transit Authority of River City). The buses will take you all over Louisville, and even into Indiana and other neighboring counties, for $1.75 a ride. TARC is particularly useful for covering the small distances between the downtown-area neighborhoods, and you’ll find tons of stops nearby. Use the trip planner to plan your route or take a look at the System Map to find a stop near you.
By Ride-Share App
For anywhere that Tarc doesn’t go, take a Lyft! (Or Uber, I guess, but personally I think they’re an awful, irresponsible company that treats their employees terribly. Still, up to you). We had no problem finding a Lyft at 2am when we arrived in the airport to take us the 10 minutes to our AirBnB in Old Louisville. No car needed!
Louisville’s got a brand new Bike Share system called LouVelo! There are stops all over Louisville’s downtown area, which is – conveniently – mostly flat and covered in bike lanes, too. Grab a bike, go for a ride, and drop it off again. It’s easy, cheap, great exercise, too!
You can also rent a bike to explore Louisville.
Take a tour
There are a few companies offering bourbon train tours, we love this one which takes you to two distilleries and teaches you the history of bourbon distillery along with tours of the facility and of course tastings! Lunch is also included.
Where to Stay in Louisville
It’s hard to experience a city without having a great place to stay. Luckily, there are tons of amazing places to stay in Louisville!
Louisville has lots of great hotels, but unfortunately, most of them are in the East End – a part of town that’s not actually great for visitors and tourists. It’s not accessible by public transit, it’s mostly residential, and it’s far away from the best things to do in Louisville. The reason so many hotels are in this area is that there’s lots of space and it’s near a few business parks. We don’t recommend staying in Louisville’s East End.
Instead, we recommend starting your search closer to Downtown. Old Louisville, NuLu, & Butchertown are our favorite neighborhoods close to downtown. Staying centrally will limit your need for a rental car, so you could get around by bike, ride-share, and bus instead.
We have recommendations for both hotels and vacation rentals in these neighborhoods. Personally, we recommend booking vacation rentals directly through VRBO because it has fewer fees and more flexible cancellation policies than Airbnb – also, we’re not fans of Airbnb’s unethical track record and lax security.
- Old Louisville: This historic neighborhood is full of gorgeous Victorians, and is where we usually stay when we visit home. If you can snag it, our favorite Louisville vacation rental is right on beautiful little Central Park! The Inn at St. James Court is a charming b&b located on the famous fountain court in Louisville, St. James Court. It’s our favorite area to go for a walk and the most iconic part of the neighborhood!
- Butchertown & NuLu: These are two of the most up-and-coming neighborhoods in Louisville, turning old historic warehouses into cool urban-living lofts, galleries, and eateries. These are fantastic walking and bike-friendly neighborhoods, but you won’t find many hotels – so we recommend booking on VRBO! We love this chic, hip loft that’s one street over from the shops and restaurants on Market Street. This colorful, historic apartment is right next to the NuLu Marketplace! And this vibrant apartment is just one block away from our favorite coffee shop, Quills.
- Downtown: Downtown Louisville has a bunch of awesome hotels within walking distance to Museum Row and the waterfront. We love Louisville’s newest boutique hotel, The Grady Hotel, right on Museum Row in the heart of downtown – y’all, it’s real cute! 21C Museum Hotel is both a hotel and a rad contemporary art museum. Plus, it’s also home to one of the best restaurants in Louisville, Proof on Main. If you’re willing to splurge, 21C is super unique and well worth it! Fun fact: there are 21c locations in other cities, but Louisville is the original location.
Are you totally stoked to visit Louisville, Kentucky? I hope you’ve got your boxing gloves, horse saddle, and bourbon growler ready. Or at least your fanciest hat!
Here’s something you won’t want to forget: we’ve compiled all of our suggestions for where to go, what to do, where to visit, what & where to eat, and what & where to drink (and taste bourbon) in Louisville into one downloadable PDF Local’s Guide to Louisville. Subscribe below to get the download and save it to your smartphone or tablet to take with you on your trip to Louisville!
By the way, did you know that we have a BUNCH of posts about Louisville? It is my hometown, after all! Take a look below at our other Louisville travel guides.
- 29 Amazing Places to Eat in Louisville, Kentucky: A Local’s Guide
- The 27 Best Breweries, Distilleries, & Bars in Louisville, KY: A Local’s Guide
- 15 Perfect Things to Do on a Romantic Getaway to Louisville, Kentucky
- Louisville, Kentucky: A Local’s Guide to 21 Reasons Why You Need to Visit This Fall
We also have a Louisville travel blog called Let’s Go Louisville, where I’ve written an even BIGGER guide to things to do in Louisville! Head over and check it out for even more ideas.
Which place are you most excited to visit in Louisville? Leave us a comment below!
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Disclaimer: This post was written in partnership with Go To Louisville. All opinions, recommendations, and poorly executed jokes are entirely our own and totally not their fault.