The largest city in Kentucky, Louisville is located on the south bank of the Ohio River, just across the water from Jeffersonville in Indiana. While it is mostly known for hosting the annual Kentucky Derby horse race, it is also famed for its brilliant bourbons and for being the hometown of world-renowned boxer Muhammad Ali.
Named after King Louis XVI of France, it is one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachians and was founded in 1778. While pockets of interesting historic sights and well-preserved iron facade buildings still remain, the city is more known for its thriving dining scene and umpteen distilleries.
It is also home to magnificent museums and unique tourist attractions; caves and cemeteries to be explored alongside amusement parks and animal exhibits. With so many things to do in Louisville, this city with its irresistible Southern charm is not to be missed when in Kentucky.
12. Louisville Zoo
Home to a huge array of animals, the excellent Louisville Zoo can be found in the city’s Poplar Level neighborhood. A fun, family-friendly place to visit, it has countless exhibits and enclosures to explore with playgrounds, rides and attractions.
Established in 1969, it has expanded enormously and now includes over 1,700 animals from as far away as Africa, Asia and Australia. As such, visitors can expect to see everything from elephants and giraffes to jaguars, gorillas and Sumatran tigers, with even an albino alligator named King Louie on show.
Besides learning all there is to know about the animals, their behavior and natural habitats, you can also watch thrilling live demonstrations, splash about in its water park or ride around on one of the zoo’s resident camels.
11. Cave Hill Cemetery
An atmospheric place to amble around, the sprawling Cave Hill Cemetery is just a short drive east of downtown. Known for its Victoria-era monuments, mausoleums and military graves, its leafy arboretum lends the grounds a very scenic and serene look and feel.
The largest cemetery in town, it was founded in 1848 in a rural area on what was once the outskirts of Louisville. Featuring a gorgeous garden-style design, its winding paths take you up hills and through valleys. Lakes and ponds set either side of the charming creek roughly divide the cemetery in two.
In total, its lush green grounds contain more than 120,000 graves with striking sculptures and statues. You’ll spy impressive monuments to influential figures such as KFC’s Colonel Sanders and legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.
10. Kentucky Kingdom
One of Louisville’s top attractions, Kentucky Kingdom is full of fun thrill rides and exhilarating roller coasters. Set just a stone’s throw from the airport, the huge amusement park has all kinds of exciting carnival games and scintillating shows to enjoy, as well as the pools, slides and wave machines of adjoining Hurricane Bay.
First opened in 1977, the family-oriented theme park now covers a gigantic space and has over fifty enticing attractions for visitors to try out. While its carousel, swings and Ferris wheel will appeal to younger guests, thrillseekers will enjoy hair-raising rides, such as the Skycatcher, Storm Chaser and Scream Extreme.
Aside from hopping on its roller coasters and rides, or splashing about in its water park, you can also stop off for a bite to eat. There are numerous food outlets, with shops, cafes and an incredible 5D cinema also located on-site.
9. Big Four Bridge
Spanning the breadth of the Ohio River is the majestic Big Four Bridge which connects Louisville with Jeffersonville in Indiana. One of the city’s main landmarks, its silhouette makes for a stunning sight with fine views to be enjoyed from its ramps and walkways.
Now only open to pedestrians and cyclists, the 770 meter-long six-span bridge originally carried rail traffic across the rushing waters of the river. First built in 1895, it was later abandoned for the best part of fifty years earning it the nickname the ‘Bridge That Goes Nowhere’.
Besides strolling and cycling across the bridge, you can bask in beautiful views over the river and take in the fine features of its wrought-iron trusses, rivets and built-up beams. In addition, pretty green parks lie at either end of the bridge that is magically lit up in the evenings.
8. Angel’s Envy Distillery
Not far from the start of the bridge and the idyllic waterfront park is Angel’s Envy Distillery. Located in the heart of Louisville’s Bourbon District on Whiskey Row, this is one of the best places to head in town if you want to try the state of Kentucky’s signature stiff drink.
Since 2013, the distillery has produced a number of award-winning whiskeys with interactive tours taking you to see the facility’s fascinating fermentation and distillation processes. After having seen how Angel’s Envy is made, you can sample some brilliant bourbons in its unique and atmospheric Finishing Room bar.
On top of trying the distillery’s handcrafted and perfectly aged alcohols, guests can shop for gifts in its store or sign up for fun bartending workshops and cocktail making classes.
7. Conrad-Caldwell House Museum
Exhibiting exquisite architecture, the marvelous Conrad-Caldwell House is right in the center of Old Louisville. Protected as part of a museum, it contains countless artworks and antiques with tours taking you around its elegant interior.
Once known as ‘Conrad’s Castle’, the imposing yet attractive building was erected in 1893 for a local entrepreneur who made his fortune in the tanning business. As well as towers and turrets, its exterior features show finely carved animals, flowers and gargoyles. The stately mansion is noted for its remarkable Richardsonian-Romanesque style.
Inside is just as arresting as its enormous halls and apartments are decorated with fine furnishings and period pieces, while splendid stained glass windows and centuries-old artworks deck its walls.
6. Louisville Mega Cavern
Formerly a limestone quarry, the humongous Louisville Mega Cavern is now one of the most unique things to do in Louisville. Popular with both locals and tourists alike, its man-made tunnels and caves offer up an astounding array of epic adventure activities.
Stretching over 15 miles in length, its cool caverns and chambers lie quite literally beneath the city with most of it located under Louisville Zoo. Since the space was renovated and re-imagined in the nineties, businesses and tourist attractions have sprung up. It now boasts the only underground mountain bike park, ropes course and zipline in the world.
To see as much of the mega cavern as possible, it is well worth taking a guided tram or hiking tour. Christmas is a particularly memorable time to visit as the colossal cave is clad in bright and colorful holiday lights.
5. Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
A great spot to stop by if you want to sample the strong spirit and learn more about how it is made, is the excellent Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. The first distillery to open on Whiskey Row, its interactive exhibits, tours and tastings will teach you all there is to know about the origins and evolution of Kentucky’s best-loved drink.
At its artisanal distillery, you’ll be transported back in time to the 1780s when bourbon-making first began and Mr Williams set up shop just around the corner. You’ll then be whisked on a whirlwind journey through the centuries as you see milling and distilling, maturing and bottling at the state-of-the-art facility.
Afterwards, you can sit down and enjoy a delicious drink of one of the world’s best-selling whiskey brands. Its fantastic Prohibition-era speakeasy is open Friday through to Sunday.
4. Kentucky Derby Museum
While Louisville is rightfully known for its unbeatable bourbons, it is also famous for hosting one of the world’s biggest and best horse races: the unforgettable Kentucky Derby. At this magnificent museum, visitors can learn all about the rich history, culture and heritage of the exciting event.
Located at the Churchill Downs racecourse, its floors are packed with artifacts and exhibits that look at everything from the breeding and training of young foals to illustrious owners, age-old traditions and winning horses and jockeys. As well as seeing photos and clips from famous races, you can peruse old memorabilia and trophies with the first derby held way back in 1875.
In addition, tours around the museum also take you to see the gorgeous old grandstands, through the jockeys’ quarters and to the Millionaire’s Row VIP section.
3. Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
Offering a very interesting insight into how the famous baseball bat is made, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory can be found alongside Museum Row. Besides its production line, there is an amazing collection of baseball memorabilia for visitors to enjoy with interactive displays and exhibits dotted about.
While the company has been making the iconic bat since the 1880s, the current facility is actually its fourth location. Instantly recognizable due to the huge 120 foot-high baseball bat that is propped against its side, the museum contains all kinds of makes, models and memorabilia. Its gigantic Signature Wall and Bat Vault being just two of its standout sights.
Aside from actually holding a bat used by Babe Ruth, visitors can practice their swing in its batting cages, shop for souvenirs or take a tour around the factory.
2. Muhammad Ali Center
Set on the southern bank of the Ohio River you can find the brilliant Muhammad Ali Center which shines a light on the life and legacy of the Louisville legend. Both a museum and cultural center, it has installations and exhibitions on the renowned boxer with photos, videos and memorabilia.
Only opened in 2005, the massive modern building has six storeys for visitors to explore with its engaging exhibits and artifacts looking at everything from Ali’s fabled boxing career to his spiritual life and opposition to the Vietnam War. In addition to watching clips and interviews of The Greatest you can also step into the ring and actually shadow box with the champ.
On top of all this, the center has a pleasant plaza and amphitheater for you to check out while its two art galleries regularly host rotating exhibits.
1. Churchill Downs
An unmissable event, the adrenaline-packed Kentucky Derby has been held at the city’s Churchill Downs horse racing complex ever since 1875. Held every May, it is one of most popular and prestigious races out there and has fittingly been described as ‘The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports’.
While the thrilling spectacle is undoubtedly the venue’s biggest draw, countless other warm-up races and competitions take place at the track throughout the year. As such, it is well worth checking out its packed horse-racing schedule when in town. Thoroughbred horses and their jockeys constantly compete in front of its historic grandstands with their two twin spires.
While watching an exhilarating race is the main reason that most people visit Churchill Downs, you can also take a tour around its hallowed grounds or stop by the Kentucky Derby Museum to learn all about the epic event.