Louisville Travel Ideas: Explore History, Culture & Food : GoToLouisville.com Official Travel Source

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The longest continually held sporting event in the U.S. continues in 2024 with the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. Once hailed by Magic Johnson as “the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras all rolled into one,” the Derby has become a springtime holiday with its own distinct culture. For starters, locals roll out a unique menu from appetizers to desserts to cocktails. Start with triangle-cut Benedictine sandwiches using the curious light green cucumber spread Benedictine, invented by Louisville caterer Jennie Benedict in the late 1800s. Next, you’ll want to dive into a Kentucky Hot Brown, an open-faced hot turkey, bacon, cheese and tomato sandwich invented at the Brown Hotel, which celebrated 100 years in 2023 since it's opening. For dessert, try Derby-Pie®, the official pie of the Kentucky Derby, invented at a local inn in the 1950s. Or, try Bourbon Balls, a delicacy invented by two Kentucky ex-teachers in the 1930s. Lastly, you’ll want to wash it all down with a Mint Julep, the iconic Kentucky Derby cocktail that mixes up Bourbon, sugar, water and mint, in a signature silver julep cup. The official hotel of the Kentucky Derby, The Galt House, celebrated 50 years in 2022 and features a rotating rooftop restaurant (Swizzle) and legendary bourbon bar, Jockey Silks.


2023 marks a decade since the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience became Louisville’s first distillery to open a visitor-facing bourbon attraction. Since its unveiling in 2013, the city has undergone a spirited renaissance, with new bourbon-themed hotels, festivals, restaurants, and additional attractions. Once nicknamed the Wall Street of Whiskey, Louisville’s Main Street is seeing an influx of new businesses and experiences. After sitting empty for decades, Number 15 has filled the final vacancy in a revitalized Whiskey Row. The 24,000-square-foot bar and entertainment venue will stretch across five floors and offer nightly live music and Kentucky-inspired cuisine. Three new tasting rooms are coming to Main Street as well, with the additions of Buzzard’s Roost Whiskey Row Experience (June 2023), Bardstown Bourbon Company (Fall 2023) and Pursuit Spirits (Summer 2024). Attend an Old Fashioned cocktail-making class at the Frazier History Museum to learn about the city’s official cocktail or head to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory for their hands-on experience, Barrels & Billets, which allows whiskey lovers to sample and create their own whiskey blends based on individual flavor preferences. Whiskey Row Walking Tours are newly available and include tastings at multiple downtown distilleries. A guide will share a history of whiskey production in Louisville, including Whiskey Row’s historical past, famous cast iron storefronts, and iconic distillers. Hotel Distil is a bourbon-themed hotel that opened in 2019, while the Grady Hotel opened in 2021 and is located in a former Bourbon apothecary and hat shop and features a basement speakeasy.


Housed in a former disco ball factory, the Myriad Hotel will open 65 rooms in the Highlands neighborhood this summer, complete with a chef-driven restaurant, outdoor pool, and a coffee & cocktail bar. The historic Brown Hotel, a Georgian-Revival-style property listed on the National Register of Historic Places, will turn 100 years old in October 2023. You may recognize the hotel as the birthplace of the iconic Kentucky Hot Brown, an opened-face turkey, tomato, mornay, and bacon sandwich invented shortly after the hotel’s founding. Cave Hill Cemetery will celebrate a milestone in July 2023, marking 175 years since its dedication. The arboretum and burial ground is the final resting place of icons Muhammad Ali, Colonel Sanders, and Pappy Van Winkle. 2023 marks a decade since the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience became the first Bourbon distillery to open in downtown Louisville since pre-Prohibition. Its opening in 2013 marked a turning point in the city’s Bourbon boom. A 123-room Derby City Gaming Hotel and a 130-room Tempo by Hilton hotel are also both set to open in late 2023.


Historic Churchill Downs will host the 150th running of the annual Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2024, maintaining its title as the longest-continuously held major sporting event in the U.S. The event will also mark the completion of a $200 million, multiyear renovation of the National Historic Landmark. Less than 10 days later, Valhalla Golf Club will host the 2024 PGA Championship, a week-long golf tournament that has not been held in Louisville since 2014 and is known for being one of the most prestigious golfing events in the world. In July, just a block South of Whiskey Row, Hilton will open the Derby City Hotel on downtown Louisville’s Market Street. The Canopy Brand property will offer a sixth-floor rooftop pool and bar, a ground-floor restaurant by popular Louisville restauranteur Kevin Grangier, and 168 guest rooms. The Kentucky Center will host the worldwide debut of a new Broadway musical titled ALI in downtown Louisville that October. The production will highlight the life and legacy of Louisville native Muhammad Ali, and will be composed by Louisville Orchestra’s Musical Director Teddy Abrams before heading to New York City’s Broadway stage in early 2025. The Kentucky Derby Museum will launch two new exhibits that summer. The Riders Up! exhibit simulates riding in the Kentucky Derby through the decades and a yet-to-be-named exhibit will chronicle 150 years of Kentucky Derby fashion with ensembles from various decades.

A horse and jockey training at Churchill Downs


One mile south of downtown, you’ll find Old Louisville, a registered historic district that owns the bragging rights of having the largest collection of restored Victorian mansions in the country. Originally home to Louisville’s Southern Exposition (1883-1887), you’ll now find more than 40 city blocks of Beaux Arts, Cateauesque, Italianate, Neoclassical and Queen Anne style homes. Learn about the history of the homes and neighborhood during a daytime Old Louisville Historic Walking Tour or take a nightly haunted ghost tour to learn why Old Louisville was once named “One of America’s Most Haunted Neighborhoods.” For an overnight stay, visitors can rest their heads in one of the neighborhood’s many Bed & Breakfasts like the Louisville Bourbon Inn (circa 1870), Historic Rocking Horse Manor (circa 1888) or Columbine Bed & Breakfast (circa 1896). From architecture to the arts, the neighborhood is also home to the longest-running free Shakespeare festival in the U.S. (Kentucky Shakespeare Festival), Kentucky’s oldest, largest, and foremost museum of art (Speed Art Museum), and the annual St. James Court Art Show, held over three days every first full weekend in October.

A woman walking down the tree-lined sidewalks of the Old Louisville neighborhood. Everything is green and blooming,


Kentucky Derby season may be thought of as the most popular time to visit Louisville, but September is jam-packed with spirited festivals and events. Bourbon & Beyond will return for four days in 2023 with headliners Bruno Mars, The Killers, Brandi Carlile, and Train. The following weekend will bring Louder Than Life, the ‘World’s Largest Rock ‘N’ Roll Whiskey Festival’ featuring Weezer, Limp Bizkit, Avenge Sevenfold, and Green Day. American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan is getting in on the action by opening The Last Refuge, a restaurant, whiskey bar and live music venue inside a 150-year-old church in the NuLu neighborhood, set to open this September. September’s live music doesn’t stop there with the addition of a 2-day Jimmy Buffet tribute festival, Parrotheads in Paristown, a free 4-day international food, music, and arts festival, WorldFest, the annual National Jug Band Jubilee, and the Louisville Pride Festival, an LGBTQ block party featuring national acts and the region’s top drag performers. Churchill Downs, the historic racetrack and home of the Kentucky Derby will re-open mid-month for its annual September Meet to round out an epic Bourbon Heritage Month in Louisville.


Louisville neighborhoods are seeing an emergence of boutique properties retrofitted in reclaimed spaces. In downtown Louisville, you’ll find the 51-room Grady Hotel, an 1883 building once a pharmacy where prescriptions of “medicinal Bourbon” were filled. Head over to the Highlands neighborhood, and you'll see the construction of Myriad Hotel, a hotel opening in late summer or early fall. This soon-to-be hotel was once a factory that produced disco balls. These elements will be layered within the hotel. The Bellwether offers “invisible service” with online check-in and keypad entry and is housed in an early 1900s police station. The NuLu neighborhood introduced Hotel Genevieve in the spring of 2023, a new-build property making headlines due to its unique style, rooftop bar, speakeasy, and Parisian-inspired café and restaurant.


The only event of its kind in the world, Lights Under Louisville, takes place inside the Louisville Mega Cavern, a 4 million sq. ft. cavern located beneath the Louisville Zoo. A self-driven experience, the underground adventure features over 6 million points of light, 900 lit characters and a laser light show. The Old Louisville Holiday Home Tour explores the Victorian-era mansions in the city’s historic district and allows access inside the ornately decorated estates of Old Louisville. The 6-week Fête De Noël in the Paristown district offers outdoor ice skating, trackless train rides, and a Holiday Market. Recently benefitting from a $50,000 grant from Louisville native Jack Harlow, the Louisville Ballet holds its annual production of the Nutcracker every December. Eight stories above the city, you’ll find a collection of IgLous at 8up on their outdoor open-air rooftop bar.