As far as popular U.S. destinations go, Kentucky isn't usually high up on any lists. It doesn't have beaches or famous cities; most people probably can't even name the state capital (it's Frankfort, by the way). But that doesn't mean that you should write off a visit to Kentucky. In fact, visiting Louisville recently opened my eyes to just how much this state has to offer.
This city – located within driving distance from many Midwestern locations – is the largest in Kentucky. It also offers up more to do than you probably realize. If you decide to give Kentucky – and, more specifically, Louisville – a try, here are some suggestions for things you shouldn't miss:
Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum
Especially if you're a baseball fan (but even if you're not), a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is a must. The Louisville Slugger name has been famous in baseball for well over 100 years, with the company making baseball bats for everyone from Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter. Today the factory still produces bats for Major League Baseball teams, but is also popular for tourists to visit for a behind-the-scenes look. You can take a tour of the factory, explore the small museum, and take home a mini souvenir bat all for $11.
Louisville is also famous for another sport – horse racing. “The greatest two minutes in sports” happens the first Saturday in May in Louisville: the Kentucky Derby. This race, famous for its big winner's purse and even bigger hats, has become a springtime tradition for many people in America. The racetrack where the Derby takes place is Churchill Downs, and you can visit it any time of the year – even when no races are taking place. Right outside the racetrack is the Kentucky Derby Museum, which has some great interactive exhibits and offers guided tours of the racetrack. This is a worthwhile place to spend a couple of hours, even if you don't know a whole lot about thoroughbred horse racing.
Louisville sits along the Ohio River, right across the border from Indiana. A popular activity – especially when the weather is nice – is to cruise up and down the river on a riverboat, learning about the city's history and admiring its bridges and skyline. The Belle of Louisville, a steamboat that still uses its original steam-powered paddlewheel, is the most famous boat in Kentucky – and will be celebrating her 100th birthday in 2014. You can book history/sightseeing cruises, as well as dinner and special event cruises.
If you decide you've had enough sports for the weekend, consider something slightly more artsy. You can check out Louisville Glassworks just around the corner from the Louisville Slugger factory to admire blown- and flame-shaped-glass artwork – or book your own session ahead of time to create some pieces of your own. Even if you decide not to try your hand at glassmaking, the studio and gallery are great to visit on their own. You can take a self-guided tour through the studio, which will allow you to watch some live glassblowing and flame working in the Mark Payton Glass Center.
The Bourbon Trail
Lastly, no trip to Louisville would be complete without exploring at least a portion of Kentucky's famous “Bourbon Trail.” The “trail” consists of bourbon distilleries scattered throughout northern Kentucky, including Wild Turkey, Maker's Mark, Four Roses, and Jim Beam, among others. If you only have time to visit one distillery (and, honestly, one or two is enough unless you absolutely love bourbon), consider the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. It is within a 30-minute drive from downtown Louisville, and offers a comprehensive distillery tour with tastings for just $10.
Please drink responsibly and use a designated driver, as your RoamRight policy does not cover loss resulting from or caused by being under the influence of alcohol.
So are you surprised? Is Louisville on your must-visit list now?