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Welcome to our Kentucky travel guide, where we’ll share our personal experiences and tips for visiting the Bluegrass State. Known for its horse racing, bourbon distilleries, and beautiful landscapes, Kentucky has a wealth of things to do, so let’s dive in!
- Best Things to Do in Kentucky
- 1. Attend the Kentucky Derby
- 2. Explore Mammoth Cave National Park
- 3. Visit the Kentucky Derby Museum
- 4. Discover Bourbon Country
- 5. Hike in Red River Gorge
- 6. Visit the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
- Where to stay in Kentucky
- How to Get Around in Kentucky
- Travel Tips Kentucky
- Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
- Plan Your Trip Around Events
- Pack for Variable Weather
- Try the Local Cuisine
- Visit Distilleries Responsibly
Best Things to Do in Kentucky
1. Attend the Kentucky Derby
One of the most iconic things to do in Kentucky is attending the prestigious Kentucky Derby, often referred to as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” Held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville on the first Saturday of May, the Kentucky Derby is a Grade I thoroughbred horse race and a cornerstone of American sporting culture. This event attracts visitors from around the globe, who come to witness the spectacle and pageantry of the race, as well as the associated festivities.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the atmosphere by dressing up in traditional Derby attire, including fancy hats for women and seersucker suits for men. The event is more than just a horse race; it’s a full day of entertainment, with live music, delicious Southern cuisine, and plenty of opportunities to socialize.
In the weeks leading up to the Derby, Louisville comes alive with the Kentucky Derby Festival, featuring a variety of events such as hot air balloon races, the Great Steamboat Race, and the Pegasus Parade. This two-week festival adds to the excitement and anticipation of the big race day.
To attend the Kentucky Derby, it’s essential to plan well in advance, as tickets and accommodations tend to sell out quickly. Keep in mind that prices can be quite high, especially for premium seating areas. However, the experience of witnessing this historic event first-hand is truly unforgettable and well worth the investment.
2. Explore Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park is home to the world’s longest-known cave system. Here, you can embark on guided tours that showcase the stunning underground formations and learn about the cave’s history and ecosystem. Wear comfortable shoes and bring a light jacket, as temperatures inside the cave can be chilly.
See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit
3. Visit the Kentucky Derby Museum
If you can’t attend the annual Kentucky Derby, a trip to the Kentucky Derby Museum is a must. Located at the historic Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, the museum celebrates the tradition and history of the world-famous Kentucky Derby. You can also take a walking tour of the racetrack and explore interactive exhibits.
See Related: Best Museums in the US to Visit
4. Discover Bourbon Country
Kentucky is renowned for its bourbon, and a tour of the Bourbon Trail is an excellent way to experience this rich heritage. You’ll visit various distilleries, learn about the history and production of bourbon, and, of course, enjoy some tastings. Many tour companies offer guided trips, or you can plan a Kentucky itinerary and explore at your leisure.
5. Hike in Red River Gorge
Red River Gorge, located within the Daniel Boone National Forest, offers incredible hiking trails, rock climbing opportunities, and picturesque views. The area is known for its unique sandstone rock formations and natural arches. Don’t forget to bring a camera to capture the breathtaking scenery.
See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in November
6. Visit the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
Baseball fans will love exploring the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. You can take a guided tour of the factory to see how these famous baseball bats are made. The museum also features exhibits on baseball history and a chance to hold bats used by legendary players.
Where to stay in Kentucky
When planning a trip to Kentucky, finding the perfect accommodation is essential for a comfortable and enjoyable stay. The state offers a wide range of options, from charming bed and breakfasts to luxurious hotels and budget-friendly motels. Here are our favorite recommendations for accommodations in Kentucky:
- 21c Museum Hotel Louisville – Louisville
- The Brown Hotel – Louisville
- Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa – Lexington
- The Campbell House Lexington – Lexington
- Hyatt Regency Lexington – Lexington
- Covington Inn – Covington
- Beaumont Inn – Harrodsburg
- The Galt House Hotel – Louisville
- Embassy Suites Lexington Green – Lexington
- Hampton Inn & Suites Paducah – Paducah
See Related: Best Resorts in the USA For Families
How to Get Around in Kentucky
Getting around Kentucky is most convenient with a rental car, as public transportation options are limited. This will allow you to explore beautiful landscapes, charming towns, and numerous attractions at your own pace. Check out RentalCars.com for a variety of rental options at competitive prices.
Travel Tips Kentucky
Kentucky uniquely blends Southern charm, history, and natural beauty. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your visit:
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
We recommend purchasing travel insurance before your trip to Kentucky. This will give you peace of mind in unexpected events, such as illness or injury. Visit VisitorsCoverage.com to compare plans and find the best coverage for your needs.
Plan Your Trip Around Events
Kentucky hosts various events, such as the famous Kentucky Derby in May and the Bourbon Festival in September. Plan your visit around these events to experience some of the state’s most popular attractions.
Pack for Variable Weather
Kentucky’s weather can be unpredictable, so pack layers to accommodate varying temperatures. Bring a light jacket or sweater for cooler evenings and rain gear in case of unexpected showers.
See Related: The Ultimate Summer Trip Packing List
Try the Local Cuisine
Kentucky is known for its delicious Southern cuisine, including specialties like hot brown sandwiches and burgoo stew. Don’t miss the chance to try these local dishes at some of the state’s restaurants and diners.
Visit Distilleries Responsibly
When touring the Bourbon Trail, drink responsibly and designate a driver or book a guided tour with transportation included. Many tour companies offer safe and convenient options for exploring Kentucky’s distilleries.
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- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.