Ahh, Derby Season, the most exciting time of the year in Louisville. We’ve got a detailed guide full of Kentucky Derby tips, a guide to hotels near Churchill Downs, AND a guide to what to wear to the Kentucky Derby. But this post addresses one of the most complicated logistical quandaries facing Kentucky Derby attendees. No, I don’t mean understanding wagers and betting – and frankly, we can’t help you there anyway (we’re strictly a pick-them-based-off-name-and-jersey team here). I’m talking about how to get to and from Churchill Downs on Derby Day!
With 150,000 or so attendees all heading to the same place at the same time, it’s a whole ordeal. Luckily, this ain’t our first rodeo. Er, horse race.
The city has set up a fantastic public transit solution to help move the crowds on buses. There are also lots of tricks to get to and from Louisville from out of town, avoid taking transit altogether, and – if you must – driving your own car to Churchill Downs.
Here’s is the complete local’s guide to getting to the Kentucky Derby (and safely home again)!
Psst: Coming to Louisville for the Derby? These posts will help you plan your trip:
- What to Wear to the Kentucky Derby
- Kentucky Derby Tips: The Ultimate First-Timer’s Guide
- The Best Hotels Near Churchill Downs & Where to Stay for Derby
- How to Bet on the Kentucky Derby (By A Local)
2024 Kentucky Derby Tickets & Parking Passes
Before you pay full price, we highly recommend looking on VividSeats and StubHub, where you can usually find reduced price tickets, single-day tickets, and even parking passes to help you save money (so you can spend more on betting and mint juleps, obviously)!
Oh, and make sure to check out our other local’s guides to the Kentucky Derby:
Where is the Kentucky Derby Held?
The Kentucky Derby is held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Churchill Downs is located fairly close to the airport on the southern end of Louisville, and if you’re trying to spend as little time getting from place to place as possible, you can book a hotel near Churchill Downs. However, we don’t recommend staying close to the racetrack because there’s pretty much nothing else there – see our guide to where to stay for the Kentucky Derby for more details.
Also, even if you are staying close to the racetrack, there are no hotel shuttles to Churchill Downs, so you’re on your own to figure out your transportation – along with about 150,000 other people.
Yeah, it’s quite the logistical challenge.
If you’re driving in or lucky enough to snag one of the few available rental cars, be sure to budget a parking pass into your trip (and buy it early) – they are not cheap.
But honestly, it’s better to avoid driving to Churchill Downs. There are lots of other ways to get to and from the Kentucky Derby – which also means you don’t have to worry about how many mint juleps you can safely enjoy! Below, we’ll break down every option.
- Note that Churchill Downs has three entrance gates: the Paddock Gate, Clubhouse Gate and Infield Gate. (For Dawn at the Dawns, we recommend parking near the Paddock Gate.) So keep that in mind if you have Infield Tickets but get dropped off at the Clubhouse or Paddock Gates!
Getting to Churchill Downs from Out of Town
Coming from out of town? Check out Rally, a bus rideshare specifically for the Kentucky Derby with 60 pick-up locations.
You can bus in from Lexington or Bardstown – two of our favorite spots to base yourself for a Bourbon Trail itinerary during your trip – or even as far away as Indianapolis, Cincinnatti and Nashville.
Your rideshare will drop you off and pick you up from Churchill Downs, no night at a hotel needed.
Getting to the Kentucky Derby By Bus
Your cheapest transit option is to take TARC to and from Churchill Downs: a one-way adult cash fare is only $1.75, and buses run all day.
To get to Churchill Downs, you’ll want to hop on Routes 4, 6, or 29.
- Route #4 covers parts of downtown, the University of Louisville, Old Louisville, and neighborhoods near Iroquois Park.
- Route #6 provides service in downtown, Iroquois Park neighborhoods and the area near Auburndale.
- Route #29 connects Shively, U of L/Old Louisville, the Highlands, Schnitzelburg, and St. Matthews.
To plot your route, use Google Maps and select “transit.”
After the races, due to detours, buses pick up passengers at different stops than where they were dropped off. So … definitely bookmark this page with route details now, while you’re still sober.
If you’re willing to bus into Churchill Downs, we recommend staying in downtown on Whiskey Row or 4th street, Old Louisville, or the Highlands. We’ve included our recommendations for each neighborhood in detail below!
Getting to the Kentucky Derby By Taxi or Ride-Share
Churchill Downs has specific procedures for attendees arriving by taxi or a ride-sharing service:
- Taxis: If you will be using a taxi for travel, use the Churchill Downs auto-court for drop-off, found in front of the Barbaro Statue by the Kentucky Derby Museum (see pic above).
- Ride-sharing services: Use Thornberry Avenue to access the designated guest drop-off areas. Rides can wait for you in one of the 16 numbered spaces located within the Blue Lot.
If you’re taking a taxi, Uber or Lyft into Churchill Downs, we recommend staying in NuLu, Clifton, Germantown, or Butchertown. Each is within a few miles of to the downtown core, with plenty of cool places to eat and things to do within the neighborhood itself. We’ve got a few suggestions for these neighborhoods in the summary at the bottom of the post.
Getting to the Kentucky Derby By Car
If you plan on driving yourself to Churchill Downs, it is critical to know that all parking is sold in advance for both Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby. You’ll need to buy a parking pass – and they are NOT cheap.
While limited parking is available on-site, there may be parking in the surrounding neighborhoods or via private lots. There are also all kinds of complicated road closures and such – maps, schedules, and more information are all available online.
If you’re driving in, you have the luxury of staying anywhere you like, including the East End where hotels are typically much cheaper! That said, you’ll be driving everywhere. We only recommend staying in the East End if you aren’t planning on doing much else during your stay or don’t particularly care about staying in a cool neighborhood.
Getting to Churchill Downs by Scooter
Louisville has two eletric scooter companies operating in town: Bird and Lime. Picking up a scooter is as easy as downloading the app and setting up your account, then finding the nearest scooter. Scan the scooter to unlock it and whiz to your location! It costs about $1 to unloack a scooter and 15 cents per minute after that.
You’ll only want to take a scooter for short distances that connect to Churchill Downs via surface streets, such as from Old Louisville, Shelby Park, or Schnitzelburg (each about 3 miles away down nice wide streets) or Downtown (4 miles away).
Further than that and you risk your scooter running out of battery, leaving you fabulously dressed on the side of the road somewhere, which is just a waste of a good outfit.
We suggest using Google Maps to plot your route – pick the Bike option, so you’ll be taking mostly wide, bike-friendly streets and bike lines. You’ll also see nearby Bird/Lime scooters in Google Maps once you’ve downloaded the apps!
You’ll be going about 15 MPH and must say on streets rather than sidewalks, so it’s very important that you wear a helmet (and please, do not drive a scooter if you’ve had too much to drink.) Worried that a helmet will clash with your Derby Day outfit? Fear not – helmets are totally on theme, especially with a cute equestrian helmet cover. You’ll look like a jockey!
Have a question about the Kentucky Derby? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Coming to Louisville for the Derby? These other posts will help you plan your trip:
- What to Wear to the Kentucky Derby: The Ultimate Guide
- Kentucky Derby Tips: The Ultimate First-Timer’s Derby Guide (by a local)
- The Best Hotels Near Churchill Downs & Where to Stay for the Kentucky Derby
Need some more suggestions for your trip? Take a look at these other posts:
- Kentucky Bourbon Trail: the Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
- The 63 Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky
- 13 Famous Louisville (& Kentucky) Foods You Have to Try