One of the many things Louisvillians pride themselves on is the city’s culture. We have professional theatre, Broadway, opera, ballet, orchestra, and of course, plenty of start-of-the-art, culturally relevant, and exciting museums in Louisville!
From the established Museum Row on Main Street to historic homes – we have some completely unique, Louisville-centric spaces that will make you fall deeper in love with the city. As if you couldn’t love Louisville more!
We took some time to scope out the museums in Louisville and highlight what makes them worth visiting. Whether you are seeking a rainy day activity or just need a little more color in your weekend – we have you covered!
- Museums in Louisville
- Museum Row Louisville
Check out a few of these other posts:
- The 19 Best Restaurants for Brunch in Louisville, Kentucky
- The 63 Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky (by a local)
- The Clifton & Crescent Hill Neighborhood Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay
Museums in Louisville
Ready to totally impress your friends with extensive knowledge of Louisville sluggers? Muhammed Ali? Maybe contemporary art? Read on! We will take you all through the city and give you every detail you need to make your next visit to one of the many museums in Louisville absolutely perfect.
The Speed Art Museum
When we think about the art scene in Louisville, the Speed Art Museum will always be at the top of the list. Nestled in the heart of UofL’s campus this gallery is a perfect hub for contemporary and classic art. In addition to having permanent collections in the realm of African, Native American, and European art – the Speed also brings in some unique and exciting exhibitions as well. You could spend days in this museum – who doesn’t want to get lost in a museum?
This museum has a diverse range of artists on display. I am personally partial to their focus on contemporary art and Black artist collections. My must-see? A 16-polaroid frame photo collection entitled Same by Lorna Simpson. Highly recommended.
Anywhere from Monet to Modern, this museum has a deep scope of work. In addition to checking out the exhibitions, the museum also has a full Cinema. This area of the museum opened in 2015 and is a perfect spot to spend an afternoon. The works chosen for the Speed Cinema are broad and you can view anything from artsy independent films all the way to CatVideoFest (yes you read that right). Don’t forget to check out what is currently playing!
More of a night owl? One of my favorite events to attend is After Hours at the Speed. It combines three of the best things – music, drinks, and art. Hosted every third Friday the museum stays open till 10 PM to offer a unique way to experience the art. Past After Hours have showcased local bands, special screenings, and Drag shows. Gotta love art when it is partnered with a good cocktail.
The Derby Museum
Say “Kentucky Derby” and you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t know what you’re talking about, but what about the Kentucky Derby Museum? Don’t feel bad if you did not know that this gem existed, because a lot of people don’t know to look past the Mint Juleps, but this is one of the most fantastic museums in Louisville that is working tirelessly to preserve the legacy of the Kentucky Derby.
Start your visit with a movie in the round. It’s exactly like it sounds like, a 360-degree screen surrounds you with the sights and sounds of the racetrack making you feel like you’re in the middle of the action. It is incredible to experience the horses galloping and you can feel the intensity. The museum itself is a fascinating glimpse into the workings of our favorite local tradition, but if you really want to know what it’s like to experience the derby, you’ve got to sign up (in advance) for the backside tour.
I personally was most excited to see the recently expanded exhibit, “Black Heritage in Racing”. This exhibit has recently been expanded 20 times larger than before and this permanent collection is not one to miss. Walk through the legacy of artworks, artifacts, and impact created by Black horsemen in racing. This section of the museum really allows you to get up close and personal with important faces of the fastest two minutes in sports.
Interested in attending the Kentucky Derby? We have a whole first-timers guide to the Derby for you to read!
The Conrad-Cauldwell House Museum
Step back in time to the Victorian grandeur of Louisville’s Gilded Age and tour a Victorian mansion/castle at the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum. Constructed in 1895, the Richardsonian Romanesque castle is one of the most unique mansions in the Old Louisville neighborhood, which happens to have the largest contiguous collection of Victorian homes in the country!
It was built to house two of Louisville’s most prominent businessmen and entrepreneurs, and today it has been perfectly restored to the Edwardian Age. If you are not familiar with the vibe of this era (let’s face it that is very….specific) let me paint the picture for you: when walking into this home you immediately are overwhelmed by the luxury of stained glass, intricate woodwork carved with fleur de lis, luscious textiles, chandeliers, and a whole lot of opulence! They just don’t make them like they used to.
Something that I love about this Museum is that there is an opportunity to take either a docent-led or a self-guided tour of the mansion. So whether you want someone leading you through every detail of the home or you like to explore on your own the choice is fully yours. They also offer special tours during the St. James Court Art Show which typically happens around the end of September.
The Conrad-Caldwell house is a top 10 ranked Louisville attraction on TripAdvisor and really should be a Louisville must-see. If you have any interest in historical design you will completely geek out over the gargoyles, beautiful archways, and elaborate stone designs.
I know what you’re thinking – Is it haunted? I am going to rule this place as for sure spooky. Tour guides have claimed on multiple occasions to have interactions with past owners, the Caldwells.
Apparently, Mr. Caldwell likes to appear when visitors of the historical tour trail off on their own. Allegedly one female visitor from the 1990s slipped away from her group to visit the third floor and within minutes the group heard her screaming. She said that a “mean little man shook his finger at me.” Wow – no one likes a sassy ghost man.
All jokes aside, next time you take a visit maybe you take an extra lap around the building and see if you can spot anything otherworldly. It sounds like you just might…
The Portland Museum
Simply put, the Portland Museum stands for art, heritage, and community and is one of the most vibrant museums in Louisville. Located at 2308 Portland Avenue, this spot brings together all of the history and vibrance of Portland which was once a thriving independent town. It’s pretty cool to see an entire building dedicated to the history of a neighborhood because there is truly so much history in Portland!
What is there to see here? This place seeps history and culture. This building is a space to promote and bring awareness of the history and vibrance of this sometimes overlooked neighborhood. The Portland Museum prides itself on being more than just “pretty things on a wall” and they really hope to challenge people to engage in a new perspective. You can learn more about the history of Shippingport Island while viewing local art, craft, and oral traditions.
The Portland Museum’s main exhibit is the recently launched AHOY which is focused on creating an immersive, experimental space for children to explore self-led learning. This section of the Portland Museum was inspired by the creativity of the City Museum in St. Louis, which may just be one of the most wild and wonderful art installations ever. When you arrive at AHOY you walk through the Portland Museum building but then you are instantly transported through a mysterious tunnel that leads you through a world of art, light, and even a life-size boat deck.
Even better, this museum is currently free to the public!
Riverside, The Farnsley-Moremen Landing
The river is an important part of Louisville’s life and history, and this is one of the best museums in Louisville to learn about just that. Taking the time to explore Riverside, the Farnsley-Moremen Landing will take you on a journey through 200 years of history of the Ohio River. It can sometimes be easy to overlook the importance of the waterway and the Farnsley-Moremen stands to be a testament to the history of agriculture alongside the Ohio River.
Stepping into the Farnsley-Moremen House you will immediately be aware of the efforts that went into restoring the history. This home has been through *it*. Between flooding and natural wear and tear the home was holding on by telephone poles (literally).
However, the community came together to raise over $2 million dollars to renovate the property. The house is spilt into eras, which I think is really cool. When you step onto the first floor you are seeing a 1840s interpretation of the first owner who was a bachelor. The second floor is renovated to the stylings of the 1880s family home. Pick your floor – pick your lifestyle!
Strolling around this property is the perfect blend of both getting to experience nature while also getting your daily dose of historical knowledge. There are a few different tours you can opt-in to take as well, including the powerful Unearthing the Truth: African Americans at Riverside, A Deeper Look which puts into perspective the lives of the 47 men, women and children were enslaved at Riverside. Not wanting a full tour and rather explore on your own? The grounds are open sunrise to sunset seven days a week, year-round.
Lastly, but something I find so important, while not historically accurate they have now put air conditioning in the historical home. So no matter what season you chose to explore – there is something to experience here.
The historic home of Lucy Clark – sister of General George Rogers Clark, founder of Louisville, and William Clark of “Lewis & Clark” Fame – was a meeting place for important American luminaries in the late 1700s. Presidents James Monroe and Andrew Jackson, John James Audubon, Cassius Marcellus Clay (not Muhammad Ali, I was confused too), and both Lewis and Clark—among others—all passed through Locust Grove.
Locust Grove has been beautifully preserved and maintained as a museum and a National Historic Landmark, and serves as a unique example of early Kentucky architecture, craftsmanship, and history. It’s so much more than just any other of the museums in Louisville – it’s a peek into what Louisville looked like before it became a major city.
But keep in mind that this beauty came at a horrible cost – the historic home was also a plantation, and its beauty was made possible by the cruel enslavement of human beings. You can learn more on the Unfolding the Story tour, which covers life at Locust Grove from the perspective of its enslaved residents.
Museum Row Louisville
Want to explore as many museums in Louisville as possible in the shortest amount of time? Museum Row on Main blends convenience and culture all in one place – you can basically allow yourself to have a supermarket sweep moment of museums (come on down)!
My favorite way to tackle it? Pair two unique experiences together like heading to the KMAC museum and then enjoying a cocktail at the ON3 Bar at Evan Willams. You can even purchase a “Main Ticket” which admits you to all of these incredible attractions for one year and grants you some great savings!
The Kentucky Science Center
Diving right into the spots that make up Museum row, you can’t miss the Kentucky Science Center. Ready to feel like a kid again? You can expect to get some instant creativity when you walk in the doors as you are surrounded by colorful displays and plenty of science – this is perhaps one of the most hands-on museums in Louisville!
The exhibits are really rooted in a sense of play and whimsy. There is a full interactive zone that includes highlights like a water table which includes sand, boats, and locks you can open and close (seriously – this looks fun y’all), magna-tiles that you can design the biggest Light Brite you’ve ever seen, or play with the power of wind in the airway. There is also a Discovery Gallery where you can run into a polar bear, mummy, and a NASA astronaut. We love diversity!
While the activities are catered to a younger crowd, they do have an event specifically geared towards adults – “Eat, Drink, and Do Science – Let’s Party” – so basically everything you need to know is in the title. This recurring event is adults-only and includes drinks, hors d’oeuvres, make and take-home projects, and access to the exhibits. A great way to support the museum and enjoy a night out!
The Frazier Kentucky History Museum
Ready for some local history, ya’ll? The Frazier Kentucky History Museum has it all. You’ll learn about the story of bourbon, the role of Kentucky in the Civil War and the Lewis & Clark expedition, and the complex story behind Louisville’s segregated and redlined West End.
None of the other museums in Louisville can boast such a large collection of Kentucky-centric artifacts, but they also house items of American, American Indian, Asian, and European origin. Some of the collection highlights include pieces like Teddy Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” (spoiler: it’s a gun), a Donald Garabee Tobacco Industry Collection, a bourbon history collection, and an incredible collection of Historical Kentucky clothing and textiles.
Probably one of the most unique and adorable collections is the Stewart Historic Miniatures Collection. Like, why are tiny things so adorable?! This collection continues to grow and is “one of the finest collections of rare historic toy soldiers on permanent public display in the world today” according to Old Toy Soldier Magazine (and they seem like they know what they are talking about).
Ready to visit? Pick up your ticket online to skip waiting in line at the door!
- Insider tip: See if you can sneak a trip up to the rooftop – it has a stunning view of the city. How does one do this? Just be really nice to the Museum staff and see if they will allow you to take a peek upstairs. If there is not a wedding happening or another event, they usually will let you!
Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
Louisville sluggers, perhaps the greatest contribution to baseball ever (you’re welcome everyone), are made right here in Louisville at the Slugger Factory!
Take a tour of the Louisville Slugger factory to see the bats being made, try your hand at the batting cage using bats from famous baseball stars, and walk away with an awesome souvenir – a mini Louisville Slugger bat! Finding the museum is easy – just look for the world’s largest Baseball Bat. It’s 120 feet tall. It’s probably one of the easiest museums in Louisville to find!
Overwhelmed by all the bat talk? We get it. The Louisville Slugger website narrows down the three must-see bats when you visit the Slugger Factory. First, you must see the Babe Ruth Notched Bat (let’s be real, I don’t know anything about baseball but that one got me excited). Next is the Joe DiMaggio 56 Game Hit Streak Bat which sounds very important. Lastly, you must see the Hank Aaron 700th Home Run Bat – that’s a lot of home runs.
Love art and crafts? The KMAC Museum, which stands for Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft, “explores the relationship between art and craft by identifying art as big idea and craft as the intersection between process, materials, and labor.” You might find a contemporary art exhibit woven from cloth, crafted from clay, or blown from glass, or maybe all three at one of the most unique museums in Louisville!
Your mood will be instantly boosted when you walk inside a space full of color and texture. KMAC chooses to highlight artists that are intentional and direct about their chosen materials.
One of my favorite parts about KMAC is always KMAC Couture. Starting off as just a Fundraiser effort in 2013, KMAC Couture has expanded to a large-scale event that takes up the entire block of Main Street. Participants use this time to display their own invented textiles while creating incredible articles of clothing and costume.
Recently, KMAC celebrated Ten Years of KMAC Couture and you can view some incredible pieces through the years in their “Art Walks The Runway: Ten Years of KMAC Couture” exhibit.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
Two things Louisville loves – theater and bourbon – merge at one of the distilleries / museums in Louisville – The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.
Evans Williams bourbon is a staple in Downtown Louisville. You’ll find it everywhere, which is not surprising because Evan Williams was Kentucky’s first distillery, opened in 1783!
Evan Williams is actually distilled at the Heaven Hill Distillery (which is in fact produced in Louisville, although the actual tasting room is in Bardstown, Kentucky along the Bourbon Trail) at their downtown location you can learn about the distilling process, take a unique trip back in time to a Prohibition-era speakeasy (that’s where the live theatre bit comes in), and most importantly, sample bourbon!
The Evan Williams Experience offers two tours:
- The first is their Traditional Tour & Tasting which features a film and historical walk through of the founding of the distillery to today. We recommend this for anyone who hasn’t done a full blown distillery tour, as you’ll learn a lot about the process of bourbon making. The tour lasts about an hour and includes a souvenir distillers glass.
- The other option is a Speakeasy Tour, a 45-minute long celebration of the end of Prohibition in the Evan Williams speakeasy. You will be transported back in time as you sneak through a safe into a hidden Prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with a 1920’s bartender who’s brimming with historic bourbon knowledge! During your trip back in time you’ll get to try plenty of samples of Evan Williams bourbon – and hopefully make it out safely without being busted by a hatchet-wielding member of the Temperance Movement. This fun and unique experience is surprisingly affordable (and kid-friendly, as far as bourbon tastings go) and comes with a souvenir distillers glass.
Muhammad Ali Center
The Muhammad Ali Center explores the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali, one of Louisville’s most famous residents. Co-founded by Ali himself during his lifetime, the museum is as honest as it is informative, expanding beyond Ali’s illustrious boxing career and examining, with a critical eye, the man himself – with all of his flaws – as well as the racist and conflicted society from which he emerged.
The museum itself is engaging and thought-provoking, highlighting parts of his life in interactive ways. One of the exhibits displays Ali’s role in the Louisville civil rights movement to end segregation, where you can feel what it’s like to walk into a whites-only cafe only to be met by screaming patrons for you to get out. Another exhibit allows you to “fight” the champion boxer himself, learning some of his signature moves in the process!
This museum has three levels of exhibitions and galleries that will leave you ready to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.
Technically 21c is a Museum Hotel. Like, you can sleep … at the museum. Here, the art fully surrounds you no matter where you are in the building. Being able to literally eat, sleep, and breathe contemporary art is basically the dream, and it’s totally a reality at this multi-venue modern art gallery and hotel that you can visit at any time of day (the museum is open 24/7) and is one of my all-time favorite attractions in Louisville.
The first thing you’ll notice is the giant gold statue of David out front, as well as a bedazzled limo in front of the entryway, and the building itself adorned with giant red plastic penguins. And trust me, it’s all uphill from there.
The galleries change frequently, so you might find an installation of Feminist art, or possibly a live dance performance. Be sure to dine in an art gallery at Proof on Main, the amazing restaurant located inside 21c and one of our favorite restaurants in Louisville!
Roots 101 African American Museum
The slogan “where legacies matter” sums up the essence of Roots 101. Opened in 2021, Roots 101 is a place for you to experience and explore the African-American story starting in Africa all the way to cultural contributions like the roots of African American music.
Curious about the name? I was! It is inspired by the idea that the first class taken in any subject is a 101 course. Therefore when you step into this museum it is a platform to create an immersive beginning to learning African-American history. In the short time that this gallery has been open it is already gaining a lot of traction. It was named one of Architectural Digest’s 2020 list of the top 20 museums worldwide.
One of the more recent exhibits that caught my attention was the “Protest to Progress” exhibition. Visitors can view and learn more about the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests and really reflect on recent events. This room is full of emotion and impact and is an overall powerful experience.
Roots 101 also has exhibits highlighting Black matriarchs, Black men in sports like Muhammed Ali to Jackie Robinson, and an exhibit about young African Americans’ hopes and dreams called “Black to the Future”.
You really can’t leave Roots 101 without learning something and being inspired!
About the Author: Mel is a contributing writer for Let’s Go Louisville and is passionate about the art of textiles, movement, and finding the best oysters in the city. No matter where Mel travels she always appreciates coming back home to Kentucky.
Which of these museums in Louisville are you excited to visit? What questions can we answer? Drop us a comment below!
Before you go, be sure to check out these other posts:
- The 19 Best Restaurants for Brunch in Louisville, Kentucky
- The 63 Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky (by a local)
- The Clifton & Crescent Hill Neighborhood Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay
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