Of all the neighborhoods across the city of Louisville, Old Louisville undoubtedly boasts the longest and richest history- hence the name Old Louisville. Located north of the University of Louisville’s main campus and south of Broadway and Downtown Louisville, Old Louisville is centrally located within the city.
Here you’ll find gorgeous antiquated homes and buildings that are the sites of many a spooky tale of Louisville’s past, which you can explore on an eerie ghost tour, and everywhere you turn on the street is a distinct spot or landmark with a story to tell. Needless to say, in Old Louisville has much to see and learn about, from its inviting eateries to its world-class museums to its captivating legends of the past.
In this Old Louisville Neighborhood Guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about exploring Old Louisville!
Check out a few of these other posts:
- The NuLu Neighborhood Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay
- The Clifton & Crescent Hill Neighborhood Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay
- Butchertown Neighborhood Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay
- The 63 Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky
Introduction to Old Louisville
Built as a suburb of Louisville in the 1870s, Old Louisville consists of 40+ blocks of the city’s oldest, most magnificent, pristinely preserved homes. This neighborhood contains the largest collection of restored Victorian homes in the country and is the third largest Historic Preservation District in the U.S. What’s more, Old Louisville holds the largest contiguous collection of Victorian mansions in the United States!
Naturally, strolling the streets of Old Louisville is extremely impressive, and the beautifully preserved architecture will have your jaw on the immaculately maintained ground. Primarily Victorian-era designs, elegant Richardsonian Romanesque, sophisticated Queen Anne, and dignified Italianate are among the many architectural styles you can find around the neighborhood.
These days, many of the handsome homes you see lining the streets have been converted into apartments to allow multiple people to bask in the beauty of the old-fashioned architecture. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves in terms of history.
The Story of Old Louisville
As a manufacturing center, Louisville expanded following the Civil War, thus sparking construction of the beautiful homes lining Broadway and Ormsby Avenue. However, real growth manifested in the Old Louisville area from 1883 to 1887, when the Southern Exposition was at its peak.
The Southern Exposition was a five-year series of the World’s Fair held for 100 days each year across 45 acres immediately south of what is now Central Park and the St. James-Belgravia Historic District. At the time, the Southern Exposition was larger than any previous American exhibition aside from the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia. The main building erected for the exposition covered a whopping thirteen acres and is possibly the largest wooden building ever constructed in the United States!
The Southern Exposition was truly grandiose; millions of people visited this industrial and mercantile show, much to the surprise of the organizers. The exhibition was opened by President Chester A. Arthur, included a half-scale Mayan temple constructed in a 180,000 square foot building, AND created the largest piano/organ in the world! An electric trolley was constructed to encircle the Southern Exposition, and the main building included a working farm with crops including tobacco, corn, peanuts, and more for agricultural equipment demonstrations.
If you were not yet impressed by all of the incredible features of the Southern Exposition, what brought international notoriety to our humble city was the presentation of Thomas Edison’s light bulb (pretty lit, as the kids say). Thomas Edison personally supervised the installation of 5,000 incandescent lamps in the main building – this means that Old Louisville had more light bulbs than the entire city of New York at the time!
Speaking of our man Thomas Edison, he actually took up residence in Louisville from 1866-1867! You can visit The Thomas Edison House Museum in the Butchertown neighborhood, located about 2 miles from the heart of Old Louisville. But we digress…
As a new (and well-lit) center of commerce, Old Louisville became an extremely fashionable place to live over the next two decades and the magnificent Victorian mansions were crafted throughout the neighborhood. However, at the beginning of World War I, families in Old Louisville set their sights on the suburbs developing to the east and west of the city. Things like improved electric, plumbing, and heating made these new suburbs more attractive, and the advent of the electric streetcar and automobile made them accessible, as well.
From the 1920s to the 1950s, families moved out and businesses moved into the Old Louisville neighborhood, thus dramatically altering its charm and character. Automobile dealerships and other businesses took over homes, even destroying some to account for the growing need for parking (insert eye roll). The years between 1950 and 1970 saw the biggest loss of homeowners to the expanding suburbs.
In the 1960s, residents of the area began a restoration effort to buy and renovate homes in Old Louisville. Community members came together to get the area rezoned, and Old Louisville was designated as a Preservation District in 1974. Today, many organizations such as the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council work in tandem to keep the tradition alive in the picturesque neighborhood you see today.
Things to Do in Old Louisville
With a history so rich, one might (correctly) assume that Old Louisville has a ton of things to do. From taking in the beautiful scenery and architecture to admiring glorious works of art, Old Louisville offers a variety of activities to fit any vibe for the day.
Here are the best things to do in Old Louisville:
Check the Architecture of Old Louisville and Central Park
To get to the heart of Old Louisville you’ll need to stroll the beautiful Victorian boulevards, and visit the largest contiguous collection of Victorian mansions in the United States! So pick a beautiful day and check out these recommendations below:
Tour a Victorian Mansion at the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum
Step back in time to the Victorian grandeur of Louisville’s Gilded Age. Constructed in 1895, this Richardsonian Romanesque castle is one of the most unique mansions in the neighborhood of Old Louisville.
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, featuring 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.
I know what you’re thinking – Is it haunted? Well, yes. 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.
Stroll through Central Park
Acquired by the Louisville Parks system in 1903, Central Park spans 16.67 acres and features a variety of amenities to take advantage of when you need a break from all of the beautiful sites and delicious eats Old Louisville has to offer. Picnic tables under luscious trees and fun playgrounds for your kiddos are available in addition to a massive amphitheater which acts as the venue for a variety of notable events throughout the year, including Shakespeare in the Park.
Central Park is one of eighteen Olmsted Parks in Louisville. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy was formed in 1989 for the purpose of working closely with the city to rejuvenate Louisville’s parks into safe, well-maintained areas in which to enjoy a little taste of the great outdoors amidst the urban atmosphere.
Admire Historic Homes
One of the best things to do for a taste of the rich history of Old Louisville is to simply walk the streets admiring the exquisite homes. The most notable of these areas is the St. James-Belgravia Historic District, which has held a place on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.
Here you’ll walk down tree-lined streets with real gas lamps surrounded by stately, ornate homes. In the center of the block, there’s a large fountain with a dancing naked woman. What could be more glamorous?
You can’t miss the Pink Palace located at the corner St. James & Belgravia Courts because well, you literally can’t miss it. This delightful 1891 chateauesque-style home has a peculiar past complete with gorgeous stained glass, elegant woodwork, and, of course, a bright pink exterior. Oh, and apparently it’s haunted, which is totally par for the course in St. James Court!
So simply wander the area gawking at all the ostentatious splendor, or follow a self-guided walking tour to get to know the area a little better. Also, check out the Historic Old Louisville Neighborhood and Visitors Center in Central Park for guided tours of the area!
Take a Walking Tour
You can really explore Old Louisville in two ways. A spooky haunted tour, which will give you the stories of the past residents (well, some haven’t left us quite yet…) or a historic architectural tour which will just hand out the facts. Here are some options below:
- Dubbed “America’s Most Haunted Neighborhood” by local author David Dominé, Old Louisville’s extensive list of old mansions and ravishing homes yields no shortage of spooky stops along several available ghost tours. At every corner of these historic streets, there seems to be a haunted something – house, church, street corner, park – you get the picture. If you are in the business of spooky supernatural schemes, a Ghost Tour may be right up your alley… a very dark and spooky alley!
- If you prefer blissful ignorance to the paranormal antics of Old Louisville, but still appreciate the fabulous architecture abounding in the area, we have just the thing for you. History and Architecture Tours are offered daily from March to November and provide in-depth introductions to the buildings comprising “America’s Grandest Victorian Neighborhood”.
Get charmed by the Witches’ Tree
It’s no secret Louisville is home to some weird and unusual things… like a witches’ tree? On the corner of Sixth Street and Park Ave is a knotted, gnarly tree which upon visiting you will notice something strange – it’s covered with all kinds of strange offerings, like dolls, necklaces, and charms of every shape and size.
Lore has it that the tree was a gathering place for local witches and voodoo practitioners in the late 1880s, which was all well and good until the city planning committee decided to cut it down to make a May Pole for the annual May Day celebration. The witches were rightly angered and placed a curse on the city that in 11 months something bad would happen.
11 months to the day on March 27, 1890 one of the worst tornadoes in Louisville’s history ripped through, lightning striking the stump where the tree had been, and out grew a gnarled, twisted tree. Today the tree is covered with charms and trinkets left for good luck, and who knows, maybe some witches from beyond will help you out!
Places to Eat
As you have surely gathered by now, the Old Louisville area boasts a diverse culture rooted in tradition- and what is everyone’s favorite aspect of culture? You guessed it: FOOD!
With restaurants serving up everything from bar eats to gourmet meals prepared by Louisville’s own celebrity chef, Old Louisville has something on the menu for every taste. Below we have provided a list of some of our favorite restaurants in Old Louisville – but fear not picky eaters, because there is PLENTY more where this came from in the neighborhood!
Buck’s Restaurant and Bar
In the heart of Old Louisville in the historic Mayflower building, Buck’s Restaurant and Bar has worked since 1992 to create an experience for guests they will not soon forget. Savor a delectable entree such as a pan-seared lobster tail or a flavorful grilled ribeye while you soak in the luxurious, romantic atmosphere, admire elegant displays of white flowers, and enjoy live piano music.
Sit outside in the garden or dine in the fabulous lounge with its black and white tiled floors and old-timey bar. In this lush, classically elegant atmosphere, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time.
610 Magnolia is so much more than a restaurant – it is a culinary experience. I hope you saved room at lunch, because you’re going to be enjoying a mouthwatering 4 or 6 course tasting menu!
Chef Edward Lee, whose name you may recognize because you saw him on Chopped, Top Chef, or The Mind of a Chef, runs the show over on Magnolia Ave. Louisville’s own celebrity chef strives to take a modern approach to the traditional Southern Table by combining unexpected flavors and (locally and responsibly sourced) ingredients. Prices and number of courses vary from week to week, so be sure to keep an open mind and make reservations way in advance.
Freshly baked cookies, brownies, and pastries – oh my! Locally owned Bae’s Baekery serves up all these goods and so much more.
From classic treats such as (jumbo) chocolate chip cookies and gooey chocolate brownies, to unique treats like Neapolitan cookies and choux au craquelin puffs, you literally cannot go wrong with anything you choose from the case. Grab a giant cinnamon roll on a slow Saturday morning, or a mini cookie cake to celebrate making it through the week.
Locally known for its eccentric storefront and amazing burgers, Ollie’s Trolley serves up classic American eats from a renovated trolley car every weekday for lunch.
The history of Ollie’s Trolley is fascinating (and briefly was associated with Colonel Sanders!). The original trolley started here in Louisville, and at one point had 100 different locations. In fact, an Ollie’s Trolley still stands in both Cincinnati and Washington D.C., but Louisville is the only location that still serves from the picture-esque trolley car. And as cute as the cart is, it’s TINY.
At Ollie’s Trolley, you won’t be plagued by indecision as you ponder their easy peezy menu of burgers and hotdogs. The hardest choice you will have to make is how to dress your burger! Stop by for lunch to pick up a burger any way you like it with some perfectly seasoned fries at a price that can’t be beat anywhere in the city.
Also be aware this is a take-out only situation. And since the cart can only fit a few people at a time, you do have to wait in line outside until it’s your turn. The cart is also cash only.
Since 1947, Dizzy Whizz has been spinning out decadent burgers and delectable sweet treats. Home of the Famous Whizzburger (think Big Mac), which is a double-decker burger with their special secret sauce. Dizzy Whizz combines your favorite comfort foods with traditional 40s and 50s style service, and they even have car service!
While Dizzy Whizz is one of the best places in Old Louisville to pick up a tasty burger and shake, they also turn out quick and yummy breakfast meals, as well as soups and sandwiches for those wanting a lighter meal. Definitely don’t forget your stretchy pants because their old-fashioned dairy bar offers sundaes, banana splits, AND tasty frozen novelties.
Ever find yourself searching for the ultimate Philly cheesesteak everywhere you go? Do we have the place for you – Barry’s Cheesesteaks! Barry’s Cheesesteaks is a family-owned and operated business that not only focuses on making amazing cheesesteaks (and they are amazing – trust us), they also share lots of love and good food with the community.
Barry’s extensive menu carries everything from the authentic Philly cheesesteak to the veggie cheesesteak for its plant-based friends. From loaded chili cheese fries to fresh angus burgers, you’ll be overloaded with comfort food options as you complete your hunt for the perfect piece of Philly from hundreds of miles away.
What screams comfort food louder than gourmet artisan pizza? According to our sources, absolutely nothing. Pizza Donisi is one of the best places in Old Louisville to pick up a scrumptious gourmet pizza. Pizza Donisi offers a traditional menu of classic pizzas such as the Margherita and Old Louisville Supreme, as well as a changing weekly pizza menu. Pick up a slice or two for a solo meal or grab a 10-18” pie to feed the entire fam.
Did we mention Pizza Donisi also serves cannolis? That’s right – you can pick up a whole pizza AND an order of 3 crispy cannoli shells filled with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips! Open late to satiate your dreams of all things Italian food, Pizza Donisi is truly an Old Louisville gem.
Looking to satisfy your midnight cravings with a classic American meal at 3 a.m.? Look no further than Burger Boy, Old Louisville’s own 24/7 diner. This friendly neighborhood burger joint is conveniently located near the University of Louisville to easily fulfill your midnight appetite.
Burger Boy’s menu literally has anything you could ever want after hours – from savory breakfast foods like a Belgian waffle with whipped cream to their many flavorful sandwich options like their Kickin’ Chicken Sandwich to your favorite mouth-watering appetizers. With all these options, early-morning-you is sure to find something to sink your teeth into.
Coffee in Old Louisville
Coffee is kind of a big deal, well, at least to me! Though Old Louisville is not filled with a multitude of coffee shops like the rest of Louisville, there are a few places to grab a good cup of coffee, and maybe a donut!
Old Louisville Coffee Co-Op
While you are exploring Old Louisville, swing by the Old Louisville Coffee Co-Op for a delicious cup of joe. Worker-owned and open late for your evening caffeine fix (open 24 hours on Friday and Saturday), this new coffee shop is dedicated to building up the Old Louisville community in an environmentally friendly way.
Current partners in the business include some renowned local names, including Kizito Cookies and Sis Got Tea, as well as Three Keys Coffee, a Houston-based, Black-owned craft coffee roaster. As a LGBTQ+ affirming business that strives to encourage diversity and inclusion in the community, pick up a cup of coffee and a glorious sweet treat you can feel all-around good about grabbing.
Old Louisville Coffee Co-Op opened just this year, so come out and show some support for this growing local business and its wonderful mission. They also plan to host events in the future like open mics, poetry readings, comedy nights, art nights, drag brunches, and more!
Donuts and coffee – everyone’s favorite morning combo. At North Lime Coffee and Donuts, the importance of crafting the perfect smooth coffee paired with a tender, crispy, made from scratch donut does not go unrecognized. Originating in nearby Lexington, Kentucky, North Lime provides a fresh spin on the classic donut while also whipping up new and exciting flavor combinations.
North Lime offers a daily donut schedule with donuts like maple bacon, tiramisu, and birthday cake, and features new flavors each day, so be sure to take a peek at the menu before you visit!
Museums and Galleries
Art and culture go hand in hand in Old Louisville, where you can’t throw a stone without hitting something historic. What better way to dive into all this rich history than with some museums!
Visit the Speed Art Museum
Located on the University of Louisville’s campus, the Speed Art Museum is the oldest and largest museum of art in Kentucky. Called one of “The World’s Most Beautiful New Museums” by Travel & Leisure Magazine (the building is rad, seriously… you should visit just for the selfie) the museum features rotating exhibits on a diverse array of ancient, classical, and modern art. As a bonus, the museum is free to visit on Sundays!
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.
Filson Historical Society
Since 1884, The Filson Historical Society has been on a mission to collect, preserve, and share the history and culture of Kentucky and the Ohio Valley. Through its extensive collection of historic artifacts, Filson has made its mark as a regional educational resource, attracting researchers from across the globe.
The Filson makes education accessible to the public through multiple mediums including weekly lectures, conferences, exhibitions, and frequent events across a variety of topics. Guided tours are available Monday-Friday, so come take a deeper dive into Kentucky’s vast history and culture.
It’s also right next to Old Louisville Coffee Co-Op, so grab a coffee after!
The Chateau Gallery
The Chateau Gallery is just what the name sounds like – a gallery in a Chateauesque-style home in Old Louisville, one of the first Gilded Age mansions constructed on the swanky Third Street’s Millionaire’s Row.
But inside this historic building is home to something modern – a contemporary art gallery. Amongst the bricks and wooden beams of the mansion you’ll find white walls covered with local artwork for exhibits with names like The Surreal and Urban & Street. They are constantly hosting new exhibits, and you can even submit your own artwork to be displayed!
Events & Festivals
One of the best things about Old Louisville is its commitment to filling the streets with music and fine arts in the spirit of keeping tradition and culture alive for residents. Friends and neighbors gather constantly in this community to fill their ears with good music and feast their eyes on beautiful works of art. While so many more events happen in Old Louisville than could fit on this list, check out this ever-updating list of events.
Shakespeare in the Park
Shakespeare may have posed the question “to be or not to be”, but worry not fellow thespians, there is no need to ponder if you should or should not be in attendance of Shakespeare in the Park.
The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival has the distinction of being the longest-running free non-ticketed Shakespeare Festival in the country, and as of 2022 it’s in its 62nd season. That’s pretty incredible!
From late May to early August each year at the Central Park Amphitheater, Kentucky Shakespeare puts on FREE performances (yes, we said free) of professional Shakespearean plays that you will not want to miss. Food trucks and drinks are available on-site, and what’s more, your drama-loving doggos are welcome! Check out their website for a calendar of upcoming events!
St. James Court Art Show
The first weekend of October, the picturesque James Court neighborhood in Old Louisville turns into a huge bustling art show called the St. James Court Art Show! St. James Court is already one of the most beautifully well kept historic streets in the country, and combine that with over 600 insanely talented artists with wares from blown glass, paintings, sculptures, wearable art, and way more than can be listed.
Even if you’re strapped for cash until next pay day, you should definitely still attend. The event is free and so is basking in all the creativity, but unfortunately is not pet friendly.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention The UnFair which is held at Mag Bar the same weekend as St. James Court Art Show. Here you can find affordable, eclectic, subversive, local art along with good drinks and live music. It’s the like “Keep Louisville Weird” version of St. James- without being associate with St. James – and you should stop by and support local art while in the neighborhood!
Old Louisville Live
Old Louisville Live is a series of free concerts held in the Central Park Amphitheater each year by the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council. Offering a diverse lineup of music at no cost (we love a free event), Old Louisville Live is sure to have a concert for each musical palette. Food and drinks are available, and the lineup of events can be found on their site.
Bars & Nightlife in Old Lou
Looking for a down-to-earth bar to get your live music on? Look now further than Mag Bar, located in the heart of Old Louisville. Since 1962, Mag Bar has been kicking out killer drinks with a side of grungy, dark, quirky ambiance. I could wax poetic all day about the punk decor or the urinals covered in stickers, but the most amazing thing about this bar is the people who frequent it.
Check out their site for a list of upcoming events featuring local names in music. Open every day from 3pm to 4am and located conveniently across the street from Pizza Donisi (which MagBar owns), MagBar presents ample opportunities to rock and roll all night (if you’re into that sort of thing). Mag Bar features several weekly specials, so be sure to hit up this local gem on your trek through Old Louisville!
Old Louisville Brewery
Located across the street from the famous 610 Magnolia restaurant, Old Louisville Brewery is one of the best representations of the beautiful surrounding neighborhood. This converted Victorian is old, cozy and if we’re being honest, a little witchy (in the best way). A perfect place for, shall I say, a brew?!
If you are visiting in the fall, you’re gonna want to grab a glass of their Kentucky Common, an almost extinct beer style made from bourbon mash grain. Claim the window bench to absorb all the witchy vibes, and feel free to bring your familiar (as long as your familiar is a dog).
If you find yourself here at a less-spooky time of the year, try their First Street Series W/ Triple Pearl Hops which is a bit bitter and has notes of melon, sweet citrus and spices.
There’s no food here, but you can conjure something up at home and bring it with you.
Old Louisville Tavern
A staple neighborhood tavern on a mission to bring the community together, Old Louisville Tavern has been a meeting place since 1933.
In this stylishly updated historic building, you can get plenty of handmade, from scratch favorite bar foods from chicken tenders to burgers to mac ‘n cheese, as well as plenty of amazing drinks. Gather a group of pals to watch the big game, or enjoy the full-service bar while taking a break from the stress of everyday life for a little while.
The Granville Pub
Since 1939, Old Louisville has been home to the Granville Pub. This quintessential neighborhood bar is best known for serving up all your favorite bar foods and cold drinks with a side of sport-watching, dart-throwing, and pool-playing. Open until midnight every day and featuring an extensive menu AND frequent live music events, come see for yourself what has kept this local joint up and running for over 80 years!
Noble Funk Brewing Company is brand new to Louisville. The taproom is a former grocery store, decked with greenery walls and a massive amount of lounge seating. The brewery also includes a large stone oven for craft pizza and calzone specials.
Some of the current beers at Noble Funk include the blonde ale Golden Oldie, Mr. American IPA hopped with cascade and centennial hops, and the 502 Brew hefeweizen. So go and try one, or try all three!
Where to Stay in Old LouisvilleThere’s a mix of vacation rentals and cozy bed and breakfasts tucked into Old Louisville! We’ve got a recommendation for each.
- If you can snag it, our favorite Louisville vacation rental is right on beautiful little Central Park! The location is perfect: it’s across the street from the park, on a gorgeous tree-lined street. The view of the park out the bedroom window is wonderful to wake up to each day! You’ll have a full kitchen and a private balcony, plus a luxurious updated bathroom. The apartment is the perfect balance of historic and modern, and we’ve stayed here several times!
- The Inn at St. James Court is a charming b&b located on the famous fountain court in Louisville, St. James Court. It’s our favorite area to go for a walk and the most iconic part of the neighborhood! The bed and & breakfast is very much old-world charm, from the ornate Victorian home it’s located within to the grandeur of the lounge and each comfortably-furnished room.
Map of Things to Do in Old Louisville
Wish you had a map with all of the stuff in this post? Well, wish granted: we made ya one! Bookmark this page to come back to next time you’re exploring the Old Louisville.
About the Authors: Husband and wife duo Shelby and Ascher Taylor-Schroeder are Southern Indiana natives who fell in love with Louisville when graduate school brought them to the area. Dog parents and enthusiasts of all things outdoorsy, the pair can frequently be found exploring trails with their beloved lab mix, Ella.
Are you excited to explore more of Old Louisville? What questions about this neighborhood can we answer? Drop us a comment below!
Before you go, be sure to check out these other posts:
- The 63 Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky
- 9 Distilleries in Louisville, Kentucky: from Bourbon to Brandy
- The NuLu Neighborhood Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay
- Butchertown Neighborhood Guide: Where to Eat, Drink, Play & Stay