Located in the heart of the Bluegrass State just about 50 minutes south of Louisville, Bardstown, Kentucky is the quintessential small town that just so happens to be the Bourbon Capital of the World. The second-oldest city in Kentucky, Bardstown was settled wayyy back in 1780 and is home to over 300 buildings on the National Registry of Historic Places. So you can bet there is lots of charm and plenty of fun things to do in Bardstown, Kentucky!
In addition to its accolade as the world’s bourbon capital, Bardstown has also been recognized as the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” by USA Today. Not only easy on the eyes, Bardstown is complete with friendly faces and southern charm that can only be found in a quaint Kentucky town. This sense of small town kindness fosters an environment where everybody knows everybody and neighbors can still borrow a cup of sugar. And you can’t make a mint julep in bourbon country without sugar!
Check out a few of these other posts:
- Kentucky Bourbon Trail: the Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
- 13 Famous Louisville (& Kentucky) Foods You Have to Try
- Louisville Weekend Trip: The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary
Things to do in Bardstown, Kentucky
In a town with such deep ties to local history and culture, it’s no surprise that Bardstown offers a diverse variety of activities to keep you entertained and returning back for years to come.
Whether you are a hiker, a bourbon connoisseur, a museum junkie, or even a festival fiend, Bardstown has a little something for any vibe you may be feeling. Without further ado, here are the best things to do in Bardstown, Kentucky!
Ride My Old Kentucky Dinner Train
In historic Bardstown, step back into the age of elegant train cars, fine dining, and light-hearted conversations while overlooking the ever-changing scenery of the rolling hills of Kentucky. My Old Kentucky Home Dinner Train is comprised of two pristinely restored 1940s vintage dining cars, pulled by two 1950s era locomotives.
Relish in every moment of your two-and-a-half-hour excursion complete with a seasonally rotated, four-course gourmet dinner prepared fresh on board the train. Sip a specialty cocktail from the fully stocked bar…and make sure to peruse the list of more than 35 types of bourbon!
Watch the scenic Kentucky countryside pass outside your window as you sneak a peek at such sites as the Jim Beam Distillery, Jesse James’ safe house, and the Jackson Hollow Trestle in Bernheim Forest. Specialty excursions (Murder Mystery or Bourbon Excursion trains, anyone?) are scheduled throughout the year, so be sure to check the list of available trips before booking the perfect one for you and yours!
Visit Bourbon Distilleries
Literally registered as The Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown is home to some of the best distilleries in the state. Folks come from all over the country to experience the magic of the “Kentucky hug”, AKA that good, warm burn you get while sipping bourbon.
Before sampling the Commonwealth’s finest distilleries, spend some time familiarizing yourself with the history of whiskey at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History and check out our Bourbon Tasting Guide. Let’s get in to some of Bardstown’s best distilleries:
- Maker’s Mark: With its unique red-dipped bottles, this distillery is the birthplace of one of the most popular brands of liquors. The distillery, with its black exterior and accentuating red shutters as a nod to their signature waxed bottle caps, is beautifully rustic and offers all the perks of a classic bourbon tour. The classic Maker’s Mark Tour is a 1.25-hour adventure that concludes with 5 tastings from their various products AND a chance to dip your very own bottle for the same price as a regular bottle! Maker’s gives tours 7 days a week, so come practice your bottle-dipping skills anytime you please!
- Heaven Hill Distillery: Ah Heaven Hill. The mere name of this family-owned bourbon company envokes warm memories of Kentucky’s rich whiskey heritage. While Heaven Hill doesn’t provide facility tours like other distilleries, they do offer several tasting experiences for bourbon experts everywhere. Heaven Hill is open every day, but you’ll have to choose your tasting experience wisely because per KY state law, you can only do one tasting per day per distillery!
- Bardstown Bourbon Company: Located in the heart of bourbon country, you cannot miss this stunning facility. The exterior is framed by windows to transparently showcase the entire facility with its shining equipment. Bardstown Bourbon Company offers tours and experiences for just about every type of bourbon encounter you could hope for. From a VIP personal bottle filling, a rare vintage tasting, and even a personal art of blending class, opportunities abound for bourbon nerds everywhere, every day but Monday and Tuesday.
- James B. Beam Distilling Co.: Located 30 minutes outside of Bardstown in Clermont, KY lies the grounds of a true American bourbon company, better known as Jim Beam. Behold 200 years of tradition being poured into every bottle of Jim Beam on a tour of the facility. Or, if you prefer a more hands-on approach, book a tasting or mixology class to get your hands on some traditional KY spirits. Jim Beam is open for business everyday of the week but Monday and Tuesday, so be sure to secure your place by booking online in advance.
Visit My Old Kentucky Home
Named for American composer Stephen Foster’s sentimental ditty “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!”, this iconic 19th century mansion and the surrounding 1,300 acres were constructed in 1818.
Once a functioning plantation, My Old Kentucky Home has a sorrowful history. As you mourn the lives of the people who were enslaved there, you’ll also hear stories of deadly duels, horse racing, fortune, fame, and demise alongside original antiques and remarkable architecture. Outside, lush formal gardens invite you to traipse across the manicured grounds as you hear the faint melody of the grounds’ namesake tune – a stark contrast to the bloody past now buried below fragrant blooms.
My Old Kentucky Home is open year round and features a plethora of seasonal events. Check the calendar for a list of special events happening regularly throughout the year!
Go See The Stephen Foster Story
Speaking of famous ditties inspired by picturesque mansions, famous composer Stephen Foster is the subject of Kentucky’s official outdoor musical! The Stephen Foster Story is a two-hour, Broadway style show centered around Mr. Foster’s music, which earned him the title as one of America’s first recognized composers. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular things to do in Bardstown, Kentucky!
Enjoy the tunes of yesteryear in the fresh air in the amphitheater of My Old Kentucky Home State Park, the grounds of which once belonged to Stephen Foster’s cousins.
The Stephen Foster Story is performed exclusively in Bardstown, so be sure to snag your tickets to this can’t-miss show well in advance!
Eat a Delicious Meal
Despite being a tiny town in our old Kentucky home state, Bardstown packs quite the punch when it comes to local eateries. With dozens of restaurant choices to suit a variety of flavor palettes, we handpicked (more like jabbed with a fork) the best of the best local fare, just for you. Here are our favorite places to grab a bite in Bardstown, KY:
- Scout and Scholar Brewing Co.: If the bourbon trail wasn’t proof enough, in Kentucky, we know our way around some grain. In the bourbon capital of the world, it should come as no shock that Kentucky is booming with craft breweries, and the primo spot for a stellar beer list in Bardstown is none other than Scout & Scholar Brewing Co. This working brewery is absolutely stunning. From the open rafter ceilings, to the speckled tile bar, the dining room is a perfect place to pop-a-squat and relax for some tasty dinner. Can’t make a commitment to just one beer? Order a flight. Pair it with the juicy KY Grass Fed Beef Burger and a perfectly crisp side of onion rings.
- Mammy’s Kitchen and Bar: If I haven’t preached it enough at this point, let me say it again: Make sure you start off with some breakfast! Especially if you plan on sipping some bourbon during the day. The barnyard dining room and massive menu are clear indicators that this is homestyle country cooking at its finest. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, because it’s all smothered in rich goodness. However one stand out has to be the Breakfast Hot Brown. This famous Kentucky open-face sandwich is definitely on the indulgent side, so you might want to consider splitting it with someone else. Head over to Mammy’s for a hearty breakfast any day of the week but Monday.
- The Rickhouse: Through the wrought iron gate entrance, past the brick cellar arches and alongside the curved barrel booths, The Rickhouse welcomes all bourbon lovers for rich food and strong pours. This steak house is an indulgent conclusion to your jam packed day of exploration. The menu is filled with varying cuts and sizes of steak ranging from 6oz Filets to a 16oz Bone-in Rib Eye. Or, try the BBQ Bourbon Chicken, a sweet and savory, slow roasted dish that hits the spot every time. It comes with two side items, and you just have to make one of them the Eleven Cheese Macaroni. I would go on to describe how rich and thick this gooey dish is, but once you hear ELEVEN cheese, do you really have any more questions? Reservations are strongly recommended and can be requested online. The Rickhouse is closed on Mondays, and opens every other day of the week for dinner.
Visit a Museum
What better way to become acquainted with the rich past of Bardstown than by visiting a museum? Located in the center of downtown Bardstown, museum row lies smack dab in the middle of glorious Bourbon Country, just waiting for your history-loving self to peruse every exhibit. Here are some of the best museums to visit in Bardstown:
- The Civil War Museum and the Women’s Civil War Museum: Located on museum row, these conjoined museums are among America’s largest museums devoted to the western theater of the American Civil War. Explore over 8,000 square feet of authentic period exhibits to immerse yourself in the struggle between the forces of the Union and Confederacy. Enjoy yourself a feminist moment in the Women’s Museum, which recounts the achievements of women of all backgrounds, races, and creeds during the 1800s and Civil War, including science, medicine, journalism, civil rights, arts, and, of course, suffrage.
- General Hal Moore Military Museum: Also situated on museum row, this museum is dedicated to Vietnam and Korean War Hero Lt. General Hal Moore, the subject of the book and movie We Were Soldiers Once and Young. The museum features exhibits detailing conflicts spanning from the American Revolution to battles still being fought today. Highlighted in this museum are the contributions and lives of Kentuckians who have served the states in times of turmoil.
- Wickland, Home of Three Governors: Built around 1825, this antiquated Georgian-style mansion has served as home for a whopping three state governors: two from Kentucky and one from Louisiana. Take a tour of the dignified estate and learn about the history of the many families who have called Wickland home over the years. Admire the magnificent architectural detail implemented by the builders and be sure to check out their calendar of special events to plan your visit accordingly!
Take the Jailer’s Inn & Old Talbott Inn Tour
During your visit, lock in a tour of the Jailer’s Inn! Once the grounds of the Old Nelson County Jail, the building housed prisoner’s from 1797 until 1987. The oldest operating jail complex in the state of Kentucky and a site on the National Registry of Historic Places, this converted inn features several sensibly-decorated suites with all the amenities of a traditional bed and breakfast.
You can choose to spend your time at Jailer’s Inn as an “inn-mate” (a punny name for guests of the inn), or by taking an immersive and informative tour of the grounds any day of the week.
Located in the heart of downtown, the Talbott Inn is situated on the corner of the square, just steps away from the historical landmarks and amazing restaurants that make Bardstown unique (including right next to the Jailer’s Inn!). Spend the night in the Talbott Inn, a recently renovated 1913 building, which is attached to The Old Talbott Tavern, otherwise known as the Oldest Bourbon Bar in the World!
Since the late 1700s, this OG bourbon bar has provided Kentucky travelers with over 200 sweet and smooth bourbons to sample. Take the virtual or audio tour of the tavern, then sit and sip a spell, basking in the rich past of this local landmark…and maybe do a little ghost hunting while you are at it!
Pop into Hurst Drug Store & Soda Fountain
Black and white checkered tile, bright red stools and the mouth-watering smell of a juicy burger cooking in the kitchen? Say no more! Take a step back in time to the days of the old-fashioned soda pop shop at Hurst Drug Store and Soda Fountain.
Grab a delicious, juicy classic burger and savory plate of fries at a price that can’t be beat, well…anywhere. Share a shake with your sugar or treat your littles to a banana split. Enjoy the old-time ambiance of the soda fountain while making a pit stop in the gift shop furnished with just about anything you may want on your midday expedition through Bardstown.
Hike at Gethsemani
The Abbey of Gethsemani, located close to Bardstown in Trappist, KY, is a functioning monastery, but what a lot of people don’t know is that there are 1,500 acres of forests, meadows, lakes, and knobs to explore. Just don’t tell anybody, okay? Seriously, this is my best-kept secret and one of my favorite things to do in Bardstown, Kentucky – and one of my favorite hikes near Louisville!
Gethsemani is the kind of place that truly feels like a sanctuary– in fact, many of the people who visit are here for a self-guided silent retreat. The feeling of calmness in the forest and fields is immense. The only thing that may stress you out is trying to find the trailhead for their most popular hike, the Trail of Statues Loop!
In order to find it, cross Monks Road (the main road you came in on) and head north until you find an opening in the woods with a sign that reads “trail to statues”. The trail is an easy 2-ish mile out-and-back trail that first takes you through the woods until you reach a pond, which in the summer, is home to large, beautiful white lotuses. You’ll then take a pair of stairs to reach a bluff, where you’ll walk along the ridge passing religious statues and wildflowers.
Once you get closer to where the real statues are, you’ll pass through an alley of trees with a sleek, modernist-style Mary statue. The trees give way to open, rolling hills, where you’ll enter another forested area with the Statues, which depict the Stations of the Cross.
After your hike, be sure to pick up a handmade mug at the Gethsemani Farms gift shop. Spend some time learning more about a day in the life of a Monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani through a movie available for purchase or on-site viewing.
Even if you aren’t religious, exploring this land is totally rejuvenating. You can wander all over for hours and learn so much from the rich history of the land. Just don’t get lost!
Drive the Historic Scenic Byway
This 67-mile scenic drive from Hodgenville to Danville, Kentucky explores the landscape of Abraham Lincoln’s early years and significant Civil War sites. The Lincoln Heritage Scenic Highway, also known as “The Birthplace of Lincoln and Bourbon Country”, takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes to drive and features stops in Hodgenville, Springfield, Danville, and, of course, Bardstown, KY. Along this awe-inspiring drive, glance out your window to take in the exquisite natural beauty, friendly small towns, and the devoted heritage of the bourbon country.
Make a pit stop at the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood Home Unit at Knob Creek to enjoy a peaceful picnic and a stroll alongside Knob Creek. Hike the trails at the Abbey of Gethsemani along the way, or make an overnight stop to enjoy some spots along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Drive the scenic byway on your way to several stops featured in this post, including the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, My Old Kentucky Home State Park, and the Civil War History Museum. Beautiful every season of the year, this scenic byway is the perfect way to check off all the spots on our list!
Explore Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
Located right across the street from ole mister Jim Beam’s distillery lies Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. On a mission to connect people with nature and conserve the plants and resources abounding within its 16,000 acres, Bernheim is truly one of the most unique spots in the Commonwealth.
This nature preserve has a gorgeous welcome center and cafe and tons of events and programming (hi, night hikes!). In addition to its numerous hiking trails ranging from short to full day and from easy to hard, Bernheim also features a myriad of art displays dotted throughout the park. The most notable art exhibit, however, has to be the Forest Giants!
In a giant forest, the Forest Giants have taken up residence along this easy, two-mile, out-and-back hiking path beginning at the visitor center and extending past the Olmstead Ponds, beyond the Big Prairie, out to the Sun and Shade Loop, and across the bridges of Lake Nevin! See how many of the three giants you are able to find hiding along the trail as you traipse along the path lined with stunning wildflowers, native grasses, and magnificent cypress and magnolia trees, all perfectly cared for through the conservation efforts of the park. Be sure to read the fairytale about the giants to further appreciate their stories and the work of their sculptor, Danish artist Thomas Dambo!
With over 40 miles of trails available, Bernheim offers diverse hiking and biking options to explore as you admire the breathtaking scenery, appreciate the abundant wildlife, and trek through valleys, ridges, and hollows. Bernheim is open daily, just make sure you check their hours to plan your visit accordingly. When the weather is nice, arrive early to avoid the crowds!
Visit Bardstown During The Kentucky Bourbon Festival
Hosted in the trademarked bourbon capital of the world every September, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is a 3-day event that not only celebrates bourbon, but also the experts and the community that are obsessed with wooden-barreled spirit. This is one of those things to do in Bardstown, Kentucky that draws people from all over the world, so don’t be surprised if you see a celeb or two!
Not only does the bourbon festival feature lots (and I mean LOTS) of tastings, it also boasts educational events and enthralling discussions of the bourbon industry. Uncover the secrets behind making the perfect bourbon cocktail or cooking with the smooth spirit. Learn about the fine art of vintage whiskey collecting. Watch distillery warehouse teams race against the clock in the exciting world championship bourbon barrel relay!
Tickets to this once a year event are sold only in advance online, and come in a variety of options including full weekend passes, 1-day samplers, culinary add-ons, and a Master Distillers’ Bottle Auction. With the exception of the barrel relay race, all weekend events are 21 and over, so be sure to plan your experience accordingly!
Visit Bardstown During Christmas
Bardstown is not only the home of bourbon country, but it’s Kentucky’s very own Christmas Village! Visiting Bardstown in the winter will bring out your inner child (but with, like, a LOT more bourbon).
This local North Pole-esque town comes to life at Light Up Bardstown when the town’s tree is lit, and a massive parade unfolds across Main Street and the streets are transformed into a magical holiday village where joy (and bourbon) wafts through the chilly winter air.
Buildings are covered in twinkling lights all over town, and you can follow a map to see all the best lights Bardstown has to offer. You may even catch a glimpse of Santa himself traipsing down the street!
Check out An Old Kentucky Christmas Carol to watch a performance of Charles Dickens’ renowned novel, “A Christmas Carol”.
Browse the Bernheim Forest Holiday Open House to find the perfect gift for the nature lovers in your life, and take a brisk, snowy walk through the forest – which is FULL of holly trees in search of a giant (or three) hiding throughout Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.
Bring your littles aboard the North Pole Express (otherwise known as My Old Kentucky Dinner Train), where you will be treated to two hours of scenic views and a memorable experience with a gourmet three-course meal and hot cocoa in your pajamas alongside Mr. and Mrs. Claus.
Where to Stay in Bardstown
To soak up the charm of downtown Bardstown we’ve pulled a few recommendations on where to stay:
- This adorable 1880s guest house is nestled in downtown Bardstown, super close to shopping and restaurants. There is only one bedroom, so this is a perfect place to cuddle up in the evening if you are traveling with your partner.
- This cozy blue Victorian cottage has two bedrooms and is perfect if you’re traveling with another couple or with family. Inside is a cheerful country color palette of baby blue, lemon yellow, and soothing mint splashed throughout, and as an added bonus, there is a bakery next door. Now that gives you something to dream about for the morning!
- If this trip is more of a romantic getaway, this classy B&B suite has more of those romantic amenities and ambience for an extra special experience. A luxury bathroom and manicured courtyard will be a welcome return at the end of a jam-packed day.
- We also recommend the Bourbon Manor B&B Inn for even more of a romantic upgrade. Lots of suites to choose from and plenty of add-on upgrades if you are really committed to an unforgettable splurge. And of course, a delicious homemade breakfast is included, the perfect way to start your day bourbon tasting!
What did you think of these things to do in Bardstown, Kentucky? What questions can we answer? Drop us a comment below!
Before you go, be sure to check out these other posts:
- Kentucky Bourbon Trail: the Perfect 3 Day Itinerary
- 13 Famous Louisville (& Kentucky) Foods You Have to Try
- Louisville Weekend Trip: The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary
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