Bourbon distilleries, underground zip-lining, and museum row: there’s no shortage of awesome things to do in Louisville, Kentucky! Whether you want to check out the city’s history and culture, get outdoors, stuff your face, imbibe, or chase after an adrenaline rush, we’ve got a whole bunch of ideas.
In this post, you’ll find all the best things to do in Louisville, sorted by category: adventure, outdoors & nature, historical activities, beer bourbon and booze (this is the largest category – of course), food, art and culture, and day trips. So you’ll never be wondering what to do in Louisville again, like, ever. (Psst: Bookmark this page so you can come back again and again!)
Ready to dive in?
Psst: Looking for more tips to explore Louisville? Check out a few of our other posts:
- Where to Stay in Louisville, Kentucky (and Where NOT to)
- 14 Things to Do to Celebrate Fall in Louisville
Things to do in Louisville: Adventure
- Ride roller coasters and waterslides at Kentucky Kingdom
There was not a single year of my childhood that I didn’t have a season pass to Kentucky Kingdom, Louisville’s very own awesome amusement park. Kentucky Kingdom is huge and fantastic, full of roller coasters and wave pools and waterslides and funnel cake and definitely-not-rigged games with giant stuffed animal prizes. Wanna know why the Kentucky State Fair is better than every other states’ fair? Because the ride section is literally an entire amusement park – Kentucky Kingdom is right next to the fair & expo center! Also because they have an entire room of bunnies, but I digress.
When I was in high school, the park was purchased by Six Flags and everything turned into overpriced food and awkward rock music – but it was *my* theme park, so we kept going.
But while I was in college, Kentucky Kingdom closed. I was heartbroken. I had like, an existential crisis. Like “is this IT? Is my childhood officially over?” And not just me, either. Louisville mourned the loss of Kentucky Kingdom.
But then, years later, like a phoenix rising from the Six Flags-destroyed ashes, Kentucky Kingdom (and its awesome waterpark, Hurricane Bay) re-opened. And like, after dusting off all the rides and a slapping on a new coat of paint, it was like things it went back in time to the good ol’ days of my childhood. This is one of those stories with a happy ending, and the ending is that now we can all ride roller coasters in Louisville again!
- Go ziplining underground at the Louisville Mega Cavern
2 words: Underground. Zipline. That’s right. Zip through a freaking enormous limestone cavern underneath the city of Louisville. It combines 2 things that Lia’s terrified of but Jeremy loves: spelunking and ziplining!
And, if you’re wondering, there is nothing else like this in the entire world. How rad is that?!
Plus, while you’re down under, there are tons of other ridiculously nonsensical and super cool activities you can do too, like an underground aerial ropes course or even an underground bike tour. So. Freaking. Cool.
- Zipline through the treetops at Jefferson Memorial Forest
Feel like swinging your way through a forest canopy? Guess what, Tarzan? You don’t have to go to Costa Rica for that: you can do it right here in Louisville in our massive urban forest, just 30 minutes from downtown.
Tackle 5 treetop obstacle courses with 39 exciting crossings like the Log Swing, Wobbly Ladder (oh my god, I got wobbly just thinking about that) 2 Tarzan swings and 5 exhilarating zip lines at Zipline Kingdom in Jefferson Memorial Forest.
Things to do in Louisville: Outdoors & Nature
- Go hiking in Cherokee Park
Cherokee Park is a big, beautiful park in Louisville winding through the Highlands. It’s hilly and forested over 389 acres, and through it wind myriad walking paths, hiking trails, biking routes, and even a 2.4 mile scenic loop that you can walk or do by car if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t get lost easily and is able to follow signs (this disqualifies me– though I hear the secret is to keep turning left to stay in the park, and turn right to exit!).
The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who not only designed New York City’s Central Park, but also Louisville’s other major parks, Iroquois and Shawnee, as well as the city’s four parkways. Olmstead believed in the healing power of nature and its ability to refresh the soul, and probably the best way to do that is to get off the scenic loop and check out some of the hiking trails surrounding the park. The main trial is like a second loop surrounding the scenic loop, so it’s easy to pop in and out of the trails where you like. Taking the trails means you get to discover hilly forests, boardwalks over swampy areas, and even a bird sanctuary!
If you’re feeling more social, check out Dog Hill where you can always find dogs and their owners gathering, or Hogan’s Fountain where there’s a fountain from 1905 featuring a statue of the Greek God Pan, a large gazebo (the Witch’s Hat), a basketball court, and a play place! So go for a drive, a stroll, or even a hike or trail run, you Olympic athlete, you!
- Stop to smell the flowers at the Waterfront Botanical Gardens
Located on Frankfort Avenue at a site that was once the Ohio Street Dump, the Waterfront Botanical Gardens is now a gathering place for nature lovers, flowers, and butterflies!
As of today, the Gardens have developed 4 of their 23 acres into an edible garden with adjoining waterfall fountain, native gardens, and pollinator gardens, where you can see plants like coneflowers, black-eyed susans, and bee balm. You can also take a walk down the new winding path which takes you down to the Butchertown Greenway, planted with colorful flowers along a waterfall stream.
The plans for the future include a Japanese garden, a children’s garden, and a conservatory, which will be the Botanical Garden’s crown jewel housing tropical plants. Admission is free!
- Get in touch with nature at Yew Dell Gardens
These beautiful botanical gardens in Oldham County were once the estate of a privately owned home. Today, Yew Dell is open to the public and offers gorgeous display gardens, educational programs, seasonal events, and hiking trails!
- Go hiking or paddling at the Parklands of Floyds Fork
The Parklands of Floyds Fork is located miles away from downtown, where you’ll find a more rural part of the city (which also happens to be the area where I grew up) and one of the best parks in Louisville!
The Parklands are actually 4 separate parks which span over 4000 acres. The parks are a wealth of outdoor activities: you can go Mountain Biking, paddling down 22 miles of Floyds Fork (rent a kayak or canoe at Blue Moon Canoe & Kayaks) or explore 60-miles of hike-bike trails – there’s something for every kind of walker, cycler, and hiker!
The Parklands also hosts a terrifying Halloween haunted house and a gorgeous Christmas light event each year! You’ll find information about each park, access points, bike rentals, pathways and more right here.
- Go canoeing, kayaking or SUPing on Harrod’s Creek
Harrod’s Creek is a beautiful, scenic creek that connects to the Ohio River. Parts of the creek are home to a Great Blue Heron Rookery, so keep your eyes out for giant herons and their awkward, fluffy babies. And as you paddle along, keep an eye out for the beach! The small, sandy beach is the perfect place to stop and rest for a while.
Rent a kayak or canoe from Nachand Canoe & Kayak, or take a 10-mile SUP tour from Harrod’s Creek all the way to the Ohio River with Endless Summer Paddle.
- Stand-up paddleboard on the Ohio River with Endless Summer Paddle
Stand-Up Paddleboarding is kind of like if surfing and kayaking had a baby. It’s definitely challenging, but it’s a lot of fun once you get the hang on it!
Take an introductory lesson or jump right in. Endless Summer Paddle offers rentals, lessons, and even SUP yoga and bootcamp classes!
- Watch the sunset at Waterfront Park
Head to Waterfront Park in downtown to take in one of Louisville’s legendary sunsets over the Ohio River. Seriously, Louisville has amazing sunsets. I think it’s a valley thing? They don’t have those kinds of sunsets elsewhere, I’ve checked.
The entire Waterfront Park stretches along the bank of the Ohio River in front of Downtown Louisville, and it’s a beautiful place to stroll or bike along the water, with paths running all the way long the waterfront and down scenic River Road.
Check out the Waterfront Park Events Calendar to see what’s happening on the Waterfront – there’s always something going on!
- Walk to Indiana on the Big Four Bridge
Where can you walk from one state to another? Louisville, y’all.
Dominating Waterfront Park is the Big Four Bridge, where you can stroll to Indiana, grab a beer at Upland Brewery, and stroll casually back to Louisville.
Things to do in Louisville: Historical
Louisville is an old city, with a rich and fascinating history.
- Take a cruise on the Belle of Louisville
Louisville is a river city, and its history is deeply rooted in its connection to the Ohio River and the steamboats who once chugged along her mighty banks transporting goods. And today, one historic steamboat still traverses the waters of the Ohio: the Belle of Louisville!
Built in 1914 and originally named Idlewild, which I love, the Belle of Louisville is still operating to this day alongside her much younger sister, the Mary M. Miller.
Take a lunch or dinner cruise, or just hop on board and pretend it’s the early 1900s and you’ve got a shipment of bourbon to send down the river!
- Learn about Louisville’s complex history on a self-guided Civil Rights tour
One of the most fascinating stories about Louisville’s past and present is the history of Civil Rights in Louisville. During the Civil War, Kentucky was a divided state. Families were ripped in half by political tensions, as some chose to fight for freedom while their brothers and cousins chose to fight for wealth. Louisville has always felt politically isolated from the rest of Kentucky, and it’s not hard to imagine how tense and personal politics felt in the 1860’s in today’s political climate.
On the self-guided Civil Rights tour of Louisville, you’ll trace the history of Civil Rights in Louisville all the way from the Civil War to the cultural context from which Muhammed Ali emerged and the Louisville of today, which is both welcoming to refugees and immigrants and yet still struggling to dismantle a geographical segregation that has physically divided Louisville for many years.
The tour is available online for free as a Google Map, or you can pick up a print copy of the tour at the Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage or the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
- Learn about Louisville’s history at Locust Grove
The historic home of Lucy Clark – sister of General George Rogers 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.
- Meet a famous ghost at Cave Hill Cemetery
Historic Cave Hill Cemetery is the most beautiful and largest cemetery in Louisville. Stroll through its quiet, garden-adorned grounds past ponds and mausoleums and think about the nature of life, the universe, and everything.
You can even print out a free informative Cave Hill Cemetary map and pay your respects to some of Louisville’s most famous residents: you’ll find the graves of Colonel Sanders, Muhammad Ali, and Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. among many other famous historical people.
- Search for fossils at the The Falls of the Ohio
Technically, the Falls of the Ohio is in Clarksville, Indiana, but the Ohio River is in between Kentucky and Indiana so I’m gonna count this one. If we’re talking history, the Falls of the Ohio goes back way before Lewis & Clark – although it’s actually the place where they first met. It even goes back way before the indigenous inhabitants of this fertile valley. In fact, it goes back 390 million years.
The Falls of the Ohio offers a unique glimpse into the distant past: its fossil beds are among the largest naturally exposed Devonian fossil beds in the world. Learn about the history of the Land that Louisville now sits on and then go fossil-hunting on the shores of the Ohio!
- Tour a Victorian mansion/castle at the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum
Step back in time to the Victorian grandeur of Louisville’s Gilded Age. Constructed in 1895, the Richardsonian Romanesque castle is one of the most unique mansions in the Old Louisville neighborhood, which itself is home to America’s largest concentration of Victorian homes.
The home has been beautifully preserved, and you may just get a personalized tour from a docents who is a direct descendant of the former owners.
During spooky season, the house museum offers ghost tours, too – creepy! It’s on of our favorite things to do in Louisville in the fall.
Museums are great places to soak up history. But for a different kind of historical experience, you’ve got to go antiquing in Louisville. There’s a TON of awesome places to go antiquing in the area, though these three are my favorites!
Antiquing in Louisville reflects the history of Louisville: you’ll find everything from bourbon barrels to tiny ceramic moonshine growlers to cast-iron Fleur de Lis.
- Admire historic Victorian homes in Old Louisville
Old Louisville is freaking gorgeous, with its historical landmarks and restored Victorian Homes and Central Park and tucked-away walking paths (Belgravia Court) and even a fountain at beautiful St. James Court.
Old Louisville is the most beautiful neighborhood in Louisville to stroll around! We recommend taking a historic walking tour of Louisville to learn all about the area and its storied past, or doing a self-guided tour.
Things to do in Louisville: Beer, Bourbon, & Booze
- Tour a bourbon distillery at Angel’s Envy
Situated right in downtown Louisville, the Angel’s Envy distillery is a small batch bourbon distiller. Take a full tour of the gorgeous Louisville distillery along with a bourbon tasting, or if you’re short on time, try the shorter Sensory Tour, which also includes a bourbon tasting (and chocolate, too).
Angel’s Envy makes a delicious finished bourbon: after the usual aging process, Angel’s Envy bourbon is then aged in port barrels. The end product? A deliciously complex bourbon, perfect for both sipping and mixing into cocktails. Try it along with a Rye Whiskey finished in rum barrels!
- Tour a brandy distillery at Copper & Kings
It’s not just bourbon you can taste in Louisville! Butchertown based Copper & Kings makes brandy and absinthe – but since this bourbon country, you better believe bourbon plays a role!
Their American style brandies and apple brandies are aged in bourbon barrels, which adds a signature sweetness and smoothness. Even the absinthe is unique. Unlike most absinthes that get their green color from dyes or steeping plants, their absinthe is clear and comes in four flavors: regular, ginger, lavender, and citrus.
Take a tour of the distillery, grab a bite at the rooftop bar or a cocktail in the courtyard, or stop by one of the Mixt&pe events, where bartenders create craft cocktails inspired by songs!
- Try a bourbon-barrel-aged craft brew at Great Flood Brewing
Tucked unobtrusively into a space on Bardstown Road in the Highlands neighborhood, Great Flood Brewing is much larger inside than it first appears from the outside.
The taps at this Louisville brewery offer everything from Bourbon Barrel Aged beer to excellent Saisons and dark stouts. In addition to their own brews, Great Flood serves up a few notable outside offerings, such as the delicious Beer X-Tacy (a play on a much-beloved, but now closed, local record store called Ear X-Tacy, RIP).
- Survive the Apocolypse at Apocalypse Brew Works
I do love a bar that sticks to a shtick, and Apocalypse Brew Works certainly has a shtick: It’s the end of the world, might as well drink!
This excellent Louisville brewery’s tasting room is called “The Fallout Shelter,” and it serves up small batch brews. The beers are all appropriately named: there’s Cream-ation, a cream ale, ashes not included; Sunspot Stout, an oatmeal stout; and Fallout Dust, a peppery specialty beer.
One of my favorite things about Apocalypse is their dedication to sustainable brewing practices. Just because their theme is a dead planet, it doesn’t mean they can’t help prolong that fate.
- Order an Old Fashioned in a hidden speakeasy at Hell or High Water
Located at an unmarked address underneath a nondescript room and behind a blank door, you’ll wonder whether you’re at the right place as you wind through the dark underground hallway of Hell or High Water… until you arrive.
Decorated in dark red velvet and brick, with a lounge, a library, and several secret rooms, Hell or High Water feels like you’ve stepped back in time to somewhere totally elegant and extremely cool. The atmosphere is intimate and the drinks are divine.
We strongly encourage you to make a reservation before your date, and request to be seated in the Wardrobe Room. That’s all we can say about that…
- Go bowling in a speakeasy at Pin & Proof
What’s better than a speakeasy? A speakeasy that’s also a bowling alley!
With just 4 lanes and a well-curated menu of drinks and bites, Pin & Proof is anything but your typical bowling alley. The speakeasy/bowling alley is tucked away inside the elegant Omni Hotel in downtown Louisville, and is the perfect place to take a date.
- Drink your way through downtown on a tuk-tuk tour
Departing from the Omni hotel downtown, this tuk-tuk tour takes you to 3 different bars to sample bourbon and cocktails. You’ll stop at the Brown Hotel Lobby Bar, Troll Pub Under the Bridge, and Garage Bar, all in the comfort of a motorized tuk-tuk!
- Go back in time to learn about bourbon in a Prohibition-era speakeasy
Two things Louisville loves – theater and bourbon – merge at The Evan Williams Experience. On the Speakeasy Tour, you’ll be guided through a safe into a secret Prohibition-era bar where you’ll sample premium bourbons served by a ghost from the early 1900’s (or possibly an actor, we really can’t be sure).
If time travel and ghost bartenders aren’t your thing, you can also take a modern-day tour featuring a film and unique historical walk through the founding of the Evans William distillery up to today. Both tours include bourbon tastings, as well as a souvenir distillers glass.
- Drink a bourbon chocolate milkshake at Whiskey Dry
Whiskey Dry in Fourth Street Live is one of the many fabulous restaurants owned by James Beard award-winning Chef Edward Lee – Louisville’s own celebrity chef!
And while all of his restaurants are worth a visit, Whiskey Dry is the only one serving up epic, boozy bourbon milkshakes (and regular milkshakes, too – the vanilla milkshake with berry compote and smoked sugar is legit).
Order a burger to go with your bourbon milkshake – it’s the perfect pairing, and the burgers here are legendary! We recommend the Big Ed burger, which is topped with fried green tomatoes.
- Walk in the footsteps of Pappy Van Winkle at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery
Located just 5 miles from downtown Louisville in Shively, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery was once the most famous in the world – and home to legendary bourbon master himself, “Pappy” Van Winkle.
Unfortunately, even though this distillery was originally founded by the man himself, Van Winkle bourbons are currently made by Buffalo Trace – which means no, you won’t get a sample of the ultra-premium, extremely rare bourbon here.
But you will get to learn all about the fascinating history of the distillery and its role in the bourbon industry! You can pick from a variety of tour and tasting options.
- Fill out your passport on the Urban Bourbon trail
Y’all ever heard of the Louisville bourbon trail? Well, there are so many Louisville bourbon bars that they have their own name: the Urban Bourbon trail (cute, right?).
To qualify for the Urban Bourbon trail, bars in Louisville have to offer 50+ different varieties of bourbon – and a staff that can walk you through nosing each of them like a pro.
Pick up a little passport to stamp, just like the real Bourbon Trail! Once you’ve filled up your passport, you can trade it in for a souvenir t-shirt. I wish they gave out t-shirts for eating your way through Louisville, too. I’d have a whole wardrobe. To help you on your Urban Bourbon journey, be sure to download the app to help guide you to the nearest bourbon bar.
- Bourbon-bar-hop on Whiskey Row
Whiskey Row in downtown houses several of the best bars on the Urban Bourbon trail – and some of the best food in Louisville, too!
One of our favorites is Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar, which serves up delicious food alongside a plethora of bourbon. Try anything from the smoker, the mint julep lemonade, and for dessert order the Wilbur sundae with brown butter praline ice cream, candied bacon and cinnamon pork rinds.
We also love the speakeasy themed Down One Bourbon Bar . With over 160 bourbons, you’ll find whatever rare bourbon you’ve got your heart set on here, plus a few more you’ve never heard of – all alongside some absolutely fantastic food, of course. Consistently ranked and awarded as one of the best Bourbon Bars in America, Down One is an incredible bourbon bar that can’t be skipped when visiting Louisville.
And finally, head to Sidebar at Whiskey Row for bourbon, burgers and beer. Local legend has it that their burgers are the best in town. Pair your burger with a barrel-aged cocktail (yes, y’all) or an expertly crafted bourbon cocktail.
- Sip cocktails on a rooftop patio at 8up Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen
8Up’s chic rooftop bar overlooking the city serves up craft cocktails, like their Louisville Frappe made with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, biscotti liqueur and a heavy cream float.
In the winter, you can rent a cozy igloos to enjoy the sparkling lights of the city from above in comfort.
- Watch the sunset over the Louisville skyline at Gravely Brewing Company
In our opinion, Gravely Brewing Company is one of the best places in town to watch Louisville’s famously beautiful sunsets, since it’s high above anything around it and you have a completely unobstructed view of the city! It’s nothing but you, sky, and of course, beer.
Gravely Brewing Company offers a large selection of in-house brewed beers. Try a Tootsee Roll Pastry Stout, with a melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate taste with a hint of hazelnut, or their Lavender Hill Saison, a pale beer with a hint of lavender and lemon.
Outside you’ll find the Mayan Street Food truck to grab some delicious tacos or guacamole, and up a flight of stairs is a large patio on a hillside with some of the best views of the city. The brewery also includes a space for live music as well, so you may luck into some jams when you visit!
Things to do in Louisville: Food
- Eat your way through Logan Street Market
Logan Street Market located along the border of Germantown and Paristown, is Louisville’s coolest food hall and indoor farmer’s market. The stalls in the market feature handcrafted goodies (and goods) from over 25 local chefs, artisans and vendors, so you can spend a whole afternoon eating, sipping, and strolling!
Pick up a third-wave coffee and a bagel with lox, or a creamy boba tea and fresh sushi, or a craft beer and a cheesecake – or any combination of food and drinks you’d like, the options are endless – and stroll through the local vendors selling carefully curated goods.
Logan Street Market is also a Public Benefit Corporation which follows sustainability principles and positions their social mission – to provide access to affordable food and groceries to an underserved part of the community – at the core of their business.
- Try a Hot Brown, Louisville’s culinary claim to fame
In 1926, the chef at the famous and historical Brown Hotel invented a dish that is famous to this day: The Hot Brown. It’s a baked open face sandwich with turkey, tomato, bacon, and Moray sauce, but honestly, it tastes better than. it sounds.
While you can taste the original at The Brown Hotel, there are versions on menus all over town – so many that the tourism board even created the “Hot Brown Hop” which lists out all of the places you can go to try a Hot Brown! My personal favorite is from Buck’s in Old Louisville.
- Pick up bourbon balls and Modjeskas at Muth’s Candies
Where can you get not one, but TWO of Louisville’s most iconic confectionery creations? Muth’s Candies in NuLu! This candy store has been an iconic Louisville staple for over a century, and still makes some of the best sweets in town. Pick up a bag or 3 of each and anything else that strikes your fancy!
The Modjeska was named after a Polish actress, but was invented right here in Louisville at Muth’s Candies. The candy is essentially a delicious, soft caramel with a chewy marshmallow center. Try it dipped in chocolate or rolled in nuts!
Muth’s also serves the classic version of the Kentucky bourbon ball: a delicious round chocolate filled with a soft bourbon cream and chopped pecans. So, you can cross two of the most famous Louisville and Kentucky foods off your bucket list in one spot!
- Ride the Gravy Train at Biscuit Belly
NuLu’s delicious biscuit-sandwhich eatery makes 3 different, delicious gravies. Order a “Gravy Train” to try them all and appreciate the excellent pun.
We have yet to dislike a single thing we’ve tried off the menu, but our favorite biscuit sandwich (the Mama’s Boy) pairs buttermilk chicken with roasted jalapenos, pimento cheese, crunchy pickles, and a fried green tomato.
In addition to incredible biscuit sandwiches, we also recommend ordering some Bonuts, biscuit donut holes served with bourbon cream cheese frosting or chocolate gravy.
- Enjoy a 6-course tasting experience at 610 Magnolia
Louisville has a handful of Chefs who are taking the culinary world by storm, and at the forefront is Chef Edward Lee. Maybe you saw him as a guest judge on Chopped, or competing on Top Chef, or hosting The Mind of a Chef – he’s a huge deal!
At 610 Magnolia in beautiful, historic Old Louisville, you’ll find perfectly plated gastronomic perfection. But the food isn’t your typical Southern fare. Chef Lee aims to put ALL of Louisville – historic and progressive, diverse and complex -on a plate.
His food is an unexpected combination of flavors, culture, and ingredients. During your 4 or 6-course set meal, you might get tempura fried okra or Chawanmuski with fried oysters. Just be sure to reserve, like, way in advance.
- Eat brunch with a (Drag) show at Le Moo.
By night, Le Moo is one of Louisville’s best and most luxurious steakhouses. But on Sundays, things get a little less fancy-fine-dining and a little more mimosas-and-ridiculousness.
Yes, y’all: Le Moo is home to the best Drag brunch in town, and we don’t just mean the food! Enjoy the delicious food of Le Moo’s decadent brunch buffet-style, while a rotating cast of fabulous Queens keeps you laughing. Just be sure to make reservations in advance.
- Celebrate Christmas in July (or anytime) at Christmas Morning Cafe
It’s always Christmas at Christmas Morning Cafe on Frankfort Avenue! Try a cozy Bourbon Caramel or Peppermint latte (or one of the many other delicious flavors) and the Père Noël Brioche French Toast topped with fresh berries, strawberry coulis and whipped cream and a sweet mocha drizzle.
And then sing a Christmas carol and open some presents, because hey – it’s Christmas all year long here!
- Eat Chilaquiles in a 1950’s California honky-tonk at The Silver Dollar
The Silver Dollar is described as “a re-imaging of a 1950s Bakersfield, California honky tonk,” which is right up our alley since my husband was born in Bakersfield and totally gets the whole Bakersfield-is-the-South-of-California thing.
Anyway, now you can visit Southern/Central California right here in Southern/Midwestern Louisville! So grab a copy of the Grapes of Wrath – for historical context – and head to the Silver Dollar for Biscuits and Gravy, churro french toast, and chilaquiles. Or go for dinner and try a fried catfish sandwich or buttermilk fried chicken livers.
True to their Kentucky ties, you’ll also find a huge selection of bourbon and whiskey at Silver Dollar, and they make an excellent Mint Julep – served in a real Mint Julep cup.
- Eat dinner inside an art gallery at Proof on Main
Proof on Main is the unique restaurant inside of Louisville’s famous 21C Museum Hotel on Museum Row – and it’s every bit as quirky as its hotel home. Redecorated regularly with its own series of installations, the restaurant is a gallery in its own right.
Oh, and the food is magnificent. Proof is an excellent place for a brunch, lunch, or dinner in Louisville. Dinner options at Proof include the blackberry pop tart with chicken liver pate & cracklin, braised rabbit ragout, and roasted bones, whatever that means.
Order drinks after your meal and take them with you as you wander through the galleries in 21C, making impressive-sounding comments about art. Hellooo, date night!
- Try an ice cream flight at The Comfy Cow
What do you do when you can’t decde which ice cream flavor you want? You get a flight, of course!
My favorite flavors are Bourbon Ball, which tastes like chocolate and bourbon and bourbon ball cream filling and heaven; an Old Fashioned ice cream with bourbon and Angostura bitters; spiced carrot cake with a cream cheese swirl; white chocolate ice cream with a blueberry cobbler swirl; chocolate ice cream with swirls of Bourbon ganache.
There are several Comfy Cow locations in Louisville (including in the airport, for a send-off treat) but my personal favorite is the one on Frankfort Avenue in Clifton, which is in a charming pink house!
- Scream for ice cream at Louisville Cream
Roasted peaches. Bourbon smoked pecans. Mascarpone swirled with homemade strawberry jam. Louisville Cream in NuLu makes ice cream that sounds like desserts, topped with baked goods and mix-ins that elevate their cones from “amazing” to “am I dreaming??”
In addition to ridiculous ice cream cones, they also have delicious ice cream floats, made with craft soda like Kentucky’s own Ale8 and Sioux City Cream Soda. Grab something cold and sweet on a hot day and stroll around NuLu. for the perfect Louisville afternoon pick-me-up.
- Get a slice of cake at Sweet Surrender
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Sweet Surrender serves the best cake I’ve ever had. It serves the best cake that most people have ever had.
The selection changes every day, so that the Mocha Concord cake with crunchy chocolate meringue, chocolate ganache, and buttery Mocha French buttercream that you fell in love with one week is replaced with a heavenly Caramel Pound Cake or delicious Raspberry Champagne the next, and perhaps on holidays you’ll find one-day-only special cakes, like Guinness and Bailey’s Chocolate Cake on St. Patrick’s Day.
There isn’t even a printed menu here – the friendly employees simply memorize the cake selection each day and walk you through the options as they become available (or run out). But rest assured: everything at Sweet Surrender is absolute perfection.
Once slice is definitely big enough for two people – although we never seem to follow our own advice – so prepare to share.
- Try Louisville’s best chocolate chip cookie at Please & Thank You
Gooey and chocolatey with a warm, molten core, it’s like the pleasure of eating warm cookie dough combined with the satisfying crunch around the outside of a well-baked cookie. There’s also a hint of salt which totally takes it to the next level.
Don’t skip the coffee, either: Please & Thank You makes a damn fine cup of coffee, crafted with beans from local roastery Good Folks.
- Watch the sunset over the Ohio River from the deck at Captain’s Quarters
And one of the best spots for river sunset-watching is at Captain’s Quarters, a gorgeous restaurant on the banks of the Ohio River off a scenic stretch of River Road.
Order a Hot Brown or some fresh seafood, and sit outside. The giant outdoor patio of this waterfront restaurant is perfect for sunset watching. Note: On weekend evenings during the summer, Captain’s Quarters does tend to get pretty packed, so arrive early to snag a good spot!
Things to do in Louisville: Art & Culture
- Enjoy modern art at the Speed Art Museum
Located adjacent to the University of Louisville’s campus in Old Louisville, the Speed Art Museum is the oldest, largest, and foremost 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 exhibitions on a diverse array of ancient, classical, and modern art.
The museum is free to visit on Sundays, so this is always a fun thing to do in Louisville on the weekend!
- Have a meal (or sleep) in an art gallery at the 21C Museum Hotel
Technically 21C is a Museum Hotel. Like, you can sleep … at the museum. Which is awesome, and secretly one of my childhood dreams (did anyone else read this book when they were little?!). But it’s also an extremely cool contemporary art museum to visit at any time of day (the museum is open 24/7) and one of my all-time favorite attractions in Louisville.!
The first thing you’ll notice is the giant gold Statue of David out front, parked in front of the bedazzled limo, and 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 on Feminist art, or possibly a live dance performance. Or, dine in an art gallery at Proof, the delicious restaurant located inside 21C!
- Watch a horse race and learn about the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
There is nothing as heart-poundingly exciting as watching your money sprint away from you down a track. Err, I mean a horse. That’s what I meant. Horse racing is SO thrilling, and cheering on your horse with a screaming crowd during a 30-second stretch is just as exciting at the Kentucky Derby as it is any other day at the track, particularly if you’re like us and only ever bet $2 at a time.
Even when races aren’t running, Churchill Downs is home to a fantastic museum, the Kentucky Derby Museum. You can learn about the history of thoroughbred racing, the Kentucky Derby, Black heritage in racing, and more.
That said, we have to acknowledge that horse racing is a problematic sport. I grew up with horses, and I love them dearly. Treatment of racehorses depends mostly on owners and jockeys, and unfortunately, not all of the bigger players in horse racing are invested in their horses’ health and safety. We firmly believe the racing industry needs more regulations in place to keep horses safe.
If you want to learn more about the care of racehorses and see where they are raised, this tour takes you to two horse farms which have an 80 year history and have raised over 200 stake horses.
- See a play at a local theatre company
I’ll never stop shouting this from the rooftops: Louisville has an incredible theater scene. Not only has the city produced Hollywood actors such as Jennifer Lawrence – who I actually studied theater with in middle school! – Ashley Judd, Jennifer Carpenter, and Tom Cruise, but the independent Louisville acting scene is thriving.
Most theater aficionados have heard of the world famous Humana Festival of New Plays in April, but Louisville produces excellent theater year-round. Pick up a LEO Weekly to see what’s playing.
Some of my favorite local theater companies and venues are: Theatre , The Alley Theatre, Commonwealth Theatre Center, Looking for Lilith, Pandora Productions, Bunbury Theatre, The Bard’s Town Theatre, and Actor’s Theatre Louisville.
- See a Drag performance at Play Louisville
What do you get when you combine a thriving theatre scene with a large LGTBQ+ community? A booming Drag scene, y’all! Play Louisville hosts multiple Drag shows every night from Thursday-Sunday with a rotating cast of fabulous Drag Queens.
Never been to a Drag show? Be sure to read up on the proper etiquette, and don’t forget to bring cash to tip the talented performers. And remember: if you are not a member of the LGBTQ+ community, be aware that you are entering a queer space and need to be mindful of your behavior and your mindset – this guide will help!
- Visit local art galleries with the First Friday Hop
First Friday Hop in Louisville is one of the best ways to get to know the city’s rad, extensive art scene. Hop on one of the free zero-emission TARC buses and ride around downtown Louisville to explore its galleries, shops, and restaurants.
From game design to art and craft to costume design to artisan chocolates to sound visuals (?) to karaoke (YES), First Friday Hop changes every month but is always a ton of fun!
- Learn about the art of war at the Frazier History Museum
At the Frazier History Museum on downtown’s Museum Row, you can peruse ancient weapons, a whole exhibit on bourbon, and an extensive historical miniatures collection all while learning about history through eerily realistic giant wax figurines and expertly acted re-enactments and choreographed fights (Louisville is a theatre city, remember?).
Pick up your ticket online to skip waiting in line at the door!
- Slide into the 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!
Taking a tour of the Louisville Slugger factory at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is one of the coolest and most unique things to do in Louisville. Not only can you try your hand at the batting cage using bats from famous baseball stars, but you’ll walk away with an awesome souvenir: a mini Louisville Slugger bat!
Finding the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is easy: just head to Museum Row and look for the world’s largest Baseball Bat. It’s 120 feet tall.
- Inspire your creative side at the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft (KMAC)
Love art and crafts? The KMAC museum is for you. The 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.”
So you might find a contemporary art exhibit woven from cloth, or crafted from clay, or blown from glass. This Museum Row staple is also free, so stop in and take a look!
- Float like a butterfly over to the Muhammad Ali Center
Muhammad Ali was one of Louisville’s most famous residents. And the Muhammad Ali Center, which was co-founded by Ali himself during his lifetime, is dedicated the his life and legacy.
As honest as it is informative, the museum expands beyond Ali’s illustrious boxing career and examines, with a critical eye, the man himself – with all of his flaws – as well as the racist and conflicted society from which he emerged.
One of Museum Row‘s oldest and most kid-friendly museums, the Kentucky Science Center is still to this day one of my favorite Louisville museums (probably thanks to spending many happy hours there as a kid myself).
So grab your favorite kid and see an IMAX movie, climb a rock wall, do an experiment, or make something amazing at the Science Center!
Things to do in Louisville: Day Trips
- Visit distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
One of the best day trips from Louisville is to go bourbon tasting on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! Although there are plenty of distilleries in Louisville, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a whole different experience.
As you drive out of Louisville and into the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country, you’ll see what I mean.
Hands down, our favorite distilleries to visit are Woodford Reserve and Maker’s Mark: if you have to limit yourself to just one single day trip from Louisville, those are the bourbon distilleries we recommend.
But if you can swing it, give yourself some time to pick up a passport and complete the whole trail! You can book a tour with Louisville-based Mint Julep Tours who will take care of the planning (and most importantly, the driving) for you.
- Spend a day at the beach at Deam Lake
Deam Lake is the best and closest beach to Louisville, and makes a fantastic (and quick) summer day trip. The water is warm and perfect for swimming, and the lake is sandy and wonderful. Pack a picnic lunch and a swimsuit and plan to spend the day!
Located a scenic 30 minutes from downtown Louisville, Deam Lake State Recreation Area is located in Carr Township, Indiana. In the cooler months, this area is also a wonderful place to go hiking.
- Rent a boat and enjoy a day on the water at Taylorsville Lake and Green River Lake State Park
There are two huge, beautiful lakes near Louisville that are perfect for a day of fun on the water! Bring a picnic lunch and plenty of sunscreen.
Taylorsville Lake is about an hour outside of Louisville in Spencer County. Grab some friends and go in on a pontoon boat from the Taylorsville Lake Marina.
Green River Lake State Park is about an hour and a half away from Louisville in Campbellsville. Rent a houseboat, fishing boats, ski boats, jet ski, or pontoon boat from the marina! In addition to boating, you can also relax and swim at the beach, go horseback riding or hiking on 28 miles of trails, play miniature golf, and even stay overnight at the on-site campground.
- Go swimming in a limestone rock quarry at Falling Rock Park LaGrange Quarry
Kentucky is known for its enormous cave systems and sweet, limestone-filtered water. And other than bourbon and spelunking, one of the coolest ways to appreciate the geology of Kentucky is to go swimming in a huge, limestone rock quarry! The water is crystalline, naturally filtered and wonderfully cool on a hot summer’s day.
Note that this is a huge, natural swimming hole – not a maintained pool. So yeah, there are fish (and you can even go scuba diving to see them up close). Also, you must be 18+ or over – children are not allowed, even with their parents. And child-free doesn’t mean it’s a place to party: no drugs or alcohol are allowed.
But hey, in exchange for sharing the water with a few marine critters and absolutely no children, you’ll have a TON of space to float, dive, and swim in a gorgeous natural setting!
Throw on your swimsuit and pack some sunscreen and a personal flotation device (these are required) and head to LaGrange, about 35 minutes outside of Louisville.
- Explore the ruins of abandoned theme park at Charestown State Park
30 minutes outside of Louisville along the Ohio River in Indiana, this beautiful state park is home to some stunning hiking trails – and an abandoned amusement park! The area was once owned by the Louisville Ferry Company in 1881, and became a popular stop for fancy Victorian tourists on riverboat excursions from Louisville and other cities down the river.
In 1923 it became Rose Island – though it’s really a peninsula – when it was purchased by businessman David Rose (no, not that David Rose) to become a summer resort. He added an amusement park with a small wooden roller coaster, a dance hall, golf course, dining facilities, riverfront cottages, the Rose Island Hotel, and even a zoo with a wolf, monkeys, and a bear named “Teddy Rosevelt”. You know, everything you need as a fancy Victorian tourist to keep yourself amused.
Rose Island operated until the Great Flood of 1937 that submerged 70% of Louisville, which really put a damper on the vibe – and it was left abandoned. Discover the ruins on the Rose Island loop, a moderate 3-mile hike.
- Go spelunking in Mammoth Cave National Park
Mammoth Cave is the longest recorded cave system in the world, a National Park, AND a UNESCO World Heritage Site. How much cave is there? There is SO MUCH CAVE. It’s mammoth! Get it?!
You can actually take a boat ride UNDERGROUND, and then go check out the cave where Jesse James once hid from the law (and the sun).
Once you emerge from your descent into the underworld, there are plenty of daylight activities: canoeing, fishing, boating, water skiing, swimming, horseback riding, balloon rides, even zipline tours! Mammoth Cave is a fantastic place to take a day trip from Louisville.
- Take a weekend trip to Red River Gorge
Red River Gorge is one of the best outdoor adventure destinations in Kentucky! Located in Daniel Boone National Forest, Red River Gorge is chock full of camping, hiking, rock climbing, and even ziplining. One of the most famous sights and hiking trails in Red River Gorge is to a stunning natural rock bridge.
Even if you’d rather observe your nature from within the air-conditioned comfort of your car, Red River Gorge is a must-see: a one-hour, 46-mile scenic byway winds through the Red River Gorge, dotted with beautiful scenic overlooks. Rent a cabin, throw on your favorite flannel shirt, and get wilderness-y!
Phew, is that a massive list or what?? Believe it or not, we actually had to edit ourselves down to keep this list from being too long… so next time you hear someone say “there’s nothing to do in Louisville!” send them this list, and give them a side-eye from us. (Psst: Bookmark this page so you can come back again and again!)
Which of these things to do in Louisville are you most excited to try? Did we miss one of your favorite activities in Louisville? Drop us a comment below!
Psst: Looking for more tips to explore Louisville? Check out a few of our other posts:
- Where to Stay in Louisville, Kentucky (and Where NOT to)
- 14 Things to Do to Celebrate Fall in Louisville
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