Kentucky Derby travel guide for a Louisville getaway
The 148th Kentucky Derby is on Saturday, May 7.
Held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, there is much to see and do in this charming city at the crossroads of the South and Midwest.
If you’re heading to town for Derby Day, the spring Kentucky Derby Festival or are eyeing a trip to River City in the near future, there are a few things to check out in town.
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And a note to travelers during Derby season: It’s not just race day that’s got all the excitement. The month-long celebration leading up to the Kentucky Derby (Kentucky Derby Festival) features a full lineup of spectacular events such as the Pegasus Parade, the Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show and the Great Steamboat Race.
Be sure to call the locations or check the website for availability if you’ll be in town for the big day.
For a small city, Louisville is filled with a wide variety of restaurants, from gauzy Cuban haunts to classic barbecue joints.
Against the grain brewery and smokehouse
For great entertainment at Slugger Field, visit this great dining spot with tons of TVs and great BBQ. Craft beer fans will love the large brew list. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Mac and Bear Cheese.
J. Graham’s Cafe or the lobby bar at the Brown Hotel
Don’t leave town without ordering one of the city’s famous hot brown sandwiches. One place to order one is at The Brown Hotel. A Derby City staple invented at this hotel in 1926, the sandwich consists of roasted turkey breast, toast points, mornay sauce, pecorino-romano cheese, bacon and tomato.
Located across the street from Churchill Downs, this beloved greasy spoon has been serving breakfast and lunch since 1922. PS You may well run with a horse trainer or jockey during your time here.
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This elegant Cuban restaurant in the buzzing NuLu neighborhood will teleport you to Havana with hit platters like tostone, arroz con pollo (chicken and yellow rice) and salmon marinated in guava. Sister restaurant Guacamole recently opened across the street.
Hip Hop Sweet Shop
Got a sweet tooth? This bakery has delicious cookies, hot chocolate and milkshakes. Be sure to try the Bangin’ Banana Pudding and “Foxy” Brownies in Oreo, Plain or Turtle flavors.
Kentucky is known for its bourbon heritage. Here are three picks for where to pick up the glass. If you really love your bourbon, check out the Urban Bourbon Trail, where each restaurant on the trail features at least 60 varieties of bourbon. You check at least six places to win a prize.
Envy of the angel
Enjoy a distillery tour in the heart of Louisville’s Bourbon District at this beloved distillery. Don’t miss the gift shop to pick up some spirits and gifts for folks back home.
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North of Bourbon
Opened in 2021 in Louisville’s historic Germantown neighborhood, this bourbon bar is a hat tip to the link between New Orleans and Louisville. If you want to follow your drink with some great fare, grab a bourbon-barrel-sized booth and feast on Louisiana and Mississippi cuisine.
Black Jockey’s Lounge
Grab dinner or drinks at this spot that pays tribute to the black jockeys who dominated the Kentucky Derby. It’s located on historic South 4th Street, so get away from those wings and “first call” blue cheese coleslaw with a postprandial stroll.
“For the thirsty and curious,” this establishment has been housed in one of Louisville’s recently remodeled buildings, the Grady Hotel, since 1883. In its former life, the building was occupied by JB Wilder – owner of an apothecary and bourbon distillery located in The building’s basement, where diners and drinkers can now indulge in delicious cocktails and Southern fare.
The mocktail project
If you’re not much of a drinker but still want to take part in the festivities around town, check out this local initiative for alcohol-free fun.
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Culture and attractions
Kentucky Derby Museum
Come for the races, stay for the history and tradition. Visit this unique place full of memorabilia from the most famous horse race. You can also combine your ticket with a visit to Churchill Downs.
Old Louisville Walking Tour
Talented tour guides will take you through Old Louisville with its wonderful preserved houses and some friendly ghosts. Fun fact: The neighborhood is home to the largest collection of Victorian-era mansions in the country and history buffs are in for a real treat as you learn about the area’s storied past.
Located in Goshen, Kentucky, about half an hour from downtown Louisville, this working thoroughbred farm offers horse tours, a locally sourced and seasonally-focused restaurant (Barn 8) and retired horses at Barn 6. Bourbons are tasty.
TRF (Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation) at Chestnut Hall
Head to East Louisville for a tour around a historic farmstead, where you’ll see many magnificent horses. It’s only about 30 minutes from downtown Louisville, but you’ll feel far away from city life.
Louisville Mega Cavern
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, try underground zip lining at this 100-acre old man-made mine tourist attraction under a section of the Louisville Zoo. The world’s only fully underground zip line course is a 2.5-hour adventure you won’t soon forget, traversing a portion of the cave’s 17 miles of underground passages via six zip lines and two challenge bridges.
Where to stay
The Autograph Collection Hotel is walking distance to the Big Four Bridge, a six-span former railroad truss bicycle and pedestrian bridge that crosses the Ohio River, connecting Louisville to Jeffersonville, Indiana, and an adjacent waterfront park. Adds Here’s Slugger Field, the Muhammad Ali Center and more. Located on Whiskey Row, the hotel pays tribute to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 with a complimentary bourbon cocktail for guests every evening at 19:33 military time, and also offers fine dining and drinks on site. .
This luxury property first opened in 1923 and has been hosting Derby Day attendees ever since. The gold and black Muhammad Ali Suite, complete with four-poster king bed and marble Jacuzzi tub, is the perfect splurge for a special occasion.
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Galt House Hotel
Churchill Downs is the city’s only riverfront hotel property and the official host hotel of the Kentucky Derby. Mossy To kick off your stay, head to the bar at Jockey Silks to celebrate and then relax in one of the rooms with river or city views.
Post in an 1843 church that was reimagined as four individual spaces. There is also an outdoor courtyard for you to catch your breath between events. You can book each suite individually or combine to house up to 16.
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