The 9 Best Museums in Lexington, Kentucky

Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate museum in Lexington

Bob Willcutt

Although you'll find a few traditional museums to visit, many of the best museums in Lexington tend to be historic houses once occupied by distinguished people. Touring these antebellum mansions and estates provides an intimate look at daily life back then. Tour-goers can appreciate art, furnishings, and artifacts from another era while historians tell the story. Along with historic mansions and their impressive gardens, Lexington is home to some of the best equine museums around—unsurprising given that the city is known as the Horse Capital of the World!

01 of 09

Mary Todd Lincoln House

The Mary Todd Lincoln House museum in Lexington

TennesseePhotographer / Getty Images

Address
578 W Main St, Lexington, KY 40507-1642, USA
Phone +1 859-233-9999

Born in Lexington, Mary Todd Lincoln lived in a 14-room house on West Main Street until 1839. The historic home served as an inn and tavern before the Todd family made it their residence in 1832. The Mary Todd Lincoln House museum opened in 1977 and became the first historic site restored in honor of a first lady. Visitors to the Mary Todd Lincoln House get to enjoy a deep dive into the fascinating and turbulent life of Mary Todd Lincoln.

Self-guided tours at the Mary Todd Lincoln House begin every 30 minutes. Knowledgeable staff is stationed along the way and happy to answer questions. You’ll leave with a much better understanding of what the first lady endured and get to see how she lived. The Mary Todd Lincoln House is located in downtown Lexington with plenty of restaurants and other sites of interest within easy walking distance.

02 of 09

Aviation Museum of Kentucky

Aircraft on display inside the Aviation Museum of Kentucky

Aviation Museum of Kentucky

Address
4029 Airport Rd, Lexington, KY 40510, USA
Phone +1 859-231-1219

Although the Aviation Museum of Kentucky is well signed, it still feels like a hidden find tucked behind Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport. Aviation buffs will love the static displays of aircraft both inside the two cavernous hangars and parked outside. Noteworthy civilian and military aircraft are represented, and some are open for visitors to sit in the cockpit and play with the controls!

Old planes such as B-17s and C-47s occasionally pass through, allowing museum visitors to enjoy ground tours or flights for an additional cost. No need to deal with airport parking; the Aviation Museum of Kentucky has its own free lot. A playroom is available for small children.

03 of 09

Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate

Interior of Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate

Amanda Chapman Photography

Address
120 Sycamore Rd, Lexington, KY 40502-1842, USA
Phone +1 859-266-8581

Ashland, the former estate of Henry Clay, is one of the most appreciated parks in Lexington. The grounds, gardens, and outbuildings are free to enjoy, but the manor is a historic house museum that's been open to the public for tours since 1950.

Henry Clay was an influential 19th-century statesman who served as the ninth Secretary of State and confidant of Abraham Lincoln. Clay's mastery at negotiating compromises is credited as having delayed the Civil War for many years. Touring Ashland allows visitors to see the estate and working farm Henry Clay lovingly referred to as the "Promised Land."

Guided tours of Ashland last about an hour and require walking for that amount of time. The downstairs is accessible via a ramp; however, exploring the house's second floor requires climbing 26 stairs. If visiting on the weekend, consider booking your ticket online to better guarantee the tour time you prefer.

04 of 09

University of Kentucky Art Museum

University of kentucky art museum

VisitLex

Address
405 Rose St, Lexington, KY 40508, USA
Phone +1 859-257-5716

The University of Kentucky’s Art Museum doesn’t take long to explore, but it’s free and pleasantly engaging. Work from local and international artists in varying mediums is spread between two floors. Watch for the 16th-century Italian oil painting of Madonna and child and striking photos of people such as James Joyce and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. A drawing by Pablo Picasso (1920) is included in the permanent collections. Keep an eye on the schedule—exciting exhibits and speakers often pass through the museum.

The UK Art Museum is located inside the Singletary Center for the Arts at Rose Street and Avenue of Champions. The museum is fully accessible; guided group tours are available with advanced booking.

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Waveland State Historic Site

Bedroom inside Waveland Museum in Lexington

Kentucky Department of Parks

Address
225 Waveland Museum Ln, Lexington, KY 40514-1618, USA
Phone +1 859-272-3611

Waveland State Historic Site consists of a historic house museum and three outbuildings set on 10 acres of beautiful property. Much like Ashland, the grounds and gardens of Waveland are free to explore and open to the public, but touring the antebellum mansion requires a guided tour. Tour groups can see how the Bryan family and their 13 slaves lived on the busy plantation in the 1850s. The estate included a church, seminary, distillery, two mills, and blacksmith shop, among other enterprises.

The exquisite décor and artwork from the era are fascinating, as is the story of Joseph Bryan. After emancipation, many of his slaves reportedly chose to stay on as employees. Waveland, named for the way hemp fields appeared to wave in the wind, was constructed in the classical Greek Revival style of architecture. Tours of Waveland shut down in winter.

06 of 09

International Museum of the Horse

International Museum of the Horse

International Museum of the Horse

Address
4089 Iron Works Pkwy, Lexington, KY 40511-8483, USA
Phone +1 859-259-4232

Lexington is known as the "Horse Capital of the World," so it makes sense the largest equine museum in the world dedicated to the history of horses can be found there.

Located within the Kentucky Horse Park, the International Museum of the Horse is an ideal way to wind down a day at the park—and it's free! Admission is included with horse park tickets. More than 64,000 square feet of exhibits focus on the history of horses and their relationship with humans over the centuries. Since opening in 1978, the International Museum of the Horse has amassed a collection of more than 16,000 artifacts ranging from old carriages to rare photographs. The growing library and archives there are consulted by scholars around the world.

07 of 09

American Saddlebred Museum

Interior of the American Saddlebred Museum

American Saddlebred Museum

Address
4083 Iron Works Pkwy, Lexington, KY 40511-8483, USA
Phone +1 859-259-2746

Also included with admission to the Kentucky Horse Park, the American Saddlebred Museum is only a five-minute walk from the International Museum of the Horse. The cozy museum is home to the most extensive collection of Saddlebred artifacts in the world and regularly hosts events and special exhibits. Inside, the George Ford Morris Gallery showcases the impressive painting, photography, and sculpture of George Ford Morris (1873-1960). Even the gift shop at the American Saddlebred Museum is classy and enjoyed by visitors. Don’t miss the nearby Wheeler Museum, which houses memorabilia mostly related to hunter/jumper horses.

08 of 09

Hopemont

Morgan House
Archive Photos / Getty Images
Address
201 N Mill St, Lexington, KY 40507-1034, USA
Phone +1 859-233-3290

Hopemont was the name given to the Hunt-Morgan House in Lexington’s Gratz Park Historic District. In 1814, the Federal-style house was built for John Wesley Hunt, the first millionaire west of the Allegheny Mountains. Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, Hunt’s grandson, later lived at the residence. Interestingly, many of his neighbors were supporters of the Union. In 1866, Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan was born at Hopemont and later won the Nobel Prize for his work in genetics. Like Lexington’s other historic house museums, visitors to Hopemont can see paintings, furniture, and porcelain from the era, along with special items once owned by the families.

The Alexander T. Hunt Civil War Museum and the Kentucky Hemp Museum are also included with a tour of Hopemont.

Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Headley-Whitney Museum

Headley-Whitney Museum

VisitLex

Address
4435 Old Frankfort Pike, Lexington, KY 40510, USA
Phone +1 859-255-6653

The drive along Old Frankfort Pike to the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art is lovely, as are the museum and well-kept gardens. The small museum was launched in 1968 by George Headley and Barbara Whitney, a husband-wife team of artists whose work includes decorative art, jewelry, and most notably, bibelots—small, decorative trinkets that bring to mind ornate creations such as Fabergé eggs. The four Whitney Doll Houses are highly detailed masterpieces that took 10 years to create.

A visit to the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art takes about an hour and can be added as a pleasant stop along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

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The 9 Best Museums in Lexington, Kentucky