Thunder Over Louisville, one of the largest fireworks shows in the world and the opening event for the Kentucky Derby Festival, draws more than half a million spectators every year. Though the Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show can be seen all over Downtown Louisville, some spots are better than others to appreciate the full experience of this staggering event, including the views and the accompanying music. With so many people who come out for Thunder Over Louisville, you'll be best prepared if you know exactly where to go and show up early.
You can catch this popular spectacle on Saturday, April 18, 2020, two weeks before "Derby Day" when the Kentucky Derby officially starts.
You can choose from several hotels along the riverfront to enjoy great views of the fireworks show, but none of them offer the same viewing experience as the Galt House. If you're staying in one of the coveted rooms on the top floor with a balcony, you arguably have the best seat in all of Louisville and the fireworks will be going off directly over your head.
Unfortunately, reservations for a riverfront room at the Galt House during Thunder Over Louisville are booked nearly a decade in advance, so trying to get one of these rooms is nearly impossible. However, even if you don't have a room with a view of the river, the Galt House is one of the best places to stay in the city for this annual event and offers special room packages that guarantee you downtown parking and access to the pool deck viewing area.
You don't even have to be in Louisville to get great views of Thunder Over Louisville, or even in Kentucky for that matter. Once you cross the Ohio River, you're in Jeffersonville, Indiana, which is just as good for viewing the fireworks but with considerably fewer crowds and less traffic.
Most of the areas on the Jeffersonville side of the Second Street Bridge are private property, though there are some good pedestrian areas on Riverside Drive. Some of the riverfront restaurants in Jeffersonville, like Portage House and Parlour Pizza, also offer reserved Thunder Over Louisville balcony tables for the show, but you should make those reservations as early as possible to have a chance of saving a table.
To marvel at the show but avoid dealing with the crowds or traffic, try the top of Iroquois Park, which is just near the Louisville International Airport. Even though it's away from the city center and popular riverbank, the park is on a hill that gives a great vantage point to see all of the fireworks. You'll be too far to hear the music, but if you bring your own radio you can tune in to listen in from afar.
While the spectacle won't be quite the same as watching it from a much closer downtown location, it's a good alternative as a means of avoiding the other 700,000 spectators.
If you're going to watch Thunder Over Louisville from the riverfront, then the goal should be to get as close to the Second Street Bridge as possible. Waterfront Park is right next to the bridge and—unsurprisingly—one of the best places to watch Thunder Over Louisville. Not only do you get unobstructed front-row views, but you'll also be able to purchase snacks from the many vendors who are selling food and drinks. As an added and important bonus, the city makes sure there are portable restrooms around every corner near the park to accommodate guests.
It's one of the best places to watch the fireworks and it's free, so expect it to be packed with people. The best way to get a good seat is to show up early and spend the day at the park until the show starts.
If you prefer a smaller crowd, private restrooms, and catered food and don't mind spending some money on these amenities, then a Thunder Over Louisville special event is probably the best choice for you. These bashes are hosted all over Kentuckiana by restaurants and businesses close to the river. Places like the Sheraton Louisville Riverside Hotel and Joe's Crab Shack have had annual parties for years and ensure guests have a great time, while there are even less formal locales like a VIP gala on a parking garage rooftop.