Although the identity of Louisville, Kentucky is inevitably intertwined with the world famous Kentucky Derby, this city has many other interesting places to explore and attractions to enjoy, such as its vibrant visual and performing arts scene, lively nightlife, a few historical sites, and other unique attractions.
Take a Cruise on the Belle of Louisville
A top Louisville attraction is the Belle of Louisville, the oldest river steamboat in continuous use. Today, it takes passengers on cruises up and down the Ohio River, including lunch and dinner sightseeing cruises, sunset and moonlight cruises, special event cruises, bluegrass lunch cruises and more. It also races in the Great Steamboat Race every year on the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby.
The Belle, located at the 4th Street Wharf at the western end of Waterfront Park, is one of Louisville's biggest attractions.
Hang Out in a Louisville Park
There are more than 120 public parks in the metro area alone, many created by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead. Olmstead was a nationally recognized landscape architect, responsible for creating Central Park in New York.
He also designed two of Louisville's most beloved parks, Cherokee Park and Iroquois Park. With amenities like a 2.4-mile scenic loop, a fenced dog park, and a bird sanctuary, Cherokee Park entertains close to 500,000 visitors a year, making it one of the 50 most visited parks in the U.S. And Iroquois Park is most known for its panoramic views, its large open-air amphitheater, and its golf course.
Waterfront Park is now a favorite recreation area among Louisville residents of all ages. It is the top destination for major local events like Thunder Over Louisville, as well as smaller events and concerts in the warmer months.
Stroll Down Main Street
Main Street in Louisville's downtown is one of the largest art districts in the city. It is one of the main stretches of the First Friday Trolley Hop, a free, monthly event where the city's historic trolleys take participants to more than two dozen art galleries in the area. Stroll down Main Street to check out all it has to offer, and use this list to spot some of the biggest attractions in the area.
Actors Theatre of Louisville – An art gallery and performing arts venue best known for hosting the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.
The Kentucky Center for the Arts – An art gallery and performing arts venue hosting performances by the Louisville Ballet, Louisville Orchestra, Kentucky Opera, The Broadway Series, Stage One, and many other national and international acts.
KentuckyShow! – A beautiful 32-minute, large screen, multi-media film presentation. Narrated by Ashley Judd, the film explores Kentucky's majestic landscape, diverse cultures, rich history, and more through stunning images and stirring music.
21C Museum Hotel – An upscale hotel, 9,000-square-foot art museum, and fine-dining restaurant all in one that is one of Louisville's most interesting establishments.
Louisville Science Center – An interactive science museum where kids can learn and experience science.
Frazier International History Museum – A 100,000-square-foot history museum dedicated to showcasing the history of the United States in its entirety.
Visit the Muhammad Ali Center
Muhammad Ali is known as a boxer whose fame began after winning a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics in Rome, but he is more than just a sports hero. He devoted much of his life to helping the less-fortunate across the world, and the Muhammad Ali Center was built to celebrate his admirable life and strength of character. The center is focused on presenting his life and values and how people can be use them to develop love for others, community, and compassion.
The Ali Center is open Tuesday through Sunday and on some Monday holidays.
Tour Some Historic Louisville Homes
Louisville's long history can be found in its preserved historic homes that are located in some of the oldest city districts. Some of the city's most notable historic homes include the Thomas Edison House, the Farmington Carriage House, and Whitehall.
Thomas Edison is most well-known for inventing the light bulb, but the majority of his inventions over the course of his life were patented for the telegraph machine. His home is preserved as a museum with a collection of artifacts and inventions that represent his innovative life.
The Farmington Carriage House and its surrounding buildings have undergone many renovations in the last 200 years, but today it is fully restored to reflect every detail of its days as a hemp plantation home.
Whitehall was transformed from a two-story brick house into the southern-style, Greek mansion in 1909. This historic home is open for tours and is a popular place for weddings and other large events.
Get Dinner at Fourth Street Live!
Fourth Street Live! is an entertainment complex located on the section of 4th Street between Muhammad Ali Boulevard and Liberty Street. It is one of the premier nightlife hotspots in the city for both locals and tourists. Businesses located inside of Fourth Street Live include Hard Rock Café, The Improv Comedy Club, TGIFriday's, Maker's Mark Bourbon House and Lounge, Borders Books and Music, Hotel Nightclub, and Saddle Ridge, among others. Fourth Street Live is also home to many local events and outdoor concerts.
Walk Through the Old Louisville Preservation District
Home to the largest collection of grand Victorian homes and the third largest National Preservation District in the United States, the Old Louisville neighborhood is well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in history, architecture, and preservation. Within this 48-block area, in addition to the many Victorian mansions, there are interesting examples of other architectural styles as well, including Romanesque Revival, Beaux Arts, Queen Anne, Italianate and Chateauesque.
While exploring Old Louisville, plan to tour the Conrad-Caldwell Museum, a historic house museum located on picturesque St. James Court that features opulent decorative details and houses a substantial collection of original period pieces.
Popular Old Louisville annual events include the St. James Court Art Show (an open-air art show and sale held the first weekend of October that features more than 700 artists) and the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in July.
Learn About the History of the Kentucky Derby
Louisville's Churchill Downs is best known as the home of the Kentucky Derby, the city's biggest annual event. The Kentucky Derby draws an average of 160,000 visitors each year, including residents, visitors, celebrities, presidents, and even members of royal families.
The Kentucky Derby Museum is open year-round (except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Days). The Kentucky Derby Museum features two floors of exhibits and displays which explore the history and traditions of the Kentucky Derby, as well as the history of thoroughbred racing. Visitors to the museum can watch a documentary about the Kentucky Derby called The Greatest Race in its 360-degree theater. Walking and van guided tours are available.
Get Spooked Waverly Hills Sanatorium
The Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville was built as a two-story hospital for people with tuberculosis. Because this disease required quarantine, many people who were diagnosed with it in the early to mid-1900s were sent to live at the Waverly Hills Hospital. It's now believed that more than 60,000 people died in the Waverly Hills Sanatorium. Additionally, the patients at Waverly Hills were often mistreated or had unethical research experiments conducted on them.
By the 1960s, tuberculosis was cured, and Waverly Hills was no longer needed. It was quarantined for a year and then converted into a nursing home. The nursing home was closed by the state because of allegations of patient abuse in the 1980s. For two decades, Waverly Hills was just an abandoned building. Today, Waverly Hills Sanatorium is known as one of the most haunted places in the world and has been featured on many local and national TV and radio programs.
Shop on Bardstown Road
Bardstown Road is a stretch of road in Louisville that is home to the largest number of original restaurants, oddity shops, and hole-in-the-wall bars in the city. While Fourth Street Live! is the typical nightlife destination for out-of-towners, Bardstown Road is a popular nightlife spot for locals. Bardstown Road starts on Baxter Avenue around Phoenix Hill Tavern, the oldest nightclub in the city. The two-story club houses five different bars, each offering a different type of music or entertainment.
Spend an Afternoon at the Louisville Zoo
One of the top local destinations for people of all ages is the Louisville Zoo. The Louisville Zoo is home to more than 1,300 animals from a diverse range of geographical areas.
Visitors can engage in a variety of interactive activities, such as feeding the giraffes and lorikeets and watching the elephants do aerobics. In addition, the Louisville Zoo is home to a 4-D ride, a climbing adventure course, a water park, several playgrounds, and a carousel.
Go to the Louisville Slugger Museum
The Louisville Slugger Museum is a must-see for baseball fans. Interactive exhibits, baseball memorabilia and bat factory tours explore the history and production of the legendary Louisville Slugger. Approximately a million bats are produced here each year. Factory tours, held seven days a week, last approximately 25 minutes. At the end of the tour, each visitor receives a miniature souvenir bat. On days and hours when the factory is not operating, bat-making demonstrations may be offered.
Visit These Museums and Galleries
Louisville is home to many museums and galleries. A few popular highlights include:
The Speed Art Museum - This is Louisville's oldest art museum with more than 13,000 pieces in its collection. One of the most popular attractions is Art Sparks, an interactive exhibit that allows children to create their own art pieces.
The Frazier History Museum — Conveniently located along Museum Row on Main in Downtown Louisville, this museum explores 1,000 years of history through permanent and visiting exhibits, featuring American and international artifacts.
Louisville Science Center — The region's leading resource for informal science education, this museum is designed to encourage all ages to explore science through interactive exhibits.
Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft — Founded in 1981, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft showcases artistic and design excellence from folk art and craft artisans across the state.
Glassworks — Glassworks is a multi-use facility that includes three working glass studios, a glass gallery, a walk-in workshop and more.
Zephyr Gallery — Zephyr Gallery is the region's oldest cooperative gallery, owned and operated by more than 20 local artists.
Explore the Louisville Mega Cavern
Encompassing about 100 acres with more than four million square feet of underground space, the Louisville Mega Cavern is part of 17 miles of corridors and passageways beneath the city of Louisville. Because of natural insulation, the average temperature in the cavern is about 58 degrees year round, making this a cool place to visit in any weather.
Many types of tours are offered, including historic tram tours to explore the cavern's history and geology, zip-line tours, and more.