12 Best Things to Do for Free in Louisville, Kentucky

Louisville, Kentucky's largest city, is situated on the Ohio River along the Indiana border. It's a historical city, known far and wide for the annual Kentucky Derby horse race. People flock to Churchill Downs each spring, in their exuberant hats and fancy dress, to watch world-class racehorses do their thing. If you're not the betting type, you can still enjoy a visit to Louisville, even on a shoestring budget. There's plenty of free things to see and do, like taking a stroll by Victorian mansions, learning how bourbon is made, visiting a Catholic basilica, and walking across the lighted Big Four Bridge. And after you're done, you still have money saved for dining out, as your attractions didn't cost a thing.

01 of 12

See the Mansions in Old Louisville

Mansions in Louisville

Jumping Rocks / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Old Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA

Old Louisville rivals Newport, Rhode Island for its impressive collection of historic mansions. Yet, Louisville's lineup gives it the title of the largest contiguous assembly of mansions in the United States. Walk the 45 blocks to see 19th-century mansions of assorted architectural styles. Plan your trip around one of Old Louisville's cultural celebrations, like the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, the St. James Court Art Show and the Garvin Gate Blues Festival, SpringFest, Old Louisville LIVE, the Hidden Treasures Garden Tour, or the exquisite Mansions and Holiday Home Tour. Stop into the Visitor's Center, located in Old Louisville's Central Park, to grab information before you go.

02 of 12

Take a Hike and Swim in E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park

Bridge in Louisville park

rathyrye / Getty Images

3000 Freys Hill Rd, Louisville, KY 40241, USA
Phone +1 502-429-7270

E.P. "Tom" Sawyer State Park contains the largest public swimming pool and splash park in Louisville. But that's not all it offers. This 554-acre park, just outside of city limits, contains rolling farmland and nature trails. Take a hike along the Goose Creek Nature Trail, go on an interpreter-guided hike, or attend a family-centric educational program, then kick it poolside while the kids enjoy the splash park. The park also contains a Supercross BMX track, one of only six in the nation. You can watch the bikers do their thing or, for the adventurous, take a spin on the track yourself.

03 of 12

Take a Tour of the Cathedral of the Assumption

Cathedral of the Assumption, Louisville, Kentucky

Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

433 S 5th St # 101, Louisville, KY 40202-2303, USA
Phone +1 502-582-2971

Louisville's mother of Roman Catholic churches, the Cathedral of the Assumption was built in 1852 and restored completely in 1994, after nearly 100 years of disuse. This church now accommodates 966 people for masses and ceremonies and is a spectacle for those wanting to view period architecture. Some highlights include the baptism immersion pool, crafted of red granite, bronze, and marble from the original communion rail, the stained-glass Coronation Window, one of the oldest American-American-made stained-glass windows, and a jeweled ceiling fresco that depicts cherubs and was painstakingly restored during the church's overhaul. Visitors can attend a noon mass, Monday through Friday. Weekend Masses are held at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, and 9:30 a.m., noon, and 5:30 p.m. on Sunday. Guided tours are available free of charge and by appointment only.

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Check Out the Art at the 21c Museum Hotel

21c Museum Hotel, Louisville

Scott McLeod / Flickr

700 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202, USA
Phone +1 502-217-6300

The 21c Museum Hotel is one of Louisville's most interesting downtown establishments. It's a hotel, an art gallery, and a restaurant all in one, founded by preservationists and modern art collectors Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson. You'll have to pay to stay in the chic hotel, or dine at the award-winning Proof on Main restaurant, but visiting the exhibitions in the museum section is completely free. The 9,000-square-foot space is spread across five different 19-century warehouses, and the exhibitions on display are everchanging and fascinating. It's hard to miss the golden replica of Michelangelo's "David" that sits outside, as the Louisville version is twice as big as the original in Florence.

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05 of 12

Visit the Home of Jim Beam

Beam House at Jim Beam Distillery

Richard I'Anson / Getty Images

568 Happy Hollow Rd, Clermont, KY 40110, USA
Phone +1 502-543-9877

A trip to the Jim Beam American Stillhouse allows you to experience the making and history of one of Kentucky's signature products, bourbon. The original distillery and home of founder Jim Beam are located in Clermont, about 30 minutes outside of downtown Louisville, but totally worth the drive for lovers of spirits. Here you can watch a video about the history of the Beam family, view the bourbon-making process first-hand, and see how the brand's bottle art has changed throughout the years. Best of all—the activities are free, although you may want to purchase a bottle of this iconic bourbon to go.

06 of 12

Get in Touch With Nature

Louisville Nature Center

Louisville Nature Center

3745 Illinois Ave, Louisville, KY 40213-1068, USA
Phone +1 502-458-1328

A visit to the Louisville Nature Center allows you to explore the Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve, its popular butterfly and dragonfly gardens, and various wildlife exhibits. Spending time at the Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve is a marvelous way to escape from city life. This 41-acre urban forest is located smack dab in the middle of Louisville and easily accessible from downtown, so you can enjoy the natural beauty of the Bluegrass State without going far. Take a stroll along the park's trails and marvel at the various gardens. Families can also engage in child-centric educational activities in the indoor museum area, all for no charge. 

07 of 12

Visit the American Printing House for the Blind

Museum of the American Printing House for the Blind

HelloLouisville.com / Flickr

1839 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206, USA
Phone +1 502-895-2405

Explore the history of blind education in America at the American Printing House Museum. Admission to the museum, as well as guided tours of the factory, are free of charge. Unlike the rules at most museums that discourage visitors from touching the exhibits, visitors here are encouraged to touch the brail exhibits, in order to better understand the experiences of blind and visually impaired people. The museum is located on the campus of the Kentucky School for the Blind, an educational institution that has been serving the blind community of Louisville since 1839.

08 of 12

Enjoy the Beauty of the Cave Hill Cemetery

Cave Hill Cemetery

Garden State Hiker / Flickr

701 Baxter Ave, Louisville, KY 40204, USA
Phone +1 502-451-5630

Cave Hill Cemetery is a Victorian-era cemetery and arboretum that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and free to the public to visit. People flock to this cemetery, not because it's spooky or to go ghost hunting, but rather for the lovely scenery and intricately designed gravestones. The land is incredibly photogenic and home to a cave, several lakes, and the graves of many famous Louisvillians, including Muhammad Ali and Kentucky Fried Chicken founder, Colonel Sanders.

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09 of 12

Learn About Kentucky's History

The Filson Historical Society Museum

W.marsh / Wikimedia Commons

1310 S 3rd St, Louisville, KY 40208-2306, USA
Phone +1 502-635-5083

The Filson Historical Society runs a free museum that is located in a carriage house on the society's grounds in the Old Louisville neighborhood. The museum houses artifacts that are important to Kentucky's history, including a sheep horn from the Lewis and Clark expedition, Jim Porter's musket, Daniel Boone's "Kilt a Bar" tree carving, and many Civil War artifacts. Guests will also have the chance to see several portraits, landscapes, and still-life paintings in the museum's fine art collection. 

10 of 12

Walk the Big Four Bridge

Light Trails By Big Four Bridge Over Ohio River At Night

Jeff Mcdougal / EyeEm / Getty Images

1101 River Rd, Louisville, KY 40202, USA
Phone +1 502-574-3768

The Big Four Bridge is a pedestrian bridge that links Louisville's waterfront park to Jeffersonville, Indiana, offering stunning views of the Ohio River below. This popular attraction begins in the scenic park, where you can view the city's Vietnam Memorial. The Big Four Bridge dates back to the end of the 19th century when it was originally built as a railroad bridge for both freight and passengers. Today, the bridge serves only pedestrians and cyclists and is open 24 hours a day. Take the stroll at night when the bridge is illuminated with the vibrant colors of its specialized LED lighting system.

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Experience Art and History at the Carnegie Center

Carnegie Center for Art and History

Bedford / Wikimedia Commons

201 E Spring St, New Albany, IN 47150-3422, USA
Phone +1 812-944-7336

You'll have to cross state lines to get to the Carnegie Center for Art and History in New Albany, Indiana, but it's just across the Ohio River and less than 10 minutes by car from downtown Louisville. The center has two permanent exhibits, "Grandpa Makes a Scene: The Yenawine Dioramas," which is a set of hand-carved, fully mechanized dioramas, and "Ordinary People Extraordinary Courage: Men and Women of the Underground Railroad," a multimedia exhibit that tells the story of two groups of people living in antebellum Kentuckiana. The center also has several revolving exhibits and hosts workshops and classes for both children and adults.

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Have a Picnic at Floyds Fork

The Parklands Of Floyd Fork

Redeemed & Forgiven / Flickr

Beckley Creek Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40245, USA
Phone +1 502-584-0350

The Parklands of Floyds Fork consists of five different parks with playgrounds, ponds, splash pads, gardens, and biking and hiking trails, like one along Beckley Creek. The grounds even contain an off-leash dog park for your furry family members. Pack a picnic and relax at one of the many picnic areas on a sunny day, enjoying the scenic views and warm weather. You can also fish year-round at Floyds Fork, William F. Miles Lakes, and Boulder Pond. The park is about 20 minutes outside of downtown Louisville, but it makes a great excursion, if you want to get out of the city for a day.

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12 Best Things to Do for Free in Louisville, Kentucky