If the thought of visiting this Kentucky city has you thinking only of fried chicken, bourbon, and banjos: read on.
6 Reasons to See Louisville, KY
Reason #1: The Kentucky Horse Races
Vibrant colored hats big enough to use as a pool float, expensive cigars, refreshing spirits, and summer concerts on the paddock; Louisville loves horse racing, and most horse-related events are centered on Churchill Downs.
Churchill Downs hosts a series of races throughout the spring, early summer, and fall seasons, including the infamous Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Derby has been the hallmark of the city since the first horses flitted from the gates in 1875. It is the first race of the three quests to win the Triple Crown.
In mid April, the city kicks off 2 weeks of celebration with Thunder Over Louisville, the largest annual fireworks show in the nation. After this event is over, there’s a smorgasbord of festivals and activities all over the city, including the Great Balloon Race, Balloon Glow, Steamboat Race, Various Concerts, Great Bed Races (you read that right), and The Pegasus Parade –one of the largest parades in the US. This two-week prelude to Derby has something for everyone; with each day and night chock full of activities for every character to enjoy, all leading up to Derby day, the main event.
Whether it’s placing bets and sipping a mint julep from the 4thfloor balcony or partying it up in the infield; there is no better place for people watching then at Churchill Downs on Derby Day.
In addition to watching the horses compete, from mid-May to mid-June, one can jam out on the paddock to the grooves of nationally known artists at the “Concert on the Paddock” series. Want to try a different approach to the races? Rock it out while watching the horses run at “Downs After Dark”.
Reason #2: Foodie Utopia
Louisville provides a variety of unique restaurants and has a burgeoning reputation as a foodie paradise. From down-home cookin’ at Lynn’s Paradise Café to the freshest sushi in the Midwest –that’s right, Louisville claims to have the freshest sushi in the Midwest due to UPS headquarters being at SDF Airport.
Ramsi’s Café on The World has an assortment of fusion dishes to sample, like the Fajita Pita with potatoes and tzatziki sauce. Check out Del Frisco’s for aged steak so tender that they won’t even give you a knife, wolf down a famous Ollieburger from Ollie’s Trolley, taste the Green Chile Won Tons at The Bristol, enjoy Shrimp and Grits riverside at Captain’s Quarters, or sample a lavender blue on the patio of Avalon; where the lavender is grown next door, infused with lemonade, and mixed with blueberry vodka.
Reason #3: Bardstown Road
The revamped buildings on Bardstown Road belong to colorful independent businesses. Assorted restaurants, vintage consignment boutiques, art galleries, coffee shops, and tattoo parlors light up the street from historical brick and German inspired stick-built buildings.
Vintage record stores like Ear X-Tacy and Highland Records, are fun to check out as well as music stores, Doo Wop Shop and The Drummer’s Superstore. Walk these pedestrian friendly streets and discover hookah lounges, Coco’s Chocolate Cafe, and plenty of quirky shops like Nitty Gritty, Bananas, and Queen of Rags for exciting collections of vintage clothing and hats. Check out Why Louisville for unusual souvenirs, or Dirty Tease – where they claim that they will put (almost) anything on a t-shirt.
Not only will you discover the unique and the bizarre here, but mixed in are several high-end locations including Luna Boutique, Clay and Cotton, and Frances Lee Jasper Oriental Rugs, as well as a variety of upscale restaurants overlooking the scene, Avalon Fine Dining and The Bristol Bar and Grill.
Avid arrays of hyper-talented musical acts perform at Stevie Ray’s Blue’s Bar, Phoenix Hill Tavern, and Highland’s Taproom. Grab some Frye boots from the infamous Leatherhead and head down to the Bardstown Road Farmers Market or grab a drink at The Holy Grale – a tavern in and old church.
Bardstown road is multifarious; one must visit here to get a feel for Louisville’s creative edge. It’s no wonder that the campaign to “Keep Louisville Weird” was birthed here.
Reason #4: The Ohio River
Once a shipping port, the Ohio River was a necessity to Louisville and contributed to the population surge by 1828. Present day, the Ohio remains a glimmering recreational vision and Louisville provides many an opportunity to enjoy it, beginning with Waterfront Park and the Riverwalk. The Great Lawn and the Belvedere hosts many festivals and events year round ranging from various culture festivals to Abby Road on The River.
One timeless icon remains exclusive to this waterfront city, and her name is the Belle of Louisville. One must cruise the river in this 97-year-old steamboat while enjoying the lunch or dinner menu. Looking to cruise without mealtime? Shake what your mother gave you on a dance cruise and boogie the night away with the lit up skyline of Louisville as your backdrop.
Reason #5: Strong Arts Community
“This is my daddy.” Barbara proudly stated as she fiddled with her keys to lock her shiny black SUV. Dressed in a crisp black and white tweed suit and her eyes gleaming inquisitively, she proceeded to ask my cameraman and I if we knew who this statue was of: a crossed-legged middle aged man with sixties-style framed glasses sitting on a bench, peering down the east of Main St.
Former Mayor Charles R. Farnsley it was, a man remembered for many notable accomplishments both large and small in Louisville, one being the push to implement a sustainable Arts program within the city. Today, Louisville’s Fund for the Arts offers over 1,000 world-class events, exhibits, productions, and performances. Barbara, who is the acting President and CEO of Fund for the Arts, enthusiastically pointed out the various programs that are supported here on a (rather large) ‘brochure’: Actors Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Kentucky Opera Association, Shakespeare in the Park, Louisville Ballet, and even the Louisville Bach Society are only a few mentioned here.
In addition to these programs associated with Fund for the Arts, there are a plethora of galleries to hit up throughout Louisville, with a heavy concentration amid the ‘Nulu’ District –short for New Louisville, this area houses galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants in restored industrial era buildings. The Tim Faulkner Gallery, The Green Building, Carr-Waite Studios, Glassworks, and the 21c Museum are but a few of countless galleries displaying art for presentation; a colorful reminder that Louisville is furnished with a variety of talented individuals skilled in fine arts.
Reason #6: City of Parks
One of Louisville’s transitions among many is the identification of Louisville as the “City of Parks”.
State parks, water parks, skate parks, old parks, new parks –over 120 parks blanket Louisville with their vibrant bluegrass, and thanks to the Parks Expansion Initiative; one will be able to circumvent these parks on scenic trails connecting them together using a “paved Louisville Loop shared-use path of more than 100 miles around the community that will tie together Louisville’s diverse parks and neighborhoods.” *courtesy of http://www.louisvilleky.gov
Many of Louisville’s Parks were designed by the notable landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, a nationally renown landscape architect responsible for creating Central Park in New York.
Cherokee Park is among the most popular with a bird sanctuary, dog park, and a 2.4 mile scenic loop. While Jefferson Memorial Park is the nation’s largest municipal urban forest at 6,191 acres, Shawnee Park includes a sports complex and an 18-hole golf course, and Waterfront Park — overlooking the Ohio River: is a great place to cool off in the heat of summer.
Central Park sits within the nation’s largest collection of Victorian-era homes and houses the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, where several Shakespeare Plays are performed for free every summer.
Iroquois Park has an open and newly renovated amphitheatre, a golf course, and breathtaking panoramic views; McNeely Lake is one of the largest in Louisville, encompassing a 46-acre fishing lake, Algonquin Park offers a lot of sports activities including a public pool, and the 40,000 sq ft. Extreme Skate Park is a must see for skaters and bmx enthusiasts of all skill levels.
There are many more parklands to explore throughout Louisville, and thanks to the initiative to connect them together, Louisville will soon be transformed into a City of Parks.
The citizens of Louisville are a diverse bunch. Some open up quirky boutiques on Bardstown, some gather on the stoop of a shotgun house to chat, while others dress like peacocks and laugh at bad jokes to impress their colleges on Millionaires Row. Louisville hosts a minestrone of people and adds to them a dollop of Southern hospitality.
Louisville is an independent city that is assessing her identity. Whether she is remembered as the City of Possibilities due to the notable descendants of her land (Colonel Saunders, Muhammad Ali, Dianne Sawyer, and Pete Browning to name a few), The City of Parks, upon the completion of the Urban Parks Expansion Initiative, or just another River City: Louisville is worth a red circle on your map and a type in on your GPS.
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