Kentucky Holiday Planning Guide
A diverse region of sprawling farmland and rich cultural heritage, Kentucky is the birthplace of American horse racing and home to the world-famous Kentucky Derby. While the cities of Lexington and Louisville draw the majority of the state's tourism, Kentucky is also a favorite among outdoor enthusiasts with its array of natural attractions, including the Cumberland Gap and the world's longest cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park. Take a tour through original Civil War battlefields to delve into the nation's history, or head to one of the state's many bourbon distilleries to learn more about Kentucky's most famous export.
Places to Visit in KentuckyLouisville
: The home of the Kentucky Derby, Victorian mansions, and quirky shops, the state's largest city is a place where the American South and the Midwest meet. Louisville is known for offering some of the best nightlife and opportunities for sightseeing in Kentucky.Lexington
: Renowned for its thoroughbred horses and home to two universities, Kentucky's second largest city is a busy place surrounded by natural beauty.Cave City
: It might be a small town, but Cave City's proximity to some of the state's greatest natural attractions makes it a lot livelier than you would expect.Bardstown
: The locals consider Bardstown to be the most beautiful small town in America. Even if you don't agree, you'll certainly enjoy the traditional Southern hospitality and historical atmosphere. The town is famous for
some of the best bourbon in the state.Owensboro
: Nestled on the bank of the Ohio River, Owensboro's atmosphere blends the modern with the historical. It's also a prime destination for bluegrass music lovers from all over the world.Bowling Green
: One of the state's main industrial and educational centers, Bowling Green preserves a lot of authentic Kentuckian spirit. As the birthplace of the Chevrolet Corvette, the city is a must-visit for any
: The capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Frankfort is a small town rich in historical sites, including the magnificent State Capitol.
Things to Do in Kentucky
Popular Kentucky Tourist AttractionsLouisville Mega Cavern
: Take a tour of this former limestone mine, zipline through complete darkness, or ride a mountain bike underground at one of the most popular tourist attractions in Kentucky.Mammoth Cave National Park
: One of the state's best-known natural landmarks, this astonishing underground system is the largest of its kind in the world.Kentucky Derby Museum
: A real treat for any horse-racing fan, this museum celebrates the history of the most important equestrian event in the world.Churchill Downs
: Soccer has Maracana, Formula One has Monza, and horse racing has Churchill Downs. Take a tour of the historic track, or go to one of the races and see the galloping thoroughbreds in action.Kentucky Horse Park
: See how the thoroughbreds are bred and raised and learn everything about the special relationship between humans and horses at a complex that combines a working farm and a museum.Newport Aquarium
: From cute and cuddly otters to ferocious sharks, the aquarium displays a collection of marine, semi-aquatic, and amphibian creatures.Keeneland Select
: No racing fan's tour of Kentucky is complete without a visit to this historic track, the heart of horse racing in Lexington.National Corvette Museum
: Bowling Green is the home of the Corvette, and this museum will take you on a journey through the history of one of America's favorite sports cars.Creation Museum
: From displays representing Biblical stories to outdoor games and a petting zoo, this museum offers fun for the whole family.The Louisville Zoo
: Home to hundreds of animals from all over the world, the Louisville Zoo is a true oasis in Kentucky's largest city.
Planning a Kentucky Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Kentucky with Kids
Featuring an abundance of natural beauty, cities full of varied attractions, and relatively mild weather throughout the year, Kentucky is a great destination for a family vacation.
While Kentucky's smaller cities are usually peaceful and atmospheric, for younger visitors they might prove to be somewhat uninteresting. Larger cities, on the other hand, and especially Louisville
, will provide more than enough entertainment for the kids. They also make excellent bases for a tour of Kentucky and its historical and natural attractions, such as Mammoth Cave National Park
and Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
Things to Do in Kentucky with Kids
Kentucky offers plenty of attractions and activities to satisfy the tastes of young travelers and their families. Plenty of museums throughout the state offer interactive exhibits that allow the kids to learn new things while having fun. Both kids and adults who like dolls will enjoy Great American Dollhouse Museum
, while baseball fans of all ages will have a blast at Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
, home of the famous baseball bats. Kentucky's love of animals doesn't end with horses, and there are several zoos where the kids can meet all sorts of species. One of the most unusual places to visit in Kentucky is Louisville Mega Cavern
, where the whole family can have a real underground adventure.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Kentucky
Like many other U.S. states, Kentucky is best explored by car. The state has a vast road network and a number of interesting places to stop, so you don't have to worry about the kids getting bored during long drives. Kentucky's cities have a reputation for their
relaxed and welcoming atmosphere, and you won't have any problem finding all the amenities you need. Louisville tends to get packed with visitors every spring around the Derby, so if you plan to make the race a highlight of your Kentucky holiday, make sure to book a place to stay well in advance.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Kentucky
Cuisine of Kentucky
Kentucky is a great destination to experience all the flavors of Southern cooking. The state's fried chicken might be famous across the world, but once you visit Kentucky you'll see that it has a lot more to offer. Kentuckians are particularly proud of their
barbecue, and the city of Owensboro
with its International Bar-B-Q Festival has a reputation as the barbecue capital of the state. The most authentically Kentuckian barbecue dish is burgoo, also known as roadkill soup, and
every chef tends to have their own special way of preparing it. Another famous Kentuckian meat specialty is the Hot Brown, an open-faced sandwich made with turkey, bacon, and Mornay sauce. For visitors with a sweet tooth, Louisville
is the perfect place to try some Derby Pie, the local version of Southern pecan pie.
Next to thoroughbred horses, Kentucky's most famous product is definitely bourbon whiskey. Many experts claim that the secret of Kentucky bourbon lies in the state's crystal-clear, iron-free water, filtered through layers of limestone-rich earth. The state is dotted with dozens of distilleries, and a visit to one is among the top things to do in Kentucky. Plenty of distilleries, such as Four Roses
and Maker's Mark Distillery, Inc
, offer tours of their facilities, but a real treat for true enthusiasts is taking a journey through the art of making bourbon on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Shopping in Kentucky
From Civil War memorabilia to the latest fashions and electronic equipment, Kentucky offers shopping options to satisfy all tastes.
Louisville, the state's largest city, is its top shopping destination. The city is home to a selection of shopping malls, but it's most famous for its small, independently owned stores, boutiques, and galleries that offer everything from unique souvenirs to locally
Outside the major cities, in many of the state's smaller towns, locals take good care of their historical heritage, and antiques collectors on vacation in Kentucky can browse shops like Irish Acres Gallery of Antiques
and discover real treasures.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Kentucky
History of Kentucky
The Kentucky area has been home to thriving human communities for thousands of years. While the earliest Native American people probably used the area as a hunting ground, there is firm evidence that permanent settlements were built here even before 3000 BCE.
Over the centuries, these communities perfected many aspects of agriculture and started producing distinctive decorative pottery. When the first European explorers arrived, Kentucky was inhabited by various Native American tribes, predominantly Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Shawnee.
Although there are theories suggesting that the first Europeans to enter Kentucky were the Spanish under 16th-century explorer Hernando de Soto, the Frenchman René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, was the first explorer to claim the territory of Kentucky for one of the European powers. After La Salle's initial journey in 1669, the French missions became more numerous and were followed by the Dutch and the British. Established in 1774, Harrodsburg
was the first permanent European settlement in the state. Soon after, the pioneers, the most famous of whom was Daniel Boone, started pouring in through the area around Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
, and more and more people from the British colonies started to settle in Kentucky. After the American Revolution, Kentucky was initially considered a part of Virginia, but in 1792 the two were separated and Kentucky became America's 15th state. Following the revolution, the agriculture and transportation industries boomed in Kentucky, and the cities of Louisville and Lexington were founded alongside many other settlements.
Any Civil War enthusiast taking a trip to Kentucky will find an abundance of sites to visit. Despite being a slave state, Kentucky proclaimed neutrality, only to become one of the major battlefields of the war. The presidents of both sides were natives of the
state, and you can visit their birthplaces at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Site
and Jefferson Davis State Historic Site
. At monuments like Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park
, you can experience what life in Kentucky was like during this turbulent period.
After the Civil War, slavery was abolished and the state started the process of economic and social recovery, with agriculture giving way to industry as the state's main source of income. During World War II, the state's industry was a major contributor to the U.S.
war effort: Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor
is one of the best Kentucky attractions for those interested in this period.
Today, Kentucky is a culturally rich and diverse state that has fully embraced the spirit of modern times while keeping its history alive.
Landscape of Kentucky
The best Kentucky vacations will always include an exploration of the state's remarkable landscape. On the surface, the landscape is mostly hilly, getting more mountainous the farther east you go. Under the ground, subterranean waters have carved out some of the most amazing cave systems in the whole of the United States. Diamond Caverns
and Cub Run Cave
are just two of the underground systems you can explore in addition to world-famous Mammoth Cave National Park
. The state's northern border largely follows the route of the Ohio River, which is Kentucky's largest waterway. Kentucky's horse breeding industry owes everything to the state's land, which is incredibly rich in phosphorus and calcium, providing horses with all the nutrients they need for developing powerful skeletons and muscles. A notable landscape feature is the poa grass that gave Kentucky the nickname “Bluegrass State.”
Holidays & Festivals in Kentucky
The Kentucky Derby is the most famous annual event in Kentucky, but it is far from being the only local festival. The race itself is just the culmination of the Kentucky Derby Festival, a two-week celebration that takes place in Louisville every April. A highlight of the festival is the fireworks display known as Thunder Over Louisville, which takes place at Louisville Waterfront Park
and is the largest of its kind in the United States. In mid-August, Kentucky Fair and Exposition Center
houses the Kentucky State Fair, a showcase of everything Kentuckian, from horses to artwork. Bourbon lovers from all over the world take a trip to Kentucky in mid-September for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown
. The state's towns and cities host numerous other celebrations throughout the year.
Kentucky Travel Tips
Climate of Kentucky
The state's mild continental climate means that there is no bad time for a Kentucky holiday. Summers in Kentucky are warm, with average temperatures around 30°C (mid-80s Fahrenheit), but prolonged heat waves are not common. The state's lush landscape is at its most beautiful in spring and fall--these might be the best times to visit for travelers who plan to spend a lot of time outdoors. At the peak of winter, temperatures usually stay around freezing, and there is usually just enough snow to create a charming atmosphere without causing transportation or other cold weather problems. Tornadoes are one downside of the Kentucky climate: these are most common in late spring, so make sure to check the weather forecast if you're planning a visit at that time of year.
Transportation in Kentucky
With a vast network of interstate highways and freeways crossing the state, all parts of Kentucky can be easily reached by car. Even though intercity bus lines do exist, the bus network is not wide enough to rely on for an extensive tour of Kentucky. Louisville and Lexington feature public buses, and cycling is also becoming a more and more popular way of getting around. Many of Kentucky's smaller towns can be easily and enjoyably explored on foot.