What do you get when you combine the fact that 90 percent of the country’s disco balls are produced in Louisville and 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky? A whole lot of fun.
But those are just two small facts that explain why visitors are drawn to Louisville. The city is home to Churchill Downs, which features the “most exciting two minutes in sports” every May during the Kentucky Derby, and the world’s largest baseball bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. You can also cruise along the Ohio River through downtown aboard the Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating steamboat in the nation. Befitting its moniker, the “Possibility City” is loaded with opportunities to mix and match the area’s traditions and legacies or stick to a theme and go all out.
Churchill Downs and its world-famous Kentucky Derby can easily be the main event, whether you are in town for the horse race itself or not; the city has year-round attractions dedicated to the “Run for the Roses.” The Kentucky Derby museum, which features more than 20,000 artifacts, reopened this past April after suffering severe damage following a flood in August 2009. New interactive exhibits give an inside look at the celebrities and fashion of the derby, as well as stories about the horses, jockeys and owners. Free historic guided walking tours of Churchill Downs are also available. Some tours include visits to the gravesites of famous past Derby winners, and others go behind the scenes to areas such as the stalls, jockeys’ quarters and press box.
While the official bat of Major League Baseball is certainly the highlight of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, visitors can also step into a batting cage, see all kinds of baseball memorabilia and get the inside scoop from famous players in videos. Custom tours can highlight a favorite team, city or era, and visitors receive a free mini bat. The museum is located on Main Street’s Museum Row along with eight other stop-worthy highlights. Check out yet another sports icon at the Muhammad Ali Center, which celebrates the hometown hero with exhibits, civil rights footage and inspiring stories. The Louisville Science Center lets kids dive into the scientific world around them through permanent and temporary exhibits.
Near all the activity and attractions in downtown Louisville is Kentucky’s largest hotel, Galt House. The property has 1,290 guest rooms, including 650 suites, and a newly renovated 16,000-sq.-ft. ballroom is part of the hotel’s 124,000 square feet of meeting space. The hotel is connected to the Kentucky International Convention Center by skywalk. Rivue Restaurant and Lounge is the hotel’s rooftop restaurant featuring two rotating dining rooms. It has views of downtown and the waterfront and consistently ranks as one of the city’s best restaurants. If that’s not enough, Galt House has six more restaurants and bars to suit a variety of tastes.
Another property option is the 21c Museum Hotel, but it isn’t just a place to stay. The 90-room, boutique hotel is also the only museum dedicated solely to 21st-century art. Maybe it’s the 5,000 square feet of art-filled meeting and event space, iconic red penguins or 9,000 square feet of curated exhibit space by a full-time museum director that helped the hotel win a first-place ranking among Condé Nast Traveler readers in 2009. Travel & Leisure also labeled it “one of the most ambitious unions of art and hospitality ever undertaken.”
When it comes to bourbon, don’t miss tours of the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Maker’s Mark distillery, Jim Beam distillery and Buffalo Trace Distillery. An Urban Bourbon trail features a different kind of tasting trek with a series of stops at Louisville bars and restaurants overflowing with the nation’s only native spirit. Each stop along the way boasts 50 different labels, bourbon flights, bourbon cocktails and all the expertise you need to complete the experience.