Over Veterans’ Day Weekend, I visited the state of Kentucky for the first time and spent three days in Louisville. I felt like three days was the perfect amount of time to see all of the highlights. I would recommend an extra day if you plan on going outside of the city and hitting up some distilleries along the Bourbon Trail or if you just need more time to eat more good food!
These are the five things I would consider must-dos on a first time visit to Louisville.
Live Horse Racing at Churchill Downs
While Churchill Downs is most well-known for hosting the annual Kentucky Derby, it also has live horse racing throughout the year. I’m not much of a betting person, but I couldn’t pass up a visit to Churchill Downs to try my luck.
Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
Inside the building are exhibits featuring baseball memorabilia as well as changing exhibits. During my visit, there was a Ripley’s Believe It or Not exhibit which I found to be very unrelated to baseball!
The Bat Vault is where models of every Louisville Slugger bat are held.
At the end of the tour, all visitors get a mini-bat to take home as a souvenir. We found out that the mini-bats are not permitted in your carry-on luggage, so keep that in mind if you plan on visiting the museum!
Bourbon and Booze
We also dropped by the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience located on Main Street. They have the coolest two-story “whiskey” fountain.
Eat, Eat, Eat
One of the most important things to do in Louisville is eat their amazing food. We enjoyed some stellar meals during our short time in town.
A meal at Royals Hot Chicken is rather simple, but it was so delicious. I had never tried hot chicken before and it did not disappoint. We ordered a Royals Fried Chicken Sandwich, which comes with a potato bun, mayo, iceberg lettuce and dill pickles. You also have a choice of heat level. We chose hot, but I wish we had gone hotter. I guess living in New Mexico, I am afraid of how hot “hot” really is.
Another memorable meal was had at Feast BBQ in the Nulu area. We ordered a half rack of baby back ribs, which comes with two sides. I loved that you could select dessert as a side as well as regular sides. We picked mac and cheese and the salted caramel banana pudding. The plate also came with a roll, pickles and red onions.
The one dish you have to try in Louisville is the Kentucky Hot Brown at The Brown Hotel. I don’t think you can find a more regional dish than the Hot Brown. When I first saw pictures of the hot brown, I thought it looked like a heart attack waiting to happen, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well-balanced the dish was.
The Hot Brown is a open-faced turkey sandwich with tomato and bacon, covered in Mornay sauce and parmesan cheese. Healthy, right? It was invented at The Brown Hotel in the 1920s and has been a staple ever since.
Finally, we had to pay a visit to Milkwood while we were in Louisville. For those of you who watch Top Chef or Mind of a Chef, the name Edward Lee is familiar with you. I absolutely had to try his version of southern-inspired Asian food.
We started with the grilled Kabayaki eel with puffed rice, smoked coconut and green ginger zest. Then we shared two entress: the MW Ramen with spicy tare, porkbelly, shiitake, scallion, and country ham and the Bibimbap with carrot, kimchi, cucumber, pickled corn, shiitake and egg. We also ordered a side of collards and kimchi for good measure.
The bibimbap was probably the most flavorful bibimbap I have ever had. It was so tasty. The ramen was okay, but the appetizer and collards and kimchi was excellent. I could have kept eating them if we hadn’t run out!
With barely any room left, we also shared the chocolate chess pie with peanut butter ice cream, caramel corn and sea salt. So yummy and so full!
I feel like I could have used a day or two extra just to eat more! So much good food!
See Some Art
For a city of its size (250,000 residents), I was surprised by how much good quality art is available. By comparison, Albuquerque has 550,000 residents and no where near the level of access to national and international art.
We spent one afternoon at the Speed Art Museum to see an exhibit on sneaker culture.
In addition to this special exhibition, the museum also featured regional artists and was hosting Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals Zodiac Heads.
The first 21c Museum Hotel was opened in Downtown Louisville in 2006 and now 21c Museum Hotels can be found in six different states. The concept of 21c is to combine a boutique hotel with a contemporary art museum.
21c is probably the most hip and fashionable hotel in Louisville and their rotating collection of contemporary art has a wide array of interesting pieces.
Lastly, you don’t have to look hard to find public art pieces like murals that brighten up the city and make it unique.