Brimming with Southern hospitality and charm, Kentucky is a captivating place that lives up to the hype. From the rolling hills that surround Lexington and the grand farms that welcome visitors to the generations-old distilleries that do things the old-fashioned way and the stunning outdoor spaces that look like they were specifically crafted for outdoor adventure, Kentucky is a dream destination!
Whether you plan to spend your visit watching Thoroughbred horses gallop around racetracks, sipping locally-made bourbon, or exploring the many unspoiled forests, you’ll never get bored in Kentucky.
You’ll find farm-to-table restaurants, trendy cocktail bars, and world-class museums in Kentucky’s major cities, such as Lexington and Louisville. Explore further afield, and you’ll quickly learn that most of the state is made up of small, rustic towns where people enjoy the slower way of life. For something even more peaceful, there are plenty of untouched natural spaces where you can escape hectic city life with hiking, rock climbing, and caving.
With so many cool things to see and do, you may not know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Kentucky. Add these fun activities and attractions to your Kentucky bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have an amazing time exploring the Bluegrass State!
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25 Fun and Unique Things to Do In Kentucky
1. See Where Kentucky Fried Chicken was Invented
One of the most unique things to do in Kentucky is to visit the Sanders Cafe & Museum. Before it was transformed into a museum, this building was the very first restaurant that Colonel Harland Sanders (the man behind the finger-lickin’ Kentucky Fried Chicken) opened.
Located in Corbin, the museum is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been beautifully restored to look just like it did in the 1940s. Inside you’ll find a replica of the kitchen where Sanders invented his signature dish more than 75 years ago.
There’s also a replica dining room where you can dig into his delicious creation in surroundings from the 1940s. If you’d prefer a more up-to-date dining experience, you’ll find a modern KFC next to the museum.
In addition to the kitchen and restaurant, Sanders Cafe & Museum is also full of exhibits of memorabilia and artifacts from the early days of KFC.
2. See Cascading Waterfalls At Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
When you need to get back to nature, head to Cumberland Falls State Resort Park. Tucked inside the Daniel Boone National Forest, this giant park spans more than 1,600 acres and is named after the thundering Cumberland Falls, which is an absolute must on your Kentucky bucket list!
These waterfalls crash 60 feet into a boulder-strewn gorge, creating a wonderfully cooling mist to refresh anyone standing nearby. Nicknamed the Niagara of the South, the curtain of water is 125 feet wide and creates the ideal conditions for canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting.
For one of the most stunning things you’ll ever see, plan to visit Cumberland Falls State Resort Park at night during a full moon. At these times of the year, you can see the spectacular moonbow – a unique phenomenon you can’t see anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.
Best described as a lunar rainbow, this natural attraction is guaranteed to take your breath away. Check the website to see the dates when you’re most likely to see it!
3. Walk Over The Big Four Bridge
Located in Louisville, the Big Four Bridge is one of the biggest Kentucky attractions. Originally a simple railroad truss bridge, today, the major landmark features a pedestrian and bicycle trail you can follow to get from Louisville, Kentucky, to Jefferson, Indiana.
The bridge spans just short of 0.5 miles and crosses the Ohio River, rewarding everyone who passes over it with stunning views of the surrounding environment. Even if you don’t have the energy to walk or cycle over the bridge, it still looks stunning from the ground.
For a free colorful show, check out the Big Four Bridge after dark. When the sun sets, the bridge is illuminated with brightly colored lights that stand out starkly against the black night sky. It makes for a great photo!
While you’re in the area, it’s worth checking out the Louisville Waterfront Park, too. This park covers 85 acres of green open spaces, picnic areas, beautifully-maintained trees, an amphitheater, and several walking and cycling paths. It also hosts concerts, outdoor fairs, and fireworks displays throughout the year.
4. Sip Your Way Through the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
If you want to get into the local Kentucky spirit, taking a road trip along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is always a fun idea!
Not only will you get the chance to tour some of the Bluegrass State’s best distilleries, but you’ll pass through small towns, beautiful landscapes, and all sorts of quirky roadside attractions along the way.
From Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelbyville and Bardstown Bourbon Company in Bardstown to Wilderness Trail Distillery in Danville and Rabbit Hole Distillery in Louisville, you’ll find 37 completely unique distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. No matter which ones you decide to stop at, it’s well worth taking some time to take a tour of each distillery and sample their best spirits.
If you don’t know where to start, you can always map out your route with the help of an expert at the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center in downtown Louisville. Wherever you decide to stop first, be sure to pick up your Bourbon Trail Passport, so you can collect stamps as you go!
5. Find Comfort In The Original Hot Brown
When lunchtime rolls around, one of the must-do things in Kentucky is to head for the Brown Hotel in Louisville and order yourself a Hot Brown. This iconic sandwich was invented in the Brown Hotel by Fred K. Schmidt in 1926 and is one of the most delicious things you’ll eat during your vacation!
Much more than a simple sandwich, a Hot Brown is a variation of a traditional Welsh rarebit. It’s a hot open-faced sandwich made with a thick piece of bread topped with slices of turkey breast, ham, and crispy bacon. The whole thing is smothered in a creamy Mornay sauce before being baked or grilled until the bread is wonderfully crisp and the sauce just starts to brown.
Different establishments put their own twist on the classic Hot Brown. Some places add American or cheddar cheese to make the sauce even richer, while other places garnish the sandwich with sliced mushrooms, tomatoes, or even canned peaches.
For the original Hot Brown, order it from J.Graham’s Cafe or the English Grill, both of which are inside the Brown Hotel.
6. See Life-Sized Dinosaurs At Dinosaur World
If you’re visiting Kentucky with kids, Dinosaur World is a great place to visit. Tucked away in Cave City, this outdoor museum is teeming with life-sized replica dinosaurs, which are scattered across wilderness trails hidden in the forest.
There are more than 100 dinosaurs to discover throughout the museum, each of which is accompanied by interesting information and fascinating facts about the remarkable creatures. As well as the giant dinosaurs, Dinosaur World also hides replica dinosaur claws, bones, and eggs all over the place for you to find.
You can easily spend a whole day here, which is why the park invites you to bring your own cooler. There are tons of peaceful places where you can enjoy a picnic in the shade. Dogs are welcome, too, so the whole family can come along!
As well as the replicas, Dinosaur World also boasts interactive exhibits, dino-themed playgrounds, fossil digs for kids, and a great gift shop. Even if you don’t have kids, a trip to Dinosaur World is a great way to spend the day if you’re looking for fun and unique things to do in Kentucky.
7. Dress Up For The Kentucky Derby
The coolest thing to do in Kentucky in May is to head to Churchill Downs in Louisville and watch the Kentucky Derby. One of the most famous and prestigious horse racing events in the world, the Kentucky Derby is an incredibly exciting event to attend.
Held each year in the beginning of May, the event takes place over multiple days and involves a number of races. There are 11 to 14 races held each day that you can bet on and try your luck. If you’re not really into gambling or you’re on a tight budget, the stunning thoroughbred horses are still fascinating to see.
One of our favorite parts of the Kentucky Derby is dressing up. During the distinguished event, you’ll see men dressed in colorful suits and women in spectacular dresses with dramatic hats. If you happen to be traveling to Kentucky in May, pull your fanciest clothes out of your suitcase and join in!
Even if you’re not visiting Kentucky in May, you can still tour the grounds during the rest of the year.
8. Discover The Historical Treasures Of Fort Knox
Fort Knox is one of the most important landmarks in Kentucky. The famous attraction is a United States Army post that covers 109,000 acres and is known for being the location of a number of important organizations, including the United States Bullion Depository and the Accessions Command.
Head inside Fort Knox, and you’ll discover the captivating General George Patton Museum. It’s full of historical and educational exhibits that take you on a journey through the various branches of the United States military.
Although you can’t visit the fort’s gold depository and admire the 5,000 tons of gold guarded inside, there are still tons of incredible things to see inside the museum. Here you’ll find exhibits including weapons designed by Leonardo da Vinci, military uniforms, military vehicles, medals, and several remembrance walls.
Various military- and veteran-related events take place inside the museum throughout the year. So check the website to find out if anything’s going on during your visit!
9. Tour The Kentucky State Capitol
One of the most popular things to do in Kentucky is to take a tour of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort. This important building is home to the judicial, legislative, and executive branches of Kentucky’s state government.
The eye-catching building is more than 100 years old and was designed by decorated architect, Frank Mills Andrews. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is instantly recognizable, thanks to its Beau-Arts design.
While the Kentucky State Capitol is pretty mesmerizing from the outside, it’s even more beautiful when you step through the entrance. Inside you’ll find stunning decor inspired by charming locations from across France and wonderful paintings by world-famous artists.
Throughout the building, you’ll discover many statues of noteworthy figures from Kentucky’s history. There are also several displays dedicated to the state’s past, including Kentucky Women Remembered.
Gorgeous artwork is strewn throughout the building. Keep an eye out for the oil murals by T. Gilbert White! They’re truly spectacular and are located in both the east and west wings of the building.
10. Snack On Rolled Oysters
When you need a break from all the Kentucky sightseeing, stop by a bar and order some rolled oysters. This local seafood dish is probably unlike any other type of oyster you’ve ever had, but it’s incredibly addictive and makes the perfect snack.
Popular throughout Louisville, this typical bar nibble is made of raw oysters, which are repeatedly rolled in fine breadcrumbs until they’re about the size of a baseball. When they reach their desired size, they’re deep-fried until they’re golden brown and crispy on the outside.
Rolled oysters were invented by Italian immigrant Phillip Mazzoni and his brothers in the late 19th century. The siblings started selling them at Mazzoni’s Café, and they became hugely popular. Rolled oysters remained on their menu until 2008, when the restaurant closed after 125 years of business.
While you can no longer try the original rolled oysters, you’ll still find them in many bars and restaurants throughout Louisville. Kingfish is our favorite place for this classic dish. You’ll find them on the appetizer section of the main menu!
11. Explore The Kentucky Derby Museum
If your trip doesn’t coincide with the Kentucky Derby, or you want to find out more about the prestigious race, spend a few hours at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville. Established in 1985, this striking museum is dedicated to protecting and preserving the Kentucky Derby’s history.
There are two floors of exhibits to discover laid out in an easy-to-follow and family-friendly way. Here you can find out about every stage of a Thoroughbred horse’s life, from the moment it’s born to the day it takes part in the Kentucky Derby. You’ll also get to learn all about the history of the races, which began way back in 1875.
You can check out short movies in a 360-degree theater, many displays dedicated to trainers and jockeys, and a cemetery where past champions have been laid to rest. There are also exhibits on the fashion worn by jockeys and spectators, spoken stories about outstanding events that have happened over the years, and incredible artwork of the horses and races.
12. See the Ventriloquism Dummies At The Vent Haven Museum
For one of the most unusual Kentucky activities, make plans to visit the Vent Haven Museum in Fort Mitchell, just across the border from Cincinnati, Ohio. The only museum in the world that’s entirely dedicated to ventriloquism, this unique museum boasts a staggering range of ventriloquism artifacts that were kindly donated from Cincinnati native William Shakespeare Berger’s collection.
The collector was a well-known businessman and the president of the International Brotherhood of Ventriloquists. He spent over 60 years amassing his grand collection, and, today the museum boasts some of the best-preserved and rarest ventriloquism dummies in the world!
Take a look around, and you’ll discover more than 700 different dummies, almost all of which are in remarkable condition. You may even recognize some of them from old TV shows.
If you’re planning your Kentucky trip for July, you’ve got to attend the ventriloquist convention at the Vent Haven Museum. During this special event, more than 400 talented ventriloquists flock to the museum and put on a spectacular show. Note that Vent Haven Museum is closed for renovations. We will re-open in the spring of 2023.
13. Celebrate Oktoberfest in Downtown Harrodsburg
One of the most fun things to do in Kentucky in September is to celebrate Oktoberfest. Held in Downtown Harrodsburg at the end of September each year, this event is the largest Oktoberfest celebration in Central Kentucky and attracts more than 15,000 people eager to have a great time.
Oktoberfest in Downtown Harrodsburg is an excellent time to sample a huge range of German and international beers, as well as traditional German food. The festival lasts for three days, so you’ve got plenty of time to sample as much as you want!
When you’ve had your fill of beer, pretzels, and sausages, you’ll find plenty more to entertain you at Oktoberfest. Throughout the festival, around 13 bands will take the stage to perform everything from ‘80s pop music to funk and bluegrass.
You’ll also find dazzling art displays with the opportunity to purchase everything you see, fun children’s carnival rides, and challenging games for adults.
14. Go Rock Climbing At Red River Gorge
If you’re into outdoor adventure sports, head to Red River Gorge and go rock climbing. One of the most beautiful parts of Kentucky, Red River Gorge is a system of canyons on the Red River within Daniel Boone National Forest.
Every inch of this wonder boasts incredible beauty, from natural rock bridges, unique geological formations, and dramatic sandstone cliffs to cascading waterfalls, stunning rocky arches, and thick tree canopies.
You can admire these stunning panoramas from the various hiking, cycling, and horseback riding trails. But for something a little bit more challenging, we recommend trying your hand at rock climbing.
Red River Gorge is one of the best rock climbing spots in the world. There’s a huge variety of different climbing trails to choose between, from short and easy routes with a gentle incline to long and difficult routes that are incredibly steep. Whether you’ve been rock climbing a million times or you’ve never done it before, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect spot here.
15. Become Addicted To Beer Cheese
States all over the US serve beer cheese, but none of it is quite like the beer cheese they serve in Kentucky. This local specialty is the perfect combination of thick, cheesy, and spicy goodness!
Kentucky beer cheese gets its unique flavor and texture by mixing melted sharp cheddar cheese with beer, garlic, and spices. Like all the best recipes, each chef and home cook usually has their own version, so you’re unlikely to find two types of beer cheese that taste the same.
The rich, indulgent dip is usually served with crackers or celery sticks. But it makes a wonderful dip for any crunchy snack, like potato chips or pretzels.
If you’re planning your trip for June, you’ll find all kinds of incredible beer cheese at the Beer Cheese Festival in Winchester.
For any other time of year, we recommend ordering the local dish from Hall’s on the River. This long-established restaurant serves an amazing beer cheese platter with fresh veggies and crispy crackers. You can choose between regular and hot – if you like a bit of spice, we definitely recommend the hot!
16. Get Outside At Mammoth Cave National Park
For some of the best things to see in Kentucky, visit Mammoth Cave National Park. Tucked away inside the Caveland Corridor of Kentucky, this natural wonder is home to some of the oldest cave systems on the planet.
Here you’ll find more than 400 miles of secret caves to explore, but that’s not all. The park is also home to the giant 200-foot-tall Mammoth Dome, the glistening Crystal Lake, the fascinating limestone pillars of the Ruins of Karnack, and the mesmerizing Frozen Niagara.
There are plenty of fun activities to enjoy in the park, too. Here you can try horseback riding, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, and cycling. If you’ve got more time, camping, fishing, cave tours, and stargazing are also possible.
If you’d prefer something a little more high-speed, check out Adventures of Mammoth Cave, where you’ll find a five-line canopy zip tour. Here the ziplines run 300 to 990 feet and are as high as 100 feet off the ground!
17. Marvel At The Grand Canyon Of The South
If you’ve never seen the Grand Canyon before, now’s your chance to see the second-best thing – the Grand Canyon of the South! Hidden inside Jefferson National Forest, which is shared between Virginia and Kentucky, Breaks Interstate Park boasts one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Kentucky.
The best way to experience Breaks Interstate Park is by road tripping from Kentucky across the border to Virginia. Along the way, you’ll come across countless viewpoints where you can take incredible photos and get the most dazzling views. The star attraction of this park is the five-mile-long gorge which drops a whopping 1,650 to the canyon floor.
Visit at sunrise or sunset for a spectacular panorama you’ll never forget. The scene before you looks more like a painting than something created by nature.
There are plenty of other things to do in the Breaks Interstate Park. From rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking to paddle boarding, canoeing, hydro biking, and fishing, you’ll find tons of outdoorsy things to do here.
18. Have A Family Fun Day At Kentucky Kingdom
If you’re traveling with little ones, one of the top things to do in Kentucky is to spend the day at Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville. Although this theme park opened way back in 1987, it’s been renovated several times and is now a modern park with tons of exciting, family-friendly attractions.
The park is split into two sections – one which is a theme park and one that’s a water park. The theme park boasts a huge number of attractions, with everything from high-speed rollercoasters for adults to gentle swings for kids. The water park features an equally great variety of water slides, plus children’s mini water parks and wave pools.
As well as all the rides and attractions, Kentucky Kingdom also has a bunch of great places to grab a snack, plus a gift shop where you can pick up a memento of your visit. Exciting events are also held throughout the year, so check the website to see if there’s anything fun going on during your visit.
19. See Where Abraham Lincoln Was Born
Did you know that Abraham Lincoln, the 16th American president, was born in Kentucky? Visit the Bluegrass State, and you’ll have the chance to see his birthplace in what is now known as LaRue County. A National Historic Site, Lincoln’s birthplace is one of the most important and popular tourist attractions for miles.
Known as the First Lincoln Memorial, this imposing building was built in Hodgenville, where the president was born, by the Lincoln Farm Association. You can see a replica cabin inside the Neo-Classical building, which was designed to look like the place where the president took his very first breath!
There are 56 pink granite steps leading up to the First Lincoln Memorial – each step represents one year of his life. Other points of interest include the Sinking Spring, the main water source for Lincoln and his family, as well as the nearby Knob Creek, where the family moved later on in their lives.
20. Sip A Mint Julep
If you’re a fan of cocktails, one of the best things to do in Kentucky is to try a mint julep. The official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep was first invented in 1784 and was originally given to people who had stomach issues. But by 1803, it had been transformed from a medical remedy to a delicious cocktail people enjoyed for fun.
The classic cocktail is made from sugar, bourbon, soda water, and mint leaves. It’s a little like a mojito, but the bourbon gives it a distinctive Kentucky flavor.
During the Kentucky Derby, around 120,000 mint juleps are served! If you can’t attend the races, there are plenty of other great places you can try this classic cocktail.
Not only is the Brown Hotel an excellent spot to try the iconic Hot Brown open-faced sandwich, but it’s also the perfect place to try a classic mint julep. The Brown Hotel Lobby Bar takes extra care when it comes to presentation, which – considering the sumptuous surroundings – is particularly fitting.
21. Welcome Summer With The International Bar-B-Q Festival
If you can never say no to a good BBQ, you’ve got to check out the International Bar-B-Q Festival in Owensboro. Held each year on the second weekend in May (just after the Kentucky Derby), this foodie feast marks the start of Kentucky’s summer.
There’s so much food to try that you’ve definitely got to go on an empty stomach. You’ll find all of Kentucky’s legendary meats prepared by the best chefs in the state.
Teams from all over gather to compete for the title of “Best Overall Bar-B-Q Cooking Team,” with more than 10 tons of mutton, 5,000 chickens, and 1,500 gallons of burgoo being cooked over the weekend. There are picnic tables up and down the side streets where you can relax and enjoy all the delicious eats.
Despite what the name may suggest, the International Bar-B-Q Festival isn’t all about food. There’s also live music, kids’ activities, a car show, arts and crafts, and a 5K race.
22. Spend The Night In A Castle
If you’re looking for something totally unique to do in Kentucky, you’ll find it at the Kentucky Castle in Versailles. The best-kept secret in Central Kentucky, the castle is surrounded by lush green countryside and is the perfect place to go when you need to take a break from all that Kentucky sightseeing.
The 100-acre grounds are home to 15 guest rooms, including a stunning farm view cabin and four beautiful tower suites. If you want to truly feel like royalty, this is the place to stay! If you’re short on time and can’t stay overnight, there are plenty of other things you can do at Kentucky Castle.
The magnificent fortress boasts a farm-to-table restaurant that serves incredible dishes made from local produce. Some ingredients are even made on the castle’s grounds. There’s also a luxurious spa where you can unwind and let professionals pamper you.
If you time your visit right, you may be able to take part in one of the exciting activities. From relaxing horseback rides and rooftop yoga classes to exquisite tasting menus and thrilling murder mystery dinners, there’s always something going on here.
23. Go Underground At The Louisville Mega Cavern
Have one of the most exciting days of your Kentucky vacation at the Louisville Mega Cavern. A human-made network of caverns and corridors that span 17 miles underneath the city, this fascinating attraction is a must on your Kentucky bucket list if you’re looking for something cool and memorable to do.
Inside the cavern, you’ll find all kinds of adventurous activities. Sign up for a 2-hour zipline tour and zoom over deep rocky drops in the world’s only fully underground zipline course. Or take a ride on the mega tram and learn all about the history and geology of the fascinating cavern.
There are also compelling walking tours you can join to see the more incredible parts of the cavern up close, as well as bike tours that take you behind the scenes of the cavern to the parts that most visitors don’t get to see.
The mega quest is great fun if you’re up for a challenge. The only fully underground aerial ropes course in the world, this part of the cavern will test your balancing skills with all kinds of physical obstacles!
24. Admire One Of The Most Impressive Homes From The 1800s
For some of the best sights in Kentucky, visit Ashland – the Henry Clay Estate in Lexington. A gorgeous National History Landmark, the estate was originally a 600-acre plantation where slaves would work as staff inside the mansion and as workers on the farm.
Although today the estate is a beautiful tourist attraction, it still remembers its roots. Visitors are invited to learn about the estate’s dark past in the frank yet fascinating “Traces: Slavery at Ashland” tour.
There are several other tours you can join to discover the remarkable mansion and its grounds. Sign up, and you’ll have the chance to step inside the Federal-style home, where you can admire all the stunning Italianate details which were added in later renovations.
The tours also give you an insight into the life of Henry Clay, the 19th-century Kentucky statesman who lived in the mansion.
25. Go On A Ghost Tour Around Waverly Hills Sanatorium
If you’re feeling brave, sign up for a ghost tour at Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville. Once dedicated to healing tuberculosis patients over 100 years ago, today, the sanatorium is said to be haunted and has become a hugely popular tourist attraction among ghost hunters.
When it was a functioning sanatorium, tuberculosis was incurable. As the disease spread to more people, the sanatorium had to be expanded again and again. By 1912, it included open-air pavilions, wards for children, and underground tunnels connecting the various buildings.
In 1962, the building was transformed into a nursing home. It went through multiple changes in the following years before eventually being abandoned. Because of its macabre past and several reported ghost sightings, the sanatorium has been declared one of the most haunted places in the world!
Ghost tours are organized regularly throughout the year. Led by paranormal investigators, the tours give you the chance to learn all about what went on in the sanatorium while hunting for the ghosts of the patients who may still reside within it.
There you have it! The 25 best things to do in Kentucky. What’s your favorite thing to do in the Bluegrass State?
Planning a trip to Kentucky? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!