Louisville, Kentucky is a beautiful city located in the heart of the Bluegrass Region. It was named after King Louis XVI of France and was founded way back in 1778, meaning this place is brimming with history and charm!
Louisville sits on the Ohio River, right along the Indiana border, and is most famous for the Kentucky Derby and the Louisville Slugger. But beyond that, there’s so much more to Louisville than horse races and baseball bats!
This place is packed with museums, art galleries, interesting neighborhoods, and fun things to do. Louisville also has an amazing Bourbon Trail, as it’s home to some of the best bourbon distilleries in the world.
Louisville also boasts some of the best things to eat and drink in Kentucky. There’s the iconic Hot Brown sandwich, the delectable Derby Pie, and beer cheese dip, just to name a few! If you’re looking to let loose during your Louisville trip, there’s the vibrant Fourth Street Live! shopping and entertainment complex and countless festivals happening throughout the year.
There are so many things to see and do in Louisville, it’s enough to make your head spin! To help you plan your trip, we put together this Louisville bucket list of must-do things in the city. Stick to these recommendations, and you’re guaranteed to have a great time exploring Louisville!
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15 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Louisville
1. Get Your Heart Racing at Churchill Downs
Topping any list of things to do in Louisville has to be a visit to Churchill Downs, the most iconic spot in the city and home of the Kentucky Derby.
Derby Day races usually happen on the first Saturday in May, and it’s an unforgettable day full of pomp, betting, and mint juleps! If you’re in town two weeks before the actual Kentucky Derby, don’t miss Thunder Over Louisville, a massive fireworks show that kick-starts the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival.
If you can’t make it to Louisville during Derby season or if you want to experience Churchill Downs without the crowds, you can still take a tour of the grounds. The Behind the Scenes Tour will show you Churchill Downs’ stables, track, and infield, while the Millionaires Row Tour lets you see where the rich and famous sit during the races. Drop by the Kentucky Derby Museum as well, which is located on the grounds of Churchill Downs.
For the full Churchill Downs experience, try visiting during racing days! These go on from May to July and September to November. Admission and race tickets are way cheaper during this time versus during the Kentucky Derby, so it’s a great way to experience Churchill Downs on a budget.
2. Try the Underground Zipline at the Louisville Mega Cavern
The Louisville Mega Cavern is a former limestone mine that’s been converted into an underground adventure park, and it’s one of the coolest things to do in Louisville, Kentucky! There are several different tours and activities to choose from, but the most popular is the Mega Zip Underground Adventure Tour.
This two-hour tour takes you on a zipline ride through the cavern, and it’s an incredible experience. You’ll zip past massive stalactites and stalagmites, through dark tunnels, and over an underground lake. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s a must-do for any thrill seeker!
Aside from the zipline tour, there are other adventures available at the Louisville Mega Cavern. You can explore the cave through the aerial ropes course, which will have you climbing, swinging, and balancing on roped walkways through the cavern. The MegaTram offers a more relaxed experience as you ride a Jeep through the cavern’s huge caves and halls.
All of the Louisville Mega Cavern tours are led by professional guides and are suitable for all ages, so it’s one of the best Louisville activities for families.
3. Explore Historic Frankfort Avenue
Frankfort Avenue, or “The Avenue” as the locals call it, connects some of Louisville’s most exciting neighborhoods.
There are several Louisville attractions you can check out here, such as Carmichael’s Book Store, Louisville’s oldest indie bookstore, and the beautiful Victorian-era Peterson-Dumesnil House. And when you’re hungry, just pop into one of the 30+ locally-owned cafes and restaurants scattered along the avenue.
For even more fun, visit Frankfort Avenue on the last Friday of the month. This is when the FAT Friday Trolley Hop takes place. Ride the free trolley as it cruises along the avenue, and check out all the samples, specials, and sales along the way!
4. Learn Something New at the Kentucky Science Center
Exploring the Kentucky Science Center is one of the most fun things to do in Louisville for both kids and adults. Founded in 1971, it was first known as the Louisville Museum of Natural History & Sciences before it was renamed the Louisville Science Center later on.
Today, the Kentucky Science Center is spread over 50,000 square feet and three floors, so reserve at least an hour or two to explore everything it has to offer.
The museum is full of interactive exhibits that focus on different aspects of science, such as the environment, energy, health, and space. Don’t miss the Science Education Wing and its various workshop labs, as well as the four-story digital theater showing educational films.
5. Check Out the Attractions at Museum Row
Some of the top Louisville activities can be found on one street: West Main Street, aka Museum Row. As the name suggests, this historic stretch in downtown Louisville is lined with some of the city’s best museums. You can hit most of them up in one day if you’re short on time, or take your time and explore each one in depth.
One of the most popular museums on Museum Row is the Frazier History Museum. Here, you can learn all about Kentucky’s rich history, from its prehistoric past to its role in the Civil War. See ancient weapons, historical miniatures, and watch choreographed reenactments and fights!
Next, it’s impossible to miss the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. Simply look for the 120-foot-tall baseball bat, which is also the largest in the world! Try hitting a home run at the batting cages, then see how the famous Louisville Sluggers are made. Don’t go home without grabbing one of the mini Louisville Slugger bats as a souvenir.
Museum Row is also where you’ll find the Muhammad Ali Center. This is a must-see for any boxing fan or anyone who’s interested in the life and career of one of America’s most iconic figures. See Ali’s boxing memorabilia, watch documentaries about his life, and learn more about his social activism.
6. Meet the Wild Residents of the Louisville Zoo
The Louisville Zoo is one of the top family-friendly attractions in the city. It’s a 134-acre zoological park that’s been carefully designed to reflect the natural habitats of its 1,500+ animal residents.
Some of the most popular exhibits at the Louisville Zoo are the Gorilla Forest, which is home to lowland gorillas, and the Glacier Run, where you can see polar bears, arctic foxes, and more. For a look at the animals from Down Under, head to the Australian Outback, where you can find kangaroos, wallabies, and koalas.
The Louisville Zoo is also respected for its conservation efforts, and the Conservation Carousel is a fun way to learn about endangered animals and what you can do to help them. The petting zoo is a nice way to interact with some of the animals, and the ZooTram Shuttle lets you rest your feet without missing any of the action!
7. Travel Back in Time to Old Louisville
Your Louisville sightseeing list should include an afternoon at Old Louisville. This is the third-largest historic district in the United States, and it’s easy to see why it’s such a popular spot with anyone visiting the city. The beautiful Victorian architecture is something you won’t find anywhere else!
There are 48 city blocks to explore in Old Louisville, and the vast majority of the buildings here date back to the late 1800s. Most of the homes here feature stained glass windows, and they look stunning when the light shines through them. The variety of Victorian architecture here is outstanding, too, and you’ll find buildings in styles like Romanesque, Queen Anne, and Italianate.
Several attractions are in this area, such as the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, another preserved Victorian mansion filled with stunning archways, elaborate stone decor, and other period details. The Speed Art Museum features Native American artifacts and Kentucky art.
Finally, Old Louisville’s shady Central Park is the location of the yearly Shakespeare Festival, which is a must-see for any theater and literature lover!
8. Rock Out at Louisville’s Music Festivals
Louisville is known for its amazing music festivals, which attract big-name artists from all genres. If you’re a fan of a variety of music genres, you won’t want to miss the Forecastle Festival, which usually takes place over Memorial Day weekend. It’s an epic concert held at the Waterfront Park, and past headliners include the Foo Fighters, Beck, Jack Harlow, and other A-list performers.
Bourbon & Beyond is another can’t-miss festival, and as you might be able to guess from the name, it’s all about bourbon! This is a three-day festival located at the Highland Festival Grounds, and it’s bursting with rock star performances, celebrity chef showdowns, and of course, plenty of delicious bourbon!
Other festivals that should be on your Louisville bucket list are Abbey Road on the River (a Beatles tribute festival), WorldFest, the Big Four Arts Festival, Downs After Dark, and more!
9. Get Into High Spirits on the Urban Bourbon Trail
Following the Urban Bourbon Trail (UBT) is one of the coolest things to do in Louisville for adults! The trail highlights 35 of the city’s finest restaurants and bars that feature bourbon on their menus.
Make sure to grab a UBT passport before you visit any spot on the trail because you can win a special prize along the way! If you check in from at least six of the spots on the map, you’ll win a UBT shirt and become an official Urban Bourbon trailblazer.
We love how the Urban Bourbon Trail isn’t just a fun way to sip on Kentucky’s finest and nibble on bourbon-infused dishes, but it’ll also take you on a historical and cultural tour of the city.
For instance, 21st In Germantown is the oldest tavern in Louisville, and it’s been operating since 1887. Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar was one of the city’s very first bourbon bars when it opened its doors in 1972. Mark your passport at The Old Seelbach Bar, which is housed in an iconic hotel where the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone, and several US presidents have stayed!
10. Catch a Performance at the Louisville Palace
If you want to see a show while you’re in town, make sure to catch a performance at the world-famous Louisville Palace Theatre. This incredible theater was built in 1928 and is listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. It’s one of the last remaining movie palaces from the 1920s that’s still in operation today.
The Louisville Palace was designed in the Spanish Baroque style and can accommodate up to 2,700 people. Inside, the interiors are equally magnificent, with 137 sculptures adorning the curved vaulted ceiling of the lobby. Each one represents the face of a famous historical figure!
This venue hosts all sorts of performances, from musical concerts and comedy shows to holiday productions and performances by the Louisville Orchestra. Check the schedule in advance so you can catch a show during your visit. The Louisville Palace is conveniently located in downtown’s theater district on South Fourth Street.
11. Bike the Big Four Bridge Across the Ohio River
The Big Four Bridge is a former railroad bridge that’s been transformed into a pedestrian walkway linking Louisville, Kentucky, with Jeffersonville, Indiana. It’s named after the four railroad companies that used to operate on the bridge.
Our favorite thing about the Big Four Bridge is that no cars are allowed to drive on it, so it’s a safe and relaxing place to take a stroll or go for a bike ride. On either end of the bridge are peaceful green spaces featuring playgrounds, pavilions, and fountains.
The Big Four Bridge is lit up at night, so it’s also a romantic spot for a nighttime walk. The views of the river and skyline are simply gorgeous, so bring your camera!
12. Hop Aboard the Historic Belle of Louisville
Get a glimpse of what river life used to be like aboard the Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat in existence. The Belle has been plying the waters of the Ohio River since 1914, and it’s now a National Historic Landmark.
Aside from offering river cruises, the Belle of Louisville has a jam-packed lineup of activities available throughout its March to December operating season. Their calendar includes live music, themed events, curated menus, and even kid-friendly programming.
Even if you don’t have time for a cruise, it’s worth going down to the riverfront and seeing this majestic vessel up close!
13. Fill Up on Louisville’s Iconic Dishes and Snacks
There’s no shortage of delicious food to eat in Louisville, but there are a few dishes that are truly iconic. The Hot Brown is a Louisville original that will have you literally biting into history!
It was invented at the Brown Hotel in 1926 and has been a menu staple ever since. A Hot Brown is an open-faced, baked sandwich made with turkey, bacon, and a creamy Mornay sauce.
Another must-try, pulled pork also has its roots in Louisville. Go to any barbecue spot in town and you’re sure to find this on the menu. If you find yourself wandering around Schnitzelburg, pop into Monnik Beer Company and order yourself some pretzels with beer cheese. This cheesy dish is a Louisville favorite, and you’ll see why after just one bite!
The city loves its desserts, too. You can’t leave Louisville without trying a chocolate and walnut-filled Derby Pie, some chocolate bourbon balls, or a Modjeska, which is a chewy caramel with a marshmallow center. It’s another Louisville invention!
Wash it all down with a mint julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. It’s a simple concoction of bourbon mixed with fresh mint and simple syrup, but it’s oh so refreshing. You can find them at just about any bar in town, but try having one at Churchill Downs for the experience.
14. Enjoy the Outdoors at the Parklands of Floyds Fork
The Parklands of Floyds Fork is a massive park system that spans nearly 4,000 acres on the outskirts of Louisville. It’s located miles from downtown Louisville, making it a wonderful place to take a break from all your city adventures and enjoy some time in nature.
The Parklands is made up of four different parks: Turkey Run Park, Berkley Creek Park, Broad Run Park, and Pope Lick Park. They’re all named after Floyds Fork’s tributaries that serve to connect the Parklands.
As for outdoor activities, name it and it’s here! Hike or bike 19 miles of the Louisville Loop, plus 60 miles worth of trails through the park. You can also paddle down Floyds Fork or let the kids cool down at the “spraygrounds.” Most of the park is also pet-friendly, so feel free to bring your furry friend along!
15. Go Antiquing All Over Louisville
While Louisville has top-notch shopping areas, like Oxmoor Center and Fourth Street Live!, the city is also a terrific place to go antiquing. You never know what kind of treasures you’ll find!
There are several spots where you can look for vintage and unique items, such as Tickled Pink near Churchill Downs and Mellwood Antiques & Interiors on Mellwood Avenue.
One of the best old-timers is the Louisville Antique Market, which has been running since the 1930s. Aside from vintage trinkets, you can also find beautiful antique glassware and furniture here. Or, if you’re a fan of mid-century modern finds, Retro Metro touts itself as “Louisville’s modern antique store!”
Whether you’re looking for a new piece to add to your collection or just want to browse, Louisville’s antique shops won’t disappoint!
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Louisville. What’s your favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Planning a trip to Kentucky? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!