Kentucky Derby Travel Guide for a Louisville Getaway
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The 148th Kentucky Derby will take place on Saturday, May 7.
Held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, there’s plenty to see and do in this captivating city at the crossroads of the South and the Midwest.
If you’re heading to town for Derby Day, the Kentucky Derby spring festival, or planning a trip to River City in the near future, there are a few things to check out in town.
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And a note for travelers during Derby season: it’s not just race day that has all the excitement. The month-long celebration leading up to the Kentucky Derby (the Kentucky Derby Festival) features an array of incredible events like the Pegasus Parade, the Thunder Over Louisville Fireworks Show and the Great Steamboat Race.
Be sure to call the venues or check the website for availability if you’ll be in town for the big day.
For a small town, Louisville is filled with many different types of restaurants, from lively Cuban haunts to classic barbecues.
Against The Grain Brewery & Smokehouse
For great food at Slugger Field, head to this lively restaurant with plenty of TVs and a stellar barbecue. Craft beer lovers will love the extensive brew list. Whatever you do, don’t miss the beer macaroni and cheese.
J. Graham’s Café or the Brown Hotel Lobby Bar
Don’t leave town without ordering one of the city’s famous Hot Brown sandwiches. A place to order one is at the Brown Hotel. A Derby City staple invented in this hotel in 1926, this sandwich consists of roast turkey breast, toasted bread wedges, Mornay sauce, Pecorino-Romano cheese, bacon and tomato.
Located opposite Churchill Downs, this beloved spoon has been serving breakfast and lunch since 1922. PS You may very well encounter a horse trainer or jockey during your stay here.
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This chic Cuban restaurant in bustling NuLu will teleport you to Havana with plenty of platters of hits like tostones, arroz con pollo (chicken and yellow rice), and guava-marinated salmon. Sister restaurant Guacamole just opened across the street.
hip hop candy shop
Got a sweet tooth? This bakery offers delicious cookies, hot chocolates and milkshakes. Be sure to try the banana pudding and “foxxy” brownies in Oreo, plain or turtle flavors.
Kentucky is known for its Bourbon heritage. Here are three choices for raising a glass. If you really love your bourbon, check out the Urban Bourbon Trail, where every restaurant on the trail offers at least 60 varieties of bourbon. You check in at least six locations to win a prize.
Enjoy a distillery tour in the center of Louisville’s Bourbon District at this beloved distiller. Don’t miss the gift shop for bringing home spirits and gifts for folks back home.
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North of Bourbon
Opened in 2021 in Louisville’s historic Germantown neighborhood, this bourbon bar is a tip of the hat for the connection between New Orleans and Louisville. If you want to follow up your drink with stellar food, grab a bourbon barrel-shaped stand and feast on Louisiana and Mississippi cuisine.
Black Jockeys Show
Grab dinner or a drink at this spot that pays homage to the black jockeys who dominated the Kentucky Derby. It’s located on historic South 4th Street, so get out of those wings and “first call” blue cheese coleslaw with a postprandial stroll.
“For the thirsty and the curious”, this establishment is tucked away in the Grady Hotel, one of Louisville’s newly remodeled buildings in 1883. In its former life, the building was occupied by JB Wilder – the owner of an apothecary and a bourbon distillery located in the basement of the building, where diners and drinkers can now indulge in delicious cocktails and Southern dishes.
The alcohol-free project
If you’re not a heavy drinker but still want to take part in the city’s festivities, check out this local initiative for alcohol-free fun.
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Culture and attractions
Kentucky Derby Museum
Come for the races, stay for the history and tradition. Visit this unique place full of memorabilia from the most famous horse race. You can also combine your ticket with a visit to Churchill Downs.
Old Louisville Walking Tour
Talented tour guides will lead you through Old Louisville with its wonderfully preserved homes and more than a few friendly ghosts. Fun fact: The neighborhood is home to the largest contiguous collection of Victorian-era mansions in the country, and history buffs will be thrilled as they learn about the area’s storied past.
Located about half an hour from downtown Louisville in Goshen, Kentucky, this working thoroughbred farm offers horseback riding tours, a local and seasonal restaurant (Barn8), and bourbon tastings with horses retired at Barn6.
TRF (Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation) at Chestnut Hall
Head to East Louisville for a tour of the historic farm, where you’ll see many beautiful horses. It’s about 30 minutes from downtown Louisville, but you’ll feel away from city life.
Louisville Mega Cavern
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, try underground ziplining at this 100-acre former man-made mine turned tourist attraction beneath part of the Louisville Zoo. The world’s only completely underground zipline course is a 2.5-hour expedition you won’t soon forget, taking you through part of the cavern’s 17 miles of subterranean passages via six ziplines and two challenge bridges.
Where to stay
This Autograph Collection hotel is within walking distance of the Big Four Bridge, a former six-span railroad truss-turned-bicycle and pedestrian bridge that crosses the Ohio River, connecting Louisville to Jeffersonville, Indiana, and to an adjacent waterfront park. There’s also Slugger Field, the Ali Muhammad Center and more. Located on Whiskey Row, the hotel pays homage to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 with a free bourbon cocktail for guests at 7:33 p.m. military time every night, and also offers excellent on-site restaurants and bars.
The Brown Hotel
This luxury property opened in 1923 and has been welcoming Derby Day participants ever since. The gold and black Muhammad Ali Suite, featuring a four-poster king bed and marble Jacuzzi, is the perfect splurge for a special occasion.
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The Galt House Hotel
The only waterfront hotel in town is the official host hotel for Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Head to Jockey Silks Bar for a celebratory drink to start your stay, then relax in rooms with river or city views.
The sacred goat
Display yourself in an 1843 church redesigned into four individual spaces. There is also an outdoor courtyard for you to catch your breath between events. You can book each suite individually or combined to accommodate up to 16 people.
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