Lexington is the second largest city in Kentucky and arguably the most interesting and authentic city to visit in the state. Found just an hour to the west of Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville, and just half an hour away from the state capital of Frankfort, Lexington is perfectly located to make for a fantastic base from which to explore the rest of the state.
The surrounding region is rich in local culture, and aside from the large cities nearby, there are many small-town communities to explore, each with their own unique history and attractions to offer visitors.
Many of the best bourbon distilleries in the United States are located within a few miles of Lexington, including the world-famous Wild Turkey brand. Even if you aren’t much of a drinker, a tour of a whiskey factory is an interesting cultural experience which will help you to see how the drink has become so embedded in local life and history.
Further afield, there are excellent day trip opportunities from Lexington to nearby national forests, to the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and across state borders into nearby Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia and Tennessee.
Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, and it’s located around 80 miles away from Lexington. That makes it the perfect place for a day trip, and the perfect opportunity to visit the many attractions of this bustling metropolis.
The city is built on the beautiful banks of the Ohio River and in summer you can even take a classic steamboat cruise along the water. This is a historic place and there are plenty of museums in Louisville to keep you occupied for the day.
Baseball fans can visit the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory to see the world’s largest baseball bat, and learn more about the city’s long association with this popular American sport.
There are plenty of distilleries in the city, including the Barton 1792 brand. If you visit in May and you might be lucky enough to catch the Kentucky Derby, a world famous horse race that meets in Louisville once a year.
Frankfort is around 40 miles away and lies halfway between Louisville and Lexington. This is a small city, but despite being just a fraction of the size of its two much larger neighbours, Frankfort is the state capital.
This is one of the oldest settlements in Kentucky and the city is steeped in local history, from pre-European times to its modern role as the seat of state government.
Frankfort has a sense of grandeur that’s captivating to experience, from the elegant designs of the grand Capitol Building to the charming, leafy streets of the city centre. This is the epitome of Kentucky, and it makes for a great day trip from Louisville.
Lawrenceburg is just a half hour away by car, and this small Kentucky town makes for a great day trip that’s close to the city.
This is a must-visit destination for bourbon fans or for anyone looking to immerse themselves in true Kentuckian culture, because Lawrenceburg is home to the famous Wild Turkey Bourbon Whiskey.
This was one of the first places to be settled by Europeans in the region, and it has long held a place at the heart of the state’s history. Walking through the streets of the centre will take you back a hundred years, while a visit to the Wild Turkey distillery will take you on a journey through the history of one of the most famous drinks in the country.
While other cities in Kentucky might claim to be the most historic in the state, Danville can genuinely say that it’s a city that was here when it all began.
This was one of the first European-settled cities in the region, with origins dating back as far as 1784. Danville was also at the centre of local history and politics for years, until it was superseded by Frankfort, Louisville and Lexington in the 20th century.
In Danville, you can see the first state capitol building, the first state courthouse and the first state post office. It’s a great day trip for those looking to find out a little bit more about Kentucky history.
Named for the famous French palace and city, of course, the small town of Versailles isn’t quite as grand or as elegant as the famous French town, but it is every bit as delightful in its own unique way.
Just 15 miles to the west of Lexington city centre, Versailles is the heart of both bourbon and horse country in the state. You can visit the famous local distillery run by the Woodford Reserve Brand, and many of the local thoroughbred horse farms that have produced many winners through the years.
6. Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park
The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park is a protected area that has preserved the birthplace of one of the most famous presidents in US history.
This historical park is on the Sinking Springs Farm, where Abraham Lincoln was born and lived until he was two years old. Here you can find an intriguing museum that brings to life what the farm would have been like when Abraham Lincoln was born.
Down the road, you can also visit Knob Creek Farm, which is also protected within the historic park grounds. This is where Abraham Lincoln moved when he was just two years old and where he spent the next few years of his childhood.
Located an hour and a half to the south of Lexington, the small community of Corbin is a pilgrimage site for anyone who enjoys a meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
This is the home of KFC, where you can visit the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of fried chicken and tells the tale of Colonel Sanders and his fast-food empire which swept the world.
You can even eat in the KFC restaurant on site, which is steeped in fried chicken history.
8. Natural Bridge State Park
The Natural Bridge State Park is found to the east of Lexington and offers visitors a great day trip to the great outdoors.
This area of wild landscapes and forests is full of excellent hiking trails that will immerse you in the beautiful scenery. The highlight is the natural bridge that gives the state park its name.
This enormous sandstone bridge has been carved out by forces of nature that have left a huge, hollow gap in the rock. The gap is 20 metres across and more than 20 metres in height, and it’s a stunning sight to see.
9. Red River Gorge Geological Area
The Red River Gorge Geological Area is found in the same area of wilderness as the Natural Bridge, to the east of Lexington.
This rocky region of Kentucky is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the state, and for adventure seekers, it’s an outdoor paradise.
You can kayak down the river, hike through the forest or climb the rocky canyon walls.
10. Daniel Boone National Forest
The Daniel Boone National Forest is one of the largest areas of preserved wilderness in Kentucky. The forest is named for Daniel Boone, an 18th-century pioneer who explored much of the state.
Encompassing an area of 8500 square kilometres, this is a vast land of beautiful scenery and outstanding landscapes, stretching across much of the eastern portion of the state.
There are endless day trip opportunities from Lexington and countless hiking trails. It’s likely that you will need to return time and time again to really appreciate the scale and beauty of this forest.
11. Hoosier National Forest
Found on the other side of the state, around 150 miles to the west of Lexington, is the smaller but equally beautiful Hoosier National Forest.
At 800 or so square kilometres in size, there are plenty of hikes to be made through this forest, while the many biking trails have made it a favourite destination for mountain bikers too.
12. Tri-State Peak
Found in the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, the Tri-State Peak is a mountain that rises over 600 metres in height and that marks the boundaries of three states.
This is where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet, and a steep 1-mile trail leads from the base to a marker at the summit, where you are met with unparalleled views over all three states simultaneously.
13. Huntington, West Virginia
Huntington is a city in West Virginia. It’s a two-hour drive to the east of Lexington.
This busy city has a long history in the region and is well worth visiting to explore the many museums and the growing culinary scene. There are beautiful wildlife areas to the north which follow the winding banks of the Ohio River and offer visitors an exceptional taste of West Virginia’s spectacular landscapes.
14. Cincinnati, Ohio
Cincinnati is waiting across the border in Ohio, a journey of just one and a half hours by car from Lexington. Found on the Ohio River, the city is one of the largest in the state.
Visit the Cincinnati Museum Centre to learn more about the history of the region before exploring the bustling stalls of the local Findlay Market, a favourite for residents and tourists alike when it comes to finding some great food.
15. Indianapolis, Indiana
Indianapolis is the capital of the state of Indiana, and it makes for a long but interesting day trip from Lexington.
This is a big city and there’s a lot to see and to do here, from the world’s largest speedway to state museums and government buildings.