Kentucky’s third most-populous city can be found in South Central Kentucky, and has long been known as a center for manufacturing.
Since 1981 all Corvettes have been assembled in Bowling Green. America’s Favorite Sports Car still has the power to send tingles down your spine, and you could easily base your entire trip to Bowling Green around this icon.
There’s a museum of course, but you can also see Corvettes being made at the assembly plant and find out for yourself what a C8 can do on the museum’s purpose-built race track.
Bowling Green has plenty more up its sleeve, including the spellbinding Lost River Cave, the amusement park at Beech Grove, KYU with its imperious basketball program, and finally Fountain Square Park, the elegant heart of the city since 1872.
1. Lost River Cave
There’s an amazing natural wonder just a few minutes from downtown Bowling Green. Here the Lost River, only 400 feet long, flows through a deep and lush valley before disappearing into a vast chasm, filling a blue hole more than 430 feet deep.
On a guided tour you’ll trace the course of the river on foot before exploring the cave’s interior by boat. During the walk you’ll get to know about the cave’s enthralling past, as you follow in the footsteps of Native Americans, settlers, Civil War soldiers and outlaws like Jesse James.
The beauty of the cave speaks for itself, and no matter when you visit there’s a steady temperature of 57°.
The site is on more than 70 acres, and has two miles of trails that are open to the public free of charge. You can also borrow binoculars for some birdwatching, visit the stunning butterfly habitat, or fly above the treetops on the Flying Squirrel Zipline adventure.
2. National Corvette Museum
Close to the place where these iconic sports cars are assembled there’s a museum dedicated to Corvettes in Bowling Green.
This is the only museum in the world to be devoted to a single car model, which also happens to be the longest-running model in America’s history.
So you can delve into all 70+ years of the Corvette via hands-on exhibits, and admire more than 70 rare Corvettes, race-winners, prototypes and classics in mint condition.
There’s a racing simulator showing you what it’s like to drive a C6, and a KidZone, with plenty to keep younger minds on track.
The on-site Stingray Grill is an essential pit stop, with inviting options like avocado toast, blackberry grilled cheese, gourmet burgers and bourbon bread pudding.
3. Beech Bend
People have been visiting this scenic spot on a bend in the Barren River since the 1880s. Now Beech Bend is a multifaceted attraction, with an amusement park, dragstrip and campground.
The amusement park has gone from strength to strength over the last 20 years, adding a host of high-tech rides to go with family favorites like mini golf, a haunted house, a tilt-a-whirl and plenty of kiddie rides.
For thrill-seekers, the signature rides here are the Wild Mouse spinning roller coaster and the Kentucky Rumbler wooden coaster.
The Splash Lagoon water park arrived in 2010 and features a big roster of 16 water slides, to complement a lazy river and wave pool.
The dragstrip has events most weekends, March through October, and the NHRA SportsNATIONAL Open on Memorial Day weekend is one to look out for.
4. Historic RailPark & Train Museum
For decades, the first sight greeting people arriving in Bowling Green was the grand L&N Passenger Depot.
The surviving depot building was constructed from Warren County limestone in 1925, and was in use until 1979.
Nowadays you can head inside to find out everything you could want to know about the 160-year history of the railroads in Bowling Green.
The museum is filled with authentic artifacts, along with accounts from the Civil War and the African-American experience (the museum building actually comprises the old “colored” waiting room).
Outside is a fleet of locomotives and cars, including a WWII hospital car and one of only five known, pre-1911 Jim Crow segregation cars.
5. Fountain Square Park
This refined green plaza has been a linchpin for downtown Bowling Green since 1872.
Today it’s the defining feature for a newly revitalized central commercial district, enclosed by thriving local businesses, from restaurants to bars to shops for candles, homewares, clothes and jewelry, all behind historic storefronts.
Fountain Square Park is perfect for a moment of repose, with neat landscaping, genteel furniture and seasonal flower arrangements.
And of course, at the very center is the iconic fountain, looking better than ever after a recent restoration.
This space is the natural venue for seasonal events like Downtown Lights Up! in the holiday season and Concerts in the Park throughout the summer.
You can get hold of a brochure for a self-guided tour of the historic buildings around the square from the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
6. Western Kentucky University (WKU)
The campus for Western Kentucky University famously rests on a hilltop overlooking Bowling Green and the Barren River valley.
With roots going back to 1876, the campus is held as one of the most beautiful in the south, and warrants a little exploration on a tour.
If you’re a prospective student you can go on a guided tour, while there’s a free app that you can download for a self-guided visit, pointing out the big landmarks like the majestic Cherry Hall (1937).
WKU’s Hilltoppers and Lady Toppers have a fearsome reputation, competing in Division I of the NCAA. The men’s and women’s basketball teams, playing at the 7,500-capacity E. A. Diddle Arena and perennial contenders.
The men’s program for example has the 16th most victories in the history of the NCAA, and had a spell of dominance between 2001 and 2013, making seven tournament appearances.
7. The Kentucky Museum
This museum on the Western Kentucky University campus gives you an all-encompassing summary of the Bluegrass State.
In a handsome building with an imposing portico, the Kentucky Museum presents large collections of archeology, clothing, quilts, musical instruments, toys, decorative arts and pieces relating to figures as diverse as Madeleine Albright, Liza Minelli and Daniel Boone.
Whenever you visit there will be a dynamic assortment of temporary exhibits. At the time of writing, these included an insight into Kentucky’s famous Mammoth Cave, Victorian fashion and the history of Kentucky women in politics.
Also on the grounds is the 1815 Log House, endowed with objects specific to the early 19th century in the Commonwealth.
8. GM Corvette Assembly Plant
The next step for any Corvette fan is watching one of these precision machines being made. At the GM Corvette plant you’ll get a firsthand look at the assembly line to see the chassis and body of the high-end C8 and ZR1 coming together.
You’ll pick up mind-blowing details about the cutting-edge engineering that goes into a brand new Corvette on this mile-long walking tour, and will get to see gleaming new cars rolling off the assembly line for lucky owners.
Public tours last for around an hour and take place three times a day, Monday through Friday.
9. Aviation Heritage Park
South Central Kentucky occupies an important place in aviation history, from WWI fighter aces to commanders of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds and mission commander for the space shuttle, Atlantis.
This remarkable heritage is recorded at a free outdoor museum, with immaculately preserved aircraft arranged around a circular plaza.
Paired with detailed interpretive signs there’s a F-4D Phantom II 550 (with a compelling story), a Lockheed T-33A-5 Shooting Star, a Bell UH-1P Iroquois “Huey” and a Grumman F9F-5 Panther, to name a few.
A highlight is the NASA T-38 Talon, the world’s first supersonic trainer, on display in honor of local astronaut Terry Wilcutt.
10. Bowling Green Ballpark
In 2009 this modern baseball stadium opened in the center of downtown Bowling Green. The 4,500-seat Bowling Green Ballpark is home field for the Bowling Green Hot Rods, who play in the Minor League High-A East and are an affiliate of MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays.
When we wrote this list the Hot Rods were on a hot streak, winning two league titles in three years.
Above all, this is a relaxed, family-friendly place to watch a game, with fireworks every Friday and wacky themed days on Saturdays and tail-waggin’ Tuesdays when you can even bring your dog.
There’s also a kids’ play area, with a carousel, splash pad and play area, while the stadium doubles as a concert venue, having hosted the likes of Nelly and Jake Owen.
11. Riverview at Hobson Grove
With construction interrupted by the Civil War, this fine Italianate mansion was begun in the late 1850s and completed in 1872.
The Hobson family, which remained here until 1952, were Union supporters, but the partially constructed house was commandeered as a Confederate munitions magazine in the winter of 1861-1862.
The property has been open to the public for tours for more than 50 years now, and paints a picture of upper class life in Bowling Green in the second half of the 19th century.
The building incorporates some ventilation and plumbing systems that were unique for their time, and is capped with a stately cupola that you can climb for marvelous views.
12. Russell Sims Aquatic Center
On the west side of Bowling Green is one of the largest public water parks in this part of the Commonwealth.
Normally open Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, the Russell Sims Aquatic Center is a stress-free day out during the school summer break, staffed by American Red Cross-certified lifeguards.
There’s a beach-style leisure pool with play equipment and palm trees, a 50-meter lap pool, two long water slides, two diving boards and a splash pad for little ones.
And to go with all this there’s a reasonably priced concession stand for hot and cold snacks.
13. NCM Motorsports Park
A racing circuit to complement the National Corvette Museum had been in the pipeline for years before the $20 million project came to fruition in 2014.
This is a versatile track that can be broken down into different circuits, but the longest version, with a spectacular home straight, is the 3.2-mile Grand Full Course. As you can imagine, most of the events taking place here involve Corvettes.
You can also join in the fun, either with your own car, driving at speeds well above the highway limit, or behind the wheel of a state-of-the-art C8 Corvette.
There’s also a Kartplex at this facility, hosting competitive league racing, parties, corporate outings, as well as casual Arrive & Drive experiences.
14. West KY Brewery Hop
In the last couple of years, the Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has collaborated with eight other visitor bureaus and some 13 breweries in western Kentucky to create an exciting craft brewery trail.
You can pick up a passport from one of the participating breweries, and you’ll be eligible for a prize if you get a stamp from at least seven stops on the trail.
The two breweries local to Bowling Green are Gasper Brewing Co., where you can actually see beer being brewed from the taproom, and Blue Holler (under short-term refurbishment at the time of writing), which has as many as 20 craft beers on tap.
15. Chaney’s Dairy Barn
You can make the short trip out into the bucolic South Central Kentucky farmland to visit this dairy farm open as an agritourism destination.
On a self-guided tour you’ll get a good look at the herd of Jersey cows, as well as the robotic milker, one of only a few in Kentucky.
There’s a newly updated children’s playground and seasonal attractions like a corn maze to keep younger visitors entertained.
Chaney’s homemade ice cream, using milk and cream from these cows, is a big part of the farm’s appeal, and there’s a menu of more than 60 flavors (some seasonal), from vanilla to peanut butter fudge swirl, lime sorbet, bourbon crunch and birthday cake.
In addition there is a restaurant with a lunch and dinner menu, well known for its excellent chicken salad.