A southwestern suburb of Louisville, Shively is a community of just over 15,000, set close to many of the metro area’s highlights.
Foremost of these is Churchill Downs, the world-renowned racetrack, staging the Kentucky Derby every May, well worth visiting for the Kentucky Derby Museum and guided tour .
The University of Louisville’s Belknap Campus is also minutes away, with a mix of culture, sports action and scientific discoveries for the public.
You’ve also got the region’s top theme park, Kentucky Kingdom, as well as an historic bourbon distillery, the architectural delights of Old Louisville and stately parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
1. Churchill Downs
The world’s most famous racetrack, and one of the most important venues in American sports, is just a short hop from Shively.
Churchill Downs was built in 1875 by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. (1846-1899), who was grandson of William Clark, of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.
There’s a host of Graded events at Churchill Downs, but of course the most prestigious is the Kentucky Derby, almost always held on the first Saturday in May.
For some extra background you can come for the Historic Walking Tour, available with general admission and held throughout the day, seven days a week.
On this half-hour flying visit you’ll recall legendary winners like Secretariat and Aristides, stopping at the paddock and grandstand, picking up all kinds of trivia as you go.
2. Kentucky Derby Museum
You don’t need to be a horse racing fanatic to be inspired by the Kentucky Derby Museum, an interactive attraction charged with all the drama and magic of that distinguished, 150-year-old event.
For people coming in with a blank slate, the 18-minute film, The Greatest Race will show you what all the fuss is about.
Over two floors of exhibits you can watch every single Kentucky Race going back to 1918, check out a replica of the iconic Winner’s Circle, see how racetrack fashions have changed down the years, find out the road that thoroughbreds travel to get to the Kentucky Derby and lear the rich African American contributions to this sport.
There’s a large gift shop here, and if you’re in the mood for a mint julep you can drop by the Derby Café & Bourbon Bar.
3. The Speed Art Museum
Louisville’s premier art museum is on the UofL campus but is a separate institution. It reopened in 2016 following a $60m expansion.
The original Neoclassical building was designed by Louisville architect Arthur Loomis and opened in 1927, while that ultramodern extension was by Kulapat Yantrasast of whY architecture and tripled the museum’s exhibit space.
Spanning six millennia of human creativity, the collection specializes in ancient art, American art, African art, Native American art, European art and contemporary art.
An amazing roster of famous artists is represented, including Monet, Rodin, Rubens, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Picasso, Alice Neel, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargeant and Frank Stella.
When we made this list Claude Monet’s Nymphéas was on loan, and there were exciting shows for the likes of Wolfgang Buttress, Sanford Biggers and Enid Yandell.
4. Stitzel-Weller Distillery
Right in Shively you can visit a bourbon distillery that first opened on Derby Day 1935.
The Stitzel–Weller Distillery resonates with history, as the place where numerous iconic whiskey brands were produced, among them W. L. Weller, Pappy Van Winkle, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, Old Weller and Weller’s Cabin Still.
The original distillery closed in 1992 and reopened to the public in 2014 as a place to immerse yourself in Kentucky’s rich bourbon tradition while discovering the innovations that keep the industry fresh.
With a huge capacity of 300,000 barrels, this facility is mostly used for aging, and on a guided tour you’ll see an active barrel house, cooper shop and micro still-house for experimentation and research.
A visit concludes with a whiskey flight, or if you’re pushed for time, you can just come for a guided or self-guided tasting experience.
5. Iroquois Park
The eminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903) contributed designs for a series of parks on the outskirts of Louisville in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Arguably the finest of these is Iroquois Park on Shively’s doorstep and cherished for the magnificent views from its highest point. At 725 acres, the park was laid out on a large knob covered with old growth forest.
You can look across to downtown Louisville from the summit, noticing just how wooded the metro area is. Among the park’s facilities are a horse riding stable, a disc golf course, an 18-hole golf course and basketball courts.
Aside from the overlook, the most famous feature is the Iroquois Amphitheater, a WPA project with a capacity of 2,348 and still a venue for major public events.
6. Waverly Hills Sanatorium
This awe-inspiring Tudor Gothic Revival landmark testifies to a dramatic tuberculosis outbreak in Jefferson County at the turn of the 20th century.
The Waverly Hills Sanatorium first opened as a two-story construction but soon needed to be expanded, and the current mammoth five-story building was completed in 1926.
With the development of streptomycin in the 1940s, the sanatorium became obsolete, closing in 1961 but placed on the National Register of Historic Places shortly after.
In the intervening years, the building has been used as a nursing home, while there were short-lived plans for a prison in the 1980s. As of today, the Waverley Hills Historical Society raises money for restoration works by conducting guided tours.
These are highly popular and range from two-hour daytime visits to six-hour explorations appealing to ghost hunters.
7. Old Louisville
The UofL campus marks the beginning of the third-largest historic district in the United States, extending all the way to downtown Louisville.
Preserving a cityscape mostly developed between 1880 and 1910, Old Louisville is made up of around 50 city blocks, and is almost entirely dominated by Victorian residential architecture.
To give you an idea of the opulence in store, this district features the highest concentration of residential stained glass in the United States.
The best way to see Old Louisville is via an hour-long walking tour, offered by Historic Old Louisville Walking Tours, guiding you around the sumptuous mansion district, Tuesday through Saturday.
Any self-guided visit has to take in Central Park, also planned by Frederick Law Olmsted at the turn of the century.
8. Cardinal Stadium
One of the country’s great college football stadiums commands the south end of the University of Louisville Campus.
Cardinal Stadium opened in 1998, but has recently been modernized and expanded to a current capacity of 61,000. The Cardinals are in the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision and compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
When we wrote this list there were seven former Cardinals in the NFL, including quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner and 2019 NFL MVP.
If you had to pick a standout alumnus it would be Johnny Unitas (1933-2002), one of the all-time great quarterbacks and remembered with a statue on the flight deck.
Players rub the statue for good luck before running onto the field, one of a few unique traditions associated with the Cardinals.
There are several lots beside the stadium designated for tailgating on game days, and one of the big pregame spectacles is the Card March when the team gets off the bus at Floyd Street and makes its way to Gate 4.
9. Kentucky Kingdom
Open April through September, Louisville’s own amusement park can be found at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds, next to the Kentucky Exposition Center.
Kentucky Kingdom has come roaring back from a five-year closure up to 2014, and is now owned by Herschend Family Entertainment.
There are more than 70 rides and attractions at Kentucky Kingdom, among them six roller coasters like the $10m Storm Chaser and the Kentucky Flyer, a family-friendly wooden coaster unveiled in 2019 to celebrate the park’s 30th anniversary.
Other highlights include the 150-foot Giant Wheel and the expansive King Louie’s Playland, one of the largest children’s zones in the country, packed with kiddie rides, many of which also accommodate parents.
10. Hurricane Bay
We need a separate entry to talk about the waterpark included with the price of admission at Kentucky Kingdom.
Hurricane Bay, first opened in 1992 and vastly expanded when Kentucky Kingdom reopened in 2014, is a day out in its own right, and the best reason to opt for a two-day pass.
A slew of new attractions were unveiled following that expansion, including the lazy river Adventure River, the massive Family Wave Lagoon wave pool, the 52-foot Plummet Summit ride and two sets of slide complexes.
One water slide for thrillseekers is the Deep Water Dive, 377 feet long, dropping you 121 feet at a 70° angle. For youngsters there’s the sprawling Buccaneer Beach, with interactive play features and smaller water slides.
11. Gheens Science Hall and Rauch Planetarium
Another great reason to pay a visit to the UofL’s Belknap campus is for this breathtaking full-dome planetarium, open to the public for all kinds of shows.
The Rauch Planetarium is equipped with state-of-the-art multimedia projection systems for eye-popping shows revealing the latest astronomical research.
You can go on a journey through the solar system or wider universe, or dive into terrestrial topics like volcanos or Earth’s climate system.
The building’s lobby is also an exhibit space devoted to the cosmos, showing off an exceptional collection of meteorites.
12. The Little Loomhouse
Embedded in woods close by in Kenwood Hill is a set of three historic cabins, built between 1870 and 1896, and on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.
The Esta Cabin was the first of these, initially serving as an office for one Beoni Figg, who was in the timber, charcoal and quarry businesses. In the 1890s the sisters Patty and Mildred Hill are thought to have composed the tune for “Happy Birthday to You” in this very building.
The three cabins were acquired by the professional weaver Lou Tate in 1939, and continue to be a center of excellence for the art of hand-weaving as The Little Loomhouse.
You can come for tours, demonstrations and classes on weaving and spinning to people of all ages. The Esta Cabin encapsulates the history of the site, while there’s a gift shop and gallery in the Wisteria Cabin and a working studio in the Tophouse.
13. Waverly Park
Next to the sanatorium is a 300-acre park on steep, densely wooded terrain. One look at Waverly Park and you’ll know it’s a paradise for mountain bikers.
There are eight miles of winding, roller coaster trails, designed for all levels, and always a lot of fun to ride. Some of the climbs can be challenging, but none of the trails are too technical for less experienced riders.
There’s also a trail designated for hikers and joggers around the fishing pond, which is stocked with typical KY species like bass, bluegill, sunfish, catfish and trout.
The 9-hole Bobby Nichols Golf Course is on the west side of the park, and among the other amenities are a dog run, playground, picnic shelters and restrooms.
14. Conrad Caldwell House Museum
For an inside look at the Gilded Age grandeur of Old Louisville there’s an historic house museum on the south side of Central Park.
The Conrad Caldwell House was built in 1895 in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, designed by Louisville architect Arthur Loomis (1859-1935) who contributed much to the Old Louisville townscape between the 1880s and 1920s.
The house is composed of rusticated Bedford limestone, and has intriguing moldings of gargoyles and depictions of animals on the exterior.
The main portal is also spectacular with intricate vegetal patterns on the archivolts and supporting columns and capitals.
The interior, preserved in its Edwardian appearance, has exquisite woodwork and parquet floors, as well as period furnishings that belonged to the Conrad and Caldwell families.
15. Altitude Trampoline Park
The largest trampoline park in Louisville can be found in Shively, and is the perfect solution if you have children with excess energy to burn off.
The first thing to mention about Altitude Trampoline Park is its size, at more than 40,000 square feet and packing a range of activities into this space.
There’s an enormous main court for free bounding, a kids’ court, a dodgeball court, a gymnastics tumbling track, basketball lanes for dunking and a foam pit, along with an extensive area specifically for toddlers.
This is a handy option for children’s birthday parties, and is also great exercise for grownups, with a schedule of evening fitness classes.