25 Best Things to Do in Louisville (KY)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky and it finds itself situated on the Ohio River by the Indiana border. The city is most famous for the Kentucky Derby which is hosted at Churchill Downs each May. There are plenty of museums in Louisville for the keen history buff to pay a visit to, including the Louisville Slugger.

There are plenty of independent business operators in this city and some major players as well. Louisville is a huge in the American whisky industry with nearly one third of all bourbons coming out of the city, including the world famous Brown-Forman.

If you like getting out and seeing a live show then Louisville should have enough to keep you entertained for a long time. Let’s take a look at the top 25 best things to do in Louisville.

1. Watch The Kentucky Derby At Churchill Downs

Churchill DownsSource: Thomas Kelley / shutterstock
Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs is home to the world famous Kentucky Derby as well as thoroughbred horse racing in Louisville. The racetrack fills an area of 146 acres and features an oval racetrack, a one mile dirt track and a seven furlong race course. Churchill Downs has been home to the Kentucky Derby since 1875 which is one of the most popular races in the world. On Derby day you can expect to see over 165,000 racing fans packing the stadium and cheering on their favored filly. When the horses are racing around a different part of the track to where you are standing you need not worry, the track also features the largest 4K video screen in the world.

2. Learn The History Of The Louisville Slugger

Louisville Slugger Museum and FactorySource: Hendrickson Photography / shutterstock
Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory

The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is located along “Museum Row” in downtown Louisville. The museum shows off the Hillerich & Bradsby Baseball bats that are known as the Louisville Slugger. The museum has 16,000 square feet of exhibition space and a section where you can learn about the production of bats. There are many historical bats at the museum including the bat that Babe Ruth used when he hit his last home run with the New York Yankee’s. There are many hands on exhibits to have fun with and you can even experience what it is like when a 90 mph ball is flying towards you.

3.  Understand What Makes A Thoroughbred At The Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby MuseumSource: 4kclips / shutterstock
Kentucky Derby Museum

We recently read about going to the Kentucky Derby but once you have done that you may like to learn what makes a great race horse. At the Kentucky Derby Museum you can learn about all the different stages of the horse’s life, from birth through to race day. There is also a section dedicated to the history of this great race and how many of the traditions you see today came about. In total there are more than 20,000 items to view including many items that jockeys and breeders have donated.

4. Be Inspired For Greatness At The Muhammad Ali Center

Muhammad Ali CenterSource: Thomas Kelley / shutterstock
Muhammad Ali Center

The Muhammad Ali Center has a mission to share with its visitor, not only the history of this champion boxer but also the ideals of the great man as well. Everyone knows about Ali’s amazing exploits in the ring but not everybody is aware of the 22 million meals that he has provided for the world’s most impoverished or the medical supplies he delivered to Cuba. You can learn about the 15 hostages that he helped to release from Iraq during the Gulf War and many other amazing selfless acts. Muhammad Ali has been named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations and all of these amazing stories come to life at the center.

5. Remember Those Who Died For The United States

Cave Hill CemeterySource: Lisa F. Young / shutterstock
Cave Hill Cemetery

Cave Hill Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Louisville and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Prices. The cemetery is naturally a quiet place, as well as a pleasant place to spend a couple of hours remembering the hero’s that fought for their country. There are over 200 confederate soldiers buried in section “O” of the cemetery. There are more than 500 different species of trees within the grounds including 24 current state champion trees. A stream runs through the cemetery giving it a natural divide from the east and west sides.

6. Have Fun At The Largest Science Museum in Kentucky

Kentucky Science CenterSource: 4kclips / shutterstock
Kentucky Science Center

The Kentucky Science Center is the largest hands on science museum in Kentucky and sits in downtown Louisville’s Museum Row. The museum was founded in 1871 as a natural history museum and over time it has changed to what you see today. The center includes a four story digital theater that was renovated in 2014. A new exhibit called Science in Play has proved to be hugely popular as it teaches kids through play. Kids can build roller coasters, learn motor climbing skills and much more.

7. Cruise Up The Ohio River

Belle of LouisvilleSource: Thomas Kelley / shutterstock
Belle of Louisville

If you like to get out on the water why not do it in style on the Ohio River. Take a trip on the Belle of Louisville which is the world’s oldest operating Mississippi River-style steamboat. The boat was built in 1914 in Pennsylvania and was initially designed to be a ferry. The boat is completely paddle driven and can be used on nearly every inland waterway that is navigable. There is a selection of tours that you can join and depending on the time of day you will even get lunch or dinner. Special events such as the Valentine Cruise are also worth looking out for.

8. Pitch Up At A Louisville Bats Game

Louisville Slugger FieldSource: Felix Mizioznikov / shutterstock
Louisville Slugger Field

The Louisville Bats play their home games at Louisville Slugger Field which is one of the most attractive as well as exciting pitches in minor league baseball. The stadium was named after the Slugger Baseball bat which originates from Louisville. The field has a retro-classic design and is much loved by the locals. If you want to take a tour of the stadium this can be arranged as long as there is not a home game being played. Tours last one hour and are on twice a day, the best news is the tour only costs $1.

9. Spend The Night At The 21C Hotel

21c Museum HotelSource: Thomas Kelley / shutterstock
21c Museum Hotel

Situated in the historic downtown area is the 21c Museum Hotel. A 91 room boutique hotel that is unlike any other. Apart from its bedrooms it also features a contemporary art museum, a cultural civic center and an award winning restaurant. The hotel is completely unique and prides itself on the one of a kind experiences that it can offer its guests. The hotel has won so many awards that a stay here is an absolute must if you visit.

10. Get Some Oxygen At Louisville Waterfront Park

Louisville Waterfront ParkSource: Leigh Trail / shutterstock
Louisville Waterfront Park

If you like big green spaces then you will love Louisville Waterfront Park. It is an urban park that sits on the banks of the Ohio River. It is known as the front door to Kentucky and a place for people of all ages to hang out and enjoy. You can experience spectacular views of the river, attend concerts, go for a picnic or read a book. The Thunder Over Louisville is hosted in this park and attracts crowds of 350,000. The park is set over 85 sprawling acres and has recently had its final phase completed, this included a pedestrian and bicycle section to the park.

11. Meet The Animals At Louisville Zoo

Louisville ZooSource: Thomas Kelley / shutterstock
Louisville Zoo

Louisville Zoo was founded in 1969 and covers 169 acres and has approximately 1,700 animals. There are six geographical setting in the zoo which are the Asian Plains, African Veldt, The Islands, Australian Outback and North and South America Panorama. The Gorilla Forest has proved extremely popular with tourists and is currently home to western lowland gorillas and patas monkeys. If you like polar bears then the Glacier Run exhibit is a great place to hang out and even includes a splash park for children to play in.

12. Watch A Live Performance At The KFC Yum! Center

KFC Yum! CenterSource: Katherine Welles / shutterstock
KFC Yum! Center

In 2010 the KFC Yum! Center was opened and has gone on to achieve a great status amongst the people of Louisville. Many of the world’s biggest and most famous stars continue to perform on its main stage, past performers include Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake and Lionel Richie. The center is also the home ground for the University of Louisville’s male and female basketball teams. There are plenty of different food and drink vendors located within the center so there is no need to eat before you come for an event, just arrive early take a seat in one of the restaurants and then head on down in time for the start.

13. See Fast Art At The Speed Art Museum

Speed Art MuseumSource: Ken Wolter / shutterstock
Speed Art Museum

The Speed Art Museum is located near to the University of Louisville Belknap Campus and is the oldest and the largest museum of art in the state of Kentucky. There is a large collection of Ancient, modern and classical art held within the museum with the main focus of the collection being on western art. The museum has recently been renovated which has doubled the floor space and seen the implementation of a theatre, café, shop and pavilion. Highlights of the museum include pieces by Rembrandt and Monet.

14. The Kentucky Museum Of Art And Craft

Kentucky Museum Of Art And CraftSource: PunkToad / Flickr | CC BY
Kentucky Museum Of Art And Craft

The KMAC museum has one key tag line which it explains exactly what the museum is about “Art is the Big Idea, and Craft is the Process” When you visit the museum you will begin to understand the relationship that art has with craft. The museum was opened in 1981 and since then it has built an interest amongst the local people in the rich craft heritage that the state of Kentucky has. The museum has moved and expanded over the years and now takes up a four story building in downtown Louisville.

15. Watch Performing Arts At The Kentucky Center

Kentucky Center for the Performing ArtsSource: Marianne Campolongo / shutterstock
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts

If you are into performing arts then you should make a visit to The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. The center is home to Louisville Ballet, Louisville Orchestra, Broadway Across America and the Kentucky Opera. With that many companies calling the center its home there are always performances to enjoy. There is also a keen focus on education and the center sends staff all over Kentucky to work with both children and adults to increase their performing arts skills.

16. Ride The Rides At Kentucky Kingdom

Kentucky KingdomSource: RozenskiP / shutterstock
Kentucky Kingdom

Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay are a joint amusement park and water park that have rides spread out over an area of 63 acres. There are a ton of rides to be enjoyed at the park including a variety of roller coasters. A new 5-D cinema at the park will make you believe you are actually in the movie as you put on your headset and sit back for a thrill. Overall the park is a lot of fun and features something for every age group.

17. Prepare To Be Scared At Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Waverly Hills SanatoriumSource: ConspiracyofHappiness / Flickr | CC BY
Waverly Hills Sanatorium

Tuberculosis was a major concern for Louisville in the early 1900’s and so Waverly Hills Sanatorium was built to house people with the disease. The hospital was designed to accommodate 40 to 50 patients, the patients and doctor’s would live in Waverly Hills completely shut off from the rest of the world. In the 1960’s a cure was found for the disease and slowly the building was left to decay with nobody taking care of it. The TV program Ghost Hunters has classified the building as one of the ‘most haunted’ hospitals in Eastern United States. Guests can take guided tours of the building and learn about the history of this once active hospital.

18. Stay A Night At The Historic Brown Hotel

Large Selection of Bourbon at the Historic Brown HotelSource: Rosemarie Mosteller / shutterstock
Large Selection of Bourbon at the Historic Brown Hotel

Brown Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a member of the Historic Hotels of America. The hotel features 600 rooms, ballrooms, restaurants and shops. Throughout the years many famous people have spent a night at Brown Hotel including David Lloyd George (Former Prime Minister of the UK) and Queen Marie of Romania. Once Lily Pons and her pet lion also decided to pay a visit. Throughout the years the hotel has changed hands and during the floods of 1973 the building was used to house many people that could not return to their own homes. The hotel has recently undergone an extensive renovation and a night spend in this historic landmark is a great idea whilst in the city.

19. Enjoy A Performance At The Actors Theatre of Louisville

Louisville Actors TheatreSource: Thomas Kelley / shutterstock
Louisville Actors Theatre

The Actors Theatre has been in Louisville since 1964 and it came about when two local theatre companies merged with each other. The theatre is hugely popular amongst the locals with 150,000 people attending each year. There are approximately 400 performances held annually as well as workshops and other theatrical events. The education department of the theatre works with over 17,000 students each year across the state and to get them interested in acting and the performing arts.

20. Take A Tour Of An Old Hemp Plantation

Farmington Historic PlantationSource: Thomas Kelley / shutterstock
Farmington Historic Plantation

Farmington is a federal style home that consists of 14 rooms and sits upon an 18 acre site. The property was built in 1816 and consists of just one storey that sits on top of a raised basement. At one point the home was the center of a 550 acre hemp plantation that was operated by 60 enslaved Americans who dwelled in log cabins on the property. The entire building has been completely restored to look like a 19th century plantation. The property is today open for tours and the main building can also be rented for privates events.

21. Get Active At E.P “Tom” Sawyer State Park

E.P Tom Sawyer State ParkSource: Brian Tuttle / shutterstock
E.P Tom Sawyer State Park

E.P “Tom” Sawyer State Park is a huge 550 acre park that was opened in 1974 on land that used to house Kentucky’s Central State Hospital. The park is a great place to go to get some exercise and fresh air. There is an activity center that includes a gymnasium, badminton courts, basketball and tennis courts, a weight room and an Olympic sized swimming pool. Outside of the center there are plenty of places to have a picnic, walk your dog and go on a nature trail.

22. Enjoy A Performance At The Louisville Palace

The Louisville PalaceSource: Nagel Photography / shutterstock
The Louisville Palace

The Louisville Palace has a seating capacity of 2,700 and was opened in 1928. The palace was designed by architect John Eberson and has intricate decoration throughout. There is a vaulted ceiling inside the building that has 139 sculptures of historical figures. Inside the theatre there is a night time sky painted on the ceiling along with many items of intricate art. There are a large range of shows and an ever changing list of performances at the Louisville palace so checking in advance is always recommended.

23. See The Inventions Of Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison HouseSource: Thomas Kelley / shutterstock
Thomas Edison House

Thomas Edison House is a modest shotgun duplex property that was built in approximately 1850. When Edison was 19 he arrived in Louisville as he had received a job offer from Western Union, instead of staying in the city he intended to ravel to Brazil. That plan went awry and Edison returned to Louisville and rented the property that is now his museum. Edison was only in Louisville for a year though because in 1867 he spilt some sulphuric acid on his boss’ desk and was promptly fired the following day.

24. See The Historical Cathedral Of The Assumption

Louisville Cathedral of the AssumptionSource: Nagel Photography / shutterstock
Louisville Cathedral of the Assumption

The Cathedral of the Assumption has had a long and interesting history, in fact the cathedral was nearly destroyed shortly after it was build when anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant activists attacked the cathedral. There are daily masses at the cathedral and the body of the church is able to accommodate 966 people and is made up of individual chairs with kneelers instead of the traditional pews. The inside of the cathedral has been renovated several times since its creation but it still manages to maintain its beautiful intricate finish.

25. Admire The Ronald-Brennan House

Ronald-Brennan HouseSource: Jack Boucher / Wikimedia | Public domain
Ronald-Brennan House

Francis Ronald was a tobacco merchant who initially owned this house before selling it to a gentleman called Thomas Brennan in 1884. The house is the last remaining Victorian mansion in the road and still features original lighting and furnishings. The townhouse is in an Italianate style and is split over three stories. The rooms are delightful and feature stained glass windows, hand carved marble and crystal chandeliers. The whole building is a thing of beauty and definitely worth a visit.

25 Best Things to Do in Louisville (KY):

  • Watch The Kentucky Derby At Churchill Downs
  • Learn The History Of The Louisville Slugger
  • 3.  Understand What Makes A Thoroughbred At The Kentucky Derby
  • Be Inspired For Greatness At The Muhammad Ali Center
  • Remember Those Who Died For The United States
  • Have Fun At The Largest Science Museum in Kentucky
  • Cruise Up The Ohio River
  • Pitch Up At A Louisville Bats Game
  • Spend The Night At The 21C Hotel
  • Get Some Oxygen At Louisville Waterfront Park
  • Meet The Animals At Louisville Zoo
  • Watch A Live Performance At The KFC Yum! Center
  • See Fast Art At The Speed Art Museum
  • The Kentucky Museum Of Art And Craft
  • Watch Performing Arts At The Kentucky Center
  • Ride The Rides At Kentucky Kingdom
  • Prepare To Be Scared At Waverly Hills Sanatorium
  • Stay A Night At The Historic Brown Hotel
  • Enjoy A Performance At The Actors Theatre of Louisville
  • Take A Tour Of An Old Hemp Plantation
  • Get Active At E.P "Tom" Sawyer State Park
  • Enjoy A Performance At The Louisville Palace
  • See The Inventions Of Thomas Edison
  • See The Historical Cathedral Of The Assumption
  • Admire The Ronald-Brennan House