With its abundance of quirky neighborhoods, a wealth of great food, and a calendar of unique annual events, Louisville needs to be at the top of your list.
Sitting on the banks of the Ohio River, an hour and a half south of Cincinnati, this river city has long been a destination for the Kentucky Derby, and a mecca for bourbon lovers. Over the last decade plus, it has seen a revitalized Downtown, a booming theatre scene, and a number of great museums. Down for a party? The bars stay open till 4am, and the locals keep it weird with a variety of corner bars, clubs, and a thriving LGBTQIA scene. The affordability compared with other major cities is another reason Louisville should become a priority.
Louisville is the perfect weekend trip to see what the largest city in the Bluegrass has to offer. Our guide to 48 hours in Louisville will leave you sufficiently stuffed and amazed by how much culture and diversity lie just south of the Mason Dixon line.
If you live within five hours of Louisville, we highly recommend the drive. They don’t call it the Bluegrass State for nothing, and a scenic drive through surrounding horse farms and the scenic countryside will be worth the hours in the car. If driving isn’t an option, fly into Louisville’s International Airport, or for better direct flight options, fly into Cincinnati (the airport is technically in Northern Kentucky). Renting a car is helpful, but if staying Downtown you can manage by using a mix of ride shares, scooters, and public transportation.
Spend a day on the Bourbon Trail
The Bourbon Trail starts in Louisville and winds its way through the Kentucky countryside to nearby Bardstown and farther east on the Bluegrass Parkway to Lawrenceburg. If you don’t want to go too far, Downtown Louisville has a few distilleries within walking distance of each other so you can check several off your list without getting behind the wheel. The proper way to enjoy the trail is by spending a day distillery hopping, and there are many tour companies that offer tours of the area, or you can drive yourself. The tastings themselves are about 0.5 fluid ounces each, so with proper spacing in between, you can enjoy the trail responsibly while being your own chauffeur. Buffalo Trace and the newly opened Castle & Key aren’t too be missed, most distilleries close at 4pm, so that gives you ample time to make it back to Louisville for a great meal to soak up all the spirits.
In the heart of Downtown Louisville lies a wealth of culture and museums along Main Street, otherwise known as Museum Row on Main. Start your tour at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and get your picture with the giants 120 foot(!) bat, which is a replica of Babe Ruth’s own Louisville Slugger bat. After you’ve gotten the tour and taken home a bat of your own, head on over to the 21c Hotel for a cocktail and bites at Proof on Main, and to check out the art installations in the lobby gallery. The 21c is a multi-venue contemporary art museum, coupled with a boutique hotel that exhibits the very best work of living artists from all over the world. Other gems on Museum Row include the Muhammed Ali Center and the Frazier Art Museum. Also Downtown and a few blocks off of Main Street is the historic Brown Hotel. Stop in to eat a famous Kentucky Hot Brown, which was invented back in the 1920s at this very spot.
The Butchertown neighborhood is adjacent to Downtown, and Butchertown Market anchors the area with its impressive list of businesses, shops, and restaurants. The market houses 8,000 square feet of retail space and is home to over 20 tenants with needs ranging from light manufacturing facilities to loft office space. Once inside the market, be sure and visit Bourbon Barrel Foods for their Bourbon Barrel Aged sauces, vanilla extract, and sorghum, plus bourbon smoked spices, sugar, and other Kentucky-Bourbon inspired items. Whatever you do, don’t leave without some of their bourbon smoked paprika, which will be your new secret weapon in the kitchen. Start or end your visit to the Market with lunch or dinner at Butchertown Grocery, located next to the market. The impressive chef-driven spot will leave you with a meal to remember from their menu of New American fare and seasonal cocktails.
Racing season at Churchill Downs is legendary. Seeing the Kentucky Derby should be on everyone's bucket list, but even if you visit Louisville outside of Derby weekend, you can still visit the cathedral of horse racing. Open seven days a week, the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs provides a 30-minute historic walking tour of the racetrack, and two floors of family-friendly interactive exhibits. Aside from the Run for the Roses, check the racing calendar, as there are spring and fall races during the months of May and November and other select dates throughout the year.
Not eating breakfast or brunch at Con Huevos would be a sin. What started as a tiny local spot has quickly grown into a multi-location, professionally designed breakfast wonderland. It mixes classic breakfast and brunch items with a Mexican spin—there will probably be a line when you go, but it moves quickly.
Speaking of Mexican food, you need to go to Mayan Cafe. Don’t expect your standard stereotypical fare, though. Chef Bruce Ucán is a Mayan Indian from the Yucatan Peninsula, combining the flavors he grew up with and the local produce and meat of Kentucky. Expect the unexpected with the seasonal menu, but make sure you start with the Sikil Pak, a hummus-like pumpkin seed dip.
If you’re a beer (or burger) aficionado, Holy Grale is a can’t-miss. The beer selection is a curated list of local and global rarities—there are 27 taps, plus an entire menu of bottles. The menu of European-inspired seasonal foods won’t disappoint either (hi, poutine). Many say their burgers are the best in Louisville.
Our favorite burger? Butchertown Grocery. But that’s almost doing this beautiful restaurant a disservice because everything on their menu has impressed us. Go for brunch and wheel yourself out, or pop in for dinner and enjoy homemade bread, pasta, and much, much more. There’s also a cool bar upstairs.
Louisville’s big-name chef is Ed Lee (you may have seen him on The Mind of a Chef or Top Chef), and his signature spot is 610 Magnolia. Reservations can be tough to get, but this prix-fixe tasting menu is sure to leave you wanting more—and if that is the case, you can try one of his other restaurants, like MilkWood or Whiskey Dry.
Photo courtesy of 610 Magnolia