Planning a Kentucky vacation? Save time in your itinerary to explore all the best things to do in Louisville. As the state’s biggest and most vibrant city, Louisville is a must-visit for any trip through the Bluegrass State.
Home of the Kentucky Derby, Louisville is a city steeped in Western influence—with an extra shot of Southern charm. With top tourist attractions like the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Kentucky Derby Museum, and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, you’ll never find yourself running out of activities in “Derby City.
Did this brief idea of what to do get you excited about your upcoming holiday? Dig a little deeper into planning your vacation with this complete collection of the best places to visit in Louisville, KY!
Must-see places to visit in Louisville, KY
Consider yourself an animal lover through and through? It’s time to plan a trip to the Louisville Zoo! Located southeast of the city center, the popular zoological park is one of the top points of interest in Louisville, especially if you’re visiting Derby City with kids.
Spread out over 134 acres, the Louisville Zoo is home to 1,700 animals in a variety of habitats. In addition to all your fav exotic pals (like elephants and giraffes), some of the most unique zoo residents include tapirs, polar bears, and Kenyan bongos.
If you’re looking to keep little ones entertained throughout the day, not to worry: The Louisville Zoo offers plenty of activities when you need a break from walking the exhibit trails. There’s a playground, splash pad, ropes course, carousel, and more to keep everyone’s spirits high.
Want to get a little closer to your favorite species? The zoo offers giraffe feedings, camel rides, and even a behind-the-scenes encounter with their resident sloth.
Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory
A trip to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a must for any baseball fans visiting Kentucky. You’ll love winding through showcases of MLB artifacts and getting a never-before-seen look at a baseball bat factory. You’ll also explore an exhibit dedicated to honoring black baseball players and their contributions to the game over the years.
If you want to take your experience to the next level, spring for the All-Star Experience. During this behind-the-scenes tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, you’ll gain exclusive access to areas such as the Slugger bat vault and archive room.
You’ll also learn about famous players’ personal bat preferences and help to craft a custom bat that you can bring home as a souvenir. Although the All-Star Experience is an investment, it’s absolutely worth the money!
Louisville Waterfront Park
The Louisville Waterfront Park is one of the coolest places to go in Louisville for outdoor entertainment. Located in Downtown Louisville across from the wharf, this urban park attracts local residents for weekend events, markets, and concerts. Be sure to check their calendar to see what’s going on during your stay.
Beyond the events grounds, the Louisville Waterfront Park is home to the infamous, neon-lit Big Four Bridge. Take a walk across the pedestrian bridge for spectacular views over the Ohio River. You can also hop aboard the park’s steam-powered propeller boat for some epic Louisville sightseeing.
Kentucky Derby Museum
Thoroughbred racing is the unofficial sport of Kentucky, and a visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum is the perfect way to learn all about it in an afternoon. This interactive museum will lead you through the history of the Kentucky Derby and take you behind the scenes of what it takes to bring this internationally revered event to life.
Among the most popular exhibits at the Kentucky Derby Museum is the Horseshoe Hall of Fame, the “Winner’s Circle” trophy showcase, and the Kentucky Derby’s first electric gate. There’s even a simulated horse race where you can try out jockeying for yourself!
The Kentucky Derby Museum is also home to a cafe and bourbon bar if you’re interested in some munchies and libations to round out your trip.
Kentucky Science Center
For a fun, family-friendly outing, plan a day at the Kentucky Science Center. This popular science museum covers topics ranging from space exploration to introductory robotics—and everything in between.
A couple of the most exciting hands-on exhibits at the Kentucky Science Center include a pilot training simulation and a create-your-own weather broadcast studio.
The Kentucky Science Center is also a fantastic spot for a kid-friendly cinema experience. Even if you’re not visiting the actual museum, you can check out the theater for screenings of science documentaries and popular Hollywood flicks.
For outdoor enthusiasts, Cherokee Park is one of the top Louisville attractions and a must-visit if you’re looking to unwind from the city street. The main attraction of the park is a two-mile hike through pastures, forests, and hills. Cherokee Park also has plenty of outdoor activity options, too, with playgrounds, splash pads, basketball courts, and more.
If you’re visiting Cherokee Park during the winter months, check the weather prior to your arrival. If you happen to catch some of the few days a year where snow sticks to the ground, arrange to rent a sled. Plenty of locals and tourists hit the slopes at Cherokee Park each year!
During your Louisville vacation, a visit to Churchill Downs is non-negotiable. If the dates line up and you’re able to score tickets to the iconic Kentucky Derby, then you’ve hit the jackpot! Otherwise, there’s still plenty to do at the Downs on any day.
Participate in some fanfare by going to the races. Put on your best hat and take in a thoroughbred race from the stands or from the comfort of a dining table at one of five restaurants on-site with views of the track.
For some added fun, be sure to place a bet or two on your favorite horses. (Oh, and don’t forget to take a selfie with the iconic bronze statue of Secretariat before you leave!)
This top Louisville attraction makes the perfect pairing with a day at the Kentucky Derby Museum; be sure to do both while you’re in the area. If you’d like to take a guided tour of Churchill Downs, you can arrange it through the museum.
Muhammad Ali Center
The Muhammad Ali Center is a top Louisville point of interest for both his personal fans and avid museum-goers alike. Founded in 2005 by Ali himself, the museum acts as a hub for cross-cultural learning and inspiration for self-development.
Though many of the exhibits focus on the life and career achievements of Muhammad Ali, the museum’s main focus is on the principles he held dearest and how to cultivate them in upcoming generations.
Aside from the permanent collection of mixed-media, interactive exhibits, the Muhammad Ali Center features rotating exhibitions highlighting current global issues and popular culture.
Louisville Mega Cavern
Created by the blasting of a limestone quarry back in the mid-20th century, Louisville Mega Cavern is one of the city’s most surprising places to visit. The former industrial site now hosts a variety of interesting attractions, from whizzing around zip lines and ropes courses to hiking through caves.
There are many ways to explore the Louisville Mega Cavern. You can learn about the history and geology of the cavern on an educational tram tour or go spelunking on a walking tour. For those with a more adventurous spirit, the underground zip-lining and aerial ropes courses are sure to be crowd-pleasers.
Frazier History Museum
Located on Museum Row in Downtown Louisville, the Frazier History Museum is among the city’s top places to visit for history buffs. Thanks to the museum’s central location, it’s easy to combine with a visit to the Louisville Slugger Museum, Muhammad Ali Center, or the Kentucky Science Center.
The Frazier History Museum teems with Civil War artifacts, historic weaponry, artwork, and traveling galleries that work together to tell the story of Kentucky. The museum also offers a wide range of bourbon-tasting experiences, including a create-your-own-cocktail workshop.
The Speed Art Museum
Art lovers visiting Louisville need to pencil in a stop at The Speed Art Museum. Located on the University of Louisville campus, this spacious gallery hosts a massive collection of working spanning several centuries and featuring works from around the globe.
One of the Speed Museum’s most riveting collections is titled “Black Artists Matter.” The gallery features the extraordinary work of Black artists hailing from throughout the United States. Movie buffs should also not forget to check the Speed Art cinema for screenings of award-winning indie films.
The museum’s restaurant is a great casual fine dining spot; if you’re visiting during lunch hour, try to save time to pop in for a bite.
Admission to The Speed Art Museum is free on Sundays. Be sure to leave some space in your itinerary for the museum if you’re visiting on a weekend.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
No trip to the South is complete without sipping from a glass of good ol’ Kentucky bourbon. And the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is one of Louisville’s tourist-approved destinations for sampling the South’s favorite spirit.
Located on Whiskey Row—a city block hosting several bourbon-industry giants—the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience can be relished by itself or along with all the other distillers on the strip.
At the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, you’ll tour the first distillery in the region, learn about the history of the Kentucky bourbon industry, and even participate in some superb bourbon tastings.
E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park
One of the top tourist attractions in Louisville, E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park is a must-see for nature lovers visiting Kentucky. Choose between three main hiking trails with varying difficulty levels. During your hike, you’ll traverse through woodlands, meadows, and several picnic areas.
Even if hiking isn’t your cup of tea, there’s still plenty to do at the 554-acre E.P. Sawyer State Park. Children will love scaling the playscapes, learning the ins and outs of a new sport at the archery range, and cooling off at the swimming pool/splash pad duo.
E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park is even home to a Supercross BMX track, one of only six of its kind in the United States.
Farmington Historic Plantation
For history buffs, the Farmington Historic Plantation is one of the most important places to see in Louisville. This 19th-century hemp plantation was once home to over 60 enslaved workers and provides a moving opportunity to learn about the dark history of slavery in the United States. The estate house was restored to its former glory in the early 2000s.
Tours of the Farmington Historic Plantation run from Tuesday to Saturday and only cost a small handful of pocket change. On the tours, interpreters tell dark tales of the property’s past as they guide you through the plantation’s garden, living quarters, and fields. You’ll also hear about Abraham Lincoln’s visit in 1841.
Conrad-Caldwell House Museum
The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum presents an opportunity to step back in Louisville’s history like never before. Dating back to 1895, this urban castle has now been converted into a historical museum where you can admire guided age architecture and opulent period decor.
Docent-led tours of the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum are available from Thursday to Sunday each week. The historic home opens its doors on Wednesdays as well for a self-guided experience.
You’ll also find several weekly events in the museum calendar; be sure to check for what’s going on while you’re staying in Louisville. Some popular, recurring events include an indoor Victorian garden, afternoon tea parties, and sip-and-learn cocktail parties.
Cave Hill Cemetery
A cemetery may not be the first place on your mind when researching things to do in Louisville. But trust us: A visit to Cave Hill Cemetery is a necessity on any trip to Derby City!
What makes Cave Hill Cemetery so memorable? Dozens of famous people are buried here. Megafans and admirers love to visit the cemetery to pay their respects.
Some of the most prominent persons laid to rest in Cave Hill include Muhammad Ali, Colonel Harland Sanders (the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken), and Senator James Guthrie.
The Cave Hill Cemetery also features beautifully landscaped grounds, with flower fields and lakes for visitors to roam around.
Kentucky Kingdom & Hurricane Bay
Located 15 minutes south of the city center, Kentucky Kingdom & Hurricane Bay is one of Kentucky’s most popular family attractions and one of the most popular day trips from Louisville. At this amusement park and water park duo, the fun never ends!
Kentucky Kingdom will delight you with a selection of carnival classics, including a Ferris wheel and spinning teacups, as well oodles of extreme coasters for the bigger kids.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Bay is the perfect destination for making a big splash. In the water park, you can laze around a cabana, zip down exhilarating water slides, or float down a lazy river.
Tickets for both parks are combined, so you always get two for the price of one; you can even purchase discounted two-day tickets if you’d like to dedicate a day of limitless rides to each section of the park!
Recommended places to stay in Louisville
For most travelers, the most popular places to stay in Louisville are the areas in & around downtown, including Whiskey Row and East of Market (NuLu). In these neighborhoods, you’ll find many of the city’s top hotels. If you’re looking for a more local vibe, Old Louisville and The Highlands are good options, too, offering a variety of vacation rental-style accommodations.
For an affordable and reliable central hotel, look no further than this Homewood Suites by Hilton. Book into one of the hotel’s rooms or suites to enjoy access to family-friendly amenities like an indoor pool, billiards table, and a courtyard lounge with firepits. Before settling in for a day of sightseeing, fuel up with the American breakfast buffet.
Get enchanted on your Kentucky vacation with a night at this fantastic boutique hotel. Located in the heart of downtown’s West Main District, the Grady Hotel charms guests with its old-world vibes, featuring elegant chandeliers, rich wood grain finishes, and sophisticated furnishings. Browse the hotel to admire its historical artifacts and original artwork, or find a spot in one of its dedicated reading spaces, limited with lit-up library shelves.
Add a dash of luxury to your holiday with a night in this gorgeous hotel. Located along Whiskey Row behind a historic former barreling house facade, this boutique-style hotel pays homage to the city’s distilling heritage with a barrage of unique bourbon-focused amenities. Enjoy a mouthwatering meal at Whiskey Row’s only oak-fired steakhouse, paired with a tipple from the restaurant’s rare Bourbon Country collection.