Sydney’s City Guides: Louisville
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Growing up, Louisville was the standard location for weekend school trips. State competitions, conferences, and cultural activities were abound, and the city was only about an hour and a half away from my high school. Now that my boyfriend lives in Louisville, I’m finding myself spending even more time there, checking out all of the great local restaurants and tourist attractions that the city has to offer.
WHERE TO STAY
Since I live so close to Louisville, and usually stay with my boyfriend when I’m visiting the city overnight, the only hotel I’ve ever stayed at is the Galt House (140 N. Fourth St. Louisville, KY 40202). This hotel is the perfect location for exploring downtown, as it’s located on Fourth Street near the Waterfront Park, Fourth Street Live, and most of downtown’s museums. This luxury hotel is very nice with several amenities as well as several dining options (I personally would not recommend Cafe Magnolia – it’s overpriced with rather mediocre food. I haven’t had a chance to try Rivue, the rooftop revolving restaurant, so if you do, make sure to let me know how it is!). Some of the decor is slightly dated, but I believe this is being updated.
The rooms are priced pretty averagely for a downtown luxury hotel, usually ranging somewhere between $150-200 a night. These rates will increase dramatically however during special events such as the Kentucky Derby and Thunder Over Louisville, so plan accordingly!
Another option for a luxury hotel experience in downtown Louisville is the 21c Museum Hotel (700 W Main St. Louisville, KY 40202). This unique art museum/hotel combo is located within just a few minutes walk from some of Louisville’s top museums. Rooms here are pricier than at the Galt House, and are around $300 a night on average. The hotel’s restaurant, Proof on Main, is supposed to be delicious (and pricy, but apparently worth the money). Though I haven’t stayed here personally, I’ve heard great things, and I’ve visited the free art museum several times. This is one of my favorite things to do in Louisville, as I love art and free museums are always great! The exhibits change pretty regularly, so check back often to see something new. Also, a pro-tip: if you’re wandering around the area and need a free, clean bathroom, stop in here! Since you don’t need to pay an admission fee for the art museum, it’s easy to make a quick pit stop here for a bathroom break.
WHERE TO EAT
Louisville is full of local places with delicious, affordable food. If you’re looking for something inexpensive, check out Yummy Pollo (4222-B Bishop Ln. Louisville, KY 40218). This strip mall joint specializes in Peruvian-Style Charcoal Chicken. The meals include chicken (you choose your portion size & white/dark meat) and two sides and start around $8. The portions are huge, and the food is amazing! The chicken is served with two different sauces, a green spicier one (jalapeño cilantro) and a yellow one (similar to a garlic aioli). My favorite side is the potato salad, but all of the others are really good as well. Make sure to try the alfajores, which are delicious Peruvian cookies. Drink wise, they have a Pepsi fountain machine as well as bottles of Inka Cola, which is the most popular beverage in Peru. The owner is always around and is extremely helpful if you have any questions!
For a mid-range option with a great atmosphere (reminiscent of a much more expensive restaurant) and friendly service, check out Mussel & Burger Bar (Downtown: 113 S. 7th St. Louisville, KY; East End: 9200 Taylorsville Rd. Louisville, KY). If you couldn’t tell by the name, this Louisville hot-spot specializes in mussels and unique burgers. The downtown location is convenient if you’re staying in one of the downtown hotels, but the East End location is easier for parking and if you’re staying outside the city. Both locations have the same great food! I recommend the seafood burger, especially if you like crab. Their fries are also delicious and perfectly seasoned. And, if my recommendation isn’t enough, the Travel Channel recently filmed an episode of “Food Paradise” here!
If you want to eat where the locals eat, check out Hammerheads (921 Swan St. Louisville, KY 40204). This tiny spot is located in the basement of a house in a residential neighborhood in Germantown. Seating is limited and their are often waits, so get there early! Not too early though, since they don’t open until 5pm (also, they’re closed on Sunday!). For an appetizer, I can’t recommend the crispy mac and cheese balls enough. I’m not even a huge mac and cheese fan, but these are honestly some of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. The menu is pretty unique, ranging from barbecue, unique burgers (elk, venison, chorizo, and angus), sandwiches (I love the crispy catfish sandwich), and some signature dishes like chicken & waffles and shrimp & grits. This spot is a must-eat if you’re in the Louisville. When you’re driving through the neighborhood, look for the house with the hammerhead shark attached to the front!
If you’re looking for dessert, check out Dairy Kastle (575 Eastern Parkway Louisville, KY 40217). This campus hangout is always busy on warm nights, but the line is so worth it! They have tons of soft serve flavors, milkshakes, sundaes, and more. They only accept cash though, so keep that in mind before going! The Comfy Cow and Homemade Ice Cream & Pie Kitchen are other good dessert options. These are local chains, so check out their website to find a location that’s closest to you!
WHAT TO DO
There are lots of great, inexpensive things to do in Louisville, from museums to special events. As I mentioned before, walking around the art museum at the 21c Museum Hotel is one of my favorite things to do in the city, and it’s completely free! The museum is open for self-guided tours 365 days a year, and they also offer free guided tours on Wednesdays and Fridays at 5pm. The exhibits rotate, so there will probably be something new to see on every visit!
Nearby is Louisville’s Museum Row, a group of six museums on various topics. The most famous is the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory (800 W. Main St. Louisville, KY 40202). Here, you can learn about the world-famous Louisville Slugger baseball bats and tour the factory where they’re made. At the end of the tour, you get your own miniature Louisville Slugger to take home! Also, make sure to take a picture with the World’s Largest Baseball Bat out front.
In addition to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Museum Row includes the Frazier History Museum, the Kentucky Science Center, the KMAC Museum, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (a stop on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail!), and the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. Want to visit them all? Save nearly 50% off of admission prices by purchasing the Museum Row Main Ticket for just $31.99 (adult pricing)! This ticket is gets you one visit to each of the 6 museums on museum row, and is valid for a year after the date of purchase. It also includes one visit to the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company.
Traveling with children? There’s plenty of things for them to enjoy too! Kids of all ages will enjoy the Louisville Zoo (1100 Trevilian Way, Louisville, KY 40213). Louisville is also home to Kentucky Kingdom (937 Phillips Ln. Louisville, KY 40209), an amusement park with rides and attractions that the whole family will enjoy.
Make sure to check out the city’s calendar of events before your visit as well, especially if you’re visiting in April or May. The Kentucky Derby Festival is held during the two weeks preceding the Kentucky Derby, which is always held on the first Saturday in May. The Derby, as well as the festival, are must-sees if you’re visiting Louisville during that time. Make sure to check out Thunder Over Louisville, an air show and fireworks show that is the official kick-off of the Kentucky Derby Festival. If it’s not Derby season and you still want to learn about this historic horse race, you can always check out the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs (704 Central Ave. Louisville, KY 40208).
Louisville is a great city, and since I’m there so much, I’m looking forward to exploring it even more. Stay tuned for updates to this city guide, as well as some new city guides being posted in the future!
Have you been to Louisville, Kentucky? If so, let me know your top things to do!