Louisville, Kentucky, beckons with a balance of traditional and modern treasures. This itinerary swings from time-honored horseracing events to contemporary art exhibits — fueled by sips of perfectly aged bourbon and meals in sleek city settings.
If it’s the first of the month, join the First Friday Hop downtown to browse art galleries, original boutiques and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, where changing exhibitions bring an avant-garde edge to the city. Grab dinner and drinks at any of the participating restaurants and bars, including at least one craft brewery.
Several companies conduct tours of Louisville’s food and drink scene, but in this friendly city, it’s easy to guide your own. The Urban Bourbon Trail provides a ready-made itinerary. Pick it up on Whiskey Row, where roughly 50 distilleries operated a century ago. Kentucky’s first commercial distillery, Evan Williams, is open for tours. Though a new facility gleams, the bourbon-making process guests witness is timeless. (Whiskey Row sits near the Ohio River — return at night when it reflects the lights of the city skyline and to visit the bars and restaurants of The Row.)
Select other distillery stops or head to Butchertown Market for souvenir shopping. This repurposed brick complex showcases original retailers and artisan food producers including Cellar Door Chocolates (try a Mint Julep Bourbon Ball, a bite-sized chocolate confection infused with mint and Kentucky bourbon). At Bourbon Barrel Foods, shop for bourbon-infused sauces and sorghum, and ask about mixology and cooking classes in the kitchen studio.
The Urban Bourbon Trail leads to restaurants and bars with special connections to help you further explore bourbon. The Old Seelbach Bar, a 1920s haunt of American gangsters including Al Capone, pours from an extensive bourbon collection inside the Beaux Arts-styled Seelbach Hilton Hotel. The 21c Museum Hotel boasts serious collections of art and bourbon, and the Fork + Bottle dinner series at its chic Proof restaurant features guest distillers, brewers and wine-makers.
Start with brunch at J. Graham’s Café at the historic Brown Hotel, where the Kentucky Hot Brown originated in 1926. This open-faced sandwich is layered with roasted turkey breast, creamy Mornay sauce, Pecorino-Romano cheese, bacon and tomato, and baked to a bubbly, golden brown.
For the afternoon, tour the Kentucky Derby Museum. Better yet, plan a trip to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Select dates April through November, live racing thunders beneath the Downs’ iconic twin spires.