Louisville is attractive, underrated and remarkably calm. Think of it as a hipster with pleasant Southern manners. An artistic town built on American sports icons and bourbon, it has evolved into one of the South’s most foodie cities, a delightful spot to eat and museum-hop between rounds of attempting North America’s best bourbon old-fashioned cocktail.
A significant city on the Ohio River in North Central Kentucky over Southern Indiana, Louisville, endures Southern and Midwestern perspectives and cultures. Known historically as the “Gateway to the South,” Louisville has long been a neighborhood’s transportation center.
Weather in the Ohio Valley is notoriously hard to predict, but this is a general guide.
- Spring begins in late March or early April, it usually is very brief, and summer-like weather sets in before the plants have had time to grow back their coats. Usually, this leads to pleasant weather for the Kentucky Derby, although torrential rain and snow are not hidden.
- Summer usually has a few warm and humid weeks, where nobody goes outside much who doesn’t need to but is generally milder and more pleasant than some other parts of the South. Brief but somewhat violent thunderstorms are expected during the summer.
- Fall starts around September, although an “Indian Summer” with hot and bright days often occurs that month, and it gets colder as it reaches November. Fall is widely considered the most comfortable season in Louisville, and many seasonal events are programmed for those months.
Let’s explore a few places to visit in Louisville.
Muhammad Ali Center: This must-see museum tells the story of the town’s most popular native: a town boxer locally named the Louisville Lip or, simply, the Greatest. Highlights among the interactive displays include a ring with Ali’s shadowbox and a punching bag to train your rhythm. Videos of his memorable fights and street poetry delight, but it’s how they’re put in context with civil rights issues and the Vietnam War that Ali fought for that give the place its energy.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience: The first distillery to start on Whiskey Row, Evan Williams, puts on quite an entertainment show. Displays take you back to the late 1700s when bourbon-making began, and Mr. Williams’ original still was drawing out his potion just a block away. The one-hour regular tour and tasting runs half-hour daily. The half-hour speakeasy tasting (per person $20) is great fun in a dark basement room.
Angel’s Envy: A micro-distillery that’s one of the coolest spots around, Angel’s Envy, bucks social tradition by completing its bourbon in port barrels, giving it a hint of freshness. The private tours are by booking only, held on the hour Monday and Wednesday, and on the half-hour Thursday through Sunday, in 12 maximum groups. A spirit tasting session follows. Don’t forget to look up at the Big Ass Fans! This, my friend, is the hippest part of the United States.
Kentucky Science Center: Three floors of displays and explain physiology, biology, computing, physics, and more for families (children love it) on historic Main Street.
Things to do in Louisville
- Take Louisville river cruises: One of the few surviving original riverboats in North America offers dinner cruises and special events. Or, if you can manage it, hire the whole boat! There’s also a smaller boat called the Mary M. Miller that does cruises. Check the official website for current rates and schedules.
- Visit Kentucky Derby Festival: One of the country’s largest civic events, the Kentucky Derby Festival, takes place for the two weeks before the first Saturday in May when the Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs. The most significant events include The Great Balloon Race, Thunder Over Louisville, Marathons, The Great Steamboat Race, and Thurby. Hippie Culture, local music, bourbon, and loud fans envelop the streets during the festival month.
- Try Recreational biking: If you want to bike for pleasure, consider biking “the parkways” to the three main parks (Southern Parkway to Iroquois Park, Eastern Parkway to Cherokee Park, and Algonquin to Shawnee Park). These were created just for bikers (and other “pleasure craft”), although now, mostly Eastern, will need urban cycling skills except perhaps on the weekend. But they still represent the absolute finest the town has to offer in biking – the three parks are brilliant, all have committed biking lanes.
What to eat at Louisville?
Local treats include the Hot Brown, a grilled open-faced turkey sandwich with Mornay sauce and bacon, and derby pie, similar to a pecan pie but incorporate chocolate. Of course, Kentucky is the home of KFC but, like most Southerners, Kentuckians take fried chicken reasonably seriously. If you want reasonable, tasty fried chicken, there are enough local alternatives. Considering that it’s not widely known for it, pizza is surprisingly good in Louisville. There are a lot of outlets and the market is quite ambitious.
Vegans and Vegetarians have plenty of options in Louisville, particularly at the numerous Indian, Ethiopian and Mediterranean eateries.