Kentucky Derby travel guide for a Louisville getaway
The Kentucky Derby is one of the country’s most popular horse racing events, attracting thousands of visitors to the city of Louisville every year.
Held annually at Churchill Downs, there’s much to see and do in this captivating city at the crossroads of the South and the Midwest.
If you’re heading to town for Derby Day, the spring Kentucky Derby Festival or eyeing a trip to River City in the near future, there are a few things to check out while in town.
One note for travelers during Derby season; it’s not just race day that has all the excitement.
The month-long celebration leading up to the Kentucky Derby (the Kentucky Derby Festival) has an entire lineup of amazing events like the Pegasus Parade, Thunder Over Louisville fireworks show and the Great Steamboat Race.
Be sure to call venues or check the website for availability if you’ll be in town for the big day.
For a smaller city, Louisville is brimming with many types of restaurants, from buzzy Cuban haunts to classic barbecue joints. The city has various culinary tastes that will help enhance your dining experience while visiting the Derby.
Consider stopping by these restaurants to discover the best the city offers during your stay with family and friends.
- Against The Grain Brewery & Smokehouse
- J. Graham’s Café or the Lobby Bar at The Brown Hotel
- Wagner’s Pharmacy
- La Bodeguita
- Hip Hop Sweet Shop
For great grub at Slugger Field, head to this upbeat eatery with plenty of TVs and stellar BBQ. Craft beer fans will love the sizable brew list.
Whatever you do, don’t miss the mac and beer cheese.
Don’t skip town without ordering one of the city’s famed Hot Brown sandwiches. One spot to order one is at The Brown Hotel.
A Derby City staple invented at this hotel in 1926, this sandwich consists of roasted turkey breast, toast points, Mornay sauce, Pecorino-Romano cheese, bacon and tomato.
Located across the street from Churchill Downs, this beloved greasy spoon has been doling out breakfast and lunch since 1922.
You may very well run into a horse trainer or jockey during your time here.
This swanky Cuban restaurant in the buzzing NuLu neighborhood will teleport you to Havana with heaping platters of hits like tostones, arroz con pollo (chicken and yellow rice) and salmon marinated in guava. Sister restaurant Guacamole just recently opened down the street.
Got a sweet tooth? This bakery has delectable cookies, hot chocolates and milkshakes. Be sure to try the “bangin’” banana pudding and “foxxy” brownies in Oreo, plain or turtle flavors.
Kentucky is known for its bourbon heritage. Here are three picks for where to raise a glass.
If you really love your bourbon, check out the Urban Bourbon Trail, where each restaurant on the trail carries at least 60 varieties of bourbon. You check in at least six locations to win a prize.
- Angel’s Envy
- North of Bourbon
- Black Jockeys Lounge
- Wild Swann
- The Mocktail Project
Enjoy a distillery tour in the center of Louisville’s Bourbon District at this beloved distiller. Don’t miss the gift shop to take home some spirits and presents for the folks back at home.
Opened in 2021 in Louisville’s historic Germantown neighborhood, this bourbon bar is a hat tip to the link between New Orleans and Louisville. If you want to chase your drink with some stellar fare, grab a bourbon-barrel shaped booth and feast on Louisiana and Mississippi cuisine.
Grab dinner or drinks at this spot that pays homage to the Black jockeys who have dominated the Kentucky Derby. It’s located on historic South 4th Street, so walk off those wings and “first call” bleu cheese coleslaw with a postprandial stroll.
“For the thirsty and the curious” this establishment is tucked into The Grady Hotel, one of Louisville’s recently repurposed buildings from 1883. In its former life, the building was occupied by J.B. Wilder – the owner of an apothecary and bourbon distillery located in the building’s basement, where diners and drinkers can now indulge in delectable cocktails and Southern fare.
If you’re not much of a drinker but still want to partake in the festivities around town, check out this local initiative for alcohol-free fun.
Beyond the food and beverages, Louisville is also a hub of cultural and historical attractions that will help fill up your schedule before or after you visit the Kentucky Derby. Read below to find out the top historical and cultural that will help expand your knowledge and appreciation for the city of Louisville.
- Kentucky Derby Museum
- Old Louisville Walking Tour
- Hermitage Farm
- TRF (Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation) at Chestnut Hall
- Louisville Mega Cavern.
Come for the races; stay for the history and tradition. Tour the Kentucky Derby Museum’s unique venue, brimming with mementos from the most famous of horse races. You can also pair your ticket with a tour of Churchill Downs. The two-floored museum showcases information about some of the greatest races at the Derby, and teaches visitors about how to breed and train race horses.
Talented tour guides will walk you through Old Louisville with its wonderfully preserved homes and more than a few friendly ghosts. Fun fact, the neighborhood is home to the largest contiguous collection of Victorian-era mansions in the country and history buffs are in for a veritable treat as you learn about the region’s storied past.
Located about a half-hour away from downtown Louisville in Goshen, Kentucky, this working thoroughbred farm has horse tours, a locally-sourced and seasonally-focused restaurant (Barn8) and bourbon tastings with retired horses at Barn6.
Head to East Louisville for a tour around the historic farmstead, where you’ll see many gorgeous horses. It’s about 30 minutes from downtown Louisville, but you’ll feel eons away from city life.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, try underground zip-lining at this 100-acre former man-made mine turned tourist attraction beneath a portion of the Louisville Zoo. The world’s only fully underground zip line course is a 2.5-hour expedition that you won’t soon forget, taking you through a portion of the cavern’s 17 miles of underground passageways via six zip lines and two challenge bridges.
Finding the most affordable, safe, and quality place to stay during a vacation is essential to enjoying your time away from home. Take a look at these local Louisville hotel spots to see if they fit you.
- Hotel Distil
- The Brown Hotel
- The Galt House Hotel
- The Holy Goat.
This autograph collection hotel is withinalking distance to Big Four Bridge, a six-span former railroad truss turned bicycle and pedestrian bridge that crosses the Ohio River, connecting Louisville to Jeffersonville, Indiana, and an adjacent waterfront park. There’s also Slugger Field, the Muhammad Ali Center and much more. Located on Whiskey Row, the hotel pays homage to the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 with a free bourbon cocktail for guests at 1933 military time (7:33 p.m.) every evening and also offers great dining and drinking on-site.
This luxury property first opened in 1923 and has been hosting Derby Day attendees since. The gold-and-black Muhammad Ali Suite, complete with a four-poster king bed and marble Jacuzzi tub, is the perfect splurge for a special occasion.
The city’s only riverfront hotel property is the official host hotel of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Mosey up to the bar at Jockey Silks for a celebratory drink to start your stay and then relax in rooms with river or city views.
Post up in an 1843 church reimagined as four individual spaces. There’s also an outdoor courtyard for you to catch your breath between events.
You can book each suite individually or combined to house up to 16.