The Kentucky Derby may be known as the fastest two minutes in sports, but a trip to Louisville — the city in which this horse race takes place — can go much longer. Along with this prestigious competition on the first Saturday in May, Louisville has many culinary, cultural and sports-related finds.
Besides hosting the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs (700 Central Ave., 502-636-4400, churchilldowns.com) has horse racing year-round. Next door, the Kentucky Derby Museum (admission $15/adults, $14/seniors, $8/ages 5-14; 704 Central Ave., 502-637-1111, derbymuseum.org) tells the stories behind the race with displays of fashionable hats, pictures of previous winners and a 360-degree movie theater. Pay extra for a behind-the-scenes walking tour of the Churchill Downs Racetrack. The nearby general store Wagner’s Pharmacy (3113 S. Fourth St., 502-375-3800, wagnerspharmacy.com) was once a prime meeting spot for horsemen.
Sports and culture
Celebrate America’s pastime and learn how bats are made at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory (admission $15/adults, $14/seniors, $8/ages 6-12; 800 W. Main St., 877-775-8443, sluggermuseum.com). The Muhammad Ali Center (closed Mondays, admission $14/adults, $13/seniors, $10/military and students, $9/ages 6-12; 144 N. Sixth St., 502-584-9254, alicenter.org) honors the Louisville native through footage and images from key moments in his boxing career and advocacy. The Frazier Kentucky History Museum (admission $12/adults, $10/military and seniors, $8/students and ages 5-17; 829 W. Main St., 502-753-5663, fraziermuseum.org) celebrates notable Kentuckians through exhibits and live performances.
Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon. Get a taste of that heritage by visiting distilleries. On Louisville’s historic “Whiskey Row,” find Evan Williams Bourbon ($14/adults, $11/ages 11-20; 528 W. Main St., evanwilliams.com), Kentucky’s first commercial distillery, and Angel’s Envy (tours $20 by reservation only; 500 E. Main St., 502-890-6300, angelsenvy.com). Other notable distilleries include Stitzel-Weller (tours $12; 3860 Fitzgerald Rd., 502-475-3325, bulleit.com), home to the Builleit Frontier Whiskey Experience, and brandy makers Cooper & Kings (tours $15; 1121 E. Washington St., 502-561-0267, copperandkings.com).
For morning and midday meals, Toast on Market (closed Mondays; 620 E. Market St., 502-569-4099, toastonmarket.com) makes great lemon ricotta pancakes, among other breakfast and lunch options. Butchertown Grocery (1076 E. Washington St., 502-742-8315, butchertowngrocery.com) plates New American fare with impressive dishes like chicken and waffles. Gralehaus (1001 Baxter Ave., 502-454-7075, gralehaus.com) is a B&B with a first-floor coffeehouse preparing scratch-made morning and afternoon meals.
At dinner time, head to Italian spot Bar Vetti (closed Sundays; 800 S. Fourth St., 502-883-3331, barvetti.com) for house-made pastas; Ramsi’s Café on the World (1293 Bardstown Rd., 502-451-0700, ramsiscafe.com) for vegetarian and vegan options; Garage Bar (700 E. Market St., 502-749-7100, garageonmarket.com) for wood-fired pizzas; and Seviche (1538 Bardstown Rd., 502-473-8560, www.sevicherestaurant.com) for ceviche extending to tuna, shrimp, crab or lobster.
For drinks, try Mr. Lee’s Lounge (closed Mondays and Tuesdays; 935 Goss Ave., 502-450-5368, mrleeslounge.com), a 1920s-inspired cocktail lounge, or Holy Grale (1034 Bardstown Rd., 502-459-9939, holygralelouisville.com), a gastropub inside a former Unitarian church.
Good to know
Getting there: Fly nonstop to Louisville International Airport in about 2 1⁄2 hours from LaGuardia on American and Delta airlines, and from Newark on United.
Getting around: A car would be best, but Uber and Lyft are available.
Where to stay: Downtown options include the Omni Louisville Hotel (400 S. Second St., 502-313-6664), which features amenities like a spa, pool and fitness center, speakeasy night club, steak and chop house, bourbon tasting room and food hall; Hilton Garden Inn (350 W. Chestnut St., 502-584-5175); Embassy Suites by Hilton (501 S. Fourth St., 502-813-3800); the boutique 21C Museum Hotel Louisville (700 W. Main St., 502-217-6300); and the historic lux properties Seelbach Hilton Louisville (500 S. Fourth St., 502-585-3200) and the Brown Hotel (335 W. Broadway, 502-209-7346), where the hot brown sandwich was invented.