The largest city in Kentucky, Louisville is a unique vacation destination offering many fun things to see and do. Watch a race at the famous Churchill Downs racetrack, dine at a great restaurant, visit the Kentucky Derby Museum, explore the Muhammad Ali Center, tour the Louisville Mega Cavern, or plan a wedding. Best things to do on your weekend getaway to Louisville, KY with kids include the Kentucky Science Center, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, the Frazier History Museum and the Louisville Zoo. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1. Kentucky Derby Museum
© Kentucky Derby Museum
The Kentucky Derby Museum celebrates, engages, and educates visitors about the extraordinary experience that is the Kentucky Derby. One of the main attractions in the Louisville region, the Kentucky Derby Museum showcases the history, hospitality, and tradition of the world-renowned event. The Kentucky Derby Museum is one of the top Louisville attractions.
The museum features an array of world-class exhibits, including the Guinness World Record’s Largest Horseshoe, Resident Thoroughbred and Miniature Horse, and The World’s Greatest Race, all of which have attracted visitors from all over the world to admire.
Admission to the museum includes a historic walking tour of the Churchhill Downs Racetrack, The Greatest Race exhibition, a state-of-the-art 360-degree high-definition film, and access to all of the permanent and temporary exhibits and displays.
704 Central Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-637-1111
2. Louisville Mega Cavern
© Louisville Mega Cavern
The Mega Cavern presents the opportunity for a vast underground adventure where visitors can explore the history, geology, mining, and building technology of Louisville. It is also home to the world’s only underground zip line course.
Once a limestone mine that was found in the 1930s, the vast man-made cavern is part of 17 miles of corridors that run beneath the city and provides an array of exciting educational and fun-filled adventures for visitors of all ages.
Take a MegaZip Tour and zip line into parts of the cavern never seen before; explore the cave on challenging roped walkways on a MegaQuest tour; or hop on the MegaTram and take a Jeep-drawn ride through the vast halls and caves. Professionally trained guides lead all tours, which are suitable for all ages.
1841 Taylor Ave, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 877-614-6342
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3.Historic Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky
© Historic Frankfort Avenue
Known as “The Avenue” by locals, Frankfort Avenue is a section of road that connects some of Louisville’s most charming and historic neighborhoods. This vibrant corridor brims with character and is home to unique and locally owned boutiques, trendy art studios, galleries, and bustling cafés and restaurants and an array of attractions to explore, including the historic Peterson-Dumesnil House, the Louisville Water Company, and the American Printing House for the Blind. More than 30 locally owned restaurants offer a variety of dining options, from alfresco to fine dining, while a wealth of boutiques and shops sell everything from vintage items and clothing and outdoor gear to home décor, wine, and books. If you are wondering what to do in Louisville, Kentucky today, this is a great place to start exploring.
The last Friday of every month is known as FAT Friday Trolley Hop, and visitors can hop on and off free trolleys that cruise along the alley and explore the sales, specials, and samplings on offer. Frankfort Avenue also plays host to several annual events such as the Easter Parade, the Olde Tyme Christmas Celebration, and the Old Fashioned 4th of July Art and Music Festival.
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4. Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky
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Churchill Downs is the home of the famous Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks, two of the longest continually running sporting events in America. Opened in 1875 on Central Avenue in south Louisville, the thoroughbred racetrack hosts three race meets each year and has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championship no less than eight times.
The race track covers 147 acres of ground, featuring a seven-furlong turf racecourse and a one-mile dirt race track in the shape of an oval.
Churchill Downs also boasts a venerable grandstand topped with the Twin Spires (the world-renowned symbol of the race track) and beautifully designed clubhouse with private luxury suites and The Big Board – the world’s largest 4k video screen.
P700 Central Ave, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-636-4400
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5.The Big Four Bridge, Louisville, Kentucky
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The Big Four Bridge is a former railroad truss bridge that spans the Ohio River, connecting Louisville with Jeffersonville in Indiana. Constructed in 1895, the six-span bridge spans a length of 2,525 feet (770 m) and is 547 feet (167 m) and was converted into a pedestrian and bicycle bridge in 1969, earning it the nickname of the “Bridge That Goes Nowhere.”
Access to the bridge is limited to pedestrian and bicycle use, offering people from Louisville, Jeffersonville, New Albany, and Clarksville a scenic and safe way to travel between the cities.
There are urban green spaces on either end of the bridge, featuring lawns, fountains, pavilions, and a children’s playground where people can relax and enjoy the outdoors.
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6. Kentucky Science Center, Louisville, Kentucky
© Kentucky Science Center
Located on West Main Street on Louisville’s “Museum Row” in the West Main District of downtown, the Kentucky Science Center is the largest hands-on science museum in the state of Kentucky.
Founded in 1871, the center was formerly known as the Louisville Museum of Natural History & Sciences and then as the Louisville Science Center. The center is made up of two adjacent buildings. If you are looking for fun things to do in Louisville, Kentucky with kids, the Kentucky Science Center is a great place to visit.
The 150,000 square foot main building was built in 1878 as a dry goods warehouse. The second building, the 37,000 square foot Alexander Building, was built in 1880. Today, the center features a four story digital theater, a Science Education Wing with hands-on workshop labs, and three floors of interactive exhibits.
727 West Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-561-6100
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7. Muhammad Ali Center
© Muhammad Ali Center
The Muhammad Ali Center is a cultural center and museum devoted to champion boxer Muhammad Ali. Opened in 2005, the museum is part of “Museum Row” in the West Main District of Louisville.
The six-story building features a 40,000 square foot two-level theater, interactive exhibits, galleries, and a plaza. A walkway that connects the center to other downtown attractions was added in 2013.
One exhibit is a mock boxing ring that was recreated from Ali’s Deer Lake Training Camp. A two-level gallery displays his boxing memorabilia and his history. The center offers education outreach in the form of films, lectures, and tours.
144 North Sixth Street, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-584-9254
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8.The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum
© The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum
The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum is an important house in the St. James-Belgravia Historic District in Old Louisville. Built in 1893 for Theophile and Mary Conrad, it was given the nickname of “Conrad’s Castle.”
Made of bedford limestone, the house was built in what is called the Richardsonian-Romanesque style. The exterior features coned, hexagonal, and pyramid shaped towers and turrets as well as many decorations such as carved animals, gargoyles, and other objects.
The interior has high ceilings, stained-glass windows, carved fireplaces, and parquet floors that mimic quilt patterns. The museum offers tours, and the historic house can be rented for special occasions such as weddings.
1402 St. James Court, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-636-5023
9.Louisville Slugger Field
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Opened in 2000, Louisville Slugger Field is a baseball stadium with has a seating capacity of more than 13,000 people and is the home of the Louisville Bats baseball team and the Louisville City FC professional soccer club.
The stadium is unique in that an old train shed has been incorporated into its design; visitors enter the stadium through this train shed, which was formerly the Brinly-Hardy Company warehouse. It also features 32 private suites, concessions, press facilities, and a children’s play area. Visitors can see both the state of Indiana and the Ohio River from the stadium.
Baseball fans should make time to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory where you can watch bat making demonstrations and go on guided factory tours.
401 East Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-212-2287
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10.Louisville Waterfront Park, Louisville, KY
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Louisville Waterfront Park is a municipal park that sits along the Ohio River. Dedicated in 1999, the park at first consisted of 55 acres of land that had formerly been used for sand pits, scrap yards, and other industrial sites. Today, the park consists of 85 acres.
With a view of the Ohio River, the park hosts many outdoor festivals and concerts. Thunder Over Louisville is the annual kickoff celebration of the Kentucky Derby Festival: it is very popular and well attended. Some of the features of the park include the Promenade along the river, Adventure Playground, Lincoln Memorial, Swing Garden, Tumbleweed Southwest Grill, and much more.
River Road, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-574-3768
11.Beckley Creek Park, Louisville, Kentucky
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Beckley Creek Park is a large park located east of downtown Louisville and just south of Valhalla Golf Club. It is part of the Parklands of Floyds Fork system and features trails, picnic areas, playgrounds, and a water park.
The Egg Lawn is a 22-acre egg-shaped lawn that is a popular place for soccer, throwing Frisbees, flying kites, and attending festivals. Trails include the Black Willow Trail, Fisherman’s Trail, Valley of the Giants Trail, and many more. There are two paddling areas in the park for canoeing and kayaking. The park hosts many events including family programs, field trips, science camps, scout programs, and more.
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12.Whitehall House & Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky
© Whitehall House & Gardens
Whitehall House & Gardens consists of a historic house and surrounding gardens on Lexington Road in Louisville. Built around 1855 by John Marshall, the first house was a two-story brick Italianate style building sitting on 20 acres of land through which Bealls Branch, a tributary of Beargrass Creek, runs.
The property changed hands several times until John and Betty Summers Middleton bought it in 1909. It was at this time the house was completely renovated to become a Southern-style Greek Revival mansion.
The house, gardens, and furnishings were given to the Historic Homes Foundation, and the mansion was refurbished in 1994. Today, tours of the mansion and gardens are offered, and the property has become a popular venue for weddings.
3110 Lexington Road, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-897-2944
13.Frazier History Museum, Louisville, Kentucky
© Frazier History Museum
The Frazier History Museum is located on Louisville’s “Museum Row” in the West Main District of downtown. Named after its founder Owsley Brown Frazier, the museum has 75,000 square feet of exhibition space on three floors and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 120.
The museum’s collection includes American and international artifacts from the 16th century to the 20th century. Some highlights from the collection include Daniel Boone’s Bible, General Custer’s pistols, and President Theodore Roosevelt’s “Big Stick.”
In addition to the permanent collection, there are temporary exhibits, some of which are interactive. The museum offers many education programs and hosts many events.
829 West Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-753-5663
14.The Louisville Palace
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Located on South Fourth Street in downtown Louisville’s theater district, the Louisville Palace is a historic theater that opened in 1928. With a seating capacity of 2,700, the theater is a venue for a variety of events such as concerts, films, performances by the Louisville Orchestra, and children’s performances.
Built in the Spanish Baroque style, the exterior of the building is ornate and features many turrets. The palace is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and the interior is equally ornate; the curved vaulted ceiling in the lobby is decorated with 139 sculptures of the faces of famous historic figures. The theater has two floors, the main floor and a balcony.
625 South Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-583-4555
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Old Louisville is a historic district located north of the University of Louisville and south of Broadway and downtown Louisville. Consisting of 48 city blocks, it is the third largest historic district in the U.S. It is the nation’s largest district that consists almost exclusively of Victorian architecture, and it has the largest concentration of houses with stained glass windows.
Most of the buildings are made of brick and were built in several styles that were popular during the Victorian period, including Italianate, Queen Anne, and Romanesque. Although it is called Old Louisville, this area was actually built in the 1870s as a suburb of Louisville nearly 100 years after the founding of the city.
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16. Locust Grove
© Locust Grove
Locust Grove is an 18th century farm and mansion listed as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The 55-acre site includes a 1792 Georgian mansion built by William and Lucy Clark Croghan. Mrs. Crogan was the sister of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and it was at this house that the famous explorers stayed after returning from their expedition.
Several U.S. Presidents including James Monroe and Andrew Jackson also visited the mansion. Artist James Audubon was also a guest here. Purchased by Jefferson County and the State of Kentucky, the mansion was opened to the public in 1964 after extensive restoration.
561 Blankenbaker Lane, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-897-9845
17. Louisville Zoo
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The Louisville Zoo is a zoological park located on Trevilian Way in Louisville’s Poplar Level neighborhood. Established in 1969, the zoo is sometimes referred to as the Louisville Zoological Garden and the State Zoo of Kentucky. The 134-acre zoo exhibits more than 1,500 animals in their natural habitats.
Some of the exhibits include Africa, Australian Outback, Glacier Run, Gorilla Forest, and more. The zoo is known for its conservation efforts and its work with endangered species. Other features of the zoo include the Conservation Carousel, ZooTram Shuttle, Zoo trains, and a petting zoo. The zoo also has concessions, playgrounds, and gift shops.
1100 Trevilian Way, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-459-2181
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18.Harvest, Louisville, Kentucky
Harvest is a delicious farm-to-table restaurant in Louisville's vibrant NuLu Arts District, located approximately five minutes from the city's downtown area. The restaurant, which was opened in April of 2011 by brothers Patrick and Peter Kuhl and business partner Jim McArthur, serves up elegant twists on down-home Kentucky-style cooking, elevating the traditional idea of farm-to-table service with a rotating menu of locally-sourced fare and wall decor photos of farm suppliers. Entrees emphasize ingredients produced within a 100-mile radius, including classic biscuits and gravy entrees for brunch and homestyle favorite lunch and dinner options such as buttermilk fried chicken.
624 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40202, Phone: 502-384-9090
19.The Mayan Cafe, Louisville, Kentucky
© The Mayan Cafe
The Mayan Café is an indigenously inspired farm-to-table restaurant that serves traditional Mayan cuisine from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
Located in the East Market Gallery District and boasting a bright and vibrant ambiance, the Mayan Café fits right into the trendy neighborhood with its ever-evolving soulful food.
Head Chef Bruce Ucán, a native Mayan from Mexico, combines fresh locally sourced ingredients with traditional Mayan flavors and cooking techniques to create innovative and delicious dishes that draw on his rich Yucatan heritage. The menu features dishes with traditional Mayan roots, including the Yucatec Salbutes and cochinita pibil.
Others are a modern take on an ancient dish, such as Chef Bruce’s own version of chilaquiles. An enticing beverages list offers signature cocktails, aperitifs, and flights of tequila and bourbon.
813 E. Market Street, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-566-0651
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20.Mint Julep Experiences, Louisville, Kentucky
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Mint Julep is a unique tour company that offers exceptional tours that allow their clients to experience the distinctive richness of Kentucky culture. With the help of Mint Julep Experiences, you can make Louisville a starting point for tours of the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, celebrated Horse Country, Louisville craft breweries, exceptional food destinations, and much more. One of the most popular tours follows the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, which visits 14 member distilleries. Learn about the making of some of the world-famous bourbons and taste each of them. The tour of the Kentucky’s famous Horse Country will allow you to visit some Kentucky Derby winners, see foals at the nursery, or visit a training facility where they are training future champions. During a custom food tour, you will sample Kentucky staples such as bourbon balls, mint juleps, and Hot Browns, meet some of Kentucky best chefs, or take a mixology class.
140 N Fourth St #326, Louisville, KY 40202, Phone: 502-583-1433
21.The Bard's Town, Louisville, Kentucky
© The Bard's Town
The Bard’s Town brings together great food, excellent theater, and a relaxing lounge to offer diners an evening like no other. The Bard's restaurant offers diners a Shakespearean-themed menu that includes delicious delights like Tybalt’s Tomato Bisque, the St Francis BBQ Bacon Burger topped with bacon, cheddar, onion rings, and BBQ sauce, and the First Folio Fish of fresh Atlantic cod served on marble rye with savory remoulade sauce.
Try the Lord Chamberlain’s Fin – fresh fish tacos of cod stuffed into soft tortillas with remoulade sauce and freshly prepared salsa before ending with something sweet from the dessert menu such as Triple Chocolate Cake or Key Lime Pie.
Vegetarians can happily tuck into the "To Bean, or Not to Bean" Black Bean burger while kids can enjoy a special children’s menu for smaller appetites. An array of fountain drinks, iced teas and coffees are also available.
1801 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-749-5275
22.Jack Fry's, Louisville, Kentucky
© Jack Fry's
Established in 1933 by Jack Fry and his wife, Jack Fry's was a popular sportsman’s hangout, as can be seen in the numerous historic photographs that cover the walls of the current Jack Fry's. Today, Jack Fry's is a Louisville landmark that has gained local and national prestige over the years, becoming a culinary institution on the Louisville culinary scene.
The family-friendly diner offers a lunch and dinner menu of authentic all-American and European cuisine with a creative twist.
Starters include shrimp and grits, scallops, escargot, and roasted duck breast while entrées feature lamb chops with potato au gratin and haricot verts and succulent veal tenderloin with garlic whipped Yukon gold potatoes, kale, poached eggs, and porter-espresso reduction. Indulge in a sweet Dulce de Leche Cheesecake with a graham cracker crust, rich ganache and pecan brittle and a freshly brewed coffee or digestif.
1007 Bardstown Rd, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-452-9244
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23.Flame Run Glass Studio and Gallery, Louisville, KY
© Flame Run Glass Studio and Gallery
Flame Run Glass Studio and Gallery is dedicated to sharing the beauty of glass blowing and glass art through art glass gallery tours, hot glass demonstrations, contemporary glass art exhibitions, and community classes to visiting artists’ workshops. Located close to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, the art glass studio features a working glass-blowing hot shop, welding and fabrication studio, and exhibit gallery where visitors can view and purchase artworks from twelve resident artists.
The studio also offers classes and workshops in the art of glassblowing, daily glassblowing demonstrations, and after-hours group outings. Admission to the gallery and viewing area is free of charge.
815 West Market Street, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-584-5353
24.The Cafe to Go, Louisville, Kentucky
© The Cafe to Go
The Cafe to Go is located in Louisville’s Parishtown neighborhood in a former beautifully renovated warehouse under the railroad trestle off of East Broadway. The indoor dining room is bright and colorful and the lovely outdoor patio is a delight with comfortable seating and blooming plants, a fishpond, and a waterfall. The café serves large portions of traditional American food with Southern flair, with large portions, fresh seasonal ingredients, and distinct flavors. The café is a perfect spot for a business lunch, a romantic dinner, or a get-together with family and friends. It also offers lunch box deliveries. The Café to Go does not serve alcohol.
712 Brent St, Louisville, KY 40204, Phone: 502-589-9191
25.Belle of Louisville & Spirit of Jefferson
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Belle of Louisville is the oldest Mississippi River steamboat still in operation, and it is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The steamboat was launched out of Pittsburgh, PA in 1914 and was used as a ferry between Memphis, TN and West Memphis, AR.
Later it was used to ferry people between Louisville and the Rose Island and Fontaine Ferry amusement parks. In 1963, the steamboat was extensively repaired and rebuilt. In that same year, the Spirit of Jefferson was built and began cruising on the Mississippi River in St. Louis. Today, the Belle of Louisville and Spirit of Jefferson offer a variety of cruises on the Ohio River.
401 West River Road, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-574-2355
25 Best Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky
- Kentucky Derby Museum, Photo: Kentucky Derby Museum
- Louisville Mega Cavern, Photo: Louisville Mega Cavern
- Historic Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Historic Frankfort Avenue
- Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Courtesy of jedphoto - Fotolia.com
- The Big Four Bridge, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Courtesy of Henryk Sadura - Fotolia.com
- Kentucky Science Center, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Kentucky Science Center
- Muhammad Ali Center, Photo: Muhammad Ali Center
- The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum, Photo: The Conrad-Caldwell House Museum
- Louisville Slugger Field, Photo: Courtesy of tab 62 - Fotolia.com
- Louisville Waterfront Park, Louisville, KY, Photo: Courtesy of simon white hurst - Fotolia.com
- Beckley Creek Park, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Courtesy of Klint Arnold - Fotolia.com
- Whitehall House & Gardens, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Whitehall House & Gardens
- Frazier History Museum, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Frazier History Museum
- The Louisville Palace, Photo: Courtesy of gnagel - Fotolia.com
- Old Louisville, Photo: Courtesy of volga river - Fotolia.com
- Locust Grove, Photo: Locust Grove
- Louisville Zoo, Photo: Courtesy of nm737 - Fotolia.com
- Harvest, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Harvest
- The Mayan Cafe, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: The Mayan Cafe
- Mint Julep Experiences, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Courtesy of nat693 - Fotolia.com
- The Bard's Town, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: The Bard's Town
- Jack Fry's, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: Jack Fry's
- Flame Run Glass Studio and Gallery, Louisville, KY, Photo: Flame Run Glass Studio and Gallery
- The Cafe to Go, Louisville, Kentucky, Photo: The Cafe to Go
- Belle of Louisville & Spirit of Jefferson, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of GEKPhotography - Fotolia.com
Louisville Attractions: Actors Theatre of Louisville
Actors Theatre of Louisville is a performing arts theater located on West Main Street in downtown Louisville. Founded in 1964 when two local companies merged, the theater has been known as the State Theater of Kentucky since 1974.
The theater is housed in two historic buildings, the Myers-Thompson Display Building and the adjacent old Bank of Louisville building. In 1972, the two buildings were connected, and the Pamela Brown Auditorium with a seating capacity of 637 was added to the rear of the two buildings.
A second auditorium, the Victor Jory Theatre, which has a seating capacity of 159, was added in 1973. The theater is also well known for its Humana Festival of New American Plays program.
316 West Main Street, Louisville, KY, Phone: 502-584-1205
Cherokee Park is a 389-acre municipal park in Louisville. Opened in 1891, the park’s most popular feature is its 2.4-mile Scenic Loop, which runs through forested areas as well as meadows and rolling hills.
It has separate lanes for cars and pedestrians. Some of the other features found in the park are Beargrass Creek, the Big Rock picnic area and playground, Frisbee Hill, Nettleroth Bird Sanctuary, and Hogan’s Fountain.
Activities at the park include archery, basketball, biking, fishing, golfing, hiking, horseback riding, tennis, and more. There are also many animals in the park such as beavers, birds, deer, foxes, hawks, and turtles.
745 Cochran Hill Road, Louisville, Kentucky, Phone: 502-456-8100
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Attraction Spotlight: Big Four Bridge - Louisville Waterfront Park
Louisville’s Waterfront Park is a public park operated and maintained by the Waterfront Development Corporation of Louisville, Kentucky. The Big Four Bridge, originally built as a railway bridge connecting Louisville with Jeffersonville, Indiana, spans the Ohio River. The bridge was renovated and reopened in 2013 as a pedestrian walkway. As the most popular attraction in the park, over 1.5 million people cross the bridge on foot or by bicycle each year.
The Big Four is a railway truss bridge made of 6 spans. The 1-mile long bridge consists of a quarter-mile long ramp on each side of the river, with one-half mile spanning the water. The name, Big Four, comes from the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, otherwise known as the “Big Four Railroad” or the CCC & StL. The now defunct railway company ended their use of the bridge in 1968. The bridge reopened in 2013 as a pedestrian and bicycle crossing offering a 2-mile round trip journey across the Ohio River.
An extensive system of LED lighting illuminates the bridge from twilight until one o’clock each morning. The LED lights highlight the architectural structure of the steel railway bridge. Lights may be programmed to display a wide variety of differing colors depending on the time of year, or to commemorate special occasions or holidays. Organizations may apply to have the bridge lit to honor their cause or event. All proceeds from bridge lighting go towards the operation of the Waterfront Park.
History: The Big Four was originally built as a railway bridge between 1888 and 1895. The bridge was fraught with construction issues, and 37 men lost their lives in successive accidents during construction. By the time the bridge was complete, the Louisville and Jeffersonville Bridge Company was financially depleted, and sold the bridge to the Big Four Railroad. The Big Four serviced the Midwestern United States, namely Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. The bridge was rebuilt in 1928 to better handle the increasingly heavy loads of railway freight. In 1968, the Big Four Railroad was absorbed by Penn Central after a merger between the New York Central Railroad system, which ran the Big Four, and the Pennsylvania Railroad. The merger resulted in the discontinuation of the lines running across the Big Four Bridge. When the bridge’s approaching spans were removed and sold for scrap in 1969, the railway span took on the nickname “the bridge that goes nowhere.” By 1970 Penn Central had declared bankruptcy, effectively abandoning the bridge.
The conversion of the bridge to a pedestrian and bicycling crossway had been planned since the mid-1990’s, although no real momentum began on the project until 2009 when construction began. In 2013, the main span of the bridge was complete, and the on-ramp on the Kentucky side of the river was opened. The Indiana ramp opened in 2014. Today, the bridge is maintained and operated by the Louisville Waterfront Park. The 85-acre park is currently in phase three of a four-phase redevelopment plan. The Waterfront Development Corporation that manages the park is a publicly funded agency and relies on a combination of government funding and donations to complete each project.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Kenny Karem is a local author who has compiled a list of 20 questions related to the Big Four Bridge. Each question encourages participants to learn a fact about the Bridge, the Ohio River, or the surrounding area, wildlife and history. The list of questions are accessible online.
Thunder Over Louisville is the park’s most popular event. The large fireworks and air show takes place in April of each year, and signifies the beginning of the Kentucky Derby Festival. It is the largest fireworks show in the United States. Over 600,000 people line the banks of the Ohio River on both sides of the Big Four Bridge to observe the annual event. The bridge itself is limited to crossing traffic only during the fireworks show, and closed during the air show.
What’s Nearby: The Big Four Bridge is located within the 85-acre Louisville Waterfront Park. Additional features of the park include two expansive lawns, several fountains, a playground and children’s play area. It is the largest public park in the United States to offer free WiFi access throughout, and in 2013 received the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence. The national award honors designs that address social and economic inequalities through urban design.
River Rd, Louisville, KY 40202, Phone: 502-574-3768
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Attraction Spotlight: Locust Grove
Locust Grove is a historic 18th-century farm site in eastern Jefferson County in Louisville, Kentucky. Resting on a 55-acre property, the site is a National Historic Landmark and operates as a historical interpretive site for the public to enjoy. Owned by the Louisville Metro Government, and operated by Historic Locust Grove, Inc., Locust Grove features a beautifully preserved Georgian mansion from the late 1700s, various farm buildings, landscaped gardens and wild woodlands and a new Visitor’s Center with a museum, meeting spaces and a gift shop.
The estate’s main feature is the Georgian mansion that was built in circa 1790 and home to the Croghan family. The mansion also acted as a gathering place for famous people such as Lewis and Clark, George Rogers Clark, and various U.S. Presidents. Restored to its former glory, the mansion takes a center in the midst of rolling pastures, shady woodlands, quaint farm buildings and beautifully landscaped gardens.
The purpose and mission of Locust Grove are to interpret, preserve and maintain William Croghan’s historic estate, and to share the stories of the people who played a role in the development of the site. Locust Grove also stands as an excellent example of early Kentucky architecture and craftsmanship, and a tribute to the history and heritage of the property.
Situated just six miles upriver from Louisville, Locust Grove tells the story of its owners and builders, William Croghan and George Rogers Clark, the hardships they endured and the lifestyle they led from farming the land to raising their families. The heritage of the house is wrapped up in the story of America’s beginnings and played host to many famous figures, being a pivotal stop for an entire generation of American luminaries, including artist John James Audubon and President Andrew Jackson.
Locust Grove was sold by the Croghan family to riverboat captain James Paul in 1878 and then became the property of Richard Waters of Hermitage Farm in 1883 where it remained until 1961 when the estate was purchased by Jefferson County and the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Following an extensive restoration which returned the mansion and estate to its former glory, Locust Grove was opened to the public in 1964.
Locust Grove offers a variety of educational programs that focus on the history of the site and the settlement of Kentucky, ranging from tours and field trips to the museum and grounds to special workshops and classes. Pioneer Days tours explore life on a farm in the 18th century, while Craft Sampler tours enhance the Pioneer Days tours with costumed demonstrations such as woodworking, cooking and spinning. Work & Play classes offer students the opportunity to learn about the daily life of children on the Kentucky frontier in the 1800s – how they played, learned new things, and worked on the farm. The History Tour delves into the history of Locust Grove, its people and the impact it had on the region, while the Locust Grove & the Frazier Museum Field Trip visits both the Frazier Museum and Locust Grove, with an introductory film and tours of the house and outbuildings. Life Along the Ohio River: Locust Grove & Louisville Water Field Trip visits both the estate of Locust Grove and the Louisville Water Tower Park.
Locust Grove is located at 561 Blankenbaker Lane in Louisville Visitors can explore Locust Grove on guided tours, which run each hour on the quarter hour. The tour begins with an introductory video, followed by a docent-led tour of the house and grounds, which lasts 45 minutes and a visit to the museum gallery.
Locust Grove can be hired for special occasions such as weddings and other social events, as well as business meetings corporate functions. The estate grounds include the formal gardens and manicured lawns for outdoor events (tents may be rented), and the porch of the historic house for more intimate functions. The Visitors' Center building is home to the Audubon Room, which features an auditorium, and a catering kitchen, which can be rented together or separately. Additional services such as catering or event management can be arranged.
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561 Blankenbaker Lane, Louisville, KY 40207, Phone: 502-897-9845
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