If Kentucky can be described as the state of horses, bourbon and wine, its capital Frankfort is at the heart of it all. Located on the banks of the Kentucky River, it is a quintessential river community with small town charm, rich history, and typical Southern hospitality.
Stroll through the city to admire its fabulous architecture, especially the new and old capitol buildings, as well as the new and old governor mansions, which are open to the public. Get a sense of 200 years of city history at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, and learn about the way of life in old Kentucky at the Liberty Hall Historic Site.
1. Old State Capitol
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Old State Capitol is a striking building in downtown Frankfort that served as the seat of the Kentucky government from 1831 to 1910 when it became too crowded and was replaced with the current capitol building. Young architect Gideon Shryock designed the building in the Greek Revival style to resemble a Greek temple with no windows in the front and an interesting self-supporting staircase held together by pressure and precision.
The building has been meticulously restored to its appearance from before the American Civil War. The Old State Capitol was converted into a museum in 1920 and today serves as the home of the Kentucky Historical Society, which manages the building and runs the tours for visitors. The building is registered on the National Register of Historic Places. More things to do in Kentucky
300 W Broadway St, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-564-3016
2. New Capitol Building
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Completed in 1910 in the Beaux-Arts style, the beautiful, stately building of today’s Kentucky's Capitol is the fourth building to be the home of the Kentucky government since 1792. Its predecessor still stands in downtown Frankfort. The building, designed by architect Frank Mills Andrews, has an elegant façade covered with Vermont granite and Indiana limestone.
The interior is decorated with brilliant white Georgia marble, dark green Italian marble, and gray Tennessee marble. The Capitol’s State Reception Room is used as a place for ceremonies and has hand-painted walls with murals and scagliola created to look like Gobelin tapestries. There is huge amount of art displayed all over the building. One of the most popular pieces is the Lincoln statue in the rotunda. There is also an interesting collection of dolls that belonged to various First Ladies. More day trips in Kentucky
700 Capital Ave, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-564-3449
3. Salato Wildlife Education Center
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Just a few miles drive from Frankfort, Salato Wildlife Education Center is an educational facility on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources’ grounds with indoor and outdoor interpretive and interactive exhibits showcasing native animals and plants.
Visitors can see a range of Kentucky habitats – lush mountains, hilly prairies, marshes, running streams – and animals that make their home in them. Indoors, there is the Eastern Forest Diorama, live snakes, giant turtles, and native fish in huge aquariums. Miles of paved trails will take you to see bison, bears, and eagles. There are also habitats and gardens with flourishing native plants, picnic areas for a quiet weekend, and a lake to try your hand at fishing. More Kentucky destinations
1 Sportsman's Ln, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-564-7863
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4. Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History
© Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History
The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History is a 167,000 square-foot modern research facility and a museum. It also serves as the headquarters of the Kentucky Historical Society. The center has a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions and an extensive research library. The main permanent exhibit is called "A Kentucky Journey," and it provides insight into Kentucky and its inhabitants from prehistoric times to today. The Martin F. Schmidt Research Library is a history and genealogy research library.
It offers resources such as manuscripts, books, oral histories, and graphic collections about the places and people that made Kentucky what it is today. The library is popular among family historians who are trying to trace their genealogy. The center also has the Keeneland Changing Exhibits Gallery, which hosts various temporary exhibitions and a collection of Lincoln memorabilia.
100 W Broadway St, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-564-1792
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5. Governor's Mansion
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Kentucky's Governor's Mansion is the official residence of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It has been home to 26 Kentucky governors since 1914. The mansion serves as the governor’s private home and an official public building. It is the center of the governor’s social, political, and ceremonial activities.
The mansion was completed in 1914 in the Beaux-Arts design, which took much of its inspiration from the Petit Trianon palace at Versailles, and its interiors are designed in French neoclassical themes. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Kentucky's Governor's Mansion is one of the rare American executive residences that are open for public tours. More day trips in Kentucky
704 Capital Ave, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-564-8004
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6. Liberty Hall Historic Site
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Liberty Hall Historic Site consists of two historic homes that John Brown, Kentucky's first senator, built for his family in a location surrounded by three acres of magnificent formal and informal gardens. Liberty Hall is a Georgian-style stately mansion Brown built in 1796, while the Orlando Brown House is a Greek-Revival house Brown built in 1835 for his son.
Both houses are decorated with well-preserved Brown family portraits, lovely furnishings, and a collection of Paul Sawyier watercolors. Visitors can participate in programs that demonstrate life in old Kentucky and feature activities such as hearthside cooking, crafts, music, activities for kids, seminars and lectures by eminent experts, exhibits, and events such as teas in the Orlando Brown parlor. There are daily guided tours of Liberty Hall. Access to the gardens is free of charge.
202 Wilkinson St, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-227-2560
7. Cove Springs Park
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Located on the outskirts of Frankfort, Cove Springs Park is a beautiful 240-acre nature preserve and park that consists of wetlands, waterfalls, streams, springs, forests, ravines, and a number of historic features such as ruins of old stone dam and a crumbling limestone overflow tower.
The park is great area for hiking – there are six trails that total three miles together – environmental education, nature observation, picnicking, throwing Frisbee, and much more. Part of one trail is an elevated walkway over wetlands, and it has a number of interpretive signs. There are also two shelters with interpretative displays on the historic and natural features of the park. More Romantic Weekend Getaways in Kentucky
100 Cove Spring Rd, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-223-6965
8. Old Governor's Mansion
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Completed in 1798, the Old Governor's Mansion in Frankfort is the oldest American official executive residence still in use, though it is the Lieutenant Governors of Kentucky who have been using the space since 1956. As the fashions changed, the building, which was originally designed in the Federal style, has undergone several changes, and certain Victorian details were added.
Thirty-five governors have lived and entertained at the mansion with their families. The last governor who lived here was James McCreary. The mansion served as the Governor’s office until 1872. Some of the important visitors to the mansion include Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan, Henry Clay, and Theodore Roosevelt. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
420 High St, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-564-3449
9. Elkhorn Creek
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Elkhorn Creek has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best smallmouth bass streams in Kentucky, but it also offers great opportunities for paddling and floating. Starting at the outskirts of Frankfort and flowing to the Kentucky River, this 17-mile scenic stretch of water offers enough adventures for anyone.
There are several campgrounds on its banks, and Canoe Kentucky rents boats and offers shuttle services. Fishing on the Elkhorn is so popular that there are now many yearly kayak fishing tournaments. There are some great stretches for paddlers and kayakers, and the rapids that can reach class III when the water levels are high offer some extra excitement.
Off Highway 1262, Frankfort, KY
10. Capital City Museum
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Capital City Museum is a curious small museum in Frankfort that manages to depict 200 years of history of this charming historic small town with extraordinary exhibits displayed in what is basically one room. The museum is located in what is left of the famous 150-year-old Capital Hotel, which is itself a museum piece. There is a lot to see in a series of fascinating exhibits – from the assassination of Senator Goebel to the Kentucky River, Capitol Hotel, and Veteran’s Hall.
Collections of memorabilia cover such diverse aspects of life in Frankfort as local fire fighters, police department, various election buttons, early furniture, agricultural tools, and much else. Many history tours of Frankfort start at the museum. The museum also has a research library with maps, historic documents, books, journals, and genealogical information.
325 Ann St, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-696-0607
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11. Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial
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The Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands on a hill overlooking the state capitol building. Completed in November of 1988, the memorial is an amazing piece of mathematics-based architectural design. It consists of a huge sundial with a stainless steel gnomon and a granite plaza beneath it.
The names of the 1104 Kentuckians who died in Vietnam are carved into the plaza, and the shadow of the dial touches each name on the anniversary of his death. The memorial is a majestic tribute to the fallen and garners large crowds of visitors each year.
365 Vernon Cooper Dr, Frankfort, KY 40601
12. The Vest-Lindsey House
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One of the oldest homes in Frankfort, the Vest-Lindsey House is a federal-style mansion built in the early 1800’s. The house has undergone many changes over the years, but now has been restored to a style reminiscent of its original appearance.
Notable residents of the home include Senator George Graham Vest of Kentucky and Daniel Weisiger Lindsey, Inspector General of the Union Army’s forces in Kentucky. Many notable authors and artists have also visited the home, including Robert Wilson Burns and John Fox, Jr. Today the house is once again used as a state meeting house. Please contact the Division of Historic Properties for scheduling information.
401 Wapping Street, Frankfort, KY 40601-2607, Phone: 502-564-0900
13. Josephine Sculpture Park
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The Josephine Sculpture Park is a rural park decorated with sculptures and artwork from international artists. Melanie Van Houten founded the park on the grounds of her grandparents’ farm. Guests can view and interact with dozens of works of art and explore native plants and wildlife.
In addition, the sculpture park offers workshops, classes, and theater events to further promote the arts in Kentucky. The park is open every from dawn until dusk and is free to the public. The grounds can also be rented for parties, weddings, and family gatherings for a rental fee. More Kentucky State Parks
3355 Lawrenceburg Rd, Frankfort, KY, Phone: 502-352-7082
14. The Floral Clock
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On the grounds of the state capitol in Frankfort stands the beautiful Floral Clock. The clock was commissioned In 1961, by then-governor Bert. I Combs commissioned the clock, whose face stretches 34 feet across and is covered by flowers exclusively grown in the state of Kentucky.
Beneath the clock is a pool of water that is often used as a wishing well, and the coins thrown into the well are used to fund scholarships. The Floral Clock is one of the most-visited attractions in Frankfort and is open to the public every day from dawn until dusk.
700 Capital Ave., Frankfort, KY 40601
15. Switzer Covered Bridge
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Kentucky is home to many scenic back roads and thirteen classic covered bridges. One of these bridges, the Switzer Covered Bridge, is part of route 1262 and crosses North Elkhorn Creek in Franklin County. The bridge was originally built in 1855 and has been restored three times throughout its 100-plus year history, most recently in 1998 after the original bridge was completely washed away in a flood.
The Switzer was designated as the official covered bridge of the state of Kentucky and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
0.1 miles east of SR 1689 (Switzer Rd) on SR 1262, Franklin County, KY
16. The Grand Theater
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Experience the arts at the Grand Theater, Frankfort’s center for the arts. The Grand was originally constructed in 1911 as a vaudeville house. It was then used as a movie theater for decades. In the early 2000’s, The Grand was carefully updated to its current condition as a concert house and movie theater.
Live concerts, theater events, movies, art exhibits, and children’s theater events are held throughout the year. Tickets can be purchased online, by phone, or at the theater ticket office.
308 St. Clair Street, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-352-7469
17. River View Park
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River View Park is the perfect place to play, picnic, or just relax in Frankfort. It is situated on both sides of the Kentucky River and provides beautiful views of the water from many different angles. Guests can hike along the park’s trails, rent a kayak or canoe to take out on the water, and enjoy a picnic lunch at a shelter house overlooking the river.
The park also features 16 historical sites with information about prehistoric, Native American, and early settlers to the area. Guided tours are given seasonally, weather permitting.
404 Wilkinson Blvd, Frankfort, KY 40601
18. Clyde E. Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary
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The Clyde E. Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary is made up of 374 acres of land situated along the Kentucky River. The land was donated to be used as a preserve by Mrs. Emma Buckley in 1967 and is maintained by the Central Kentucky Audubon Society.
The sanctuary exists to protect and showcase the native plant and wildlife of eastern Kentucky. It includes two ponds, fifty acres of fields, and limestone and mineral deposits. The sanctuary is also an excellent place for birdwatching. Guided bird walks through the area are offered periodically.
1305 Germany Rd, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 859-873-5711
19. Castle and Key Distillery
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Back in 1887 Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. built an elaborate distillery complex in
Millville, Kentucky. Inspired by the grandeur of European castles, the Colonel built his distillery complex to include a real stone castle, a Springhouse and a Sunken Garden, thus establishing Bourbon tourism in Kentucky. The castle was neglected when it was forced to close down during the Prohibition in 1920. Now, almost one hundred years later the old castle complex has been fully restored to its former glory and is once again home to a destination distillery. Visitors are invited to come and tour the gardens at your own pace or join a guided tour of the Castle, the Springhouse and the remarkable landscaped gardens. Of course, you will also get to taste their unique brand of premium Kentucky Bourbon.
Castle and Key Distillery, 4445 McCracken Pike, Frankfort, KY 40601, 502 395 9070
20. Leslie Morris Park at Fort Hill
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Take a stroll through the past at Leslie Morris Park at Fort Hill. Fort Hill stands just outside of Frankfort and was the site of a Civil War skirmish between the Union troops and Confederate invaders. Two Civil War forts are preserved on the site, along with the Sullivan family log home. The park offers hiking trails, picnic pavilions, and beautiful views of downtown Frankfort.
It is open to vehicles year-round, and guided walking tours are available for free from Memorial Day through the end of October. The park can be reached on foot from downtown Frankfort via a trail that starts behind the Capitol plaza.
400 Clifton Ave, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-696-0607
21. Kentucky Military History Museum
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For more than 200 years, the men and women of Kentucky have been involved in the military. That rich history is on display at the Kentucky Military History Museum, which is housed in the building that served as the state arsenal for over 100 years.
Women manufactured munitions for the Civil War in this very location. Today, military items such as rifles, bullets, and helmets are on display, and the stories of Kentucky’s soldiers are recounted here.
125 E Main St., Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-564-1792
22. Capitol Education Center
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Located on the grounds of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, the Capitol Education Center is a haven of learning for both children and adults. The center is a former equipment storage facility that has been redesigned and “recycled” into a modern learning center.
Interactive exhibits teach visitors about the government and geography of Kentucky, and they provide information on sustainability and the local environment. Guests are invited to relax and eat after viewing the exhibits, and teachers are encouraged to bring school groups in for a tour.
706 Capitol Avenue Loop, Frankfort, KY 40601
23. Juniper Hill Golf Course
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The 18-hole Juniper Hill Golf Course has been one of the most popular courses in the state of Kentucky since its opening in 1957. Today, the course offers golf associations for men, women, seniors, and children, as well as golf tournaments and charity events, and the yearly Governor’s Open attracts top golf professionals from around the country.
Rates for 9 or 18 holes of golf are available to non-members for very affordable rates. Tee times must be booked one week in advance. The course also has tennis courts and a small pro shop. More weekend getaways in Kentucky
800 Louisville Rd., Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-875-8559
24. Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours and Museum
© Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours and Museum
Two former schoolteachers, Ruth Booe and Rebecca Gooch, started Rebecca Ruth Candies in 1919. Their business has survived fires, family tragedies, two world wars, and the Great Depression, and it is now a Kentucky institution.
Rebecca Ruth’s is home of the famous “bourbon balls,” a treat that mixes chocolate with Kentucky’s best-known liquor. After the tour, guests can purchase these sweet treats to take home with them at the company store.
116 East Second Street, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 502-223-7475
25. Buffalo Trace Distillery
© Buffalo Trace Distillery
A national historic landmark and home of the world’s most award-winning bourbon, the Buffalo Trace Distillery is a true Kentucky Landmark. The state’s native spirit has been distilled and aged at Buffalo Trace for over 150 years. The distillery offers five different tours, from behind the scenes of the whiskey making process to a tour of the barrels used to store and age the product.
All tours are free and include a sample of Buffalo Trace’s award-winning bourbon at the end. The distillery is open every day except for major holidays. Groups of over 25 people are required to reserve the tour in advance.
113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, KY 40601, Phone: 800-654-8471
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Attraction Spotlight: Liberty Hall Historic Site
Liberty Hall is a historic site in Frankfort, KY that serves as a learning center for the social and cultural life, politics, and history of early Kentucky through the artifacts, documents, gardens, and homes of Senator John Brown and his family. Guided tours are offered to the public daily, with the exception of Sundays, from mid-March to mid-November. Tours for groups of more than ten or school groups, however, are available throughout the entire year with at least fourteen days notice. Tours last around sixty minutes. The grounds of Liberty Hall are open from dawn to dusk every day. Photographers are allowed with a pass, and dogs are also welcome on the site's grounds as long as they are leashed.
A trip to Kentucky is not complete without visiting Liberty Hall, the home of Senator John Brown, one of the founding fathers of Kentucky. The house was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the federal government in 1971. Less than 2,500 historic sites today have this distinction. The historic home is situated near hotels, shops, and the Frankfort Convention Center in downtown Frankfort in the city's famous "Corner in Celebrities." Also nearby are the tourism office, the Capital City Museum, and the Old and New State Capitols.
Liberty Hall is one Kentucky's best examples of federal-style architecture and has played host to many famous early Americans, including four presidents. The 1796 Georgian mansion has been meticulously restored and will surprise visitors. A museum store, portraits, and family furniture can be found in the 1835 Greek Revival home of Senator Brown's son Orlando. The home of Senator John Brown also includes four acres of informal and formal nineteenth century gardens. The gardens feature trees and beautiful flowers along the banks of the Kentucky River. There are also several educational programs for adults, families, and schools that teach about life in early America.
On the first floor of Liberty Hall are the room interior exhibits. These exhibits showcase how the wealthy lived in Kentucky in the early nineteenth century. Rooms are recently restored and interpret from 1805 to 1835. Included in the rooms displayed are the family sitting room, central hall, bedroom, dining room, and parlor. The interpretation of Mary Mason Scott's 1880 bedroom is located on the home's second floor. Scott was Liberty Hall's final resident, and the legend of the Gray Lady is closely connected to her and her bedroom.
In addition to the interpretation of Mary Mason Scott's bedroom on the second floor of Liberty Hall, is the Kentucky Made: Decorative Arts from the Liberty Hall Collection exhibit. The permanent exhibit can only be accessed on a guided tour, and features many of the best examples of pieces made in Kentucky from Liberty Hall's collection. Exploring the nineteenth century cultural and social landscape of Kentucky, pieces in the exhibit include pieces made by painters, weavers, silversmiths, and furniture makers. Artists represented in Kentucky Made: Decorative Arts from the Liberty Hall Collection include Oliver Frazer, Asa Blanchard, and Paul Sawyier among others.
202 Wilkinson Street, Frankfort, Kentucky, Phone: 502-227-2560