Officially known as the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Kentucky is a state found in the eastern central part of the United States. It is one of just four states to be classed as a commonwealth and has borders with seven other states: Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana. The Ohio River and Mississippi River also flow along the northern and western borders of Kentucky, respectively. The state covers an area of 40,409 square miles, making it the 37th largest state in terms of land, and has an estimated population of 4.45 million, which is the 26th highest state population.

Nicknamed the Bluegrass State, Kentucky was part of Virginia for many years before becoming the 15th state of the Union. The state is known for its unique and diverse array of landscapes, as well as being home to the two biggest man-made lakes on the eastern side of the Mississippi River. The capital city of Kentucky is Frankfort, but its largest city is Louisville. The Louisville metropolitan area, also known as Kentuckiana, is the biggest metro area in the state. Here are some details on the largest cities in Kentucky. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.


© Leigh Trail/

Located in Jefferson County in the central northern part of the state, Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky. This consolidated city-county is one of only two cities in Kentucky to be ranked as 'first-class'. Louisville was founded in 1778 and named after King Louis XVI of France. The city covers an area of 397.68 square miles and has an estimated population of 621,000, with 771,000 estimated to be living in the full consolidated area and over 1.2 million in the surrounding metropolitan area, commonly known as Kentuckiana.

Louisville is one of the oldest cities in the region and is known as a major commercial and cultural hub for the state of Kentucky, being the birthplace of world-famous boxer Muhammad Ali, as well as the headquarters of Kentucky Fried Chicken, three different Fortune 500 companies, the Louisville Cardinals college teams, and the University of Louisville.

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Along with Louisville, Lexington is the only other city in Kentucky to be designated as a 'first-class' city. It is situated in Fayette County in the eastern central part of the state. Lexington was established in 1782 and named after the town of the same name in Massachusetts.

This city covers an area of 285.5 square miles as a consolidated city-county and has an estimated population of 321,000, with over 512,000 in the surrounding metropolitan area. Lexington is statistically seen as a highly educated city and is also known as the 'Horse Capital of the World', home to Kentucky Horse Park and various horse race courses.

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3.Bowling Green

Bowling Green
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Located in Warren County, of which it is the county seat, Bowling Green is the third biggest city in the state of Kentucky. Bowling Green is situated in southern central part of the state and covers an area of 35.6 square miles. It has an estimated population of 67,000, with over 165,000 people living in the surrounding metropolitan area.

The city was originally named 'Bolin Green' and this name was believed to have been chosen in honor of the Bowling Green in New York City, a key site in the American Revolution. Bowling Green was founded in 1798 and served as the capital of Confederate Kentucky during the Civil War.

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Located in Daviess County in the northwestern part of the state, Owensboro is the fourth largest city in the state of Kentucky. It is situated a little over 100 miles away from Louisville and covers an area of 20.4 square miles.

Owensboro has an estimated population of 59,000, with over 116,000 living in the surrounding metropolitan area. The city was originally called Yellow Banks when it was founded in 1797, but the name was changed to Owensborough, later shortened to Owensboro, in honor of Colonel Abraham Owen.

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Situated in Kenton County in the northern central part of Kentucky, Covington is the fifth biggest city in the state. This city was founded at the confluence of the Ohio River and Licking River, and has close ties with the city of Cincinnati in Ohio.

Covington covers an area of 13.7 square miles and has an estimated population of 40,000 people. The city was founded in 1815 and originally known as 'The Point' but was later renamed in honor of General Leonard Covington, a military commander who was killed in the War of 1812.

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5 of the Largest Cities in Kentucky

  • Louisville, Photo: Leigh Trail/
  • Lexington, Photo: Henryk Sadura/
  • Bowling Green, Photo: jackienix/
  • Owensboro, Photo: dah0404/
  • Covington, Photo: Rick Lohre/
  • Cover Photo: Courtesy of hstiver -

Attraction Spotlight: Headley-Whitney Museum of Art

The Headley-Whitney Museum of Art is a small museum in Lexington, Kentucky that features a fascinating and diverse collection of jewels, books, artifacts, dollhouses, and bibelots, as well as a library, shell grotto and lovely rose garden.

Founded in 1968 by notable jewelry designer, George Headley, and his wife, Marylou Whitney, the Headley-Whitney Museum has long been an icon of art and culture in the Bluegrass County. The Museum showcases the collection through rotating regional and international exhibitions and special events throughout the year and offers educational classes and workshops for visitors of all ages.

Surrounded by 13 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and grounds, the Headley-Whitney Museum of Art also features the Jewel Room and Private Library, an award-winning rose garden modeled on Marylou Whitney's Saratoga Garden in New York, and a fascinating shell grotto.

The Headley-Whitney Museum of Art’s collection includes unique pieces of jewelry, mounted semi-precious stones, and bibelots dating back to the early 1930s, some of which were designed by George Headley himself. The collection also includes dollhouses designed, constructed and furnished by Marylou Whitney for her daughter, Cornelia. The miniature dollhouses feature exquisite details including parquet flooring, Aubusson carpets, chandeliers, and replicas of original oil paintings.

Built to house George Headley's Bibelot collection in 1964, which is now displayed in the main building of the Museum, the Jewel Room was designed to reflect a jewelry box with elements such as shining brass finishes and deep rosewood doors. Headley's private library is housed in this building, which features more than 1,500 volumes of beautiful art books, catalogs, and periodicals, as well as several of his amazing collections of natural objects.

Designed by Robert Pinkerton, the building combines a mix of Headley’s favorite architectural styles, including Greek columns, Georgian moldings, English windows, and French floors, all of which are juxtaposed with a sloped Thai roof. The building has a symmetrical brick and limestone pavilion connected with a central converged breezeway and fronted with two domed bay windows overlooking the museum grounds.

Added to the Museum’s grounds in 2004, the Rose Garden was an anniversary present from John Hendrickson, Marylou Whitney's husband, and was designed to replicate her beautiful garden in New York. The garden features a variety of award-winning red and pink roses, including climbers and the main viewing season is between May and October.

A shell grotto was added to the grounds by Headley in 1973 and features thousands of shells and fossil specimens attached to the exterior of what was once a three-car garage. Inspired by buildings and artificial caves decorated in shells in France, Italy, and England in the 17th and 18th centuries, Headley wanted to the shell grotto to be an entertaining distraction from the formalities of life in the principal residence. In addition to the unique exterior, the building displays beautiful mosaics designed by artist Carl Malouf and a collection of shell and fossil specimens acquired by Headley on his travels.

The Headley-Whitney Museum hosts a wide variety of workshops, functions, and special events throughout the year for visitors of all ages.

‘Improbable Baubles’ is a community-based art program designed to give children at both public and private school throughout the region the opportunity to create, perform, and respond to art. The program focuses on the history of George Headley, his fascinating collections and artworks and the role he played in the artistic community in Kentucky. Children are given the opportunity to create their own masterpieces with materials and lesson plans supplied by educators on the program, which will then be displayed, along with an artist statement at the Headley-Whitney Museum. Works will be judged by local professional artists in a competition and awards given to the top three artists in each age division.

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4435 Old Frankfort Pike, Lexington, KY 40510, Phone: 859-255-6653

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Attraction Spotlight: Waveland Historic Site

The Waveland Historic Site or antebellum house also goes by its original name of the Joseph Bryan Estate. The Lexington, KY site offers visitors an interesting look into the 19th century and the buildings, décor, and furnishings have been returned to or left much as they likely were in the 1850s. Apart from the house itself, the site is made up of three outbuildings including an ice house, the smokehouse, and slave quarters. The guided tours run by the staff focus on the stories and lives of the family and slaves who inhabited the building so long ago. Their echoes and shadows still leak into the modern day, providing us with an eye-opening journey.

The estate itself once belonged to Joseph Bryan and it’s he who started construction on what is now a beautiful antebellum mansion. However, it was Boone, nephew of the late great Daniel Boone, who originally surveyed the site and constructed a simple enterprise and stone-built house upon the acreage. Upon his death, Joseph expanded upon the enterprise and work on the mansion was completed in 1848. It is said that the Waveland name comes from the way the wind blew over the fields of grain and hemp that surrounded the building.

If Kentucky was built on the back of horses, then Waveland plays a significant role in that history. Joseph Bryan, Jr., inherited the estate and devoted it to breeding horses, and it was under his tenure that they produced one of the most world-famous sires, “Waveland Chief”. Aside from this they had a great many other success stories and the stables has other notable names, such as “Ben Hur,” “Wild Rake,” and “Olaf,” to lay claim to.

Not content to simply offer the simple tours and museum-like atmosphere provided by other venues of this kind, the Waveland team has come up with something a little more inclusive and unique. Every Tuesday, visitors are invited to join the team, including period-dressed guides, for tea. The menu includes afternoon tea served on the finest china, sandwiches, and other savory options alongside freshly brewed tea. After the tea is finished, the diners are invited on a guided tour of the estate. It’s an experience a little above the typical visit to classical buildings. The price of this weekly event is $30 with a gluten-free option offered for an additional $5.

This isn’t the only event offered by the site though. They also have classic movie showings on a big screen on the front lawn as well as larger parties or shindigs throughout the year. The site is also available for reservation or for booking your own swanky soirees.


Waveland State Historic Site, 225 Waveland Museum Ln. Lexington, KY 40514, Phone: 859-272-3611

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Attraction Spotlight: Shaker Village

Shaker Village in Kentucky can be like visiting a page out of the past. Visitors should express to learn a lot about Shakers and what they believed, all while having fun and seeing some of the most gorgeous scenic areas Kentucky has to offer (sometimes by boat or even on horseback!). Shaker Village Pleasant Hill was founded by three shaker missionaries in the 1800s. Eventually moving from an open community to a closed religious society, the population remained a self-sufficient 300 for the majority of its time as an active town.


Living in harmony and sometimes seclusion for many years, a nonprofit organization formed in 1961 that sought to preserve this history area. The additional land (over 2,500 acres) were added as a security measure against the encroaching city growth. After that, historically accurate restoration began in an attempt to save as many historic buildings and preservation areas as possible. This is when the dining area, overnight lodging and gift shop was added, with the majority of the money going directly back into the land.

Permanent Attractions

The Historic Centre - Shaker Village’s Historic Centre allows visitors to browse the history of the area at their own pace. Learn about the architecture, religious beliefs and incredible artisanship and experience what life would have been like firsthand. See the 34 remaining structures (over 250 structures were originally constructed on the property in just over a one-hundred-year span). See history come alive!

The Farm - As farming was central to Shaker Village’s success as a community, the farm is a highlight of any tour of this attraction. Learn about their sustainable agriculture and stroll through their working apiary, garden, livestock area, and orchard. The products grown and raised here end up at The Trustees’ Table, so visitors should make sure to look around and see where their meal later will come from!

The Preserve - Part of what is important to Shakers is their belief in preserving the land, and the preserve is a large part of their legacy. Visit the native fields, prairies and woodlands, and try to recognize any of the diverse wildlife that calls the preserve home. There is over 3,000 acres of territory for visitors to explore.

The River - One of the few public access points to the Kentucky River Palisades is at Shady Landing, where the launching point for the Dixie Belle is now. Cruise down the river on this passenger paddleboat and enjoy the scenic views through rock formations that are said to be up to 450 million years old! Additional fees do apply, so plan ahead.

The Stable - The only thing more exciting than a visit to the many scenic areas of Shaker Village is seeing them on horseback. The stable provides this option for guests for an additional fee. Featuring over 35 miles of horseback trails, Shaker Village is one of the most sought-after riding destinations in Kentucky.

Educational Opportunities

Shaker Village offers a wide range of educational opportunities for students. Field trips are run from April to November on Tuesdays through Fridays from 9:30am to noon. At noon, provided weather conditions are appropriate, Dixie Belle Riverboat cruises (on the Kentucky River Palisades) are also available. There is a small fee for both (for students as well as chaperones), but there is no charge for teachers. Field trips should be booked (with an accurate head count of expected students) at least two weeks in advance and schools will pay by invoice after their trip to Shaker Village. This will also include any additions (meals, cruises, etc.).

Students are able to either bring lunches or order boxed lunches directly from Shaker Village. There is an open picnic area, however, no shelter is available in the event of rain. It is also possible to dine at The Trustees’ Table in some instances.

As there is a lot of walking on a Shaker Village tour, make sure students wear comfortable clothes and closed toed shoes. Tours are recommended and catered to students from K through 12th grade.

Dining and Shopping

Dining is available at Shaker Village at the unique Trustees’ Table farm to fork restaurant. Using traditional recipes and ingredients directly from the garden, the rotating menu offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended.

Shaker Village also offers shopping opportunities - purchase food items (like pickles and jellies), cookbooks, children’s gifts, and lotions.

3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg, KY 40330, Phone: 800-734-5611

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