Take A Break is your ultimate guide to the perfect journeys to recharge, rediscover yourself and your relationships, and reengage with the world. We’ll cover shopping stops, great bars, restaurants worth your money, photo ops, memorable rides and experiences, and other important details you need before you book.
Below, we talk to Caroline Bologna, Senior Travel and Culture Reporter at HuffPost, about why you’ll want to put Louisville, Ky., on your to-do list.
What drew you to Louisville as a place to visit or explore?
My mom grew up in Kentucky, so a lot of my extended family is in Louisville. When I was younger we used to drive there from my hometown of New Orleans for vacations, and in recent years I’ve made a number of trips for weddings and d other occasions.
What are the best times of year to visit?
I’ve been to Louisville every season, but my favorite is probably spring. If you’re not planning on attending the Kentucky Derby, don’t book your trip for this weekend, as the prices will be astronomical. But I recommend going in the weeks and months leading up to Derby Day as there is a lot of excitement and the weather tends to be nice and mild.
What’s your best advice for getting there? How to make the trip as stress-free as possible?
Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport is accessible from most US hubs, so it’s not too difficult to find non-stop or one-connection flights. If you’re looking for even more options, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is larger and located only about 90 minutes from downtown Louisville.
Where do you recommend staying when you go?
I’m a fan of 21c Museum Hotels chain, which is actually based in Louisville. These boutique hotels contain impressive contemporary art galleries for a unique guest experience. The original location is right in the heart of downtown Louisville in a group of renovated 19th century warehouses and also features an excellent restaurant called Proof on Hand.
For something more historic, The Brown Hotel was built in 1923 and is known to be the birthplace of the “warm brown” open sandwich, a local specialty. This hotel is also located in downtown Louisville, but adjacent neighborhoods like Old Louisville and NuLu (New Louisville) also have nice hotels and rentals.
What are your favorite restaurants or foods during your stay?
I have a big sweet tooth, so I can’t get enough Plehn Bakerya family run place that dates back to the 1920s. The glazed sugar cookies and angel dips are my favorites, but honestly everything is delicious. Hi-Five Donuts is also solid.
When you’re in Louisville, try a slice of Pie Derby if you see it on the menu anywhere. And if you buy a coffee at Please thank you, also be sure to get one of their chocolate chip cookies. For frozen treats, I enjoy The cozy cow, Louisville Cream, Graeter’s and Homemade ice cream and pie cooking.
As for savory dishes, Wagner Pharmacy is an iconic restaurant that opened in 1922. Jack Fry’s is another Louisville landmark dating back to the 1930s. I’ve heard great things about Ramsi coffee on the world and barbecue offers at Feast and Mum’s mustard, pickles and barbecue as well.
When I visited family in Louisville, they took me to Mesh. At breakfast, I’m a big fan of Belly Cookie and wild eggsboth of which have multiple locations. Blue Dog Bakery is also excellent (and you can also try their bread at Mesh).
What bars or entertainment venues do you make sure to visit? What’s good to drink there or what else should people know?
A popular decision for those visiting Louisville is to plan a bourbon-related tour. You can visit the city’s distilleries or venture beyond its limits to follow the entire Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Even if you’re not going for the full bourbon experience, be sure to try a Mint Julep while you’re in town.
As for the specific bars, there are Against all odds and 8UP Raised Drinking Room and Kitchen in the city center. Fourth Street Live! is a large entertainment and dining complex nearby where you can have a drink and listen to live music.
What are your favorite shops and what do you look for when you are there?
I love shopping for sandstone in Kentucky. Hadley Pottery has always been my favorite so I was devastated to hear it was closing later this year. If you find yourself in Louisville before the store is completely closed, try to buy a piece or two. Other, Louisville Sandstone is another favorite and seems to be going strong.
Scout and Monkee’s are cute shops near Mesh that I like to stop by when I’m in the Crescent Hill area. I also like to sail Butchertown Market.
Where is your favorite place to take photos and why?
The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is a really fun place to take pictures as there is a giant bat in front. Perfect photoshoot!
It’s also not too far from golden replica of Michelangelo’s statue of Davidwhich is almost double the size of the original in Italy.
Which tourist attraction should people avoid and what should they do instead?
Turn the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs can be cool, but if horse racing isn’t really your thing, consider visiting the Speed Art Museum Where Muhammad Ali Center In place. You can also see Ali’s grave (as well as the grave of KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders) at Cave Hill Cemetery.
Where do you feel most relaxed, calm or happy?
Strolling on the seafront is very pleasant. You can even walk or bike from Louisville to Indiana via the Big Four Bridge. There is also the Belle of Louisville if you like river cruises.
What scenic spots do you recommend visiting?
Old Louisville has the largest contiguous collection of Victorian mansions in the United States and the largest collection of pedestrian streets of any neighborhood in the United States. There are many lovely hiking trails and you can take organized or self-guided tours.
If you don’t mind driving about 75 miles out of town, take the opportunity to visit the famous Mammoth Cave National Park as well.
What is the thing that you make sure to take with you if you go and why?
I try to leave room in my suitcase and pack mostly soft items so I can bring back some pottery or a few new ones Derby Glasses.
What specific planning tips do you need to know before you go so you don’t get stressed out?
Although there are pedestrian areas in Louisville and plenty of Ubers, I recommend renting a car if you plan to cover a lot of ground. But beware: if you rent a car, be prepared for many inconvenient one-way streets.
What surprised you in Louisville when you first went there?
I was a baby when I first went so most things would have been a surprise to me! Back as an adult, I was struck by how Louisville is kind of a mix of the South and the Midwest. The city doesn’t feel particularly southern or particularly Midwestern, but it contains elements of both cultures and thus offers its own unique vibe.
Anything else visitors should know?
Resist the urge to pronounce it “Louie-ville.” Locals tend to go with “Loo-a-vuhl.”
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