It’s hard to narrow down the top reasons to visit Louisville.

Some might say it’s the city’s most famous export – bourbon and its goldmine of start-up distilleries pioneering a booming bourbon renaissance. Others might mention the region's hive of outdoor action – including golfing, kayaking the Ohio River, or ambling through Cherokee Park. And, of course, it would be silly to mention Louisville without waxing lyrical about its legendary fried chicken.

Either way, we all can agree that Louisville is a multi-layered city with something for everyone.

However, if we were to whittle down a highlight, it might just be the Kentucky Derby. Voted by Travel + Leisure, Fodor’s, and Reader’s Digest as a top reason to visit in 2024, it's considered the longest continually run annual sporting event in the United States – with the inaugural race taking place in May 1875.

This year, on May 4, the 150th edition of the iconic horse race will take place at the Churchill Downs – a historic landmark and must-visit spot when heading to Louisville.

Living history 

Founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the grandson of the celebrated explorer William Clark, Churchill Downs was originally called the Louisville Jockey Club when constructed in the 1870s. As the sport's popularity grew, so did the track and by 1895, there was a new grandstand debut, including the iconic twin spires that still stand today.

One hundred fifty years after construction, this historic racetrack is wrapping up its most extensive renovation ever ahead of the 2024 Kentucky Derby. We don’t want to spoil the surprise, but rumour has it there’s been a complete redesign of the paddock area, enhancing the experience for everyone watching the race. Giddy up!

Kentucky Derby

An actually fun museum 

Want to learn more about the story of this iconic horse race? Head to the Kentucky Derby Museum and soak up the world-renowned derby traditions, history, and pride. With a general admission ticket, visitors can enjoy two floors of interactive exhibits, a half-hour guided historic walking tour at Churchill Downs racetrack, and get the tears flowing during the museum’s signature short film, ‘The Greatest Race’.

Dress to impress

With nearly 175,000 spectators attending the Kentucky Derby, it’s as much of a fashion show as a horse race. Modelled after the Epsom Derby in the UK, Kentucky Derby fashion brings a hint of English sophistication with a heavy dose of southern flare where visitors are known to sport a throng of bright coloured outfits appropriate for the springtime event. It’s all about seersucker suits and bowties for men, while ladies focus on flouncy hats with huge flowers and bowls. More really is more when it comes to race day.

Kentucky Derby

Riding high

Oliver Lewis was the first jockey to win the Kentucky Derby when he rode Aristides to victory in 1875. He was one of eleven African American jockeys to win the Kentucky Derby between 1875 and 1902 before Jim Crow-era laws unfairly pushed them from the sport.

In the late 1800s, Jockey Isaac Murphy secured a spot in the history books with three wins, being the first to cross the finish line in 1884, 1890, and 1891. Plus, Jockeys James “Soup” Perkins and Alonzo “Lonnie” Clayton were both only 15 years old at the time of their victories, making them the youngest-ever jockeys to win the prestigious race – a record still standing more than a century later.

A winning cocktail

In the 1930s, the Kentucky Derby proclaimed its official cocktail the mint julep – which helped popularise the tipple to worldwide acclaim. The cocktail is a must on the first Saturday in May or as early as April – officially dubbed ‘mint julep month’.

The springtime sipper is made with simple syrup, ice, mint, and of course, Kentucky Bourbon and has been a derby-time tradition for nearly 90 years. Other derby day staples include small triangle-cut sandwiches filled with pimento cheese or Benedictine – a creamy cucumber spread, plus some version of Louisville’s official sandwich – the Hot Brown.

Beyond the Derby

On the topic of must-visit Louisville spots, there are some classic attractions you must add to your checklist beyond the derby. The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory offers a glimpse into the world of American baseball, and there are ample opportunities to float around, butterfly-like, on a self-guided tour of Muhammad Ali’s old stomping grounds.

We'd kick ourselves if we didn’t suggest a trip to Louisville's urban bourbon distilleries to meet some of the state’s coolest craftsmen. We recommend heading to the independent distillery Angel’s Envy and tasting its legacy of distilling hand-blended, small-batch bourbon for yourself.


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