Louisville, KY is a short, 2 to 3-hour drive from our home and, we discovered, a great weekend getaway. If you love history, bourbon, horses and hiking, here’s how to spend a perfect three-day weekend in Louisville, KY.
Mammoth Cave, Kentucky Tours
Before heading to Louisville we drove on to Mammoth Cave National Park. It was my first visit to Mammoth Cave, despite living in this area for almost 30 years! There are over 390 miles of cave to this National Park, and much yet to be discovered. I checked their website first, and there are dozens of tours, most requiring advance reservations. I tried to make tour reservations earlier that week, but almost everything was sold out. Walk-up tickets were the only option. We arrived around 1 p.m. CT and, at that point, the only option was the self-guided discovery tour of the historical section.
Even though we were hoping to see more, this tour, which does require a ticket, did not disappoint! The self-guided discovery tour enters through the historic section of the cave, descends down 160 steps and is very easy to traverse. As you enter the cave you can feel the temperature dropping to a cool 58 degrees or so, which compared to the 90 and humid temps above, was a welcome relief! The cave is astonishing, and, well, mammoth!
Mammoth Cave Pro tips:
If you’re going to Mammoth Cave National Park over a weekend, especially over a holiday weekend, visit this website rather than the National Park website, and make your tour reservations in advance. There are almost 20 tours listed and several more not listed according to the person I talked to when I called.
A reminder that Mammoth Cave National Park is in the Central Time Zone, which meant we gained an hour back from our drive, but it was still not early enough to get walk-up tickets for anything but the self-guided tour.
Wear sturdy, hiking shoes or boots. The caves are wet and dark, and it’s easy to slip.
When taking photos, do not use your flash, as you’ll disturb the wildlife.
Allow about three hours to see the highlights. In truth, you could spend days, but three hours will give you a good overview.
Three-day Weekend in Louisville, KY
After our picnic lunch and visit to Mammoth Cave, we drove the 1 1/2 hours back to Louisville, KY to check into our Airbnb, which I reserved earlier that week. Our apartment was located in the historic “Old Louisville” section of the city, complete with extravagant examples of beautifully restored Victorian homes, wide street meridians, Southern-style landscaping and yes, a fountain. Our host, Rebecca, was outstanding! She communicated well, was responsive to our questions and offered great suggestions of things to do while we were there. Her Mid Century, St. James Court listing is adorable and perfectly located. I would highly recommend it if you’re going to visit.
Seelbach Hotel, Louisville, KY
After checking in, we spent a bit of time walking around the Old Louisville area before heading to the famous Seelbach Hotel for drinks and dinner. The Seelbach Hotel is located right off the Fourth Street entertainment district, and a must-stop for history buffs like us. This hotel was immortalized in the novel, The Great Gatsby. The turn of the century Beaux-Arts Baroque architecture has attracted Presidents Taft, Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton!
If you go, be sure to go into the basement to see the famous Rathskeller Room, the only room of its kind crafted entirely from Rookwood Pottery, and upstairs to The Oakroom, Kentucky’s only Five Star restaurant. Al Capone frequented the Oakroom, and there’s a small, private dining area with its own secret exit so he and many other famous gangsters could make a quick getaway.
The next morning we rose early and walked around Old Lousiville, delighting in the beautifully restored homes and gardens. Our destination was the North Lime Coffee and Donut shop, recommended by our Airbnb host and recently built just outside Old Lousiville in a removed warehouse. The walk did us good after the long car ride, and it was a great way to see the area on foot.
Waterfront Park, Louisville, KY
Another great suggestion from our Airbnb host was a visit to Waterfront Park, located along the Ohio River. Visitors can rent bicycles, a surry (with no fringe on top) or just stroll the pedestrian bridge. The park offers great views of all three bridges spanning the river and a fun splash park for the, ahem, kids.
The Brown Hotel, Louisville, KY
The Brown Hotel, located in downtown Louisville, is another beautifully restored historic hotel. We opted for lunch rather than dinner there to save a bit of money, but yes we did have bourbon cocktails! The Brown Hotel is known for its Hot Brown open-face sandwich, which you’ll want to try if you go. We opted for bourbon BBQ and sweet potato tots.
Louisville Water Tower Park
Did you know that Louisville is home to the oldest water tower standing pipe in the world? The Louisville Water Tower Park is open for tours and is home to an outdoor concert venue, which we were able to enjoy that evening. Tours include education on how Louisville developed water filtration methods that are still in use today, and how the quality of the water is what helps to make Kentucky bourbon so famous and delicious!
No visit to Louisville, Kentucky would be complete without stopping at the famous site of the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs. The site is open for tours, has a fantastic and engaging museum, a 360-degree movie theater, barn tours, and a nice restaurant and gift shop. We amused ourselves for a couple hours just touring the museum and the grounds, and have decided to return next year for the derby. I’m actively shopping for a hat.
If you go to Louisville, KY
It turns out, spending the weekend in Lousiville, Kentucky is a great getaway! There are plenty of things to do in the downtown area, but a trip could also include a visit to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which is an outstanding way to experience the distilleries in the area and gain an understanding of the rich history and bourbon tradition that helps to make Kentucky famous.
See you on my next trip!