A special thanks to the Louisville Tourism Board for helping to host us on this trip!
Confession: I have a Travel Bucket List a mile long.
Well, more than one list. I have lists for international travel, long weekend trips, National Parks I want to see…and on we go.
Louisville has been on my “Cities to See” list for a while. It’s not far from us, at a 5-hour drive, and the Kentucky Derby brings it back to my attention every year. So when we started talking about taking a long weekend trip over Columbus Day, I threw Louisville in the mix of possibilities.
Once we did a little research, we couldn’t believe how many unique activities there are to do in Louisville with kids. So this beautiful Southern(ish) city became our long weekend destination!
For a big city, Louisville is much easier to get around than I expected, so we were able to experience a lot in only a few days. If you’re considering a trip to Louisville with your kids, here are some our family’s favorite activities…
Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs
When I told Evan that this was probably my favorite activity we did in Louisville, he was surprised. “I didn’t think you were very into the Kentucky Derby,” he pointed out. But the history of the whole event – the devoted culture of the sport and race itself – completely captured me. The Kentucky Derby Museum was the perfect mix of education and family fun: interactive betting games, horse race simulators, trivia game…alongside beautiful displays of jockey gear, enormously impressive hats and horse stats. (Brenna and I took the title in our family trivia match, but that’s neither here nor there…)
The 360-degree movie about the derby is a must-see. And definitely spring for a tour of Churchill Downs! It was so cool stepping foot inside the track and learning about the history of the race. Now I’m plotting about how to actually attend a Derby (better start saving…bleacher seats start around $330!)
Steamboat River Cruise
The Belle of Louisville River Cruises book themselves as “Louisville at See Level” – so accurate. Being on the river was a really cool new vantage point of the city, with a gorgeous sunset to end the day. We took the Mary M. Miller steamboat on an evening dinner cruise, and our kids are still talking about how much they liked it. Bonus – it was our anniversary, and the steamboat DJ played the song we danced to at our wedding, upon request from my husband!
We always love a good zoo, and Louisville’s is impressive. They have a wide array of animals in well-kept facilities, plus a lot of interactive exhibits and educational components. We hit the zoo when it first opened in the morning to avoid the heat, and it wasn’t too crowded, which was also nice. Connor was enamored with the reptiles (komodo dragon! pythons!), and Brenna loved the giraffes. One of the gorillas even posed with the kids for a picture.
Along Main Street in downtown Louisville is a cluster of museums and attractions known as Museum Row, and I would highly recommend visitors to get a Museum Row pass – which allows you entrance into every museum once within a year’s timeframe. Even just going to half of them like we did gives you enough savings to make it worth it to buy the pass over separate admittance fees. And we loved each of the museums we went to!
The Kentucky Science Center
We are becoming connoisseurs of science centers while we travel. We love the hands-on activities and new ways to engage in experiential learning….and we can’t overlook a helpful factor of science centers: they are inside! When it’s too hot for Brenna (or too cold for all of us), science centers are ideal “playgrounds” for our family.
The Kentucky Science Center was fabulous for all age levels and had so many kinds of exhibits we’d never seen before. Favorites included the wind tubes and earthquake simulation, bridge and roller coaster engineering, and Gemini trainer space capsule.
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
“You have a baby…in a bar…”
OK, who doesn’t love that line from Sweet Home Alabama?! So the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was actually quite kid-friendly, and there were several other families milling about in the gift shop with us! It was an hour-long tour that moved you through the whole history of Evan Williams’ life and whiskey distillery. And there was a tasting at the end that only a quarter of our family participated in 🙂 I wouldn’t recommend for rambunctious toddlers, but babies and older kids would do well – and it’s stroller-friendly with elevators. Though Brenna deemed it on the boring side, Connor enjoyed the chemistry and science behind making whiskey – and Evan and I thought the experience/tour as a whole was really well done.
The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
One of the things I love about traveling is being surprised. We’ve found that often the most popular attractions are not our favorites – whether because of crowds or maybe inflated expectations that disappoint. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory came highly recommended and still totally blew us away! Even Connor and Brenna – who are not what we’d call “baseball enthusiasts” – were protesting when it was time to leave.
We got to see how the bats are made, hold actual game bats from some of the baseball greats (Ken Griffey Jr. for me, thanks very much), and see what it feels like to get pitched a 90mph fastball. I am surprised to say this was one of my favorite activities we did in Louisville this weekend!
To eat: We always seek out local restaurants whenever we go somewhere new, and like all big cities, Louisville offers so many options. A few of our favorites were: Wild Eggs for breakfast, Please and Thank You for coffee, Impellizzeri’s for pizza, and – while not local – we naturally had to make a lunch stop at KFC for some fried chicken!
To stay: We stayed in Louisville at the Galt House Hotel, which is right downtown on the river and afforded us beautiful views of the water and the downtown scene! It was also super close to walk to all of the museums on Museum Row and to local restaurants. (Also, the staff was helpful, and the facilities were super clean – which is important for traveling with special needs!)
Time can be a big deterrent against traveling, so being able to road-trip to a city less than 5 hours away made the perfect trip for a long weekend. Grateful for the memories made together in Louisville!