The Gateway to the South: A Beginner’s Guide to Louisville

By: Mark Shallcross

January 14, 2014

Louisville, Kentucky first became a stopover for travellers not for its beauty and tourist attractions, but because of necessity. In the late 18th century, settlers navigating the Ohio River by boat were forced to come ashore at the Falls of the Ohio, a series of rapids representing the only major obstacle to river traffic on the waterway. Louisville soon became a major portage site and later an important locale for steamboat trade.


Today, visitors come to Louisville voluntarily “¦ and in steadily increasing numbers. The locals are not the only ones to notice the city’s growing appeal to discerning holidaymakers and business travellers. The editors of Lonely Planet travel guides selected Louisville as their No. 1 U.S. Travel Destination for 2013, and the December 2013/January 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine listed Louisville as one of its 20 Best of the World Destinations, citing the city’s bourgeoning Bourbon Row on Main Street, the newly-opened Evan Williams Experience and the soon-to-open Michter’s, Angel’s Envy and Peerless distilleries in downtown.


What’s all the buzz about? It’s hard to know where to start, but visitors are invariably charmed by the genuine southern hospitality of its residents, and the numerous attractions that the city has to offer. After several years of suffering from urban sprawl, Louisville’s downtown has undergone a renaissance, with dozens of new residential structures springing up, as well as significant investments in new and existing businesses. And for a city of its size, it’s really easy to get around and see the sights.


Louisville Skyline - A Beginner's Guide to Louisville

The Louisville skyline, as seen from the banks of the Ohio River in southern Indiana © The Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau

A cab or rental car ride from Louisville International Airport to the downtown area typically takes less than 10 minutes. Before you know it, you’ve checked into your hotel and you’re ready to hit the ground running – or walking. Many of the most popular tourist stops are only a short walk from each other, especially the Museum Row stretch of Main Street, which showcases the Muhammad Ali Center, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, Kentucky Center for the Arts, KFC Yum! Center, Frazier History Museum, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.


Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory | A Beginner's Guide to Louisville

The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a very popular tourist attraction for families © Lou Oms


Main Street runs parallel to the scenic Ohio River, which is the widest stretch of this important waterway, separating Kentucky and Indiana by the distance of about one mile. In 2013, the long-disused Big Four Bridge connecting the two states opened to pedestrian and bicycle traffic and has proved extremely popular among visitors and locals alike.


Belle of Louisville | A Beginner's Guide to Louisville

The Belle of Louisville, which was built in 1914, is the oldest authentic steamboat in the United States © The Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau 


Louisville has a love for the arts that may be unmatched by any city of its size in the United States. Only a handful of towns around the country are fortunate enough to have their own ballet, orchestra, regional repertory theatre, children’s theatre, opera and Shakespeare festival. The KFC Yum! Center is a stunning venue for University of Louisville basketball games and concerts that would be the envy of any major metropolitan area.


Kentucky Derby | A Beginner's Guide to Louisville

The Kentucky Derby, traditionally held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs, is the oldest continuously held sporting event in the country © The Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau


No trip to Louisville would be complete without a visit to Churchill Downs racetrack and the adjacent Kentucky Derby Museum. You don’t have to know anything about horse racing to find the world’s most famous track a fascinating destination – it will ratchet up a return for the Kentucky Derby on your personal bucket list. The Kentucky Derby Festival, which precedes the horse race by two weeks, features nearly 70 events, including the Great Steamboat Race and Thunder Over Louisville, one of the top three biggest fireworks shows in the world.


Longtime Louisville residents have long been aware of the city’s appeal, but it appears the secret is out.

Our partnership with Delta Air Lines means you can enjoy our award winning service on Virgin Atlantic flights to New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco and then travel onwards to 44 North American destinations with Delta Air Lines – earning miles every step of the way.


You’ll also be able to book direct flights from London Heathrow to Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis. Plus, you can look forward to more frequent flights from Heathrow to New York and Boston, giving you even more choice.


Have you spent time in Louisville? Where are your favourite city spots? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Mark Shallcross


Mark Shallcross

Mark V. Shallcross is a free-lance writer living in Louisville, Kentucky. A graduate of the University of Louisville, Mark is a tenth-generation Kentuckian who has worked as a reporter for The Courier-Journal, Voice-Tribune and Jeffersonville (Indiana) Evening News newspapers. He worked most recently as a communications manager, copywriter and media liaison for the Kentucky Derby Festival. He enjoys travel, reading and competitive running.

Categories: Our Places