Today’s CITY GUIDE is brought to you by Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy!
Louisville has been called “Portland of the East” and “Austin of the North,” but this quirky, compact town shines in its own right. Locals aren’t surprised when their city is named among the “most livable” in the country, or picked as a top travel destination.
Let’t start with what you already know: Louisville hosts the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of May each year, and it’s fabulous and fun and worthy of a spot on your bucket list. Louisville is also the traditional gateway to rural bourbon country. Launch your trip from here, or stay right in town and hit the Urban Bourbon Trail–a DIY tour of the best bourbon bars in the city.
But there’s far more to Louisville than horses and bourbon.
Louisville is a foodie town: the city is packed with community gardens, farmers’ markets, and independent restaurants. The East Market district (also known as NuLu, for New Louisville) packs many diverse choices into a few short blocks. Popular picks here include fast and fresh Taco Punk and La Coop, the swanky French place next door.
If you’re looking for a good cup of coffee, try Please and Thank You–a combination coffee shop/restaurant/record shop in the next block–that serves coffee from local roaster Argo Sons. This is a coffee town: Louisville boasts an unusual number of shops (and more importantly, roasters) for a city its size. Local favorites that roast their own are Sunergos, Quills, and Vint, where you can get a Vint Julep: an improbably delicious latté sweetened with smoked bourbon and mint julep sugars from Bourbon Barrel Foods.
NuLu is within easy walking distance of central downtown. If you time your visit right, you can see groundbreaking theater before anyone else does at the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays. The gleaming Muhammad Ali Center is right around the corner, and sports fans will want to visit the Louisville Slugger Museum, impossible to miss because of the 120 foot baseball bat displayed out front.
(If you’re staying in town, the place to go is 21c Museum Hotel, known it by its distinctive red penguins, bejeweled limo, and replica statue of David. Make sure you visit the bathrooms in the lobby.)
Downtown is flanked by Waterfront Park, a fairly recent addition to Louisville’s vast park system. Louisville loves its parks, which were thoughtfully woven through the city more than 100 years ago: famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed Louisville’s park network, and these parks are heavily used today.
Visit the Cherokee Triangle’s Willow Park, lovingly known as the most popular park per square foot, and home to weddings, summer concert series, art fairs, and everyday lounging. The park is overlooked by a series of stunning homes, one of which is speculated to be the model for Daisy’s house in The Great Gatsby.
The park sits in Louisville’s charmingly quirky Highlands neighborhood, which is home to “restaurant row.” Favorites include the former speakeasy Jack Fry’s and Seviché, which serves award-winning Nuevo Latino fare. Hipsters flock to the neighborhood for its unique shops and thriving farmers’ markets.
Louisville’s a great place to live, and a great place to visit. You may come for the horses and bourbon, but you’ll stay for everything else. Enjoy your visit!
*Skyline photo by peacemel