The Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Louisville

Written by Teresa Bitler

September 7, 2022
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Have a weekend to escape? This ultimate guide to 2 days in Louisville showcases some of the things you must do during your visit to Kentucky.

Growing up, I knew Louisville as the home of the Kentucky Derby. That was enough to pique my interest. But when I learned about the city’s Victorian architecture, bourbon tasting rooms, and distilleries, I knew I had to go with my husband Jerry.

We made that happen on a visit to northern Kentucky to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Even though we spent three days in Louisville, it wasn’t enough. (I’m already planning what we need to see on our next visit.) Just have the time to get away for the weekend? This guide to 2 days in Louisville will point you to the highlights.

Bourbon bars in Louisville.

There are no shortages of bourbon bars, like the Bar at Fort Nelson in Louisville. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Cultural Sights in Louisville

Culture and history blend in Louisville, so most cultural sights have a solid historical bent. For me, the combination of culture and history at these attractions is part of what makes the city so fascinating.

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Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory

Your visit begins with free time in the museum. There, you’ll learn about Hillerich & Bradsby, the Louisville furniture company behind the infamous bat, as well as the evolution of the game. You can also pose next to the likenesses of some of the game’s greats, like Babe Ruth, holding a Louisville Slugger. Part museum and part factory tour, this experience is a must even if you don’t know a fly ball from a foul ball.

Louisville Slugger Factory Tour.

On the Louisville Slugger Factory Tour, you’ll learn how wooden cylinders become bats. Photo by Teresa Bitler

When called for your tour, you’ll step into the actual factory where artisans work shaping, dipping, and painting the bats. You can take all the photos you want, and you’ll get a miniature bat at the end as a souvenir. Fans who desire more souvenirs can get them at the museum’s extensive gift shop.

Roots 101 African-American Museum

Open Tuesday through Saturday, the Roots 101 African-American Museum traces the history of African Americans from royalty in their native land to bondage in the United States. The museum uses art to tell much of the narrative. I particularly liked the pieces from Africa on the first floor.

Art tells the story of African Americans at the Roots 101 African-American Museum in Louisville.

Art tells the story of African Americans at the Roots 101 African-American Museum. Photo by Teresa Bitler

While the second floor contains more artifacts, art still dominates. For example, a room dedicated to social justice features numerous paintings and photographs. It is powerful and fascinating. Plan to spend up to an hour and a half, depending on how long you linger over each piece.

Muhammad Ali Center

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali was a cultural icon, and the museum dedicated to him celebrates his legacy. Start by watching the movie shown in the Orientation Theater, especially if you don’t know much about him. Then, continue through the museum. I’m not much of a boxing fan, but I found the exhibits on his rise to fame and career interesting. And I enjoyed the Train with Ali interactives.

The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville.

The Muhammad Ali Center tells the story of the legendary boxer. Photo by Teresa Bitler

However, if you can’t stand boxing, it’s nearly impossible to avoid the sport on a visit to the Muhammad Ali Center. The introductory movie includes clips from his matches and highlights from fights played throughout the museum.

Historical Sights in Louisville

Founded in 1778, Louisville has a rich history built on horses, bourbon, and tobacco. You’ll get some city history when you visit the cultural attractions above. But if you love history, you won’t want to miss these three stops.

Frazier History Museum

This museum covers everything Louisville. You’ll learn about Lewis and Clark, bourbon’s impact on the economy, and why Louisville’s nickname is “Glitter Ball City.” (Hint: It’s the Disco Ball Capital of the World.) My favorite exhibits include the multi-wall display of bourbon bottles and the Charles W. Stewart Historic Miniatures Collection.

The Frazier History Museum in Louisville.

The Frazier History Museum has an extensive bourbon exhibit, including these displayed bottles. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Frazier History Museum doubles as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center, so even if you skip the museum’s exhibits, it’s worth stopping at the welcome center. You can buy more than 90 brands of bourbon and bourbon-related souvenirs here, and it offers several programs. There are daily bourbon tastings, mixology programs, and private tastings.

Old Louisville History and Architecture Tour

Old Louisville is one of the oldest historic districts in the United States and contains some of the nation’s best examples of Victorian architecture. The homes, built mostly between 1880 and 1905, represent a variety of styles, including Italianate, Victorian Gothic, and Queen Anne.

Victorian architecture in Louisville.

Old Louisville has some of the nation’s best Victorian architecture. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Book the Old Louisville History and Architecture Tour offered by Louisville Historic Tours to see the houses and learn about the city. On tour, you’ll learn about industry leaders who lived here, some local scandals, and even about a ghost or two that haunts the area.

This walking tour was one of my favorite activities in Louisville, but it does cover a lot of ground in 90 minutes. (You’ll walk through multiple neighborhoods and parks designed by Frank Olmstead, who designed Central Park in New York City.) If you have mobility issues or walk at a slower pace, you may want to call Louisville Historic Tours to make sure it won’t be too much for you.

Walking tour in Louisville.

On an Old Louisville walking tour, you’ll learn a lot about the city’s past and architecture. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Churchill Downs – Kentucky Derby Museum

Located at Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby Museum celebrates all things related to the annual Run for the Roses. Exhibits feature racing superstars Secretariat and American Pharoah, legendary trainer D. Wayne Lucas, and celebrity jockey Bill Shoemaker. You can get a feel for what it’s like to sit at the starting gate or test your jockeying skills in an interactive video race.

Don’t miss the complimentary 18-minute movie about the Kentucky Derby. It was one of the highlights for me. If you love the Derby, as I do, you could easily spend two hours here, especially if you take one of the daily tours of Churchill Downs ($17 per person). And take the time to see a retired racehorse at the Kentucky Derby Museum Stable. It’s free even if you don’t visit the museum.

The Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville.

The Kentucky Derby Museum is located next door to Churchill Downs. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Tip: Horseracing fans will want to visit nearby Lexington, Kentucky, for a deeper dive into the horses and individuals behind the Sport of Kings.

Bourbon Activities in Louisville

In addition to the Frazier History Museum, downtown Louisville boasts seven stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Additionally, the city has its own Urban Bourbon Trail, highlighting distillery tours, bourbon-centric bars, and more. Here are a few of my favorites.

Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery

Located a few storefronts from the Frazier History Museum and across the street from the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery is one of the most famous distilleries in the area. Tours fill up weeks in advance, but the distillery has a lovely gift shop and an upstairs bar, The Bar at Fort Nelson. We went for the drinks but returned the following day for the bottling experience.

Jerry filled his own bottle at Michter's Fort Nelson Distillery in Louisville.

My husband, Jerry, filled his own bottle at Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery. Photo by Teresa Bitler.

Although not listed on the distillery’s website, Michter’s allows a few people to fill a bottle of Fort Nelson Reserve Barrel Strength Rye to bring home on select mornings. The experience cost $150, and honestly, Jerry just pulled a lever to start and stop the flow of bourbon. Still, he loved it and said it was one of the highlights of our entire Kentucky trip.

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Most distillery tours and tasting experiences are the same. That’s not true at Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, where you can learn about bourbon through unique experiences. For example, the distillery offers a charcuterie class, which teaches you how to pair charcuterie with bourbon. And, at the Speakeasy Tasting Experience on Saturdays and Sundays, you enter a speakeasy where you taste five premium bourbons and learn about Prohibition in Louisville.

The Ideal Bartender Experience at Evan Williams in Louisville.

The Ideal Bartender Experience at Evan Williams features “Tom Bullock,” the first African American to write a cocktail book. Photo by Teresa Bitler

We opted for The Ideal Bartender Experience. The tasting, set in the Prohibition era, introduces guests to Louisville native Tom Bullock, the first African American to write and publish a cocktail book. As he narrates the story in character, the mixologist pours three premium bourbons and makes you a cocktail. Hands down, this was my favorite tour on our Kentucky Bourbon Trail trip.

Doc Crow’s

This restaurant on Whiskey Row stands out for several reasons. First, the location is inside a historic distillery warehouse. Second, the restaurant’s name comes from the person who created Kentucky bourbon, Dr. James C. Crow. And third, it serves fresh oysters and great barbecue. But bourbon lovers come for the bourbon.

Doc Crow's in Louisville.

Doc Crow’s is known for its ribs, oysters, and bourbon. Photo by Teresa Bitler

You can enjoy bourbons in the restaurant or at the bar, but true bourbon aficionados head to the Bourbon Room, where they’ll find more than 2,000 bottles available for 1-ounce tasters and 2-ounce pours. Doc Crow’s sells six bourbon flights, including an introductory, small batch, and rye flight. If there is a particular bourbon you’re dying to taste, Doc Crow’s Bourbon Room is the place to find it.

Historic Hotels in Louisville

Louisville has quite a few historic hotels. Whether you stay in them or not, they’re worth a visit for their impressive architecture, legends, bourbon, and food.

The Brown Hotel

Opened in 1923, The Brown Hotel, a Georgian-Revival hotel, wows architecturally. If you’re short on time, make a point to visit the Lobby Bar and Grill for a drink. The mixologists do more than use fresh fruit and herbs in their drinks. I watched one use a manual ice crusher to make the crushed ice for my Mint Julep. You can also order other bourbon-based cocktails like an old-fashioned or create your own bourbon flight.

The hot brown open-faced sandwich invented in Louisville.

The Hot Brown open-faced sandwich is a Kentucky favorite invented at The Brown. Photo by Teresa Bitler

Architecture and bourbon aren’t the only reasons to visit The Brown Hotel. Go for a Hot Brown. The hotel restaurant invented this open-faced sandwich for dinner dance guests in the 1920s. This open-faced turkey sandwich now appears on menus across the state, featuring bacon and topped with Mornay sauce. It’s delicious (and worth getting at the hotel that invented it), but it’s rich.

The Seelbach Hilton Louisville

The Seelbach Hilton Louisville is a legendary hotel with marble floors and a grand staircase. Over the years, it has hosted presidents, including Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Celebrities like Neil Diamond, Rod Stewart, Boy George, and Keith Richards have spent the night here. But its most infamous guest may be Al Capone, who could escape through tunnels under the hotel if law enforcement came looking for him.

The Seelbach in Louisville.

Harry Truman, Al Capone, Keith Richards, and other celebrities have checked into The Seelbach. Photo by Teresa Bitler

I stayed two nights and loved the history at The Seelbach. I was also intrigued by some design elements, like the box built into my door near the floor. When I asked, I learned that in the past, you could leave your shoes in that box at bedtime. You’d find your freshly polished shoes waiting for you the following day.

How to Explore Louisville

If you plan to visit Louisville, you can fly into Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport and rely on rideshares to get around. Even though we had a rental car, we used Uber several times because parking downtown could be a hassle.

The best time to visit is the spring and fall. However, the racing season at Churchill Downs is mid-March to June and September to October. The busy season can affect the number of people at hotels, restaurants, bars, and on the roads. Unless you have tickets to the Kentucky Derby, you will probably want to plan your visit for any time other than the first weekend in May.

The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory Tour in Louisville.

The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory Tour is one of the most popular attractions in Louisville. Photo by Teresa Biter

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When to Visit Louisville

The off-season runs from the beginning of July to the end of August, the hottest time of the year. It picks up again during winter, November through February, the city’s coldest months. Plan your trip accordingly. You could easily spend more than 2 days in Louisville. But if you’re on a tight schedule, this ultimate guide covers the city’s highlights. You may find that, like me, you will want to come back to see even more. When planning your trip to Louisville, Kentucky, or some other fantastic destination in the Midwest, let Wander with Wonder be your guide.

Louisville is more than the Kentucky Derby. The city has incredible architecture, bourbon tasting rooms and so much more to see and do. This ultimate guide to 2 days in Louisville showcases some of the things you must do during your visit to Kentucky.


The Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Louisville

Written by Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning travel writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Wine Enthusiast, and AAA publications. She’s also the author of two guidebooks (Great Escapes Arizona and Backroads and Byways of Indian Country) and a contributor to Fodors Arizona & The Grand Canyon. While Teresa would never miss a must-see attraction, such as the Statue of Liberty in New York City, her favorite travel experiences are the unexpected ones: KoolAid with a Hopi medicine man, lobster prepared by a local on a Belizean beach, or a ride in a World War II-era bomber.

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