Beyond the Derby: Horse Around in Louisville - United Hub

Beyond the Derby: Horse around in Louisville

By Bob Cooper, May 05, 2016

The Kentucky Derby

You can watch how Major League Baseball bats are made at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory in downtown Louisville, yet Louisville — more populous than 11 MLB cities — surprisingly doesn't have any professional sports teams of its own. Instead, Louisville residents pour their enthusiasm (and thousands of gallons of mint juleps) into a two-week festival culminating Saturday, May 7, in the Kentucky Derby.

The Derby, continuously run since 1875, is the World Series of thoroughbred racing squeezed into a two-minute race. Much more than that, it's a major-league celebration that's been called the "biggest party in the South" (sorry, Mardi Gras). But whether you make it to the Derby this year, or visit Louisville when it's less crowded, you'll discover there are many ways to horse around in town that don't involve betting or binoculars.

Horses (of course)

Visiting Louisville without catching a race at Churchill Downs, or at least seeing it, would be like skipping the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You can choose among several guided tour options; all include admission to the Kentucky Derby Museum at the famed racetrack.

Bourbon bonanza

Bourbon lovers are drawn to the distilleries around Louisville just as wine lovers flock to the wineries of the Napa Valley. Several Louisville-area historic distilleries with tours and tasting rooms are on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, topped by the extravagant Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which opened downtown in 2013. If you'd rather not drive, Urban Bourbon Trail restaurants, taverns and hotel bars where fine bourbons are served are within walking distance from downtown.

Museums and more

The Slugger Museum and Bourbon Experience are two of the 10 museums and attractions found on a four-block stretch of downtown Louisville's Museum Row. The two newest additions are the Muhammad Ali Center and Frazier History Museum. The former is a six-story, $80-million tribute to the city's most famous native son. The latter (with no connection to Ali's boxing rival Joe Frazier) features several daily interpretations of scenes from history by costumed performers. Also, the Speed Art Museum at the University of Louisville reopened in March with the completion of a $50-million addition that nearly tripled the gallery space.

Kentucky kingdom

For the kid in all of us, Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay just added Storm Chaser, the first roller-coaster in the U.S. to feature a barrel-roll drop from the equivalent of 10 stories up. Along with four other coasters, the amusement park has 31 rides and 13 waterpark rides, slides and pools — fun for kids and adults.

Fossil fun

Besides hiking and bird-watching, fossil-viewing is popular at Falls of the Ohio State Park, just across the mighty Ohio River from Louisville. Limestone fossil beds cover 220 acres at the river's edge, revealing many fossils from 390 million years ago. The best fossil hunting is between August and November, when the river level is lowest.

Coming soon

You don't need to watch a horse race to come to Louisville for a big event. Abbey Road on the River (May 26-30) is the world's largest Beatles-inspired music festival, and the Forecastle music and art festival (July 15-17) attracts more than 75,000 annually to Louisville's Waterfront Park for bands like this year's headliners, Alabama Shakes and The Avett Brothers. Live music, especially indie rock, is ingrained in the culture of Louisville year-round — a city where "Keep Louisville Weird" is a popular slogan.

How to get there

Louisville International Airport is only 2.5 miles from Churchill Downs and seven miles from downtown. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your trip to see the ponies, the city, or both.

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