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IntroductionEach year Louisville hosts more than 150,000 fans for "the greatest two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby. But even if you're not lucky enough to be at the track with a mint julep in your hand on the first Saturday in May, there's plenty to celebrate.
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In DepthFor 2 weeks each spring Louisville is an arena of glamour and festivity as the city anticipates and witnesses the Kentucky Oaks on the first Friday in May, where 3-year-old fillies race for a garland of lilies, and the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. The oldest continuously held horse race in the country, the Kentucky Derby pits the world's best 3-year-old Thoroughbreds in a 1.25-mile race for a purse of more than $600,000 and a chance to become the winner of the coveted Triple Crown of racing.
Louisville is much more than a horse-racing town, however: It also is a cultural and industrial center. Its repertory theater is nationally recognized, its orchestra has its own recording label, its performing arts are nourished by an unusual public funding program and its industries lead the country in automotive manufacturing, plumbing and heating equipment, home appliances, specialty chemicals and industrial minerals.
Louisville is located on a plain adjacent to the falls of the Ohio River. Named in honor of Louis XVI of France, the first permanent settlement on the site was established in 1778 by Col. George Rogers Clark, accompanied by 120 soldiers and 20 families. Fort Nelson, named after Gov. Thomas Nelson of Virginia, was completed in 1782. A plaque at the corner of 7th and Main streets commemorates the establishment of the city and the fort.
The city's growth was directly related to westward expansion. The Ohio River was a conveyor of both people and commerce. The portaging of goods around the falls contributed heavily to the settlement's early economy. In 1830, when the Portland Canal opened the way for river traffic from Pittsburgh to New Orleans, Louisville was catapulted from a frontier outpost into an important station of the New Orleans commercial empire.
The town attracted diverse ethnic groups, with the majority of the immigrants coming from Ireland, Germany and Scotland. Together they made Louisville an industrial center and inspired its cultural and architectural growth. Well-preserved neighborhoods reflect the impact of their heritage. Victorian houses, complete with stained-glass windows and iron fences, are found in Old Louisville. Butchertown, the German settlement and meatpacking area, exemplifies the simple lifestyles of its founders.
The city is known for producing one-third of the world's supply of bourbon. From a business standpoint Louisville's location has attracted many corporate offices, including Brown-Forman Corp., Humana Inc., Papa John's International and YUM Brands, Inc. The city's facilities draw trade shows, conferences and conventions.
Louisville's downtown has undergone extensive redevelopment and represents diverse architectural styles. The Riverfront Plaza and Belvedere is an urban plaza and park; on one plaza wall is a one-story stained-glass window depicting 200 years of the city's history. Kentucky Center's glass walls reflect facades of buildings which have been renovated and converted into museums, theaters, shops and restaurants. East of downtown at River Road and Zorn Avenue, The Water Tower is an example of classic industrial architecture, with a Grecian temple front and a great standpipe tower modeled after the Roman triumphal column. Also by River Road is the Patriots Peace Memorial, which commemorates fallen military personnel of the United States. And on Bradley Avenue near Eastern Parkway is The Grotto and Garden of Our Lady of Lourdes , a contemplative spot designed to resemble its namesake shrine in France.
As it plies the waters of the Ohio, The Belle of Louisville is a constant reminder of the city's river history even as it offers views of the ever-evolving metropolis. Both are definitive of the Louisville that, like the bourbon it produces, is a smooth blend—a tasteful mix of new with old, big city with small town and high-tech industry with gracious living.
By CarThe major north-south route that bisects the city is I-65. From the north it comes from Indianapolis and enters the city via the JFK Memorial Bridge. From the south it passes through Nashville and skirts Louisville International Airport on its way into downtown. Numerous exits provide easy access to city streets. I-65 is closely paralleled north of the city by US 31. The four-lane George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge, also known as the Second Street Bridge, crosses the Ohio River and carries US 31, a route which divides into US 31E and US 31W south of Louisville.
East-west traffic is best served by I-64. On the west it crosses the Ohio River from Indiana into Louisville on the Sherman Minton Bridge. It is a close neighbor of US 60 east of Louisville, bringing traffic from Frankfort and Lexington. In the city it hugs the riverfront, where it is called Riverside Parkway. Exits are at major city thoroughfares. The northeastern access is via I-71 from Cincinnati.
I-264 (the Henry Watterson Expressway and the Shawnee Expressway) bypasses downtown and loops around the western, southern and eastern portions of the city. Linking with short sections of I-64 and I-71, it provides a complete circuit of Louisville with interchanges at major cross routes. Farther out, the Gene Snyder Freeway (I-265) affords a bypass from US 42 to US 31W with interchanges at major highways.
Street SystemDriving in Louisville is relatively easy with the help of a good city map. North-south address numbers start at Main Street; east-west numbering begins at 1st Street. Unless otherwise posted, the speed limit is 35 mph. Avoid rush hour traffic, 7:30-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m., if possible.
ParkingMany downtown streets have metered parking, but be careful to check signs and meters for restricted times and limits. Commercial garage and lot parking is usually available. Rates are 50c-75c per hour. Visitors also can purchase a “Smart Card” (which works like a debit card) at the visitor's center.
Public TransportationTransit Authority of River City (TARC) operates buses and trolleys throughout the Louisville metropolitan area. The base fare for buses is $1.75; exact change is required. Transfers from one bus route to another are free and are valid for 2 hours; remember to ask the driver for a transfer upon boarding. TARC offers discount bus fares for senior citizens and the physically impaired. The Day Tripper pass, which allows for unlimited rides for an entire day, may be purchased for $3 at the Louisville Visitors Center on the corner of 4th and Jefferson streets and at Union Station, 1000 W. Broadway.
The 4th Street Trolley travels on 4th Street from Theatre Square to the Galt House. The trolley's route extends further south to Breckenridge Mon.-Fri. 9-6:30. They also travel through Fourth Street Live, except during special events, when a detour route is followed. Green signs indicate stops for the 4th Street Trolley. The fare is 50 cents.
The Main Street Trolley runs a circular 3.5-mile route on Main and Market from 10th Street to Campbell Street. This trolley also provides service to Slugger Field for Louisville Bats baseball games on weeknights. Red signs indicate Main/Market Trolley stops. The fare is 50 cents.
Call the TARC Travel Center, (502) 585-1234, for information about fares, schedules and routes.
About the CIty
Sales TaxKentucky levies a 6 percent sales tax. The city of Louisville levies an additional 9.5 percent hospitality tax on hotel rooms.
Whom To Call
Police (non-emergency)(502) 574-7111
HospitalsJewish Hospital & St. Mary's Healthcare, (502) 587-4011; Norton Hospital, (502) 629-8000; Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital, (502) 361-6000; University of Louisville Hospital, (502) 562-3000.
Where To Look and Listen
NewspapersThe major daily newspaper, the Courier-Journal, is published in the morning. On Thursday the Courier-Journal publishes Velocity, which includes listings of the city's events for the coming week.
RadioLouisville radio stations WFPL (89.3 FM), WFPK (91.9 FM) and WUOL (90.5 FM) are members of National Public Radio. For a complete list of radio programs, consult the daily newspaper.
Visitor InformationLouisville Visitor Information Center 301 S. 4th St. LOUISVILLE, KY 40202. Phone:(502)379-6106 or (800)626-5646Contact the convention and visitors bureau at the above address to have a Louisville information packet mailed to you.
Air TravelSouth of the city near the junction of I-65 and I-264, 7 miles from downtown, Louisville International Airport (SDF) is served by most major passenger airlines. Cab service to the downtown area averages 15 minutes and costs $19.55. Transit Authority of River City (TARC) buses service the airport 23 times daily, 6 a.m.-11:30 p.m.; fare is $1.75.
Many hotels and motels provide courtesy car service.
Rental CarsLike most large cities, Louisville has many car rental agencies. Hertz, (502) 361-0182 or (800) 654-3131, offers discounts to AAA members.
Rail ServiceNo passenger trains serve Louisville.
BusesGreyhound Lines Inc., 7th Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, is the major bus line; phone (502) 561-2805.
TaxisTaxis are metered and charge $4.70 for the first mile and $2.25 for each additional mile. Tips range from 10 to 15 percent. Taxis must be ordered by telephone. The largest cab company is Yellow Cab, (502) 636-5511.
Public TransportationTARC operates buses and minibuses throughout the metropolitan area.
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EssentialsDo the Derby. If you can plan ahead to attend the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, you'll witness a thrilling horse-racing spectacular, which also happens to be quite a party. The Kentucky Derby Festival precedes the race, an extravaganza featuring fireworks, concerts, sports and even a Derby Ball.
If you can't make the Kentucky Derby, then by all means visit Churchill Downs (700 Central Ave.) to walk the hallowed grounds during a 30-minute guided tour. This is also the site of the Kentucky Derby Museum (704 Central Ave.), which showcases everything from stunning Derby hats and other fashions to exhibits about the famous Thoroughbreds that have graced the track.
Baseball fans won't want to miss the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory (800 W. Main St.), where the official bat of the major league is crafted. While some might be more inclined to view the collection of memorabilia dedicated to America's pastime, others might be curious to inspect a batting cage or observe bats being created in the onsite manufacturing facility.
Enjoy Louisville's parks and recreation. For a sweeping panorama of the Ohio River, try Louisville Waterfront Park (401 River Rd.), a place with a children's play area. Or head to Cherokee Park (745 Cochran Hill Rd.), with a 2.4-mile scenic loop traveling past woodlands, meadows and rolling hills. Jefferson Memorial Forest (11311 Mitchell Hill Rd.) in Fairdale—only a 15-minute drive from downtown—offers stellar hiking, fishing and camping.
If you're in search of an outing that appeals to all ages, you can't go wrong at the Louisville Zoo (1100 Trevilian Way). Playful polar bears thrill the kids, who also like hand-feeding the lorikeets, watching a bear-training demonstration or attending a giraffe feeding. You can navigate the facility by foot, or take a load off and ride the zoo’s tram or train.
The Muhammad Ali Center (144 N. 6th St.) pays tribute to the legendary boxer in his hometown. Interactive exhibits and multimedia presentations, including a five-screen orientation film, outline Ali's life experiences and core values. A re-creation of the Champ's training camp allows participants to practice punches on a speed bag or engage in a round of shadow boxing.
Browse for souvenirs in one of Louisville's unique shopping districts. Specialty shops and galleries dot Frankfort Avenue, also a hub for dining and entertainment. If antiques are your thing, check out the stores on East Market Street, where you'll also find artworks, home décor and upscale restaurants.
If you're up for a learning experience, Louisville can accommodate. At Kentucky Science Center (727 W. Main St.), you can explore math, science and technology through hands-on displays, while highlights at Frazier History Museum (829 W. Main St.) include such intriguing American historical artifacts as Daniel Boone's family Bible and President Theodore Roosevelt's "Big Stick."
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Take a stroll through Old Louisville, said to be America's largest Victorian neighborhood. You can wander on your own, reserve a guided tour, or pick up a brochure for a self-guiding tour at the Historic Old Louisville Visitors Center (301 S. Fourth St.). Architecture buffs will delight in admiring the range of styles represented by the quaint structures, which include Queen Anne, Renaissance Revival and Chateauesque.
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ShoppingMany of Louisville's historic buildings have been converted into shopping and dining complexes, which makes browsing for a special purchase even more interesting. Works by regional artists are sold at numerous galleries in NuLu (new Louisville). Antique shops along Bardstown Road offer many choices for collectors.
Fourth Street Live!, a pedestrian mall downtown on 4th Street between Liberty Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard, is a retail, dining and entertainment zone as well as a venue for concerts and other outdoor events. A glass ceiling over 4th Street provides protection from the elements. Hard Rock Cafe, 424 S. 4th St., offers a collection of rock 'n' roll merchandise.
At the intersection of Gene Snyder Freeway (I-265) and Brownsboro Road (SR 22) is Paddock Shops, a collection of more than 60 upscale shops and restaurants in a landscaped outdoor setting.
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East of the city in Shelbyville, English antiques and silver are the specialties of the Wakefield-Scearce Galleries.
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Performing ArtsT he Louisville Fund for the Arts, started in 1949 to provide financial assistance to theater, art, music and dance, was the first of its kind in the United States. It now supports more than 12 organizations. An example of the city's enthusiasm for the arts is evident at the Riverfront Plaza and Belvedere, home to The Kentucky Center.
The Tony Award-winning Actors Theatre of Louisville, (502) 584-1205, is in a complex at 316 W. Main St. that includes three theaters: the Victor Jory, a converted Victorian warehouse; the Pamela Brown, a modern auditorium-style structure; and the 316-seat-in-the-round Bingham Theatre. This resident professional troupe performs September to May. Their annual Humana Festival of New American Plays draws international attention and is held late March through early April.
Kentucky Opera; Louisville Ballet; and Stage One: The Louisville Children's Theatre perform at The Kentucky Center. The opera, (502) 584-4500, presents works September through February, and the ballet, (502) 583-3150, performs September through April. Stage One presents plays for children September through May; phone (502) 589-4060. Repertory dance troupes and theatrical and musical companies from throughout the country also are drawn to the center.
The Little Colonel Players, (502) 241-9906, the area's oldest community theater, stages its productions in Pewee Valley, while the Derby Dinner Playhouse, in nearby Jeffersonville, Ind., (812) 288-8281, offers Broadway plays and a buffet dinner in a theater-in-the-round setting.
The free Kentucky Shakespeare Festival performances from mid-June through July are a must; phone (502) 574-9900. Enjoy a picnic in the park, then stroll over to the Ramey Amphitheatre at Fourth Street between Park and Magnolia. Other summer highlights are the musicals, movies and concerts presented at the Iroquois Amphitheater in Iroquois Park; phone (502) 368-5865.
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The Chamber Music Society sponsors concerts by international artists at the University of Louisville's School of Music; phone (502) 852-6907.
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Boat ToursThe authentic 1914 stern-wheel steamboat The Belle of Louisville, reputedly the world's only Mississippi-style steamboat, and her sister vessel The Spirit of Jefferson, both docked at Louisville's 4th Street wharf, offer sightseeing, sunset, lunch and dinner cruises on the Ohio River; phone (502) 574-2992 or (866) 832-0011.
Carriage ToursLouisville Horse Trams Inc. provides downtown horse and carriage sightseeing tours in surreys after 6 p.m. Monday through Friday (weather permitting) and Saturday and Sunday beginning at 4; phone (502) 581-0100.
Walking ToursThe city's 48-block Old Louisville neighborhood is a treasure-trove of more than 1,400 Victorian homes. The Historic Old Louisville Visitors Center at 1340 S. 4th St. in Central Park has literature for self-guiding walking tours that encompass the neighborhood's mansions; phone (502) 635-5244. This center is open Tues.-Fri. 1-5.
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EventsIn addition to its many cultural and historic landmarks, this destination hosts a number of outstanding festivals and events that may coincide with your visit.
Louisville has much to celebrate and wastes no time doing just that through various ethnic festivals, fairs, music events, art and trade shows, and of course, horse races. For current listings of events check the local newspapers.
To Louisvillins the Kentucky Derby , held on the first Saturday in May, is not just a horse race but the last day of the Kentucky Derby Festival , a 2-week event accented by picnics, banquets and dances; music events with top-name entertainment; and bicycle, balloon and steamboat races. The whole festival is kicked off in grand style by Thunder Over Louisville , one of the nation's premiere air shows and fireworks displays. The city comes down with Derby fever a week before the race, and its population mushrooms with the influx of tourists, all anxious to experience one of the nation's largest celebrations.
The National Farm Machinery Show and Championship Tractor Pull , held at the Kentucky Exposition Center, draws crowds in mid-February. The center is also the site for the NSRA Street Rod Nationals , usually held late July-early August and said to be the world's largest street rod event with more than 11,000 pre-1949 vehicles.
Beatles fans flock to the Abbey Road on the River Music Festival in May when a tribute to Britain's fab four is presented. In July the Forecastle Festival , a music, art and activism event, draws more than 40 bands and some 50 environmental organizations to entertain and inform along the Ohio River.
In mid-August Louisville presents the Kentucky State Fair and Horse Show , also held at the Exposition Center. Besides the horse show—a prestigious event for Saddlebreds—exhibits and musical entertainment also are on the fair's schedule.
WorldFest , on Labor Day weekend, features international music, dance and food. Also in September, the IdeaFestival attracts highly diverse thinkers from across the globe to explore and celebrate innovation, imagination and cutting-edge ideas.
Mid-September ushers in Oktoberfest at the German-American Club, while Butchertown's German community holds The Original Butchertown Oktoberfest at St. Joseph Catholic Church in late October.
The fine arts are celebrated during several fairs and festivals. Shakespearean plays are performed each summer, mid-June to mid-July, during the Kentucky Shakespeare Festival . Performances are free. The first weekend in October, the St. James Court Art Show is held at St. James and Belgravia courts.
Step back in time to a Victorian era with holiday lights, vendors selling British fare and a parade during Light Up Louisville in late November.
See all the AAA recommended events for this destination.
Places in Vicinity