It’s easy to love Louisville; the city checks lots of boxes as a tourism destination to visit and a place to live: it’s prosperous (#28 in our measure of Household Income and #30 for Fortune 500).
Then there’s its uncountable varieties of craft bourbon (more about that in a minute) and a nod from Bon Appetit magazine as “one of the best foodie small towns in America.” In fact, everyone from Zagat to Southern Living sings the praises of local dining. There are 2,500 restaurants, several manned by James Beard honorees; Louisville calls itself “The Culinary Capital of Bourbon Country” and is a prominent member of the Southern “Lardcore” movement—we suspect that deep fried bacon, perhaps with peach chutney, may be involved.
The city is also the birthplace of the Louisville Slugger, baseball bat of Babe Ruth legend—you can visit the factory and museum, and watch the manufacture of one of the 1.8 million bats that are made every year. If your idea of a home run is The Greatest, there’s the three-level Muhammad Ali Center, “not just an experience, but a journey into the heart of a champion,” says the literature.
Louisville also, of course, hosts the most famous horse race in the world, which is the perfect combination of the aforementioned Bourbon, a little mint, a lot of outlandish millinery, and the planet’s most inspiring display of equine speed and heart. If you miss Derby Day, you can bet on Churchill Downs’ on-site museum to deliver the flavor. No surprise that Louisville is #28 in our ranking for Attractions; those are only a few of myriad offerings that run the gamut. This is a city with a Museum Row—and a #31 ranking in our Museums category.
Did we mention Bourbon? The Mint Julep has been the official cocktail of the Derby since 1938; the Old Fashioned, created here in the 1880’s, is the city’s official cocktail, but all that is old hat. It’s Louisville’s growing Urban Bourbon Experience that’s all the rage. A billion dollars of investment since 2008 has given rise to new developments on the established Whiskey Row, so that you can imbibe at familiar establishments like Angel’s Envy, Jim Beam and Bulleit, and at craft distilleries like Peerless and Copper & Kings.
In all, there are some 34 stops, each offering at least 50 bourbons and some as many as 150. Along with the billion dollar building boom, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association says that more than 1 million people visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour experiences last year. America’s only native spirit pours $8.5 billion a year into the state’s economy, generates up to 17,500 good-paying jobs—with an annual payroll topping $800 million—and provides $825 million in tax revenue.
The best part is that all of the above is just the beginning. NuLu, just east of downtown, is a five-block stretch of new cool in old Victorian buildings, with restaurants, cafés and locally-produced design. In the thicket of accolades is Food & Wine magazine’s declaration that NulLu’s East Market Street is “One of the 10 Best Foodie Streets in America.” Decca restaurant is currently prized, and you can ride off dinner or bike downtown on a shared two-wheeler.
If NuLu’s too good to leave, you can also check in to the new, as of spring 2018, AC by Marriott, a sure sign that the neighborhood’s made the mainstream. For a taste of local hospitality, don’t miss downtown’s 21c Museum Hotel Louisville. The game-changing collection of boutique hotels—which have eye-popping contemporary art museums woven into their very essence—was born in Louisville and continues to delight. Once you’ve had an eyeful, sit down at Proof on Main, the hotel’s esteemed restaurant. Cheers!