Louisville offers a variety of recreational activities, from a leisurely steamboat excursion on the Ohio River to a fun-filled day at a theme park. The city's most famous attraction is Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby, held annually on the first Saturday in May. With a grandstand featuring trademark twin Edwardian spires, the track was established in 1874, and the first Derby was run the following year. Another of the area's most popular attractions is Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, a family adventure theme park featuring Chang, the tallest, longest, fastest stand-up roller coaster in the world.
The city retains a flavor of the past with its historic Main Street, a restored district that features the second-largest collection of cast-iron buildings in the United States (only New York City has more). Many homes have also been restored; regular tours are offered to visitors who wish to experience a taste of life as it was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Among the most popular residences are Locust Grove, the last home of Louisville founder George Rogers Clark; FarnsleyMoreman Landing, a nineteenth-century Kentucky "I" house with a two-story Greek Revival portico; the Farmington Historic Site, which features octagonal rooms; the Brennan House, the last remaining private home in downtown Louisville; the Culbertson mansion, an example of Second Empire architecture; and the Whitehall House and Gardens, a classic Revival antebellum mansion on ten acres. The Thomas Edison Butchertown House/Museum, a shotgun cottage, contains a collection of Edison inventions. Tours are available at the 1871 Spalding University Mansion and at Conrad-Caldwell House, a completely renovated 1895 home in "Old Louisville," a neighborhood of elegant nineteenth-century mansions. The Filson Historic Society is headquartered in a 1900s home and features artifacts, manuscripts, portraiture, special collections, and a library for historical and genealogical research. The Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage tells the story of African-Americans in Kentucky. The Zachary Taylor National Cemetery and Monument honors the dead of many wars, and the Cave Hill Cemetery and Arboretum is a historic 297-acre cemetery and botanical garden.
Nature lovers can visit the Louisville Zoo, which displays more than 1,300 animals in a 73-acre park-like setting. Twelve western lowland gorillas are on display at the zoo's popular Gorilla Forest habitat. The Louisville Nature Center is an urban oasis where visitors can enjoy more than 150 species of birds, wild animals and flower-decked trails. Buffalo Crossing is a working buffalo ranch in Shelbyville, complete with pony rides, a petting zoo, playground and restaurant.
Several local industries provide tours of their facilities. Among them are Jim Beam American Outpost, located about 25 miles south of the city; Hillerich & Bradsby, makers of the Louisville Slugger baseball bat; Philip Morris, one of the largest cigarette companies under one roof; and Louisville Stoneware Company, where visitors can paint their own pottery. American Printing House for the Blind and Callahan Museum, which creates products and services for the blind and visually impaired, offers plant and museum tours. Gray Line specializes in bus tours of the city. Horse-drawn carriages ride past historical sites, and public excursions on the Ohio River aboard the Belle of Louisville, Spirit of Jefferson, and Star of Louisville can also be arranged.
Caesar's Glory of Rome riverboat casino in Elizabeth, Indiana, provides gambling entertainment just across the Ohio River from Louisville. The complex includes a 503-room hotel, a 200,000-square-foot pavilion with a sports and entertainment coliseum seating 1,500 people, three restaurants, a retail shopping area, and an 18-hole golf course called Chariot Run designed by architect Arthur Hills.
The performing and visual arts flourish in Louisville, the first city to create a community fund for the arts. The Kentucky Center has four theaters that stage a variety of performances ranging from symphony, opera, and ballet to children's theater, a Broadway series, and country music.
Louisville's historic Water Tower is the home of Louisville Visual Art Association, a nonprofit, artist-oriented organization dedicated to the creation and appreciation of visual art in all media. The center offers free art classes for talented elementary and high school students; it also hosts year-round exhibitions and special events such as jazz concerts and the Boat Race Party during Derby Week. The new Glassworks galleries feature artists from around the world, as well as glass blowing workshops and classes.
Louisville is also home to theater groups, a symphony orchestra, an opera and a ballet company. Housed in a historic landmark built in 1837, the Tony-Award-winning Actor's Theatre of Louisville is internationally known for the annual Humana Festival of New American Plays, one of the world's most important showcases for aspiring playwrights; other theater groups include Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theatre, Music Theatre Louisville which performs at Iroquois Amphitheater, the Kentucky Contemporary Theatre at Spalding University, and the Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville, Indiana. Stage One: The Louisville Children's Theatre offers professional productions throughout the year at The Kentucky Center. The Louisville Orchestra offers five concert series. The Louisville Ballet offers a full subscription season of classical and contemporary dance, including performances of The Nutcracker. The Kentucky Opera has produced operas in Louisville since 1952.
The museums and galleries of Louisville highlight much that is unique to the city and the region. For example, the Kentucky Derby Museum is the world's largest equine museum, offering hands-on computerized simulated racing, a 360-degree audio-visual presentation about the Kentucky Derby, and a live thoroughbred exhibit. The Howard Steamboat
Among the museums dedicated to science and technology are Louisville Science Center, formerly the Museum of History and Science, which features hands-on exhibits and an aerospace collection as well as an IMAX theater. The Portland Museum features a light and sound show that carries viewers back to nineteenth-century Louisville. Located on the University's Belknap campus, Gheens Science Hall and the Rauch Memorial Planetarium offer multimedia astronomy presentations.
Louisville's major annual events calendar is full, beginning in February with the National Farm Machinery Show and Tractor Pull Championships, the nation's most popular and best-attended function of its kind. In April and May the city hosts the Kentucky Derby Festival offering 70 events. Held in conjunction with the running of the Kentucky Derby, it is one of the country's largest civic celebrations. The Great Steamboat Race and the Great Balloon Race are two of the more popular Derby events. The Cherokee Art Fair also occurs in April. May is the month for the Kentucky Reggae Festival.
The Greek Festival, Waterside Festival and Street Ball Showdown kick off the summer festivals and events in June. Taking place during the summer months is one of the oldest Shakespeare festivals in the nation, Shakespeare in Central Park. July brings the Operation/Coca-Cola Volleyball Classic, the Kentucky Music Weekend and the Waterfront Independence Festival celebration of the Fourth of July. The National Street Rod Association attracts more than 11,000 cars to the world's largest automotive participation event. The Kentucky State Fair runs for 10 days beginning in mid-August. The Strassenfest celebrating Louisville's German heritage and the World Championship Horse Show round out the summer activities.
September opens with the Bluegrass Festival of the United States, the country's largest free bluegrass music event featuring top-name bands. In mid-September is the Corn Island Storytelling Festival, the largest event of its kind in the United States. The Rock the Water Tower, Irish Family Festival and the Captain's Quarters Regatta are also held this month. October is the month for the St. James Court Art Show, the Bluegrass Fan Festival and the Lewis and Clark Ohio River Festival. The year ends with Christmas in the City, a Victorian Christmas celebration involving street vendors, carolers, and house tours. The Mayor's Midnight Special on New Year's eve is an outdoor family party.
Louisville's best-known sporting event is the Kentucky Derby. For racing fans, Louisville offers two horse-racing tracks, Churchill Downs (for thoroughbred racing) and Louisville Downs (for harness racing). Churchill Downs' spring racing dates are April through June; fall racing takes place in October and November. Louisville Downs features nighttime races in early spring, summer, and fall. Auto races are held at the Louisville Motor Speedway.
Louisville's $26 million, 13,000-seat Louisville Slugger Field is home to the RiverBats (formerly the Redbirds), a Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Slugger Field was named the 2004 Professional Baseball Field of the Year by the Sports Turf Managers Association for the second time in three years. The Louisville Fire is the city's Arena Football League team. The University of Louisville fields highly regarded football and basketball teams; the Cardinals play football at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
The Louisville park system maintains 11 urban parks, including four designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. These public parks contain more than 200 tennis courts, four 18-hole golf courses, five nine-hole golf courses, and 15 swimming pools. Twenty lakes in nine parks in the metropolitan area are stocked for fishing. Five parks located along the Ohio River provide access to river fishing. Water sports are also a favorite pastime on the river during the summer. The new Louisville Extreme Park offers skateboarding, in-line skating and biking on 40,000 square feet of concrete surface. Bicycling is a popular sport in Kentucky, and each fall the Louisville Wheelmen sponsor My Old Kentucky Home Bicycle Tour, a two-day event that draws more than 400 cyclists. Ice skating is another favorite sport; enthusiasts skate at the Alpine Ice Arena and the outdoor rink on the Belvedere downtown.
Louisville offers a wide variety of retail establishments in more than 100 shopping centers, including enclosed malls and several neighborhood shopping areas. Starks Court atrium includes more than 30 distinctive retail shops and restaurants in the heart of downtown. The Forum Center is home to some of Louisville's most exclusive shops and Oxmoor Center features 110 specialty stores and three department stores. Jefferson Mall is a regional shopping center located near the airport. The Summit on the East End is one of Louisville's newest open air shopping centers. For outlet shoppers, Factory Stores of America is located in nearby Georgetown. In addition to the malls, many neighborhoods and individual streets have become meccas for shoppers. Main and Market Streets between 5th and 9th is the primary downtown shopping area. Antique shops, galleries and unique boutiques are plentiful in the Bardstown Road, Frankfort Avenue areas, and Chenoweth Lane in St. Matthews.
Dining in one of the city's restaurants can range from a casual meal at a fast-food establishment or a family treat at an ethnic cafe to an elegant event at a gourmet restaurant. Foods that have made Louisville famous are burgoo, originally a game stew made with squirrel, venison, or opossum—but now more likely to contain a blend of pork, beef, mutton, and chicken—in a spicy tomato sauce with a mixture of vegetables that might include cabbage, peppers, and potatoes; the Hot Brown, a layered sandwich of country ham, turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and cheese served bubbling hot; and the Benedictine, a delicate sandwich incorporating cream cheese and chopped cucumber.
Visitor Information: Greater Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, 401 W. Main St., Suite 2300, Louisville, KY 40202; telephone (502)584-2121, (800)626-5646