Discovering the Bluegrass State: 10 Unforgettable Things to Experience in Kentucky

K.C. Dermody

Written by Justin Mewse

April 2023

Kentucky, the Bluegrass State, with its rich history of horse racing, bourbon distilleries, and lively entertainment, has been attracting visitors from near and far for generations with its unique blend of southern charm, excitement, and hospitality. Discover 10 unforgettable things we recommend you should experience while holidaying in Kentucky…

East Pinnacle Lookout in Kentucky

Explore Daniel Boone National Forest

Daniel Boone National Forest, located in Kentucky, USA, is a nature lover’s paradise with its stunning landscapes and outdoor recreational opportunities. One of the highlights of the park is its close proximity to the majestic Cumberland Falls, known as the “Niagara of the South.” Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the falls from various overlooks, take a hike along the park’s scenic trails, or even go on a guided tour to learn about the area’s rich history and natural heritage. Daniel Boone National Forest also offers camping, picnicking, fishing, and boating opportunities, making it a perfect destination for those looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature and experience the grandeur of Cumberland Falls firsthand.

Cumberland Falls - Kentucky Tourism

Head Out On An Active Adventure

Kentucky is a fantastic destination for those seeking an active and adventurous holiday. With its stunning natural beauty and diverse terrain, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy. One popular activity in Kentucky is canoeing, with many rivers and lakes providing the perfect opportunity to paddle through the scenic landscape. The Kentucky River is a particularly popular spot, offering a mix of calm and rapids for both beginners and experienced canoeists. For those who prefer a little more horsepower, off-roading is a great option. Kentucky has a range of off-roading trails that cater to all skill levels, from scenic routes to more challenging terrain. Whether you’re in a jeep, ATV, or dirt bike, the thrill of exploring Kentucky’s rugged wilderness is sure to get your heart racing.

Sunset over Red River Gorge - Kentucky Tourism

Experience a Bluegrass Festival in Kentucky

No visit to Kentucky is complete without experiencing its rich musical heritage. Bluegrass music is a genre that originated in Kentucky and is named after the state’s famous bluegrass pastures. It’s characterised by its lively tempo, intricate melodies, and the use of instruments like the banjo, guitar, fiddle, and mandolin. The best way to immerse yourself in the bluegrass culture of Kentucky is by attending one of the many bluegrass festivals that take place throughout the state. These festivals typically feature live performances by some of the biggest names in bluegrass music, as well as up-and-coming artists.

One of the most popular bluegrass festivals in Kentucky is the ROMP Festival, held annually in Owensboro. The festival features four days of non-stop bluegrass music, with performances by over 30 bands across multiple stages. In addition to the music, the festival also offers a variety of food vendors, craft booths, and camping options, making it a complete weekend experience.

Another great option for bluegrass enthusiasts is the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Celebration, held in Rosine, Kentucky. This festival celebrates the birthplace of the father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe and features a variety of live music, dancing, and food vendors. Visitors can also take a tour of the Bill Monroe Homeplace, which is located on the same property.

For those who prefer a more intimate setting, the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe in Frankfort hosts regular bluegrass concerts featuring local and regional artists. This cosy venue offers a unique atmosphere and a chance to experience bluegrass music up close and personal.

Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Festival in Rosine - Kentucky Tourism

Attend the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is one of the most famous horse races in the world, held annually at Churchill Downs in Louisville. The race is known for its iconic traditions, including the mint julep cocktail, fancy hats, and the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” before the start of the race. The Derby is typically held on the first Saturday in May and attracts visitors from around the globe.

Kentucky Derby, Louisville - Kentucky Tourism

Experience the Kentucky Horse Park

The Kentucky Horse Park is a working horse farm and museum located in Lexington, Kentucky. The park features exhibits on the history and culture of the horse industry in Kentucky, as well as live demonstrations and horse shows. Visitors can also take guided tours of the farm and meet some of the horses that call the park home.

Horse lovers can embark on a horseback adventure by taking a guided 35-minute trail ride. The excitement of the racetrack is brought to life at the park’s Hall of Champions by the elite group of champion horses (some of the most famous residents of the park). This is a must-see for horse enthusiasts of any age.

The Kentucky Horse Park is not only THE place to get close to horses, it’s also one of the few places on earth to see so many equine breeds. While in the park, make sure not to miss out the Parade of Breed Show and the National Museum of the Horse (the largest and most comprehensive museum in the world dedicated to exploring the important history of all horses and their impact on human civilisation).

Kentucky Horse Park in winter - Kentucky Tourism

Tour the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®

Kentucky is renowned for its Bourbon whiskey, and there’s no better way to experience it than by touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®. The trail features 42 distilleries located throughout the state, including Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Jim Beam. Visitors can take guided tours of the distilleries, sample the whiskey, and learn about the history and process of making Bourbon.

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Lexington - Kentucky Tourism/LCVB

Enjoy a Foodie Tour

While Kentucky is known for its bourbon, bluegrass music, and horse racing it’s also a massive destination for foodies. From traditional Southern comfort food to innovative farm-to-table cuisine, Kentucky offers a range of culinary experiences that will delight even the most discerning foodies. One of the best ways to experience the food scene in Kentucky is by taking a foodie tour. These tours offer a guided exploration of the state’s culinary hotspots, with stops at some of the best restaurants, food markets, and specialty shops.

The Louisville Food Tour is one of the most popular foodie tours in Kentucky. This guided tour takes visitors through the historic neighborhoods of Louisville, where they can sample a variety of local cuisine and learn about the city’s food culture. Some of the highlights of the tour include a visit to a bourbon-themed restaurant, a stop at a local farmers market, and a tasting of Louisville’s famous “Hot Brown” sandwich.

Another great option for foodies is the Lexington Food Tours. This tour offers a guided exploration of the city’s culinary scene, with stops at some of the best restaurants and food markets. Visitors can sample local favorites like the “Burgoo” stew and the “Horse Country” cocktail, and learn about the history and culture behind each dish.

For those who prefer a more hands-on experience, the Cooking at Millie’s Culinary Studio in Richmond offers cooking classes that focus on the cuisine of Kentucky. Visitors can learn how to make traditional dishes like fried chicken, cornbread, and bourbon-infused desserts, and take home new skills to impress their friends and family.

Kentucky cuisine - Kentucky Tourism

Visit the Muhammad Ali Center

The Muhammad Ali Center is a museum and cultural center dedicated to the life and legacy of the famous boxer and humanitarian, Muhammad Ali. The center features exhibits on Ali’s life, career, and activism, as well as interactive displays and educational programs. Located in downtown Louisville, the center is a must-visit for anyone interested in the life and impact of this iconic figure.

Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville - Kentucky Tourism

Pay homage at the Abraham Lincoln National Monument

The Abraham Lincoln National Monument is located in Hodgenville, Kentucky, and is a tribute to the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. The monument features a replica of the log cabin where Lincoln was born and a visitor centre with exhibits on his life and legacy. Visitors can also tour the Lincoln family’s farm, known as the Knob Creek Farm, where Lincoln spent his childhood. The monument is a must-visit destination for history buffs and anyone interested in the life and times of this influential figure.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park - Kentucky Tourism

Explore Kentucky’s Civil War History At Camp Nelson and Mill Springs Battlefield

Camp Nelson and Mill Springs Battlefield, two historic sites in Kentucky that played pivotal roles in the Civil War, offer visitors a chance to step back in time and explore the stories of the brave soldiers and civilians who lived and fought during one of the most turbulent periods in American history, with exhibits, guided tours, and interactive programs that showcase the events and personalities that shaped the conflict in this region, from the Union Army’s recruitment and training of African American soldiers at Camp Nelson to the fierce battle at Mill Springs that marked a turning point in the war in the western theater, all while providing a deeper understanding of the human toll and lasting legacy of the Civil War on Kentucky and the nation.

Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument reenactors - The Gorge underground canoeing - Kentucky Tourism

Explore the Best of Kentucky With These Recommended Tour Itineraries

From June 2023, British Airways will be flying five days a week direct from London Heathrow to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) – so you’ll now have even more time to explore the Bourbon Trail!

15-Day Bourbon, Bluegrass & Horse Country

Self-Drive Tour
Embark on a journey to explore distilleries, bluegrass music and the horse culture in Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana.

Why we love this trip…
Explore the beauty of the Daniel Boone National Forest
Visit Mt. Vernon, nestled in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains
Frequent the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame
See the thoroughbred horses at Darley at Jonabell Farm, where Kentucky Derby winning stallions have been bred
Spend time at one of Kentucky’s most revered distilleries: Buffalo Trace

** Catch a Horse Race at One of Kentucky’s Renowned Racetracks **

From £1,139pp
Price includes 14 nights accommodation, 14 days car rental and personalised roadbook

Learn More

Speak with an expert

14-Day Historic Trails & Blue Ridge Mountains

Escorted Tour
From colonial settlements and Civil War sites to the magnificent Blue Ridge Mountains and stunning Great Smoky Mountains, this mid-South U.S. tour features historic sites, spectacular scenery, and fun experiences all along the way.

Why we love this trip…
Enjoy a fascinating visit to the Kentucky Horse Park
Visit the Lincoln Museum and Sinking Spring Farm, to see where the nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, was born
Learn about the production of the finest Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and enjoy a tasting
View the green pastures, white-board fences, and the columned estates of Kentucky bluegrass country – backdrop for the movie Seabiscuit
Expert Tour Director-Led Trip

** Save up to £233pp **

From £2,096pp
Price includes 13 nights accommodation, 10 breakfasts, coach, tour director, full escorted tour itinerary and excursions

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15-Day Sips, Sights and Sounds of Kentucky

Self-Drive Tour
Delve into the history of bourbon, Bluegrass, local cuisine and Kentucky-born heroes including Muhammad Ali on this road trip of discovery.

Why we love this trip…
Take a walking-foodie tour in Lexington
Follow the the Country Music Highway
Visit Bardstown – first settled in 1780 and known as the Bourbon Capital of the World
Explore the UNESCO Creative City of Paducah and see the colourful Lower Town Arts District
Visit the birthplace and homestead of the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, in Rosine

** Enjoy the Bluegrass Music Scenes of Owensboro and Renfro Valley **

From £1,905pp
Price includes 14 nights accommodation, 14 days car rental and return flights

Learn More

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15-Day Kentucky & Tennessee By Motorhome

Motorhome Holiday
Explore the best of these scenic, neighbouring states at your own pace while enjoying many adventures along the way.

Why we love this trip…
Explore Newport, Kentucky – the gaming predecessor to Las Vegas
Enjoy hiking, trails and caves, paddling and kayaking at Carter Caves State Park and Cave Run Lake
Step back in time at the Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill
Take a Belle of Louisville sightseeing cruise
Experience boating and fishing on the 5,100-acre Rough River Lake

** Spend Time at the “Niagara of the South,” in Cumberland Falls State Park **

From £2,825pp
Price includes 4 nights hotel accommodation, 10 days C25 motorhome rental and British Airways direct, international flights

Learn More

Speak with an expert

Cape Newagen sunrise - Visit Maine

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