This Southern U.S. City Was Named One of the Best Places to Travel in 2024 — How to Plan the Perfect Visit

This Southern U.S. City Was Named One of the Best Places to Travel in 2024 — How to Plan the Perfect Visit

Louisville, Kentucky, is called the "Gateway to the South."

For decades, Louisville, Kentucky, was known only for a two-minute horse race, the Kentucky Derby, celebrating its 150th running in 2024. Now, thanks to a marked uptick in bourbon tourism, visitors are coming for the bourbon and staying for the culture. Bourbon & Beyond draws more than 140,000 tourists to the area, and in 2023, Louisville was a top trending travel destination, according to Airbnb. Downtown Louisville’s Whiskey Row on Main Street is a major tourism magnet for the city, providing a starting point for several days of bourbon tourism without leaving the city limits. There are also world-class restaurants, more than a dozen distilleries, and family-friendly museums. It's no wonder the city, called the "Gateway to the South," was named one of the best places to travel in 2024. Whether you're into history or nature, there's lots to do in Louisville year-round. Here's how to plan a memorable trip.

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville

Louisville, Kentucky

  1. The Seelbach Hilton was a popular hangout spot for both F. Scott Fitzgerald and Al Capone. In fact, Fitzgerald based "The Great Gatsby" on his time there.

  2. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail draws more than 2.1 million visitors to the state each year, many of whom stay in Louisville for its nightlife and restaurant scene.

  3. Jack Fry’s was a favorite of Louisville’s own Muhammad Ali — sit at table 17 where he sat.

  4. Michter’s at Fort Nelson is a great place for a nightcap, and the open mezzanine allows guests to peer into a working distillery after hours.

  5. Cave Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 150 distillery owners and businesspeople as well as Colonel Harland Sanders and Muhammad Ali.

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville

Best Hotels and Resorts

Hotel Genevieve

Hotel Genevieve features Parisian-inspired decor, 122 guest rooms, and three restaurants and bars by James Beard-nominated chef Ashleigh Shanti. Plus, it’s located in the trendy NuLu district near boutiques, distilleries such as Rabbit Hole and Angel’s Envy, and locally owned coffee shops like Please & Thank You and Quills.

Hotel Distil, Autograph Collection

Located right in the middle of Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row, this Marriott Autograph Collection hotel features an original facade from the 1860s and is just a few doors down from the Old Forester Distillery on Main Street.

21c Museum Hotel

21c is such a fun and weird place to stay — and I mean weird in the best way. It's part contemporary art gallery, part hotel, and part upscale restaurant and bar, so it has a little bit of everything for someone staying a few nights in Louisville. And where else can you take in world-renowned art while sipping on one of the city's best old fashioned cocktails — and have your bed just a quick elevator ride away?” said Sara Havens of The Bar Belle.

The Brown Hotel

Home to the iconic Hot Brown open-faced sandwich, The Brown Hotel opened in 1923 only 10 months after construction began. Then-prime minister of Great Britain David Lloyd George was the first guest of the 234-room property, which sits near the Black Jockeys Lounge and the Fourth Street Live! entertainment district.

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville

The Seelbach Hilton

“Like a fine wine, The Seelbach has continued to age gracefully throughout its nearly 120 years, offering guests a taste of "The Great Gatsby" era in the heart of downtown Louisville. Tip: Don’t miss the renowned Rathskeller ballroom in the basement,” said Jordan Skora, marketing communications manager at Louisville Tourism.

Best Things to Do

Bourbon & Beyond

Bourbon & Beyond has become the jewel of Kentucky’s musical festival scene, making Louisville the ideal destination for celebrating Bourbon Heritage Month each September,” said Missy Hillock, innkeeper at Chateau Bourbon.

Big Four Bridge

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville

“The Big Four Bridge offers city skyline and colorful sunset views, plus some exercise while crossing the scenic Ohio River from Louisville to Jeffersonville, Indiana, a charming destination brimming with dining options,” said Rosanne Mastin, public relations manager at Louisville Tourism.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

With seven stops in Louisville alone, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail includes 46 of the state's 90-plus distilleries. On Main Street, you'll find Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co., Michter’s Fort Nelson, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Old Forester, and Angel’s Envy. Round out your trip with a visit to the Frazier History Museum’s "Spirit of Kentucky" exhibit.

Related: 16 Must-visit Kentucky Distilleries

Speed Art Museum

Founded by Hattie Bishop Speed in 1925, the Speed Art Museum includes collections of Roman antiquities, Native American art, works by Kentucky artisans, and more. Rotating exhibitions include "Louisville’s Black Avant-Garde" and "Winslow Homer: American Storyteller."

Cave Hill Cemetery

“When in Louisville, you should visit Cave Hill Cemetery and enjoy a walk among the distillers laid to rest there,” said Michael Veach, bourbon historian.

Best Shopping

<p>Charles Zapata/Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Charles Zapata/Courtesy of @GoToLouisville

Work the Metal

Work the Metal is the one and only place I visit anytime I need a thoughtful, quirky, or fun gift for a friend or family member — especially if it’s bourbon or Kentucky-related,” said Heather Wibbels, managing director of the Bourbon Women Association.

Spark Boutique

Spark Boutique is a fantastic mix of fashionable, one-of-a-kind looks and pieces that won’t break the bank. Their inventory is always changing, leaving shoppers with a fresh look after each visit,” said Hillock.

Frazier History Museum Gift Shop

“The Frazier History Museum gift shop is a treasure trove of unique Kentucky themed-gifts, apparel, and curated bourbons without requiring an admission ticket to browse. However, the ‘Cool Kentucky’ exhibit will draw you into the museum,” said Cleo Battle, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism.

Art Eatables

Immerse yourself in every possible bourbon and chocolate combination at Art Eatables. Proprietor Kelly Ramsey pairs each whiskey with a specific chocolate flavor profile for unique bourbon truffles.

Caufield’s Novelty

A Louisville staple since 1920, this costume shop is also part amusement park. Be sure to visit the Dungeon, the spooky back room, and have your photo taken with Michael Myers on his front porch.

Best Nightlife

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville

The Back Door

“One of my favorite dive bars is the beloved Back Door, which has been a staple in the Highlands neighborhood for more than three decades,” said Havens. “An array of thirsty locals gather [here] to catch up, eat delicious wings, and play a few rounds of pool. The bartenders treat you like family, and the drinks pack quite a punch.”

Hell or High Water or Tartan House

“For a fun cocktail experience, head to Hell or High Water or Tartan House. Both have incredibly curated cocktails and lend themselves to lingering over great conversation,” said Wibbels.

The Bar at Fort Nelson

The Bar at Fort Nelson has a great cocktail menu and talented staff,” said Veach.

Trouble Bar

Trouble Bar, five minutes east of downtown, has a fine whiskey list, including flights curated by experts, and a great all-inclusive vibe,” said Susan Reigler, whiskey educator at Buzzard’s Roost.

Four Pegs

Come for the rotating beers on tap and extensive whiskey selection; stay for the smoked meats and mac at cheese bowls at Four Pegs.

Best Restaurants

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville


Featured on Chopped, Volare is a local favorite for well-prepared Italian food, farm-to-table tasting menus, and a fresh catch of the day every Friday. Be sure to try the barrel-aged Manhattan cocktail.

Bourbons Bistro

“Go to Bourbons Bistro in one of Louisville's most charming historic districts — Crescent Hill. There's an outstanding bourbon list, barrel picks, and a bourbon-friendly menu,” said Reigler.

Jack Fry’s

Jack Fry’s is a Louisville classic, well-known for delivering Southern staples and attentive service in a cozy setting amid the city's famed Restaurant Row. Ask to sit at table 17, the very spot where Muhammad Ali frequently dined,” said Stacey Yates, chief marketing officer at Louisville Tourism.

Bar Vetti

“With its location in NuLu, Bar Vetti is one of my favorites. They offer both dinner and lunch, with an upbeat ambience, incredible food [and] cocktails, and the GM, Hap, goes above and beyond with customer service,” said Lisa Higgins, founder of Mint Julep Experiences.

Number 15

”Located in the heart of historic Whiskey Row, Number 15 is the perfect destination for local and regional fare, from its signature sandwiches to perfectly curated cocktails. It's a must-visit for anyone visiting the Derby City and looking for authentic Kentucky food at an affordable price,” said Yates.

Best Time to Visit

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville

There’s lots to do in Louisville no matter the season. April is Mint Julep Month, which coincides with the Kentucky Derby Festival, a three-week party celebrating the two-minute Kentucky Derby. September is National Bourbon Heritage Month, and festivities include the Bourbon & Beyond music festival and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival, about 45 minutes south in Bardstown. October brings the St. James Court Art Show, which has been running since 1957. Throughout the year, visitors to Kentucky’s distilleries make Louisville their home base because of the abundant hotels, restaurants, and bars in the city, as well as the convergence of three interstate highways.

Neighborhoods to Visit

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville


“When guests ask, we highly recommend shopping in NuLu. There are so many unique and local boutiques and artisans that appeal to all ages,” said Higgins. NuLu is also home to Muth’s Candies, a locally owned confectionary that has been in business for more than 100 years. Be sure to try the local favorite, Modjeskas, a handmade marshmallow wrapped in caramel.

Whiksey Row

Once the epicenter of the business of bourbon, this historic district was saved not once but twice — first by Preservation Louisville’s Marianne Zickuhr and later from a fire — before becoming the city's current bourbon tourism center.

The Highlands

One of Louisville’s oldest suburbs, The Highlands is home to an eclectic collection of bars, restaurants, and shops.

How to Get There and How to Get Around

<p>Courtesy of @GoToLouisville</p>

Courtesy of @GoToLouisville

Louisville is a car-dependent city, and once you get into the outskirts, ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft become scarce. Fortunately, downtown is very walkable, and a well-planned trip can be easily spent within the radius of just a few blocks. Otherwise, rental cars are strongly recommended. Louisville’s airport, about 10 minutes by car from downtown, has direct flights to and from many major U.S. cities. There are also several options for rental bicycles and scooters throughout downtown Louisville.

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