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Lexington, Kentucky

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Did You Know … ?

  • Lexington was named for the first battle site of the American Revolution.
  • More than 1.3 million people visited thoroughbred Man o’ War after the racehorse retired.
  • Carrie Nation, the temperance leader, was born near Lexington in bourbon country.
  • Mary Todd Lincoln’s grandfather, Levi Todd, was one of Lexington’s founders.
  • Lexington’s Henry Clay was under the constitutionally required age of 30 when he went to the Senate.

Horses and hooch

Lexington is more famous for its location in Bluegrass country — where top thoroughbred horses reside, sometimes from birth to retirement, and where distillers make America’s only native spirit, bourbon — than for its in-town attractions.

For that reason, tourists who come to the city generally spend some of their time out of town, on prearranged or independent tours, visiting one or more horse farms and their impressive hoofed residents and touring one or more bourbon distilleries. The Shaker Village, built by the 19th century communal religious society at Pleasant Hill, is another popular sightseeing destination.

These tours, not incidentally, provide a glimpse of the beautiful rolling hills of the Bluegrass region, and when that is not enough, tourists choose itineraries specially designed to show off the countryside.

However, the city itself offers attractive diversions, too, including the Keeneland Race Track for those who want to watch the horses run, and the 1,229-acre Kentucky Horse Park, the world’s only park dedicated exclusively to the horse. At the park, visitors admire horses representing many breeds, attend horse shows, ride a pony or horse and visit museums focused on the animal.

Downtown Lexington, suitable for touring on foot, appeals to several interests, including food, shopping and history. It’s particularly attractive in spring when it is abloom with dogwood and redbud trees.

Foodies have the option of a walking culinary tour highlighting the city’s restaurants. Shoppers’ choices include Victorian Square Shoppes, a collection of 1880s structures (now on the National Register of Historic Buildings) that accommodate one-of-a-kind shops plus bars and restaurants.

Founded the year the American Revolution started (1755), Lexington is the home of several buildings of historical interest. Two are strong attractions because of their former residents: the Mary Todd Lincoln House and Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. Other homes also are indicative of early life in the city, including the Bodley-Bullock House and the Hunt-Morgan House, both dating from ca. 1814.

Just as architecturally significant, the Lexington Opera House, built in 1886, is now a performing arts center with programming that runs the gamut (and includes operas). Tourists can see the inside by attending a performance.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Hike the 10 miles of marked trails in the 734-acre Raven Run Nature Sanctuary. If a birder, record sightings of birds you have never seen; more than 200 species spend at least some time in the sanctuary.
  • In late April, attend the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, to watch expert riders compete in dressage, cross country and show jumping.
  • Tour one of the region’s bourbon distilleries (or make the rounds): Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Wild Turkey or Woodford Reserve.
  • Or, come to town in September for the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Choose from activities such as bourbon tastings; sessions on barrel making, making bourbon cocktails and cooking with bourbon; a bourbon breakfast (nearly everything has bourbon in it); a distiller’s auction, and entertainments such as the Bootleggers and Bushwhackers Train Robbery or the World Championship Bourbon Barrel Relay.
  • Fish for trout on the Dix River.
  • Attend a summer horseback riding camp at Versailles, outside of Lexington.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Place your bets at the Keeneland Race Course, a National Historic Landmark and known for the world’s richest yearling sales.
  • Sample local foods, such as bread pudding, made with a bourbon sauce. Then, buy barbecue sauce or other sauces made with bourbon to use in your cooking back home.
  • Tour one or more horse farms. Also, see some of the area’s famous retired thoroughbreds.
  • Schedule a visit to the Shaker Village on the autumn weekend of HarvestFest. Activity choices include competing in the Harvest Five-Mile Trail Run, attending a storytelling event and a family bike and barbecue event.
  • Attend the Roots and Heritage Festival, a three-day street fair devoted to African-American culture and history.
  • Take a walking food tour of downtown, sampling the fare at some of Lexington’s best eateries.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Ride a pony or a horse at the Kentucky Horse Park, where more than 50 breeds of horses are in residence. Riding lessons are available. Also, see the on-site International Museum of the Horse, a Smithsonian affiliate.
  • Visit the historic homes of the area’s famous citizens, such as Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate and the Mary Todd Lincoln House.
  • Tour the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill to see how members of the religious sect lived. While there, take the Dixie Belle riverboat ride on the Kentucky River.
  • Take yourself on the Bluegrass Country Driving Tour as a way to see the beauty of horse farm country.
  • Tour historic Downtown Lexington by horse-drawn carriage. Or, join one of the city’s regular guided walking tours of the area. Follow up by attending a performance at the historic Lexington Opera House.
  • Shop for gifts, souvenirs or more at tourist-site shops. Look for equine-themed items at the Kentucky Horse Park gift shop or the Keeneland Shop. Buy Kentucky julep cups and specialty cookbooks at the museum shop at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. Or, buy handmade Shaker-style furniture and hand-woven textiles at the Shaker Village gift shop.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.visitlex.com