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Did You Know … ?
- Louisville-born sisters Mildred and Patty Hill wrote the “Happy Birthday” song.
- The E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park is named for Diane Sawyer’s father, not a Mark Twain character.
- The rose garland presented to the Kentucky Derby winner has 554 flowers.
- Nearly 120,000 mint juleps — requiring 1,000 pounds of fresh mint — are served during Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
- On average, a pro baseball player orders about 120 Louisville Sluggers in a season.
The thoroughbred city
Even those with little innate interest in horseracing pay attention to the Kentucky Derby, and, for a time in the spring, Louisville, the city where the fabled run occurs, is all about the Derby.
An eclectic array of competitions and events comprise the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival. It opens with the Thunder Over Louisville extravaganza, North America’s largest annual pyrotechnics show, using 60 tons of firework shells. And, throughout Derby season, Kentucky’s famed bourbon flows, often under the guise of a mint julep.
Racing fans who miss the Derby head to Churchill Downs for less-famous horseraces, or visit the Kentucky Derby Museum and take a guided tour of the racetrack.
Louisville is an old river town on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. Indiana is on the other side.
Old Louisville boasts America’s largest collection of authentic Victorian homes, which visitors admire on guided tours or simply by walking the neighborhoods. Also, tourists view the city from the decks of the Belle of Louisville, America’s oldest working paddlewheel steamboat (from 1914) and a National Historic Landmark.
The famed Louisville Slugger baseball bat predated the steamboat. At least, the original bat, created in the 1880s, did. Tourists learn more about the Slugger, now the official bat of the Major Leagues, on factory tours.
Louisville is proud of its many parks, more than 120 of them. Waterfront Park, the most important from a tourist’s standpoint, is 85 acres of green in the city center and on the river, as the name suggests. The beneficiary of recent revitalization projects, it is a place to relax or attend any of dozens of live shows, festivals and events staged in the park each year.
Finally, Louisville offers rich choices for restaurants and nightlife, museums and the arts. Fourth Street Live!, an open-air entertainment and shopping district, is another example of the city’s downtown rejuvenation efforts. Nine museums comprise the city’s Museum Row. The collection includes the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, and the Muhammad Ali Center. The latter celebrates a native son who made good.
Things to do for Venturers
- Ride the world’s only underground zipline, Mega Zips, at the Louisville Mega Cavern. In fact, it is a series of five different lines, soaring above the cavern floor.
- Don a floppy hat and join the madness at the Kentucky Derby, the “greatest two minutes in sports,” at Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May. The Kentucky Oaks, the day before, is an alternative.
- Run the marathon or mini-marathon, or compete in the Tour de Lou cycling races at the Kentucky Derby Festival, staged during the two weeks before the famous horserace. Or just come for the street parties and all the other festivities.
- Look for clubs with bluegrass, blues and other music at Fourth Street Live!, part of a downtown entertainment district. Or, after time in the area’s funky shops, sample pubs and eateries in the Highlands, an area east of downtown.
- Make appropriate use of the BMX bike track in the E.P. Tom Sawyer State Park. There also are hiking and fitness trails in the park.
- Practice your own punches and even shadowbox with the Greatest at Muhammad Ali Center. The museum celebrates the hometown boy’s life story.
Things to do for Centrics
- Participate in a Blow Your Own event at Glassworks, a foundation devoted to glassblowing, stained glass and glass art. Consider other workshops, as well. Handmade works of art at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft may be of interest, too.
- Rent a bicycle and wend your way through the city on two wheels.
- Drink mint juleps on Derby weekend. And, at any time of year, try riding a life-sized horse in a simulated race at the Kentucky Derby Museum and take a guided tour of Churchill Downs.
- Attend the September Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, featuring bourbon tastings, food and bourbon pairings, food made with bourbon, mixology demonstrations, bourbon cooking instruction and more, including some things not drenched in bourbon, literally or figuratively. Bardstown stages a festival sampler in the spring, too.
- Or, in town, more than two dozen bars and eateries appear on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail. Choose several for your customized bourbon samplings.
- See the Thomas Edison House. The inventor worked for Western Union in Louisville and garnered scores of patents while in town.
Things to do for Authentics
- See free Shakespeare plays in the city’s Central Park in June and July. Or, in February/March, attend the Humana Festival of New American Plays, presented at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, a National Historic Landmark.
- Join a guided tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. See the world’s largest baseball bat, casually leaning against the headquarters building. The company apprentice who created the first Louisville Slugger in a woodworking shop was the son of the owner.
- Go to the horseraces at Churchill Down anytime during the two annual seasons, from a week before the Derby until early July and from late October until Thanksgiving weekend.
- Take a lunch or dinner cruise aboard the Belle of Louisville.
- Overnight at 21c Museum Hotel, a boutique hotel that also is a contemporary art museum. It boasts an award- winning restaurant, as well.
- Join a guided tour of Old Louisville, with its large collection of authentic Victorian houses. Book your accommodations in a B&B in the historic area.
For more information, consult the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau at www.gotolouisville.com