You want to know what’s exciting about my city? Well, everything. But, then again, I might be a little biased.
From the exciting Kentucky Derby Festival to the Urban Bourbon Trail, to our great Olmstead parks and our world renowned horse race, the Kentucky Derby, Louisville offers a cornucopia of opportunities for travelers.
One often overlooked attraction that I love to boast about is our city’s museums. I love touring museums when I visit new cities. For me, strolling through a museum is a quick, effortless way to boost my knowledge of the new locale. If you really want to know what lies at the heart of a city, check out its museums.
When guests come to Louisville to visit me and they ask about ‘touristy’ things to do, I always start my recommendation with Museum Row in the heart of downtown Louisville on West Main Street. I’ll go out on a limb and say that Louisville is a veritable Mecca for museum junkies. Within five historic city blocks are several museums and attractions that could easily fill your day. And as a bonus, the buildings in this part of town are part of the largest collection of cast iron façades anywhere outside of New York City’s Soho district.
If museums are your jam, you might be inclined to purchase the Main Ticket to Museum Row on Main. The Main Ticket gets you admission to all of the attractions listed below for one year from the date of purchase. You can use your ticket for one admission to each of the six attractions. For thrifty travelers, be sure to note that three of the attractions below are free. Visit all six places that require admission, and you can save almost 50 percent off regular admission prices. What’s not to love about that!?
But, if your trip to Louisville is a quick jaunt, you probably won’t be able to squeeze in all the attractions on the Main Ticket. Let’s be honest: Most people can only handle one museum stroll a day. I get it! There’s a lot to take in when you visit a museum.
Below are the museums and information-packed locations you can find on Louisville’s Museum Row.
Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company, 120 N. 10th St., get a behind-the-scenes distillery tour and experience how bourbon and rye whiskey transform from grain into amber-colored liquid in a bottle. I really couldn’t grasp the idea of hundreds of stacked barrels of bourbon, aging gracefully, until I saw them on my tour. Peerless Distillery opened in Louisville in 2015, but the distillery’s roots extend back to 1889 when Henry Kraver began distilling bourbon. Corky and Carson Taylor, fourth and fifth generation descendants of Kraver, are the historic-turned-urban bourbon makers. If you are curious about how grains transform into an amber-colored spirit, you have to take this tour.
The Frazier History Museum, 829 W. Main St., highlights U.S. and world history, with a focus on the state of Kentucky. The Frazier houses one of the largest collections of toy soldiers and historical miniatures on permanent public display in the world. Subjects of other permanent exhibitions include Lewis & Clark, the Civil War, and Bourbon whiskey. In 2018, The Frazier became the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The Frazier also hosts special exhibitions, interpretations, and special performances.
The Louisville Slugger Museum, 800 W Main St., celebrates the role the Louisville Slugger baseball bat has played in baseball’s past, present, and future. In addition to the bat factory tour, you can enjoy galleries filled with memorabilia and entertaining interactive exhibits. If you are a baseball fan, this behind-the-scenes tour is a must see. The museum also offers special exhibitions and daily programing.
Kentucky Science Center,727 W Main St., is Kentucky’s largest hands-on science museum. Its mission is to inspire lifetime learning with interactive exhibits that encourage guests to ‘do science’. This place is not your old-school museum filled with a bunch of historical items you can look at but not touch. Quite the contrary. It’s a living, breathing science lab where guests are encouraged to touch and allow their curiosity to roam its 3 floors of interactive exhibit experiences. There’s a kids section that truly must be seen to appreciate. Guests can also enjoy movies in the Center’s four-story digital theater.
Kentucky Museum of Art and Culture, 715 West Main Street, works to connect locals and visitors alike to art and creative practice through special exhibitions, collaborations, outreach, and through its permanent collection. Before Covid hit, the museum hosted a Picasso exhibit, as well as a number of other notable artists. The KMAC also offers adult workshops, art activities, and support for educators.
The Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N Sixth St., is a multi-cultural center with an award-winning museum dedicated to the life and legacy of Muhammad Ali. The Center captures the inspiration derived from the story of Muhammad Ali’s incredible life, and offers permanent exhibits, galleries, programs, and temporary exhibits that support the Six Core Principles that fueled Ali’s life and journey.
21C Museum, 700 West Main St., engages visitors and locals alike with contemporary art. When you arrive at 21C, the first you can’t help but see the golden statue that towers over 7th and Main Street. This double-size replica of David (inspired by Michelangelo) gets a lot of attention, but the special exhibits inside are just as impressive. The galleries are open every day and exhibitions rotate.
I visited a couple of these places as a kid on school field trips. Much of their greatness was lost on me back then. That was years ago. Since then, Louisville’s Main Street has blossomed into a legit tourist destination.