One of the northernmost of southern destinations
, bordering the states of the Midwest
, Kentucky is rife with leisure pursuits. Bourbon, bluegrass, and horse racing have long defined this state. Kentucky is perhaps best known for the Kentucky Derby, the May
event that is the first race of the famed Triple Crown, one of the top sporting events in the USA
. More recently, however, travelers have begun to visit Kentucky at other times of the year to sample the local spirits, explore the state's natural and historic attractions, and check out the burgeoning gourmet scene in Louisville
. Below, I've compiled a list of must-see attractions and events in Kentucky.
Kentucky is best known for the Kentucky Derby, the famous horse race known as the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports." The Derby has been run on the first Saturday in May since 1875, making it one of the USA's must-see sporting events
. Thousands of visitors from around the world flock to Louisville
's Churchill Downs race track each year for the Derby, which is the first leg of the Triple Crown horse racing series (see Maryland
and New York
for information on the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes, respectively). In the weeks leading up to the race, Louisville also hosts the Kentucky Derby Festival
, which features music, food, a marathon, and more.
Kentucky is also synonymous with bourbon, "America's Native Spirit." The state produces 95 percent of the world's bourbon whiskey and promotes this fact along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
. Travelers with a thirst for bourbon can start in Bardstown
, the Bourbon Capital of the World and official trailhead of the Bourbon Trail then move on to other sites in Frankfort, Lexington, and Louisville. Consider taking a tour with Mint Julep Tours
or another tour provider so you can see tour the distilleries — and sample their spirits — responsibly.
The world's largest underground cave network, which extends for more than 400 miles, is located in central Kentucky at Mammoth Cave National Park
. Recognized in 1981 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site
, Mammoth Cave offers ranger-led cave tours
that focus on the cave's geologic formation and somewhat eerie history.
A natural gap in the Appalachian Mountains at the intersection of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, the Cumberland Gap is a passageway made famous by early American pioneers and country music crooners. Today's Cumberland Gap National Historic Park
gives travelers a chance to walk in the footsteps of pioneer Daniel Boone
, explore caves, tour early American settlements and former Civil War emcampments, and take in vistas of southern Appalachia. Learn even more about the Cumberland Gap
and its history from About's Guide to Geography.
Kentucky has long had the nickname The Bluegrass State. "Bluegrass" once meant the fine grass and soil found in pastures and valleys in the state, but today it defines the native music of Appalachia, in general, and Kentucky, in particular. The Kentucky Bluegrass Music Festival, held in Louisville at the end of August/beginning of September, celebrates this gritty American music with concerts and burgoo
, a meat and vegetable stew indigenous to the state.