Louisville

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Travel Guide North America USA Southern United States Kentucky Louisville

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Introduction

Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky, USA, with about one and a half million people living in the metro area. Louisville is also the namesake of the Official Bat of Major League Baseball - the Louisville Slugger. A major city on the Ohio River in North Central Kentucky across from Southern Indiana, Louisville exists at the confluence of Southern and Midwestern attitudes and cultures. Known historically as the "Gateway to the South", Louisville has long been a transportation center for the region.

While it only borders on the region, tourists will probably find a bit of the famous Southern hospitality here, along with its varied cuisine and a relaxed attitude toward life. The city also boasts a vibrant arts and music scene and a world-class municipal parks system.

Louisville's biggest draw are the horse races at Churchill Downs (with the famous Kentucky Derby always the first Saturday in May), but the city is making a concerted effort to draw tourists year round. The architecture in Old Louisville and the Highlands is one-of-a-kind, and the people are very friendly.

The Downtown, Old Louisville, Highlands, and Frankfort Avenue areas are walkable and it is possible to take the city bus between one or all four without much difficulty, with a downtown hotel as base. Outside of this part of town though, you will almost certainly need a car.

Aside from Downtown, a must-see for many is the Highlands shopping district, on Bardstown Road roughly from Broadway to the Douglass Loop. Often described as "bohemian", it includes art galleries, bars, coffeehouses, midrange to upscale restaurants, and is ideally navigated by foot or bike. You can meet some locals on the sidewalks without much trouble, if you are interested. The street life here is particularly active on weekends when the weather is warm.

Louisville was the birthplace of boxer Cassius Clay, later known to the world as Muhammad Ali. He is buried at Cave Hill Cemetery in the Highlands, a couple of miles southeast of downtown, which is also the resting place for many other Kentucky dignitaries.

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Sights and Activities

Louisville's park system was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the "Father of American Landscape Architecture." Many consider it to be his greatest achievement. Cherokee Park, Iroquois Park, and Shawnee Park are the Flagship Parks, while more than a dozen smaller parks make up Louisville's own "Emerald Necklace." 1 Cherokee Park features a 3.7 km "Scenic Loop" with one lane of traffic reserved entirely for cyclists, pedestrians, and other recreational activities. 2 Iroquois Park contains what was the tallest hill in Louisville before the city merged with surrounding Jefferson County in 2003; the hill's location gives it a commanding view of downtown, especially on clear days. In addition to the major parks, dozens of smaller ones are spread throughout the city, such as Tyler Park in the Highlands, a favorite of locals, or George Rogers Clark Park in Germantown.

A newer addition, 3 Waterfront Park, is arguably one of the greatest things the city has done to improve its image in a decade. Stretching along over a mile of the Ohio River, Waterfront Park offers playgrounds, artistic landscaping, fountains, and open lawns, all with spectacular views of the city skyline and the river. It frequently plays host to concerts and other festivals. The 4 Big Four Bridge is an old railroad bridge, now pedestrianized, that lets you walk between Waterfront Park and Jeffersonville, Indiana.

Enjoy the view (day or night) of downtown Louisville from Ashland Park, on the Ohio River in neighboring Clarksville, Indiana. Park the car and walk across the street to Widow's Walk, an ice-cream parlor/garden statue shop constructed to look like an old Victorian mansion. Nearby is also the Falls of the Ohio, a state park containing a fossil bed that spans quite a bit of area when the river is low.

Old Louisville is an architectural treasure trove. Just south of downtown, it is the third largest National Preservation District in the country and the largest Victorian district in the United States. A particularly beautiful area is St. James Court and Belgravia Court, which plays host each fall to the St. James Court Art Show. Faced with possible demolition in the 1970s, the area is now considered to be one of Louisville's best-kept secrets. A good way to see the neighborhood is to follow a walking tour. It also has a number of locally-beloved bars and restaurants, and a heterogeneous population that gives the neighborhood a particularly eclectic feel.

Main and Market streets downtown contain the second largest collection of 1800s-era iron facade buildings in the United States. Some have been torn down or otherwise destroyed, but also many new developments leave the old facades intact.

Other notable areas include the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood in the Highlands and Butchertown, which is just east of Downtown.

Market Street has a number of art galleries. If you are in Louisville on the first Friday of the month, there is a free gallery hop around the downtown galleries, including a couple of glass studios. In March 2016, the Speed Art Museum, a more traditional art museum on the campus of the University of Louisville, reopened following a complete rebuilding. 21C Museum Hotel has several art installations open to the public and is, like all hotels, open to the public 24 hours a day. There are also a variety of art galleries within walking distance of each other in the Highlands/Bardstown Road area.

For performing arts, there is Actors Theatre, The Louisville Orchestra, The Louisville Ballet, The Kentucky Opera, and The Kentucky Center (in full, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts).

If you plan on visiting more than one downtown museum, consider buying The Main Ticket, a pass that provides one admission to the Frazier Museum, Art and Craft Museum, Kentucky Science Center, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Slugger Museum, and Ali Center. $31.99 ages 13 and up, $24.99 children 6–12; pass valid for one year after purchase. Pass holders must purchase a separate admission to the Science Center for any children 2–5; ages 5 and under are admitted free at all other attractions.

If you have a car, definitely take River Road out of downtown, past Zorn Avenue into the River Road Historic District. Beautiful country estates on the bluffs overlooking the Ohio River are amazing to see, along with all the fields that stretch along the river and great vistas of all the boats going by. The district stops when River Road ends at US Highway 42.

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Events and Festivals

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve - The US celebrates the outgoing of the old year and incoming of the New Year quite dramatically. Every state boasts its own parties to ring in the New Year, but none is more extravagant than New York’s Time Square, which sees people overflowing into the neighboring restaurants, bars, parks, beaches, and neighborhoods.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (officially Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and sometimes referred to as MLK Day) is an American federal holiday marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year, which is around King's birthday, January 15. The holiday is similar to holidays set under the Uniform Monday Holiday Act. The earliest Monday for this holiday is January 15 and the latest is January 21. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement, which successfully protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.
  • St Patrick’s Day - March 17 celebrates the US’s large Irish population. Many cities around the country boast boisterous parades and Irish-themed parties, especially New York and Chicago, where the river is dyed green. Be wary of the drunkenness that dominates as this is definitely a party-day.
  • Memorial Day - Memorial Day is an important holiday throughout the United States, but not for crazy festivities. Parades commemorating wartime heroes are often held and the day is also the ‘unofficial’ start of summer. Most visitors follow the crowds to parks and beaches, which are capped off with informal BBQs.
  • Independence Day - Also known as the Fourth of July, Independence Day celebrates the US’s break from the British during the 18th century. Barbecues, street parties, beach trips, and weekend getaways are commonplace to appreciate freedom.
  • Labor Day is a public holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor.
  • Halloween - Halloween is a fun holiday on October 31 for all generations to dress up in costumes and relive their youth. Children walk around the neighborhood trick-or-treating for candy, while adults attend parties. Other seasonal events include haunted houses, pumpkin farms and carving, and corn mazes.
  • Thanksgiving - On the fourth Thursday in November, Thanksgiving is held in almost every home in the US. Tourists will have a hard time finding anything to do as the country essentially shuts down in observation. A typical Thanksgiving meal consists of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie commemorating the original Pilgrim’s feast at Plymouth Rock.
  • Christmas - On December 25, Christians celebrate Christmas as the pinnacle of their calendar by attending church and opening gifts from Santa Claus. Almost everything shuts down to promote family togetherness. The northern regions hope to experience a “white Christmas,” with trees and festive lights blanketed by snow.

Sport

  • Super Bowl Sunday - the world’s most watched sporting event and one of the highest grossing TV days of the year, Superbowl Sunday is a spectacular extravaganza. Held the first Sunday in February, the Superbowl is the final playoff game between the NFL’s top two teams. The venue rotates every year around America, yet the local parties seem to remain. Pubs, bars and restaurants are great places to enjoy the Superbowl or locals throw their own parties with different variations of betting.
  • The World Series is the annual championship series of Major League Baseball (MLB) in North America, contested since 1903 between the American League (AL) champion team and the National League (NL) champion team. The winner of the World Series championship is determined through a best-of-seven playoff, and the winning team is awarded the Commissioner's Trophy. As the series is played during the fall season in North America, it is sometimes referred to as the Fall Classic.
  • The Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race in North America. This uniquely Kentucky event brings people from the world over but is dominated by southerners. If in the bleachers or the boxes men better have their best suits and women the most marvelous hat ever made. If on the lawn be prepared for extreme drinking and rowdiness. No matter what open your hand and prepare your liver for a Mint Julep.

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Weather

Louisville has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons. Spring-like conditions typically begin in mid-to-late March, summer from mid-to-late-May to late September, with fall in the October–November period. Seasonal extremes in both temperature and precipitation are not uncommon during early spring and late fall; severe weather is not uncommon, with occasional tornado outbreaks in the region. Winter typically brings a mix of rain, sleet, and snow, with occasional heavy snowfall and icing. Louisville averages 4.5 days with low temperatures dipping to -12 °C;the first and last freezes of the season on average fall on November 2 and April 5, respectively. Summer is typically hazy, hot, and humid with long periods of 32-38 °C temperatures and drought conditions at times. Louisville averages 38 days a year with high temperatures at or above 32 °C. The mean annual temperature is 14.6 °C, with an average annual snowfall of 32 cm and an average annual rainfall of 1,140 mm.

The wettest seasons are spring and summer, although rainfall is fairly constant year round. During the winter, particularly in January and February, several days of snow can be expected. January is the coldest month, with a mean temperature of 1.6 °C. July is the average hottest month with a mean of 26.3 °C. The highest recorded temperature was 42 °C, which last occurred on July 14, 1936, and the lowest recorded temperature was -30 °C on January 19, 1994. In 2012, Louisville had the fourth-hottest summer on record, with the temperature rising up to 41 °C in July and the June all-time monthly record high temperature being broken on two consecutive days. As the city exemplifies the urban heat island effect, temperatures in commercial areas and in the industrialized areas along interstates are often higher than in the suburbs, often as much as 2.8 °C.

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max4.6 °C7.1 °C13.5 °C19.6 °C24.4 °C28.6 °C30.6 °C29.8 °C26.8 °C20.7 °C13.8 °C7.3 °C
Avg Min-4.9 °C-3.1 °C2.3 °C7.4 °C12.6 °C17.2 °C19.6 °C18.8 °C14.8 °C7.7 °C2.9 °C-1.9 °C
Rainfall72.6 mm83.8 mm118.4 mm107.4 mm117.3 mm87.9 mm114.6 mm89.9 mm80.3 mm68.8 mm94 mm92.5 mm
Rain Days7.77.910.89.49.77.98.87.16.96.28.48.7

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Getting There

By Plane

Louisville International Airport (SDF) has flights to/from Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Atlanta, Detroit, Memphis, New York, Minneapolis, Denver, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, St. Louis, Tampa, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Charlotte.

By Car

Several Interstates pass through Louisville: I-65, I-64 and I-71.

  • I-71 (North-South) begins in Louisville and heads Northeast to Cincinnati and Cleveland.
  • I-65 (North-South) will carry you from just outside Chicago, through Indianapolis North of Louisville and to the south through Nashville, Birmingham, Montgomery, Alabama, all the way to the coast at Mobile. The Ohio River crossings in both directions are tolled; see § Get around.
  • I-64 (East-West) travels east through Lexington, West Virginia, on into Richmond, and ends near the Atlantic Ocean in Chesapeake, Virginia. To the west you'll find its beginning/end in St. Louis, the "Gateway to the West".

By Bus

  • Greyhound,+1-800-231-2222, services Louisville. Their depot is at 720 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. near the center of town. Service is frequent, but it is inadvisable to arrive at the bus station late at night unless someone is coming to pick you up or you are taking a taxi. There are many pickpockets and scammers here and nearby.
  • Megabus. Service from Chicago, Indianapolis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Atlanta. The bus stop is on the north side of Jefferson St in between Roy Wilkins Ave and S 8th St.

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Getting Around

By Car

Louisville is encircled by two beltways, I-264 (officially the Henry Watterson Expressway and locally known as "the Watterson") and I-265 (the Gene Snyder Freeway, or unofficially "the Snyder"). Traffic is generally moderate except at peak hours on I-264, downtown, I-64 between the Snyder and Watterson, and the Snyder for about 2 miles in either direction from I-64. In particular, try to avoid "Spaghetti Junction", the downtown freeway interchange, between 7AM and 9AM and 4:30PM and 6:30PM on weekdays.

Three of the five bridges that cross the Ohio in Louisville are now tolled. The Abraham Lincoln Bridge, which opened in 2016, carries I-65 northbound into Indiana, while the older John F. Kennedy Bridge is now southbound only. The new Lewis and Clark Bridge, plus associated freeway segments, also opened in 2016 to connect I-265 between the two states. The I-65 and I-265 crossings are tolled in both directions. Initial rates will depend on whether the vehicle carries a transponder issued by the local tolling authority (or the multi-state E-ZPass consortium), or if the vehicle's license plate has been registered with said authority. For cars, passenger trucks, and motorcycles, current rates per crossing are:

  • $2.05 for vehicles with transponders.
  • $3.08 for vehicles without transponders, but with plates registered with the tolling authority.
  • $4.10 for vehicles that have neither transponders nor plates registered with the tolling authority.

Rates are higher for larger vehicles. Tolling is all-electronic; vehicles without transponders will have pictures of their license plates taken, with a bill sent to the registered owner. The downtown Clark Memorial Bridge (also known as the "Second Street Bridge") and the Sherman Minton Bridge that carries I-64 across the river remain toll-free for now.

The city streets are laid out in a grid pattern in downtown and a wheel-and-spoke system farther out. Frequently, the streets are named after outlying towns they eventually reach (Shelbyville Road, Bardstown Road, Taylorsville Road, etc.) Some of the urban neighborhoods, notably Germantown, Portland, and the neighborhoods surrounding Cherokee Park, can be confusing for non-locals. Fortunately most neighborhoods are quite safe and passers-by will be more than happy to give you directions.

Many international rental companies have a wide selection of rental cars and these include Hertz, Avis, Dollar, Thrifty, Enterprise, Budget and Alamo/National. Most companies will require you are at least 25 years of age, although younger people might be able to rent cars at slightly higher rates and with some insurance differences as well. A national driver's license is usually enough, but an additional international one is recommended. Also note that it usually costs more to include lots of other extra things. For example extra drivers, GPS, the first full tank, SLI (Supplemental Liability Insurance), PAI (Personal Accident Insurance, usually covered already at home), road assistance/service plan, and drop-off costs for one-way rentals.
If you want to book a car, it is recommended that you book your car before arriving in the USA. This is almost always (much) cheaper compared to just showing up. Also, try and book with a so-called 'broker', which usually works together with a few or many car rental companies and can offer the best deal. Some examples include Holidayautos, Holidaycars and Sunny Cars. Some of the cheapest deals to book from Europe, includes Drive-USA, which also has a German version.

For more information and tips about renting cars and campers, additional costs, insurance, traffic rules, scenic routes and getting maps and fuel it is advised to check the USA Getting Around section.

By Public Transport

TARC (Transit Authority of River City) operates bus lines in all parts of Louisville Metro (Jefferson County). Fares are $1.75 for adults (80 cents for children between 6 and 17) which includes two transfers within two hours. Tickets can be purchased at some banks and government offices but this will not really save you much money unless you are going to be staying in the city and getting around by bus for at least two weeks. Buses generally run from about 6AM-10PM, some later on weekends, but it is a good idea to check the schedule for each specific route. Timetables are only posted at major stops. The buses are also rather impractical in the suburbs, as they are infrequent and the stops are far apart.

By Bike

Bicycling is becoming an increasingly effective way to get around Louisville. Although Louisville's bike program is in its infancy (born at the 2005 Louisville Bike Summit), developments are occurring rapidly, and there are significant improvements on the immediate horizon. In fact, former long-time mayor and Kentucky lieutenant governor Jerry Abramson is an active cyclist. Bike lanes are being added on city streets, especially in and around Downtown which is already the most bike-friendly area of the city.

Every TARC bus in the city is equipped with bike racks, making bicycling a viable option for long-distance trips and trips along major arterial corridors. If you plan your transit route in advance, it is easy to get anywhere in the city using just your bicycle and public transit. Metro Government is also installing more bike racks every day, making it easy to park your bike at your destination.

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Eat

Local specialties include the Hot Brown , a broiled open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and mornay sauce, and Derby pie, which is similar to a pecan pie but incorporates chocolate. Kentucky is of course the home of KFC, but, like most Southerners, Kentuckians take fried chicken fairly seriously, and if you want inexpensive, tasty fried chicken, there are better local alternatives. Considering that it's not widely known for it, pizza is surprisingly good in Louisville. There are a lot of outlets and the market is quite competitive.

Louisville has established itself as a major "foodie" destination. Part of the reason is the ready availability of fresh ingredients from around the country, and even the world, thanks to the location of UPS' main hub at Louisville International Airport.

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Drink

The mint julep is a local drink, traditionally drunk during the Kentucky Derby. If you want to try this classic Southern drink outside of Derby week, it's difficult to find a bar that can make them, owing to the difficulty of stocking fresh mint and the fact that they aren't often ordered. One spot that does offer them year-round is Maker's Mark Bourbon House & Lounge (Fourth Street Live!).

Smoking is not permitted in bars in the city of Louisville. While most bars in Kentucky are required to close at 2AM, some Louisville bars are licensed to stay open until 4AM.

There are many pubs around the city, with varying styles, prices and crowds. The Highlands, especially around the 900 block of Baxter Ave., is a great place to drink and meet new people.

There are a plethora of good coffeehouses in Louisville. Local chains include Heine Brothers' Coffee & Java Brewing Company. There are three Heine stores in the Highlands area alone, with nine more scattered around town, one across the river in Jeffersonville, and a vintage Airstream trailer renovated into a mobile branch that travels to local events. Java has a Fourth Street Live! location, a Main St branch, and a store in Crescent Hill where it was founded. (Others are on the east reaches of town, Prospect, Middletown, etc.) Vint (four locations) merged with Heine Brothers in 2011, but remains a separate chain, and sources its coffee separately from its sister chain. Other selections include Highland Coffee at 1140 Bardstown Rd/627 S 4th St, Old Louisville Coffee House at 1489 S 4th St, Sunergos Coffee on 2122 S Preston St, and Ray's Monkey House at 1578 Bardstown Rd.

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Sleep

Around Derby weekend, most Louisville hotels will charge at least three times the normal rate, and often more. The only way to avoid this is to stay with friends and family or to stay at hotels at least 100 miles away, such as Cincinnati or Indianapolis. Other significant events that will cause increases in hotel rates, though by a lesser amount, are Thunder Over Louisville (while its crowds are several times those of the Derby, they're more local); the Kentucky State Fair, held for 10 days ending with the last Sunday in August; NASCAR races at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta; and home games for some U of L sports, mainly football and sometimes men's basketball. Lexington is a slightly closer alternative apart from Derby weekend (when it fills up just as much as Louisville, especially when graduation at the University of Kentucky is on the same weekend), though it also takes in a large amount of overflow for NASCAR races, and regularly fills up for UK sports and graduations.

There are many other hotels around town and in downtown, but they are rather generic. If you're going to pay more for a hotel, you might as well get character as well. There are also some Bed and Breakfasts in Old Louisville, if you'd like to stay in a more than 120-year-old Victorian mansion, here's your chance.

View our map of accommodation in Louisville or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

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Keep Connected

Internet

There is a very small internet bar/cafe culture in the USA. Even then most of the internet bars/cafes tend be located in major urban centers. Accessible WiFi networks, however, are common. The most generally useful WiFi spots are in coffee shops, fast-food chains, and bookshops, but also restaurants and hotels more and more have a network to connect on. Some of them might require you to buy something and you might need a password too, especially in hotels.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

The general emergency phone number is 911. The USA has a great landline phone system that is easy to use. The country code for the U.S. is +1. The rest of the telephone number consists of 10 digits: a 3-digit area code, and a 7-digit number. Any small grocery store or pharmacy has pre paid domestic or international phone cards. These phone cards are very cheap and offer good rates. The once ubiquitous pay phone is now much harder to find. Likely locations include in or near stores and restaurants, and near bus stops. The cellphone network in the states is slowly getting better but is still not as good when compared to other western countries. Cell phones tend to operate using different frequencies (850 MHz and 1900 MHz) from those used elsewhere in the world (2100 MHz). This used to prevent most foreign phones from working in America. Phones must be tri- or quad-band to work in the U.S. Fortunately, technology has meant that most phones should now be able to pick up one of the U.S. networks. Prepaid phones and top-up cards can be purchased at mobile phone boutiques and at many discount, electronics, office supply and convenience stores. A very basic handset with some credit can be had for under $40.

Post

The US Postal Service is a very good and well priced mail system. There are post offices in every small and large town for sending packages internationally or domestically. Although some might keep longer hours, most are open at least between 9:00am and 5:00pm. If wanting to send a letter or postcard it is best just to leave it in a blue mail box with the proper postage. First-class international airmail postcards and letters (up 28.5 grams) cost $1.10. There are also private postal services like FedEx, UPS, TNT and DHL, which might be better value sometimes and are generally very quick and reliable too.

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Accommodation in Louisville

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Louisville searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Louisville and areas nearby.

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This is version 13. Last edited at 9:50 on Jun 12, 19 by Utrecht. 5 articles link to this page.

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