Of Louisville, I knew about Bourbon. I knew that it was where Muhammad Ali was born, that the Kentucky Derby is held there annually, and I figured that there was probably going to be some KFC. As mentioned in this post and this post, my good friend Megan and I hit the road to Louisville from her place in Cleveland — a decision partly based on driving distance and partly on wanting to explore a place neither of us had ever been before.
Not to mention, our trip to Louisville (pronounced Lou-a-ville, by the way) just happened to fall on my 28th birthday! The past few years I’d celebrated my birthday — July 3 — in Saskatchewan with my family, after having spent many prior birthdays exploring places such as San Francisco and London. And while Kentucky wasn’t somewhere I had ever thought I would spend my birthday – it was definitely memorable.
I love a birthday mint julep!
How to Spend Three Days in Louisville, Kentucky
Explore Old Louisville
After an 8 hour + drive from Cleveland (we stopped at ALL the roadside stops), Megan and I were pretty tired and we didn’t have much on our minds except drinking margaritas and watching TV. But, bright and early the next morning, we were gung ho to put on our tourist-badges and explore the city.
Our first stop of the day was Old Louisville, and boy — did this neighborhood steal our hearts. An area full of restored Victorian mansions, Old Louisville consists of roughly 48 city blocks located just south of Downtown Louisville and was once home to wealthy residents who threw lavish parties.
Despite its name, Old Louisville was actually built almost a full century after the town was founded, as an extension from South Louisville, and the homes in this area are built primarily of brick. Additionally, the area as the highest concentration of stained glass windows in the country and is well-regarded as one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the area.
And yeah, I can confirm — Old Louisville is pretty darn beautiful. If it wasn’t for the intense July heat and the presumed lack of central air, I would be all over this place.
Hike to Tioga Falls
After a bit of strolling around Old Louisville, Megan and I were dying from the intense heat and humidity and wanted an activity that would get us out of the sun. Enter hiking.
I love making a point to go hiking when I’m in a new-to-me place. Though I may (from time to time) curse the concept while I’m physically doing it, I always find that hiking further connects to my destination and helps me ground myself. Travel can be hectic, but spending time in nature has a way of smoothing that out and restoring energy.
So when I brought the idea of hiking up to Megan and the answer was a resounding YES, I knew we were going to have a great time out in the trees. After researching a few trails, we chose Tioga Falls as not only was it close to Louisville, it was a good distance trek and there was a big flowing waterfall at the end of it.
I wrote all about the experience in a separate post, but to recap: Waterfalls, Fort Knox, and Chickens.
Eat all the BBQ
On our way back from our hiking adventure, Megan and I were starting to get seriously hangry and knew that we needed to find some barbecue STAT — enter Babie Bac’z Good Grill on Terry Road. Famous for their smoked meats, this was the perfect place for us to go after a sweaty hike. Their ribs were incredible, the mac n’ cheese was so creamy, and the corn on the cob was super fresh. Not to mention, the family that runs this place was delightful.
Southern BBQ will change your life.
Visit the Seelbach Hotel
Visiting the Seelbach Hotel was one of my favorite experiences in Louisville. After our busy day of exploring Old Louisville, hiking, and eating too much BBQ (no regrets), Megan and I were in the mood to get glammed up and hit a swanky bar — the Seelbach Hotel fit the bill perfectly.
Having opened in 1905, the Seelbach Hotel is a historic Louisville landmark that was founded by Bavarian-born brothers Louis and Otto Seelbach. In designing the hotel, the brothers wanted a style that replicated the grandeur of old-world European Hotels that they loved dearly. With this opulence at the forefront, the hotel quickly became known as being one of the finest hotels in the country and started attracting notable people such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (who visited here during his time in the army AND eventually based the wedding scene in the Great Gatsby on one of the ballrooms) and Al Capone.
Our night at the hotel began pleasantly enough, with Megan and I seating ourselves at the Old Seelbach Bar. We ordered ourselves a couple of Old Fashioned’s with local Kentucky bourbon and had a fun time taking in the atmosphere. Then, once we had enough drinking, we went to the front desk and asked if someone might mind taking a photo of us in front of the grand staircase.
Well, we asked the exact right person to take our photo, as this little move on our part made our night so much more memorable. The man we asked, named Patrick, turned out to be the chief of security at the hotel and, not only would he love to take our photo, he’d be happy to give us our own private tour of the hotel.
He took us to the basement — the Rathskeller — which was full of prohibition history. He told us of the intricate details on the walls, the lavish parties that were once thrown there, AND where Al Capone’s secret getaway door was.
He told us stories of the time F. Scott Fitzgerald stayed at the hotel, walked us by the room in which he once stayed (which was occupied by guests while we were there), and took us up to the main ballroom — the room that he was inspired by for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding scene.
He took us to the main suite in which Louis and Otto once stayed. There, he told us stories of those who had passed away in the room, as well as the many ghost stories that the hotel has become famous for over the years.
It should be noted that Megan and I weren’t staying at the hotel, and yet Patrick showed us incredible hospitality. He was so passionate about the hotel and his role that Megan and I clung to his every word.
It was magic.
Wander Downtown Louisville
The next day, Megan and I took to Downtown Louisville. To start, we headed down to Fourth Street where we heard there were tons of cool restaurants and points of interest. We went into some boutique shops, strolled along the riverfront, went into the Cathedral of the Assumption, and grabbed some rooftop drinks.
While there was lots that we didn’t see — the Muhammad Ali Museum, the Slugger Museum, the Speed Art Museum (okay, so we didn’t visit any museums) — there was still a lot to take in by just walking around and scoping the place out.
Get some KFC
For my birthday supper, Megan and I had the grand idea of grabbing some drumsticks and mashed potatoes from KFC and heading to Colonel Sanders’s grave in Cave Hill Cemetery. A super cheesy thing to do, but it felt fitting for an evening out in Louisville. However, little did we know that the cemetery closes every evening around 5, making getting through the gates impossible.
Our mission thwarted, we ended up parking on the side of the road and eating our chicken in the car. Not what we planned, but a memorable birthday dinner nonetheless.
Stroll Bardstown Road
I’m a sucker for kitschy neighborhoods in cities, and in Louisville, Bardstown Road was this description and more. Full with thrift stores, restaurants, fun bars, bookshops, and record stores, Bardstown Road is the perfect place to go to get some alternative culture in.
We had a lot of fun checking out the sites, dodging the stares of the locals, and drinking mint juleps on patios.
What are your favorite things to do in Louisville, Kentucky?