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Kentucky offers an impressive array of things to do and numerous attractions to visit. Botanical gardens, zoos, impressive government sites, horse racing thrills and historic districts are sprinkled throughout the State’s most visited cities.
Wildlife & Zoos
Whether you are traveling solo or with children, you’ll love visiting the zoos, aquariums and sanctuaries that dot Kentucky. You can walk through clear tunnels for a unique perspective on the stunning sea creatures at the Newport Aquarium, make friends with the reptiles during the live shows at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo or visit the over 1,700 animals in the Louisville Zoo. You can even learn more about the preservation efforts targeted at the Kentucky River Palisades habitat and wildlife.
Horse Exhibits, Tours & Events
Visitors to Kentucky are treated to the very best of “Horse Country.” Legendary thoroughbred racing venues like Kentucky Downs Race Course in Franklin, Keeneland Race Course in Lexington and Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, in Louisville, welcome crowds throughout the year. And if your taste runs toward harness racing, The Red Mile in downtown Lexington beckons.
But the equine attractions don’t end with racing. Kentucky also hosts superb training facilities, like The Thoroughbred Center. Meet exotic horses at the annual Parade of Breeds at Kentucky Horse Park or visit by appointment the retired thoroughbreds at the Old Friends Farm in Georgetown. If the history of horses in the United States intrigues you, schedule trips to the American Saddlebred Museum and the International Museum of the Horse.
Botanical Gardens and Arboretums
Flowering gardens, towering research forests and tranquil Zen Gardens are just some of the beauty spots that grace Kentucky. If you find yourself in Lexington, take a trip over to The Arboretum, the 100-acre park operated through the University of Kentucky. Guided tours are recommended, but self-guided tours through their signature gardens, like the Rose and Perennial Gardens, can be accomplished all year long.
If you want to stroll through traditional Japanese gardens, the Yuko-En on the Elkhorn in Georgetown will enchant you. It was established as a Kentucky-Japan Friendship Garden featuring a Water Garden, Zen Garden and Maple Grove, along with other elements. In Clermont, visitors are encouraged to hike their way through the stunning nature preserve and forest at the Bernheim Arboretum & Research Forest. Although the 1,400 acres are always impressive, the colors during the fall draw the crowds.
If your travels take you to Frankfort, schedule a guided tour of the Kentucky State Capitol Building and grounds. Visit the Supreme Court Chamber, examine the statues or stop by the Governor’s office. The exquisite Governor’s Mansion is open to public tours twice a week and is a must for fans of history, politics or unique architecture. The moving Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial sits adjacent to Capitol View Park.
Beyond Frankfort, you can trace your heritage or discover local history at the Lexington National Cemetery, which currently honors the remains of over 66,000. Established in 1849, the cemetery also hosts a mausoleum with hundreds of crypts, a reflecting pool and a flower garden. Special services are held every Memorial Day.
Of course, no educational tour of Kentucky would be complete without a stop to Fort Knox, possibly the most famous Army installation. The Fort protects the gold depositary and welcomes visitors to the General George Patton Museum.
Kentucky’s unique role in American history can be expertly examined by visiting its well-preserved historic sites. Whether you are interested in tales of war, historic homes or the birthplace of presidents, you’ll find something intriguing in the Bluegrass State.
Start your tour with a stop in Hodgenville, the location of the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace Historical Site. Their Visitor Center reveals numerous exhibits and family artifacts, including their bible, as it takes you through Lincoln’s early life. From there, step into the connected Memorial Building to see a replica one-room cabin, representative of the one from Lincoln’s earliest days. From his birthplace, you can take a quick ride out to Knob Creek to enjoy the work of interpretive guides and displays providing details about Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home, where he lived until the age of seven.
You can also find the home of Mary Todd Lincoln in Kentucky. Originally built as an inn, the structure, built in 1806, was Mary Todd Lincoln’s home from 1818 to 1839. You can tour the 14-room estate to see photographs and original furnishings belonging to the family.
Other historic homes of interest include the 19-room house museum of Secretary of State and Speaker of the House, Henry Clay in Ashland, Kentucky. The plantation and mansion served as his residence until he died in 1852. In Lexington, The Hunt-Morgan House, built by John Wesley Hunt in 1814, is a “must see.” Dr. Thomas Hunt Morgan, the first Kentucky resident to win the Nobel Prize, was also born in the house. Tour the mansion and marvel at the 19th-century antique furnishings, as well as the collection of Civil War artifacts in the Alexander T. Hunt Civil War Museum on the upper level.
Benjamin Henry Latrobe, considered the “first professional architect” of the United States, designed Lexington’s Pope Villa in 1811. Its unique features, including the curved lines of the rooms and domed rotunda, are exquisite.
There are a plethora of historic districts and impressive architectural examples to examine throughout the state. Campbellsville, founded in 1817, boasts a beautiful historic commercial district in their downtown. Preserved Italianate architecture is on display everywhere you turn, including the 1910 Merchant Tower.
Main Street in downtown Georgetown offers historic walking tours of more than 200 landmark buildings. In Covington, investigate the details of Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, inspired by Notre Dame. You can explore Lexington’s earliest days at the Lexington History Center, or visit the Bluegrass Heritage Museum and the Clark Mansion in downtown Winchester.
Don’t forget to add the Boone Station, Waveland, McConnell Springs and the Paramount Arts Center to your itinerary.