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Iconic Destinations: They’re All in

Holland, Michigan’s prevalent Dutch culture — its annual tulip festival, working windmill and wooden shoe factory — is no gimmick. Bourbon heritage in Louisville, Kentucky, is poured on thick and served neat, or however you want it. And there’s no denying that milk chocolate put Hershey, Pennsylvania, on the map.

Some destinations become known for a certain aspect of their history, which plays a huge part in their modern-day heritage, and local officials are doubling down on that cachet to promote their communities.

Louisville, Kentucky

Kentucky’s largest city is known for three things: the Kentucky Derby, the Louisville Slugger and bourbon. Although the legend and lore of Kentucky bourbon aren’t nearly as clear as the amber liquid itself, Louisville’s bourbon heritage stretches back to its founding in the late 1700s.

Evan Williams was Louisville’s first distiller. The story goes that Williams, a professional distiller who served two terms on the city’s board of trustees, would bring a jug of his whiskey to enjoy after the meetings as an incentive to keep them short. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, located along downtown Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row, is both a distillery and an attraction that opened in October 2014. During the tour, groups enjoy 4-D movie experiences that teach visitors about Louisville life and distilling as it was in 1783, including a re-creation of the Ohio riverfront and wharf that “will remind you of Universal Studios,” said Saundra Robertson, tourism sales manager for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. The working distillery makes one barrel per day, and guests can enjoy tastings and the gift shop.

Evan Williams is one of several downtown stops that Robertson has unofficially been calling the Urban Bourbon Experience. The Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. offers tours of its distillery, where the entire process, from bags of grain to bottles of bourbon, takes place under one roof. A tasting at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is just steps from Fourth Street Live, and groups can visit the Copper and Kings American Brandy Co. distillery. Although it’s not bourbon, the distillery is “fantastic,” Robertson said. “The way they age their brandy is by music vibrations, so when you walk down there where they store the barrels, rock-and-roll music is playing.” Not quite in downtown but not too far away, the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience opened at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery.

Groups will soon have even more options to sample with three new bourbon distilleries opening in downtown. Angel’s Envy Distillery will open this fall, Michter’s Distillery is under construction, and Old Forester Distillery is slated to open in late 2017.

The CVB also created the Urban Bourbon Trail, a downtown-centered pub crawl that features 35 bars and restaurants, each with 50 to 150 bourbons on hand. Guests can get “passport stamps” at each location and earn a free T-shirt and certificate.

Holland, Michigan

In Holland, Michigan, the Dutch heritage is almost as thick as the blanket of brightly colored tulips that unfurls over the city every spring. Dutch Calvinist separatists founded Holland in 1847. Eighty years later, local biology teacher Lida Rogers asked city leaders to make the tulip Holland’s official flower and plant bulbs around town. The city bought 100,000 tulips from the Netherlands, and in 1929, a carpet of tulips rolled out across the city. The Tulip Time Festival was born.

The annual festival features all things Dutch: food, music, parades, dance performances and tulip tours. Many groups arrive midweek and leave Friday or Saturday to catch the main events, which include the festival’s three parades. The festival also offers local step-on guides in full Dutch attire, as well as docents who lead groups for the day.

But there are plenty of year-round ways to experience Holland’s culture, said Sally Laukitis, executive director of the Holland Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. At Nelis’ Dutch Village, groups can make “banket,” a flaky Dutch pastry filled with almond paste, and tour the replica village. Groups can tour the 1856 Pillar Church, which was founded by the settlers’ leader, Albertus van Raalte; enjoy an organ concert; and visit the small Van Raalte museum.

Another favorite is Windmill Island, where guests can explore the gardens, catch a concert on the 1928 Amsterdam street organ and tour the 255-year-old De Zwaan windmill, which was imported from the Netherlands in 1964. There, Alisa Crawford, the only Dutch-certified master miller in North America, provides demonstrations of the working flourmill. Guests can take a bag of flour home with them or sample it in the pizza crust at Hops at 84 East and in baked goods at deBoer Bakkerij and Dutch Brothers Restaurant.

At the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Factory, groups can also watch crafters carve wooden shoes and chat with artists as they hand paint delftware. New for groups is the opportunity to visit the Holland Bowl Mill to watch crafters make wooden bowls.

Rachel Carter

Rachel Carter worked as a newspaper reporter for eight years and spent two years as an online news editor before launching her freelance career. She now writes for national meetings magazines and travel trade publications.