Louisville, Kentucky, is racing ahead toward a bright future.
That’s what 14 tour operator and travel planner readers of The Group Travel Leader discovered during a two-day familiarization trip to the Derby City in May. Hosted by Louisville Tourism, this trip introduced participants to signature Kentucky attractions, up-and-coming establishments and some new interactive experiences that explore unsung heroes of the city’s Black history.
During the trip, participants got to see some of Louisville’s most famous group attractions, including Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby Museum and Stoneware Inc. They explored the area’s distilling heritage at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and Copper and Kings, an inventive brandy distillery. They visited several institutions along Main Street’s Museum Row, including the Frazier Museum and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. Along the way, they enjoyed meals at upscale restaurants and trendy new venues.
Follow along on this itinerary to begin planning a fun-filled Louisville adventure for your travelers.
• Arrival in Louisville
• Stoneware Inc.
• Lunch at the Café at Paristown Point
• Louisville Mega Cavern
• Copper and Kings Distillery
• Waterfront Botanical Garden
• Dinner at Swizzle
• Overnight at the Galt House
Travel planners arrived in Louisville on a sunny Wednesday morning in mid-May and gathered at the Galt House Hotel, which would be their home for the next two nights. From there, they set off to explore the city, beginning with Stoneware Inc., a company that has been making beautiful dishes, mugs and other decorative products in Louisville for more than 200 years. They enjoyed lunch in the Paristown Point neighborhood, then proceeded to go on an underground adventure at the Louisville Mega Cavern.
After returning to the surface, they visited the Copper and Kings Distillery, a unique brandy distillery, for a tour and tasting. The last stop of the day was the Waterfront Botanical Garden, a new attraction growing in Louisville. The evening ended with an elegant dinner at Swizzle, a new supper club in a rotating space on the 25th floor of the Galt House.
The group began their explorations at a Louisville institution: Stoneware Inc. Founded in 1815 and known for years as Louisville Stoneware, this company produces dishware, mugs and other pottery products by hand, and its factory and showroom are popular stops on group trips. FAM participants got a behind-the-scenes tour, during which they met some of the artisans and watched them creating beautiful pieces from raw clay. The group also got a sneak peek at the company’s new on-site museum, which details the history of Stoneware, and browsed the Mercantile for Stoneware products and other iconic Louisville souvenirs.
Café at Paristown Point
Stoneware Inc. is the centerpiece of an up-and-coming Louisville neighborhood called Paristown Point. A large, open indoor space adjacent to the factory now serves as home to the Café, a restaurant that has been a fixture of the neighborhood for years. The group enjoyed a lunch of gourmet soups, sandwiches and sides at the Café, then took some free time to explore Paristown Point’s small business district. Highlights include Christy’s Garden and Amphitheater, which features a large lawn and frequent live music, and Old Forester’s Paristown Hall, a performing arts venue.
Louisville Mega Cavern
After lunch, the group traveled to the Louisville Mega Cavern, a unique attraction built in a former rock quarry that closed in 1959. With more than 15 miles of underground passages, the Mega Cavern features multiple opportunities for groups. The cavern is known for its Mega Zips and Mega Quest experiences, which offer zip lining and aerial adventures in the dark environment of the cavern. The FAM group embarked on the Mega Tram, a narrated jeep-pulled ride through two miles of the cavern’s underground terrain. Throughout the ride, guides pointed out interesting geological phenomena and told stories of the cavern’s history.
Copper and Kings Distillery
In a city known for bourbon — there are 16 bourbon distilleries in Louisville — Copper and Kings Distillery offers a distinctive departure. This craft distillery employs used bourbon barrels to age brandy, giving the fruit-based spirit a uniquely Kentucky flavor. The group toured the Copper and Kings facility and saw the large copper pot stills used to distill the brandy. They also visited the barrel cellar and learned how the distillers use rock ’n’ roll music in its “sonic aging” process. The tour ended in the beautiful outdoor tasting area, where participants had a chance to sample the signature product.
Waterfront Botanical Garden
The next stop brought the group to the Louisville Botanical Garden, a relatively new attraction growing on the site of a former landfill. The urban botanical garden was the vision of local horticulture lovers and philanthropists, and the garden’s leadership team is working hard to bring that vision to life. The group explored the six developed acres on the 23-acre site, where they saw the education center, the teaching greenhouse, the event center and other facilities. They also enjoyed walking the beautiful serpentine path past waterfalls made of repurposed stone, as well as taking photos of the Louisville skyline in the background.
The group ended its first day in Louisville at Swizzle, an elegant supper club atop the west tower of the Galt House Hotel. This restaurant features two circular dining areas that rotate 360 degrees over the course of 45 minutes, giving every diner sweeping views of the Ohio River. The menu consists of prime steaks, seafood and locally sourced vegetables. FAM participants enjoyed luxurious cocktails and a surf-and-turf dinner before returning to their guest rooms in the hotel below.
• Breakfast and tour of the Galt House
• Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
• Frazier History Museum
• Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
• Lunch at Logan Street Market
• Kentucky Derby Museum
• Evening racing at Churchill Downs
After a good night’s sleep, FAM participants began the next day with breakfast at the Galt House’s Walker’s Exchange restaurant. They learned about the hotel’s impressive local history and toured newly renovated rooms and public spaces. Then they took a short drive to Main Street, known as Louisville’s Museum Row, where they visited three attractions: the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, the Frazier History Museum and the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory. In addition to tours, guests were able to experience moving new programs that highlight Black contributions to Louisville history, part of the city’s new Unfiltered Truth Collection.
They had lunch at the newly opened food hall Logan Street Market. Next, they stopped at the hotel to freshen up and change clothes for their visit to Churchill Downs. They began with a tour and hat-making experience at the Kentucky Derby Museum, then enjoyed dinner, mint juleps and live racing on Millionaires Row. That evening, they retired to the Galt House one last time before departing the next day to begin their journeys home.
Galt House Hotel
The FAM’s second day began with a closer look at the Galt House Hotel. Built in 1972 by a local construction magnate, and named for a historic Louisville boardinghouse, the property has become a Kentucky institution. The group toured some of the 1,310 guest rooms in the hotel’s two towers and enjoyed breakfast at the Walker’s Exchange, one of seven food and beverage establishments at the hotel. They also met with the hotel’s sales staff, which shared anecdotes about the hotel’s history and tips for horse race wagering, which would come in handy later in the day.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
After departing the hotel, the group took a very short drive to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Main Street. Part museum, part working distillery, this attraction introduces guests to the history of Evan Williams, one of the area’s first bourbon distillers, and allows them to see how bourbon is made in a small-batch, on-site distillery. On this trip, the FAM group visited the basement speakeasy for the Ideal Bartender Experience, where they met an interpreter playing the role of Tom Bullock, a famous Black bartender who worked in Louisville during the Prohibition era. He led them through a tasting tour of bourbon history, ending with an Old-Fashioned cocktail, which Bullock is said to have created.
Frazier History Museum
Just down Main Street from Evan Williams, the group visited the Frazier History Museum. This is perhaps the most comprehensive Kentucky history museum in the state, and its Bourbon Welcome Center serves as the official starting point of the state’s Bourbon Trail. The group enjoyed a tour through the museum’s immersive “Spirit of Kentucky” exhibit, which details the history of bourbon and gives an overview of the distillation process and its impact on Kentucky culture. The group also saw items from the “Kentucky Cool” exhibit, which includes a dress worn by Rosemary Clooney and a customized Corvette.
Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
Across the street from the Frazier Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is the home of one of the city’s most famous products: the Louisville Slugger baseball bat. The entrance is marked by a 120-foot-tall baseball bat leaning up against the building’s exterior. Inside, the group toured the museum, and members got to hold bats used by some of the game’s greatest players and participated in a historical investigation into a forgotten Negro Leagues team in Louisville. They also toured the factory floor to watch bats being made.
Logan Street Market
The group traveled to Louisville’s Shelby Street neighborhood for a tour and lunch at the Logan Street Market. Established in 2019 in a former tobacco company warehouse, the market is Louisville’s first indoor public market and features more than 30 merchants selling food, beverages and other local merchandise. Participants explored the space, sampled beer from the on-site microbrewery and then selected their food from the culinary merchants there that offer French, Mexican, Asian and African cuisine.
Kentucky Derby Museum
After a quick stop at the Galt House to freshen up and change clothes, the group departed for the Kentucky Derby Museum, an educational institution on the racetrack property that gives visitors an overview of the city’s most famous sporting event. The group enjoyed the museum’s introductory film, which offers a heart-pounding glimpse of the excitement of the Derby, then proceeded to a classroom to take part in the museum’s signature “Hattitude” hat-making experience. They also got a preview of “Proud of My Calling,” the museum’s interpretive program that honors the Black jockey who won the first Kentucky Derby in 1875.
Sporting their new hats, the group walked from the Derby Museum to the entrance of Churchill Downs, the world’s most famous racetrack. Although it’s known for the Derby, Churchill Downs features live racing about 75 days a year, including “twilight racing” on Thursday nights. The FAM group got to enjoy these evening races from a hospitality suite on Millionaires Row. Over mint juleps and dinner, they tried their hands at wagering, experienced the pageantry of racing and toasted their return trips to Louisville.
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