Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Signature Sites of the Bluegrass

Churchill Downs’ twin spires are an enduring symbol of one of the nation’s most famous sporting events, the Kentucky Derby. But the Bluegrass State is also the home of a fast sports car. A museum honoring the iconic Corvette in the town where it is manufactured is one of Kentucky’s many signature attractions, which also include the birthplace of a legendary president and the world’s longest cave system.

Churchill Downs

Kentucky Derby Museum, Louisville

The gold lettering above the paddock at Churchill Downs proudly proclaims “The Kentucky Derby has run on this track for 141 consecutive years.”

“Since 1875, we have not missed a year,” said John, a guide who leads groups on tours of the sprawling historic track that is home to one of America’s oldest and most famous sporting events.

Visible above the paddock, where the horses are saddled before the Derby, are the iconic twin spires, an enduring symbol of Churchill Downs and, by extension, Kentucky.

“They were built in 1895,” said John.

The tour, which begins at the adjacent Kentucky Derby Museum, also takes visitors past the jockey quarters and to the track, where standing against the rail, they get a sweeping view of the long stretch, the massive grandstands and the 26-acre infield, where 80,000 to 90,000 revelers gather on Derby Day as part of a crowd of more than 170,000.

If you can’t make it to the Derby, the museum’s “The Great Race” video presentation is the next best thing. Its 360-degree screen puts you in the middle of the action, surrounding you with the sights and sounds of Derby Day.

The show is getting a total makeover and will debut a new 18-minute 4K digital production in December.

“It will blow your socks off. This [the current show] will seem like black-and-white TV,” said Lynn Ashton, who recently retired after 20 years as museum president. “It will be one continuous picture for 360 degrees. It will be the only 360-degree, 4K immersive experience in the world.”

The museum’s first floor is about the Kentucky Derby, with artifacts and interactive stations where visitors can watch many former derbies; the second floor has exhibits about the life of a racehorse “from birth to retirement.”

National Corvette Museum

Bowling Green

The walls shake, the floor trembles and the ceiling opens. The sensorial experience of a cave-in is not what you would expect at an automobile museum. But the newest exhibit at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, opened this fall, lets visitors get a replicated view of an incident that thrust the museum into the national spotlight in February 2014.

The ceiling of a large cave beneath the museum’s round Skydome centerpiece collapsed, swallowing eight priceless Corvettes into a 33-foot-deep hole. The cars were eventually removed, the 45-foot-wide hole securely repaired and the Skydome reopened in July with the crushed remains of four of the cars that couldn’t be repaired on display, along with the 2009 ZR-1 Blue Devil that has been repaired. It will eventually be joined by two of the other sinkhole Corvettes when they are restored.

“Both the broken ones and the fixed ones will be there,” said Katie Frassinelli, the museum’s marketing and communications manager.

Frassinelli said the new exhibit is designed to show “what happened and why. We want it to be interactive and educational.”

The 21-year-old museum gives an informative look at the Corvette’s history, engineering and mystique. Nearly 70 Corvettes from various years are displayed throughout, and period dioramas of a 1950s-era service station start with one of the first 300 Corvettes built in 1953.

“We are the only museum in the United States dedicated to one make of car,” said Frassinelli.

The museum is located just off Interstate 65 near the massive assembly plant where all Corvettes have been made since 1981. Tours of the plant are also available.