With a rich green landscape, bluegrass, and bright blue skies, Kentucky is regularly described as one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Nicknamed the ‘Bluegrass State’, this US state is charming and intriguing – and its fascinating history, bluegrass music, bourbon whisky, trendy cities, and unspoiled countryside mean that it has something to offer everyone. It’s a place where you can go hiking in the morning, visit distilleries and historical attractions in the afternoon, and dine at top-rated restaurants in the evening.
The Globus family of brands have been offering guided tours to some of the world’s most captivating places for more than 90 years, giving travellers opportunities to put down guide books and immerse themselves in the history, culture, and authenticity of every destination. The Globus family cater to a wide range of travel styles, goals, and budgets – and prides itself on being able to turn people’s travel dreams into reality.
So, if you’re interested in learning more about the magic of the Bluegrass State, here are nine of the best places to visit, as well as tips on the best ways to explore.
Louisville is Kentucky’s cultural capital, and there’s a good chance first-time visitors to this state will be utterly beguiled.
Pronounced ‘Loo-a-vul’, according to locals, this is a city that’s beautiful, friendly, artsy, and cool. Known for being the home of the Kentucky Derby, Louisville is also the birthplace of Muhammad Ali and the Louisville Slugger bat – but today it’s just as famous for its food as its sport.
A great way to explore Louisville is to tour its many sport-focused museums, from the Speed Art Museum to the Kentucky Science Center and the Frazier History Museum. Afterwards, you can feast on Kentucky fried chicken and sip an old-fashioned at one of the city’s many trendy bars – or why not visit one of the countless distilleries where you can taste your way around local bourbons?
As the capital of Kentucky, it should come as no surprise that Frankfort is one of the best places to visit in the state. Though it might be best known for the award-winning Buffalo Trace bourbon, this city also boasts a vibrant food scene, a rich culture and history, and a stunning setting that’s perfectly positioned on the banks of the Kentucky River, right between Louisville and Lexington.
You can discover 200 years of local history at Capital City Museum before stretching your legs on the historical walking tour of downtown Frankfort. There are also plenty of opportunities to admire murals, sculptures, and architecture in Riverview Park and Josephine Sculpture Park.
If you enjoy boat trips, then you won’t want to miss the chance to hop aboard a riverboat for an aquatic tour of Frankfort – and whisky lovers can even join the only boat-based bourbon tour in the US!
3. Bluegrass Country
Though North-Central Kentucky is known for its captivating and cultural cities, this part of the US is also famous for its spectacularly beautiful countryside.
With rolling green pastures, grand houses, swaying poplar trees, and pristine ponds, Bluegrass Country encapsulates rural America at its best – and driving through this pastoral paradise is a fun way to appreciate the natural beauty of the state.
Plus, with so many charming towns and lively cities along the way, a Bluegrass Country tour is the perfect way to discover the warm Southern hospitality this state is so famous for. Along the way you can learn about pioneer life, visit historic sites, feast upon farm-to-table cuisine, visit legendary horse farms, and listen to local live bands playing authentic bluegrass music.
4. The Lincoln Museum
Few US Presidents are as iconic as Abraham Lincoln, and if you want to learn more about America’s 16th President, the best place to do it is at Kentucky’s Lincoln Museum.
Located in Hodgenville, just a few miles away from Lincoln’s birthplace, this excellent museum walks you through the most pivotal points in Lincoln’s life, and shows you how he became known as one of the world’s greatest leaders.
Life-size models, realistic wax figures, and original period artefacts help bring the Lincoln era to life, and you’ll cover everything from the President’s early years in a log cabin to his infamous death in Ford’s theatre. With civil war memorabilia, a collection of Lincoln art, a funeral train exhibit, and a gift shop packed with locals’ arts and crafts, there’s plenty to see, do, and learn about here.
5. Kentucky Horse Park
Kentucky is known as the horse capital of the world, and if you’re a fan of these graceful creatures, you’ll almost certainly want to pay a visit to Kentucky Horse Park.
Whether you’re an equestrian or an animal-lover, learning about the history of the special relationship between humans and horses is fascinating, and you’ll leave feeling enchanted by the strength and beauty of these elegant animals.
At the Kentucky Horse Park’s International Museum of the Horse, you’ll learn about the role of horses throughout history, from ancient ages to modern sporting events, and at the Wheeler Museum, you can admire a range of equestrian memorabilia.
There are lots of live shows during high season, and of course, if you fancy hopping in the saddle and going horseback riding, you can do that here too.
Pretty, genteel and elegant, Kentucky’s second city has much to offer. Known as the ‘Athens of the West’, it represents the beginning of the American West, and while there are lots of historic sites and landmarks to see here, there are plenty of modern pursuits to enjoy too.
You can admire murals and street art, browse eccentric bookstores, and pick up souvenirs from unique antique shops.
Lexington is also a city that’s known for its food and drink, and the gastronomic scene is thriving. The state’s most famous culinary contribution is the Hot Brown – an open turkey sandwich with bacon, tomato and Mornay sauce – but there are plenty of other mouthwatering delights to sample. And of course, Lexington is the heart of Bourbon Country, so it’s a great place to do a guided distillery tour.
7. Sinking Spring Farm
If you haven’t got your fill of Abe Lincoln information yet, then why not head to Sinking Spring Farm?
Lincoln was famously born in a one-room log cabin near Hodgenville in 1809, though the original cabin was dismantled before 1865. Today, however, a replica of the log cabin stands in its place, and with one door and window, a stone fireplace, and a dirt floor, it highlights Lincoln’s humble beginnings.
But when you arrive at Sinking Spring Farm, it won’t be a log cabin that catches your eye; it’ll be a Greek-style temple that looks wonderfully out of place in the Kentucky countryside. Built in 1911 to honour Lincoln, it’s this grand memorial building which actually houses the log cabin, and visiting this site perfectly illustrates how Lincoln transcended his lowly background to become an American icon.
Located in the heart of Kentucky, Bardstown has been voted the most beautiful small town in America – but this lively and historic town is far more than just a pretty face.
First settled in 1780, Bardstown is the state’s second-oldest city, and history buffs will enjoy admiring the hundreds of old buildings dotted throughout town, from the historic Rowan plantation home to The Jailer’s Inn.
With 11 unique distilleries within 16 square miles, Bardstown is also known as the Bourbon Capital of The World, so fans of this golden spirit will be in their element touring the different distilleries and trying different brands – from Jim Beam to Maker’s Mark!
The city’s Civil War Museum and Women’s Museum of the Civil War are two of the country’s best places to learn about the US Civil War, too.
Nestled in the foothills of the stunning Appalachian Mountains is Kentucky’s artistic heart, the city of Berea.
Known as the state’s Folk Arts and Crafts Capital, Berea is steeped in soul and diversity, and is a must-visit for anyone interested in the arts. This is a place where you can visit galleries, artisan studios and fabric stores, and pick up unique and creative souvenirs from boutique gift shops.
But there’s plenty of outdoor adventure to be had here too. The thousands of acres of forests and mountains in the surrounding area are perfect for hiking, and the well-maintained trails loop through some of the state’s most spectacular landscapes.
If you’re into biking, there are excellent trails in this part of Bluegrass Country, and you can also kayak in the many waterways that cut through this state.
The best ways to explore Kentucky
So, whether you’re a bourbon affectionada, a passionate equestrian, a history buff, or just someone who enjoys exploring lively, bustling towns, it’s clear that Kentucky has something to offer everyone. But with so much to see and do, what’s the best way to discover this unique state?
Though you might have always travelled independently, an escorted tour can be an effective way to see and do more – and it’s often more cost-effective too. There are several excellent escorted tours of Kentucky, many of which also allow you to explore neighbouring states.
If you’re interested in discovering Kentucky’s bourbon and horses scene, why not take a Bourbon, Bridles & Bluegrass tour with Globus Journeys? Not only will this tour allow you to explore some of Kentucky’s cultural gems, like Lexington, Louisville, and Frankfort, but it’ll also mean you can discover the delights of Nashville and Chattanooga in Tennessee, as well as North Carolina’s Asheville.
This eight-day tour will show you the best of this magnificent region. You can get a taste of the old South when you visit historic estates, marvel at the staggering natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains, and of course, make the most of the lively cities, local distilleries, trendy eateries, and warm Southern customs of Kentucky.
Or, if you’re more into history and exploring the great outdoors, what about the Cosmos Historic Trails & Blue Ridge Mountains tour? Throughout this immersive tour of the southern US, you’ll wind your way down from Pennsylvania and Maryland, pass through the DC area and Virginia, and then head south to North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky.
During this 14-day tour, you’ll uncover the history, beauty and culture of this unique part of the US. You can visit colonial settlements and Civil War sites, admire the staggering beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains, relax in tranquil mountain retreats, and explore the pastoral beauty of Kentucky’s iconic Bluegrass Country.
However you decide to explore Kentucky, we hope this article has inspired you to travel to the Bluegrass State. With its rich history, vibrant arts scene, and magnificent countryside – not to mention the unique bluegrass culture of music, bourbon and horses – there’s plenty to see and do.
So next time you’re planning a holiday, why not think about visiting some of the lesser-visited US states? Kentucky’s bewitching nature makes it unforgettable – and if you take an escorted tour with Globus or Cosmos, you’ll be able to explore other fascinating states, too.
To get ideas for other far-flung places you might like to visit, you can visit the travel section of our website.