What to Do in Kentucky

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If you’re in Kentucky and still don’t what to do, worry no more! This article got you covered. It will give you ideas on the places that you should visit, food that you should eat (don’t worry, it’s not just fried chicken), and things that you should do in Kentucky.

Beginner’s Guide

Kentucky is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. Geographically, it is sheltered by the winding Ohio Rivers in the north and the mountains of Appalachia in the east.

Kentucky separated from Virginia in 1792 and became the 15th state to enter the Union. Currently, it is the 26th most populated state in the US. Its capital is Frankfort.

Louisville is considered as its larger urban city. The place is also known for its Kentucky Derby –the largest and the most popular horse racing event held at Churchill Downs every first Saturday of May.

This state is also dubbed as the “Bluegrass State” – a reflection of the many bluegrasses found on its fertile lands. This state is mainly known for its horses and horse racing events, whiskey distilleries, tobacco, bluegrass, college basketball, and fried chicken!

The local culture is widely considered as “Southern” though it is still quite peculiar due to the socio-cultural influence coming from the Midwest and the Southern Appalachia. In terms of ancestry, they are relatively closer to that of Upland South.

Even though it used to be a slave state (African Americans used to comprise one-fourth of their population), the present black population in Kentucky is only around eight percent. That is why it is usually omitted as part of the Black Belt.

Places to Visit And Things to Do

  • Cumberland Falls (Corbin, Kentucky)

    Usually referred to as the Niagara of the South, this 68-foot-tall falls is a set of waterfalls coming from the vast Cumberland River. It is at the heart of Cumberland Falls State Resort Park, an eco-park that encompasses 1,657 acres of land. For photographers, the lighting of this waterfall is a thing of wonder and awe.

    On a clear night sky with full moon, people can see the magnificent rainbow formed by the mist and the moonlight. They call this moonbow or lunar rainbow, an arching beauty during the night time. This phenomenon is rare around the world. The human eye can hardly see the range of colors of the moonbow. This is because we are wired to see things in bright light. But long exposure shots from your DSLR will do the work.

  • Mammoth Cave (Mammoth Cave, Kentucky)

    If you are an adventurous spirit, you should visit the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky. Why? Well, it is simply considered the longest known cave in the world. That’s why.

    It boasts the length of 392 miles, with very intricate and interconnected passages. In the past, Native Americans explored and used the interconnected passages of this cave as they move from one place to another. Today, it is very unlikely for tourists to go inside without guides and professionals (you surely don’t want to starve-to-death if you’re lost in this maze).

    Local tour packages are available all through the year. There are even tours that will take visitors to a part of the underground river system of this cave. But if you think that spelunking is too extreme for your taste, you can also try their electrically lit routes.

  • Waverly Hills Sanatorium (Louisville, Kentucky)

    This is probably one of the creepiest items on the list. This sanatorium was built during early 20th century at the top of a forested hill. It was meant to address then the incurable tuberculosis.

    During the 1900s, when tuberculosis swept the communities of Kentucky like a wildfire, local officials and hospital directors decided to shelter those afflicted in Waverly Hills (as a form of quarantine). Well, people used to believe that tuberculosis can be cured by a stress-free environment and clean air.

    Unfortunately, it is too late when they realized that this method won’t work. There was a period when the conditions of the patients deteriorated too much, and people began to die every single day. Due to a large number of dead bodies, the hospital administrators began to pile the corpses in a secret tunnel of the facility just to hide the reality from other patients.

    Currently, Waverly Hills Sanatorium has become a popular haunted mansion at the cold hills of Louisville. For ghost seekers, this place is special due to the number of paranormal sightings for the past decades. You would want to check this place whenever you feel that your ordinary life has become so stale and predictable!

  • The Ghost Ship (Petersburg, Kentucky)

    Once called Sightseer, Phenakite, The Celt, and so on. This ship surely lived its life. Currently, it is popularly called as the Ghost Ship. It was permanently anchored at one of the small tributaries in Ohio river in 1987 after the ripples of world war. Originally designed as a luxury ship, it turned into a military vessel armed with machine guns and depth charges for naval combat against the Germans.

    It became a fishing vessel after the First World War but did not last long due to the eruption of the Second World War. For the second time, it was mainly utilized to guard the homeland against U-boats.

    After decades of use and history, the ship has become outdated and obsolete (and later, abandoned). Still, it has become a pop culture icon. It even served as a backdrop on one of Madonna’s music video!

  • Eat Chitlins

    For your gastronomic experience, you need to try locally cooked chitlins. Historically, “slave masters” don’t eat the “dirty” parts of a pig which includes trotters, maw, and chitlins (intestines). As such, they regarded these parts as slave food. But for many Western African residents, these parts actually identify to their cultural practices and social experience. This is because it is their custom to cook every part of an animal to avoid food waste.

    Chitlins remained popular after emancipation and into the Jim Crow era. It is referred to as “soul food” in many restaurants where local African American artists perform. Later, the group of restaurants and music venues in Kentucky turned into “Chitlin Circuit”.

    Today, chitlins are still considered staple during holiday celebrations. Though not a popular everyday staple (because it takes time to cook), many local restaurants still have chitlins on their menu.

  • Alcohol Museum and Distilleries

    If you are into the glorious history of booze, visiting the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History would be a good idea. This museum is located in Bardstown, Kentucky – also considered as the bourbon capital of the world! Now we’re talking.

    The place offers in-depth knowledge of whiskey manufacture from the colonial era to the contemporary American bar culture. A liquor executive from Chicago bought an old distillery in Bardstown in 1957 and filled it with whiskey memorabilia. The collection was later transferred into an old seminary (due to some personal reasons), now known as the Oscar Getz Museum.

    You can also schedule a tour in one of their local distilleries: Heaven Hill Distillery’s Bourbon Heritage Center, Four Roses Distillery, and Warehouse, Maker’s Mark Distillery, Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience.

    The legendary Kentucky Bourbon Trail is also a good option if you really want a systematic trip schedule and an in-depth experience of bourbon distilleries in Kentucky.

    If you are into first-hand learning, you should visit popular whiskey bars such as The Silver Dollar, Proof on Main, Bourbons Bistro, The Old Seelbach Bar, and Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse and Raw Bar. You can even try their un-aged and high-proof moonshine (often made illegally). Just ask locals where you can find a good one.

  • Kentucky Derby

    For those who enjoy speed and racing, their annual Kentucky Derby is a thing to experience. This is even considered as the biggest day in American horse racing.

    Held every first Saturday of May, thousands of tourists from different parts of the world enjoy the festivities of this event. The race caps the two-week-long Kentucky Derby Festival. With a bourbon-based mint-julep, your Derby Day will surely be unforgettable.

    Many believe that this race is the “most exciting two minutes of sports” in the US. But just be reminded that the hotel price during peak period is around ten times more expensive than your usual rate. Book your reservations as early as possible to avoid unnecessary hassle. You can also check out the Kentucky Derby Museum, a place dedicated to preserving the history of Kentucky Derby.

  • Fried Chicken

    While fried chicken is pretty common around the world, the state of Kentucky simply raises the standard to a whole new level. Fried chicken is one of the key icons of this community. But Kentucky fine-dining restaurants surely redefine the meaning of deep-fried chicken. Heirloom Restaurant and Merrick Inn are good places to start. But you can also opt to try humbler food houses like Blue Heron, Ramsey’s, Parkette, and Claudia Sanders Dinner House.

For another travel guide, you may check out our Manhattan‘s brief travel itineraries.