We visited Kentucky as part of my quest to see all 50 states by the time I reach the age of 50! It was not in my plans when I headed to West Virginia from DC, but we decided if we were that close to it, we had to swing by. You can read more about my DC visit here. What a serendipitous treat to get to explore this exciting state. We stayed for two nights at the Embassy Suites in Lexington and were greatly helped in planning our day by Ryan at the front desk, who was invaluable in giving us great recommendations of things to do in Lexington, Kentucky. I didn’t know much about Kentucky before I visited, but was blown away by the pride Kentuckians have about the things they do well. The state is full of character and a place I won’t soon forget. Here is how we spent our weekend in Lexington, KY. Since I had my sons with, it also has some tips on how best to explore Lexington for kids.
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Get your first taste of bourbon in Kentucky with a bourbon truffle.
Upon our arrival, we stopped by Old Kentucky Chocolates to get a small taste of this new state. We arrived in town too late to take advantage of it, but the chocolate shop does offer free tours at 10 am Monday through Thursday. There is also a bourbon chocolate tour at the Rebecca Ruth Factory which is near the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Where to have a nice dinner in Lexington, Kentucky
Voted one of the ten best steakhouses in the US, this steakhouse can please anyone because it is a three-in-one restaurant. You can also order off the sushi or American menu.
Distilled at Gratz Inn Park
Nothing is better than an excellent farm-to-table restaurant to first sample the local fare.
If you still are awake…
Where to get a drink in Lexington, Kentucky
All of these areas are in the downtown area, which is worth a walk around. Parking is free after 5:30 on the weekends.
If you are looking for an upscale bar with reasonable priced drinks, try Centro.
If you want to become a Wildcat and hang out with the college locals, try Stagger’s Inn, Two Keys Tavern or Tin Roof.
If you want to dance the night away, try Belle’s or The Hugo Club.
Now, get to sleep, we have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow!
A great day starts with a great brunch…
Where to get the best brunch in Lexington, Kentucky
Located downtown the Village Idiot is a casual pub that serves traditional Kentucky food with some random additions, such as curries.
This hipster hang-out offers bottomless mimosas.
Healthy, with vegetarian and vegan options, you can start your day off right…
Now off the races, so to speak… But first, start your day off with the hair of the dog, Kentucky-style.
Buffalo Trace Distillery Tour
There are many bourbon distilleries open for free tours, but all the locals we spoke to pointed us to the Buffalo Trace Distillery. It is one of only a few bourbon distilleries that made it through prohibition, although the name is now different. On the free one-hour tour we learned not only a huge amount about bourbon, but also the history of the area.
There are many tours to choose from, but we chose the standard Trace Tour. On the tour we visited the barrel storehouse and saw the bourbon being hand-bottled. The tour ends with tastings of a few varieties of bourbon and some chocolate. On the tour they explained the differences in how different bourbons are made and aged. It was fun to taste them and see what they were talking about. Find the right free tour for yourself here.
Are bourbon tours appropriate for kids?
Our bourbon tour was actually a highlight of my 11- and 13-year old’s days. They were interested in the history, although my youngest thought the smell of the storehouse was a little much. In the bottling factory, they were given a bottle-stopper and even got to sample root beer and chocolate at the end while I had my bourbon.
Can you buy bourbon at Buffalo Trace Distillery?
Not only can you buy bottles after the tasting, if you are fancy you can buy a barrel of your own. They will then bottle it in personalized bottles. Most people left with a bottle of bourbon cream, a fan favorite.
Castle in Lexington, KY?
This is a convenient stop and worth it just for the bizarreness of finding a random castle in the middle of Kentucky’s horse farms. It functions as a hotel and restaurant, so you can’t really just drop by and go in, although you can explore the grounds. You can book lunch and a tour here.
Kentucky Horse Park
In spite of not being a big fan of horses, it is hard not to catch horse fever in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky Horse Park is a large park where you can see thoroughbred horses up close. You can spend hours if you have the time at this equine theme park. Read more here.
Keeneland Race Track
We were lucky to visit when the races were in season! We got to see the qualifiers for the Kentucky Derby, which last for two weeks in April. They also have two weeks of races in the fall. It is a fabulous way to experience the life of a local. Everyone comes out the races, dressed in their best. The horses are paraded out, so you can see them up-close. You can buy general admission tickets right at the gate for just $5 and it is easy to get yourself standing right on the finish line. If you want to get seats, you may want to buy them ahead of time.
Another reason to go to the horse races is to bet on a horse. There is a booth in front of the betting booths where they will give you a tutorial on how to place a wager. We had a great time betting about $10 total and I even won!
There are many food kiosks to order from, so be sure to search for the one that makes you the happiest. We all enjoyed our food from the BBQ place and I got to enjoy a hot bowl of Burgoo, a local stew of beef and vegetables.
Even if you miss the races, Keeneland is open for tours year round.
We visited during the weirdest spring, ever. I heard it referred to as sprinter. Because of the weird weather, the arboretum, in the University of Kansas campus, was not in bloom other than these tulips. I can imagine this big park set up to showcase the horticulture of distinct areas of Kentucky is beautiful to walk through in the late spring and summer. They also have a children’s garden and educational activities for kids.
Drive the Kentucky Horse Trail
If you tell your GPS to avoid highways to visit all these places, you will drive through miles and miles of the pastures of horse farms. It is so worth the small addition of time to your drive. As a side note to this, Lexington has much more traffic than I expected, so always expect your drive to take longer than you think anyways.
If you have time to shop in Lexington
Check out the Fayette Mall, a traditional mall, or Summit Fritz Farm, an outdoor mall which also hosts happenings.
Hot Brown Plate at Ramsey’s Restaurant on Harrodsburg Road
I love trying foods indigenous to an area, so was on a mission to try the best Hot Brown. I was directed by a few locals to Ramsey’s, a cute diner with many pies and drinks like watermelon hard iced tea to choose from. A Hot Brown is an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with ham, bacon, cheese and Mornay sauce. It was the perfect local Lexington way to end our day…Well, it was almost over, although we tried the butterscotch pie a great day ends with ice cream….
The Best Ice Cream in Lexington, Kentucky
Crank and Boom Ice Cream Lounge came highly recommended to us. With flavors like Bourbon and Honey, Kentucky Blackberry and Stout Dreams you can’t go wrong. This ice cream shop set in a hip industrial plaza with bars and restaurants uses all local ingredients and flavors. The ice cream is phenomenal and the waffle cones are something special– firm with a hint of something unique and special. They said it is cinnamon, but it tasted like more to me. If you are up for it, they also make ice cream cocktails. This place sits right near the top of my favorite ice cream shops in all of my travels, so don’t miss it.
We loved our time in Lexington, Kentucky and highly recommend a visit for anyone. When I come back I would also love to visit Ashland, Henry Clay’s estate. For more on road trippin‘ the US, check out my Ultimate Road Trip Guide or check out more of my 24 Hours in Guides.