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“And they’re off!” Those electrifying words, along with the song “Danny Boy”, mark Louisville as the place to be for thousands each May during the world famous Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown of thoroughbred horse racing. As it has done for more than 130 years, the race and associated events transform Louisville. Dozens of theme-decorated horses can be found on the sidewalks, in the gardens and in the entrances to some of the city's buildings. This public art project, called Gallopalooza, lends a bright note of whimsy to the city.
The 16th largest city in the U.S. and the largest city in Kentucky, Louisville is home to over 90 attractions and thousands of excellent hotels and restaurants. Whether you are planning to visit Louisville for pleasure or attending a meeting or convention, you will find thoroughbred horse racing, bluegrass music, sporting events, and much more.
Located on the banks of the Ohio River, greater Louisville is at the center of three major interstate highways: I-65, I-71 and I-64. It is within a day's drive of nearly half of the nation's population centers. Louisville International Airport is conveniently situated only seven minutes from downtown.
Louisville has four distinct seasons. There is just enough snow in the winter to make the scenery exquisite. Spring is an exciting time. The city holds the Kentucky Derby Festival during the two weeks leading up to the race, with fireworks, balloon races, steamboat races, concerts and many other events. With high temperatures in the mid-70s during the spring, it’s also the perfect time for outdoor activities.
Summer is the time to enjoy one of the country’s greatest theme parks, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. This theme park contains five roller coasters and also has live shows, popular dining spots, and special areas for smaller children. Hurricane Bay water park has a giant 750,000-gallon wave pool, with surfable waves. In the fall, the cooler temperatures bring the change of fall foliage, Kentucky style.
The landmark that most people associate with Louisville is Churchill Downs, located south of downtown. It has been a place of ritual since 1875, when the first Kentucky Derby was run. Even if you aren't in town for the race, it is worthwhile to make a trip to the track. In addition to touring the facilities, you can tour the beautifully appointed Kentucky Derby Museum.
As one commentator observed: in the Derby, each horse that is running has only two minutes out of its whole life to prove itself. Because only 3-year-olds run in the race, each horse has only a once in a lifetime, two-minute chance of winning.
On the education front, the University of Louisville, with an enrollment of more than 21,000, has three campuses throughout the metropolitan area. The Belknap Campus, 3 miles from downtown, contains seven of the university's 11 schools; the university's medical campus and hospital are in downtown Louisville; and the Shelby Campus is in eastern Jefferson County.
There is good news for the many fans of Louisville Slugger baseball bats! The giant bat that now stands in downtown Louisville marks the spot where the Slugger bats are made: a new factory has recently opened, marking the return of the company to Louisville after an absence of more than 20 years.
Why not take in dinner aboard an authentic Paddlewheel Steamboat. The Belle of Louisville and the Spirit of Jefferson cruise the beautiful Ohio River daily. With year round lunch and dinner cruises, this is a way to view the skyline and enjoy great food at the same time.
For an introduction to the history of the area, be sure to visit the Frazier Historical Arms Museum. It’s an unforgettable journey that spans 1000 years with a collection of arms, armor and related historical artifacts from around the world.
The Water Tower, east of downtown at River Road and Zorn Avenue, is an example of classic industrial architecture, with a Grecian temple front and a great standpipe tower modeled after the Roman triumphal column. The Confederate Monument is found at 3rd Street and Cardinal Boulevard.
The performing arts are housed in The Kentucky Center. The glass walls of the center reflect facades of buildings, which have been renovated and converted into museums, theaters, shops and restaurants. The Louisville arts community has gained international acclaim and is one of only nine U.S. cities with a professional opera, ballet, theatre, orchestra and children's theatre.
Another downtown treat is shopping and dining in the rejuvenated Fourth Street area known as Fourth Street Live!, where a growing number of restaurants have opened (including the Hard Rock Cafe), some interesting shops, and more are slated to open in the coming months.
All in all, Louisville is a city of stature as well as a center of culture and of entertainment. Looking for a terrific vacation destination? Live it up in Louisville!