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Kentucky is nicknamed the 'Bluegrass State' for the variety of grass that covers much of its surface, producing a small blue flower in springtime. The grass provides good grazing for Kentucky's prized thoroughbred horses, brought up on the rolling hills of this western frontier.
Horses, fried chicken, bourbon, and river steamers are what most people associate with Kentucky, but this largely rural part of the US has plenty of other attractions too, many of them historical and a great deal of them natural.
For instance, Abraham Lincoln's birthplace is a frequented tourist attraction, Thomas Edison lived in Louisville before he invented the light bulb, food connoisseurs Col Sanders and Duncan Hines were both from Kentucky, and the state contains the world's longest cave, Mammoth Cave, which is 405 miles (652km) long.
Kentucky is one of only four states that is designated a commonwealth. In 1792, when the USA incorporated Kentucky as the 15th state, the people chose to be a commonwealth, governed on the common consent of the people.
The state is governed from the capital, Frankfort, on the Kentucky River in central Kentucky, but the largest city in the state, and its commercial capital, is Louisville, a lively town on the Ohio River.
Kentucky, bordered by no less than seven other states, is easily accessible via several interstates and the Louisville International Airport, making it a popular tourist destination with its 50 state parks and hundreds of recreational, natural, historic, and cultural attractions. Tourism is the state's third largest revenue-producing industry, and visitors are enthusiastically welcomed.
Kentucky has something to offer all its visitors, giving them a lot more than just fried chicken to write home about! With around 50 state parks, the Bluegrass State's natural attractions draw those with a penchant for the outdoors from all over the globe.
Its largest city, Louisville, is home to the famous Kentucky Derby, the renowned horse race held at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of every May. Whether it's the famed and popular Derby or the 405-mile expanse of the Kentucky caves at Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky makes for a popular tourist destination for anyone with an affinity for the open air.
Visitors also celebrate Kentucky's other recreational activities such as its forests, a restored old sternwheeler river boat, a wonderful zoo and an exciting amusement park. All of these are sure to keep children and adults entertained and having fun.
Kentucky's incredible food is also a popular drawcard for visitors, with its restaurants serving an array of cuisines. Whatever your taste, you'll find something to enjoy at any one of its gourmet restaurants.
Kentucky's bourbon is world-famous. Visitors looking to taste it first-hand usually visit the Woodford Reserve Distillery, one of the oldest distilleries still in the state. For those in search of a little history, a lot of open air and great food, Kentucky is certainly worth the trip.
Fans of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali can see and experience all aspects of the life of the man dubbed 'The Greatest' at this huge multi-media, interactive exhibition centre, which features theatres and interactive stations.
Ali's story, including his boxing career, global humanitarianism, and societal and religious convictions, is presented in thematic displays, according to the six core values he has encompassed: confidence, conviction, dedication, respect, spirituality and giving.
The inspirational centre also includes displays of memorabilia, a retail store, and cafe.
Even those who aren't horse racing fans can experience the thrill of the sport at the museum and through tours offered at Churchill Downs. Established in 1874, it's one of the world's oldest and most famous tracks, hosting the annual renowned Kentucky Derby.
The Museum contains exhibits that bring the pageantry and excitement of the Derby to life, including high-tech computerised hands-on displays and video graphics. A video entitled 'The Greatest Race' shows on a 360-degree screen every half hour from 9am to 4:30pm and from 12:30pm on Sundays.
Museum tour guides take groups of visitors to see the Churchill Downs' stable and infield areas, as well as through the historic Edwardian grandstand, finish line, and winners' circle.
The Belle of Louisville is America's oldest still-serving sternwheeler riverboat, plying the Ohio River from Louisville's waterfront to give visitors memorable sunset cruises, sightseeing excursions and Saturday night party cruises.
Powered by two steam engines and boasting 32 whistles, the historic boat was commissioned in 1914 and was originally named the Idlewild. She served as a packet boat for many years, carrying passengers and freight on America's inland waters.
In 1962 she was purchased by the Jefferson County authorities and refurbished, being declared a National Historic Landmark. Now, public sightseeing cruises depart from the 4th Street Wharf in Louisville.
Thomas Edison, inventor of the incandescent electric light bulb, lived in the house on East Washington Street in 1866 when he was only 19 years old and had yet to receive acclaim for his many inventions.
When Edison lived in Louisville, he worked for the Western Union as a telegraph operator on Second and West Main Street, a few blocks from the house. Today, the simple cottage, built around 1850, has been restored as a museum housing interesting artefacts.
These artefacts in Thomas Edison House include things such as cylinder and disc phonographs, a kinetoscope, the first home motion picture projector, numerous versions of the light bulb and other creations patented by the famous inventor.
The Cathedral of the Assumption is the fourth oldest public building in Louisville as well as the third oldest Catholic Cathedral in the United States in continuous use. Designed in the neo-Gothic style by William Keeley and Isaiah Rogers, the Cathedral was completed in 1852.
The steeple rises 287 feet (84m) above the Louisville skyline, and upon its completion, was North America's tallest spire. The chancel window is one of the oldest surviving examples of hand-painted stained glass in the country.
The Cathedral of the Assumption is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is an active, urban parish with 1,500 registered families. Audio tours are available and docents conduct guided tours by appointment only.
The Kentucky Science Center in historic West Main Street, founded in 1871 as a natural history collection, has experienced more than a century of growth to become Kentucky's largest hands-on science centre, visited by more than 550,000 people each year.
A highlight of the centre is a permanent exhibit known as The World Around Us, featuring interactive stations that challenge visitors of all ages to make use of their creativity and problem-solving skills.
The centre also has a four-story digital movie theatre, a gift shop and restaurant. The Science Center isn't just for kids, providing lectures and events for adults after hours.
Louisville Glassworks is America's first complete centre dedicated to the art of glass, from architectural glassworks to the finest glass jewellery and ornaments. Located in Louisville on the corner of 9th and Market Streets in the historic Snead Manufacturing Building, visitors can watch glassblowers, flameworkers, cutters and designers at work, creating glass art in the open air and studios.
Renowned resident glassmakers are Mark Payton and Brook White, but Louisville Glassworks also plays host to visiting glass-smiths. Visitors have the opportunity to work one-to-one with an artist to create their own glass art. This is by appointment only. Guided tours are also available.
The only theme park in the world dedicated to man's relationship with the horse, the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington covers 1,200 acres in Kentucky's famous Bluegrass region. Visits begin with a film, followed by exploring the vast and comprehensive International Museum of the Horse.
Guests can also wander through a self-guided farm tour watching the farrier at work and admiring the tack shop, before attending a half-hour parade in the show ring, which highlights the characteristics of some of the park's 40 different breeds of horses.
In the Hall of Champions, legendary thoroughbreds are presented for viewing, and visitors can also enjoy a carriage or horseback ride around the park's extensive show facilities. The presentations are held only between March and October.
Besides horses, Kentucky is famous for its bourbon history. Numerous distilleries are open to the public. But the oldest still operating is the Woodford Reserve Distillery, nestled between lush horse farms in Woodford County on McCracken Pike.
Bourbon was first distilled here in 1812, when it was known as the Labrot & Graham Distillery. The site of the beautiful limestone buildings is a National Historic Landmark, restored to its original condition.
It's the only bourbon distillery still using copper pot stills, the traditional method of distillation. A visitor's centre provides displays and videos on the history of bourbon and guests can watch how bourbon is distilled in the traditional manner. The distillery offers several tours and tastings.
This US Army fort, located an hour south of Louisville, is world-famous as the home of America's largest stockpile of gold bullion. However, the repository is closed to visitors. A popular attraction is the General George Patton Museum of Leadership.
It has exhibitions of US Army artefacts going back to 1775. Adjacent to the museum is Keyes Park, offering pleasant picnic areas and a playground for children to run around in. The museum store sells a whole array of gifts and mementos.
The capital city of Kentucky, history-rich Frankfort is situated about 50 miles (80km) east of Louisville, about 50 minutes drive from Louisville International Airport. It boasts a vast array of architectural styles, famous landmarks, museums and enjoyable shopping precincts.
Among the interesting attractions in the city is the Old State Capitol, a Greek Revival building dating from 1830 with a unique self-supporting staircase held together by precision and pressure.
Other architectural sites include the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Zeigler house, dating from 1910, and the Switzer Covered Bridge, a beautifully restored Howe Trussed bridge dating back to 1855 that offers a lovely place for a picnic.
Besides numerous historic houses and buildings, Frankfort boasts a fascinating History Center, historic sites, war memorials and scenic wildlife reserves. Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman, is buried in Frankfort Cemetery, overlooking the city.
The Buffalo Trace Distillery has been operating for over two centuries, and offers guided tours. The city also offers many active pursuits, including golf, horseback riding, canoeing, and hiking.
The Mammoth Cave National Park near Edmonson in south-central Kentucky boasts the longest cave in the world, with 405 miles (652km) of cavers and passages having so far been explored. According to experts, there's 'no end in sight'.
Officially dedicated as a national park in 1941, its cave system and scenic valleys of the Green and Nolin Rivers remain preserved.
The park offers camping, cave tours, hiking trails, hotel accommodation, canoeing, and horseback riding. There are a variety of expeditions on offer, with varying levels of difficulty and sightseeing options, run to different schedules.
Visitors should request a brochure and book in advance, as tours cannot be booked on the day.
The home of the most famous horse race in America, Churchill Downs is full of tradition and amazing stories. It opened in 1875, and has hosted the Kentucky Derby ever since. The track also hosts the Breeders' Cup.
Races are run from May to July, and October to November, and visitors to Churchill Downs can see live races in addition to learning about past winners in the Kentucky Derby Museum, which is open year round.
Louisville's humid subtropical climate is temperate and seasonal. Summers (June to August) are hot with cool evenings, so bring along a light jacket or coat. Spring and summer are the wettest seasons, although rainfall is fairly constant all year round.
Snow usually falls in winter, allowing for winter sports. Winter temperatures (December to February) range from 27°F (-3°C) to 43°F (6°C); and average summer temperatures vary between 66°F (19°C) and 89°F (32°C).
The Kentucky climate is usually mild, and summers are predominately pleasant, though they can sometimes be hot with high humidity. Snow does fall in winter but it tends to melt quickly. Spring and summer are usually the wettest months, with areas in the southern part of the state experiencing a higher rate of annual precipitation. Temperatures in summer (particularly in July) can reach 80°F (25ºC); while winter lows can hit 36°F (2°C), particularly in January, which is the coldest month.
Louisville is regarded as one of the most accessible cities in the United States, having excellent road and rail links in addition to its international airport. Once in the city, it is best to make use of the frequent and efficient bus and trolley services.
Taxis are also easy to find, and some hotels run their own complimentary shuttle services between the airport, the downtown area and other landmarks. Louisville has a strong cycling tradition and there are several on-road bike lanes downtown. Many visitors prefer to hire a car, which makes getting around the city and the surrounding areas easy.
While Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby are the main entries on the traditional bucketlist, visitors will discover all manner of attractions in this pretty southern city. Louisville has a long history, most prevalent in the old architecture built throughout.
It is home to the third largest National Preservation District, and largest Victorian district, in the United States. Scenic areas worth exploring include St James Court and Belgravia Court, Main and Market Streets, the Cherokee Triangle, and Butchertown.
Downtown has highlights within walking distance, including the art galleries of Market Street, the Speed Art Musem, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, the Louisville Slugger Museum, the Kentucky Science Center, Frazier Historical Arms Museum, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Kentucky Derby Museum, and the Muhammad Ali Center. Many of these are located in a cluster on Main Street.
Besides the iconic horse race, the Kentucky Derby Festival presents air shows, balloon and steamboat races, and marathons. The St James Court Art show is a fun local event too, held in a genteel neighbourhood of stately Victorian homes.
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