Louisville, Kentucky might be your new love affair.
She is a booming town with a touch of southern charm. While the city itself is rapidly growing and changing, the heart and soul will always stay the same. It’s a mix of Midwest (everyone knows everyone mentality) with the culture of a coastal city. Louisville is full of a bursting art scene and restaurants, whose opening months are busier than most opening weekends for cities twice its size. Here are a few things you should know before the big moving date.
1. It’s the biggest small town.
Yeah, there are a lot of places around the Midwest who can try and claim this title. Spots like Indianapolis, Grand Rapids and even Cincinnati all have a fair shot at the label, but with a population of 741,096 in the 2010 census — which was a huge growth spurt from almost 500,000 less than that just a few years before — Louisville is still small enough that you can get an audience with almost anyone in town. Not to mention it’s small enough to be a regular at your favorite downtown bar and not get lost in a sea of faces. Which is always a good thing in the bourbon capital of the country.
2. But really, let’s talk about the bourbon here.
First and foremost before moving to anywhere in Kentucky, make sure and know the difference between bourbon and whiskey. Don’t go to a bar and ask for a locally made whiskey. When you are in bourbon country, it’s bourbon. Oh and by the way, where the batch is made is the difference between the two. If your spirit is from Kentucky, then it’s bourbon. No where else get’s to lay claim to that title.
3. The roads have hidden tolls.
It’s a little unsettling the first time that you get a piece of mail saying that you went through a toll without paying it. Especially because you may not have even noticed the sign while trying to get through spaghetti junction. And for someone from out of town, this will likely happen. Your best plan is to go ahead and register with the toll company, Riverlink. They will automatically bill your account instead of getting that unexpected letter in the mail.
4. Respect the legacy of ear-x-tacy bumper stickers everywhere.
— Brian U’Sellis (@BrianUSellis) April 10, 2012
Alright to be fair the famous record/music shop closed years ago, but you will still see black bumper stickers with white writing that say “ear-x-tacy” all over Louisville. It was a landmark institution that locals know and love. It was also the hub for the many “Keep Louisville Weird” shirts that will undoubtedly pop up at almost any outing you frequent.
5. Enjoy the free exercise around the city
Louisville might not have a gym on every corner like L.A. but the beautiful thing about this city is the whole place is a personalized gym. When the weather allows, be outside as much as possible. There are literally dozens and dozens of parks throughout the city. One of the best is Cherokee Park, which is just a hop away from downtown. If skateboarding, rollerblading or bmx is your wheelhouse, then David Armstrong park is going to be your new favorite place. It’s a near seamless skatepark with a 24 foot half pipe as a crowning jewel. Seneca Park is a perfect bet for playing soccer or ultimate frisbee. If all of the green spaces weren’t enough, the city itself is pushing to be more bike friendly.
6. Get into the underground.
Literally go underground at Mammoth Cave. According to the National Parks Service, Mammoth is the world’s longest known cave system and has over 400 miles of explored nooks and crannies. Ten miles are passable for tourists to hike through. The caves are made up of five layers of limestone, sandstone and shale. The eroding layers create huge caverns and stalactites that form from the ceilings, making a path surrounded in stone icicles. To be fair, the cave is halfway between Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee but it’s a straight shot on I-65.
7. Go somewhere new every night you go out for dinner.
While Louisville is indeed in the heart of the midwest, where it’s a meat and potatoes attitude, there is far more than that on the menus around town. If you are a vegan who just can’t shake the craving for an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, then Morel’s Cafe is your dream. They make a vegan “Farby” sandwich and an animal free deviled egg that is killer. If you have the money, try and book a spot at the chef’s table at Butchertown Grocery. And Kentucky fried chicken is elevated at the NuLu chicken joint, Royals Hot Chicken.
8. Make a day out of the activity bars.
Louisville is not only the home of great bourbon, but bars with fun activities to enjoy it. On Bardstown Road make sure and stop by the Hideaway Saloon, a lovable dive bar with ping-pong tournaments, video games and pool. Nowhere Bar, also on Bardstown Road, is a weekend must do. It’s dance floor is nearly legendary. Zanzabar (or Z bar) is the perfect blend of music and arcade bar. If just sipping on a brew sounds more appealing, go to Holy Grail. It’s an stellar beer bar with a great outdoor patio area.
9. Do the Bourbon Trail.
All but five percent of the bourbon in the world comes from the heart of Kentucky. Which means that there are distilleries all over the city and surrounding areas. Though it might feel a little cliche to do the tours, lean into it and take on the whole Bourbon Trail. There are plenty of tours that will take you to each one. Makers Mark, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Bulleit all are on the list just to name a few.
10. Explore the local art scene.
NuLu, or what used to be called the East Market District, is a great starting location for First Fridays in Louisville. There a lot of art galleries to walk through showcases artists from around the country and locally grown. According to Aaron Yarmuth, one of the editors at LEO Louisville’s alternative weekly, this city is one of only in the country with independent companies for all five sectors of performing arts. There are also independent art operations for everything from ballet to opera.
11. Embrace the Derby.
Going to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby is something that everyone who lives in Louisville does at least once. Or at the very least, enjoys some of the celebrations. The entire city comes alive with festivals, a marathon race and a surge of activity around race time. If nothing else, go for the outfits and big hats. It’s a time honored tradition that has run since 1875. The grand prize is over a million dollars but the bets are where the big money is. Nearly 200 million was bet in 2012. Raise a mint julep and enjoy.
12. Play ball.
The Louisville Slugger Museum is set right along the river. While locals will all have probably been there at some point as a child for a field trip (where they give out free bats at the end), it’s worth a walk through at least once.
13. Taste the global food scene.
Louisville has a rapidly growing food realm that is reflective of its citizens. Vietnam Kitchen dishes up a great bowl of noodles, while spots like Ramsi’s Cafe offer a huge menu with everything from Mediterranean to Indian food. Rooftop Grill has a perfected jerk seasoning. We won’t list all of the options here, but have no fear that whatever you are craving, there is a spot in Louisville to satisfy it.
14. Embrace the old houses.
One of Louisville’s greatest traits is the old Victorian style houses that seem to be everywhere. The Highlands are worth it just for a walk on a nice day. Some of the best home architecture can be found near the University of Louisville campus.
15. Get your festivals lined up for the summer.
Forecastle is probably the most well known summer music event. The weekend long festival takes place on the waterfront and brings in everything from folk to electronica. Splurge for the three day pass at least once, then cherry pick your favorite artists in years after. Multiple stages make it well worth your time. For the visual art lover, the St. James art festival has rows and rows of handcrafted goods, beer and food trucks. Waterfront Wednesdays are a bit like an outdoor First Friday during the warmer months.
16. Thunder Over Louisville is worth the hype.
A shot I got from Thunder Over Louisville. pic.twitter.com/n9t8L0gwGZ
— Joseph Tindle (@KentuckyJoe84) April 24, 2017
The Derby kicks off with the Thunder Over Louisville festival. The celebration has one of the best firework shows you will likely ever see. Even if the Derby is not something you fancy, it’s worth it to go downtown just for this event.
17. The Highlands are your new weekend hotspot.
The Highlands are one of the best places to go for a complete weekend night out. Start the night with French fine dining at La Chasse and end it with dancing or keep it classy at Louvino for wine flights. There are a handful of LGBT bars in the area as well, but Chill bar may have the best drinks.
18. Learn to say the name.
One way to instantly anger everyone around you in Louisville is to pronounce the name of the city incorrectly. LOU-AH-VUL. End of story.
19. Embrace the river.
The city, in conjunction with Indiana, gave some tender loving care to an old railroad bridge to create the Big Four Bridge at Waterfront Park. It’s one of the best Instagram spots in the city if you get a shot of downtown from the Indiana side. While by the water check out the Belle of Louisville. It’s an old fashioned riverboat that is still in operation.
20. Lean into the weird weather.
It is entirely possible to be wearing snow boots one week and be able to walk outside in nothing but a light jacket the week after. The weather here is very unpredictable because of the Ohio River valley. The location also contributes to a whole mess of pollen and allergies that strike with a vengeance every spring and fall. The best thing to do is keep allergy pills handy and always have a backup jacket in the car. Oh, and local schools will close with even a small amount of snow.