Louisville is so much more than just the home of the iconic Kentucky Derby! It's rich history fills the city with so much to see and do, explore and learn, and it's also incredibly family friendly - so welcome to our Louisville City Guide!
Would you be surprised to learn that Louisville isn't the capital city of Kentucky? (That's actually Frankfort!), but it IS the largest city in the state and one of the most popular to visit, so we can't wait to share with you our favorite things to do with kids in Louisville, including our "Top 9 Family Attractions" that you can enjoy on your next family day out, and yes parents, it's on the iconic Bourbon Trail!
There are so many fun things to do with kids in Louisville, Kentucky, make sure you keep reading this Louisville City Guide to see what you might like to include when you next visit one of the coolest cities in the USA!
Image Credit: Go To Louisville
In this Louisville City Guide, we'll be sharing with you the best museums in the city, as well as attractions to really immerse yourslves in the history. We'll share iconic not-to-be-missed experiences, along with some fun surprises you might now have known about! We know families love to keep budgets to a minimum too, so also in this Louisville City Guide we've listed some fun FREE things to do with kids in this great city! We'll also share the best ways to get around the city by public transport (sometimes it's nice to have a break from a car!) as well as let you in on some super fun facts you can impress your friends with!
If you want to get out the city for a day, this Louisville City Guide shares our favorite day trip too. We check out some famous faces who were born in Louisville, and have made sure you have a great jump start when planning your family trip.
So whether this is your first trip to Louisville, or maybe you've lived in the city for years but just never really explored all the fun things to do, and you think "I wonder what is there is to do near me in Louisville?", then keep reading, because we have the top 9 things to do in Louisville with kids, just for you...and more!
Image Credit: Go To Louisville
The city of Louisville was actually founded by a man named George Rogers Clark back in 1778, yet was actually named for King Louis XVI of France, as a way of appreciating his assistance during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Initially, the growth of the city was slow, however the introduction of the iconic steamboat in the early 1800s sparked an industrial development boom, and by 1830 the city had made it's mark as the largest city in Kentucky (and we know that's still the case today!)
However, prior to arrival of Europeans, the area was depopulated from the Beaver Wars of the 17th century, and so no permanent Native American settlements existed in the area.
The city played an important role as a Union base of operations during the Civil War (1861-1865), as well as being a major military supply center. Post-war, the city prospered, and due to it's strategic location at the Falls of the Ohio, Louisville becamae a major commercial center. The construction of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad added to the river transporation in 1850, and following the repeal of prohibition, the world's largest distillery opened in the city! (That was Seagram and Sons!)
The first zoo in the city was founded in 1920 (although closed during the Great Depression), the Belle of Louisville arrived in 1931, the Kentucky Shakespear Festival began running in 1949 (and continues today!) and although Louisville has had it's struggles and challenges, it today offers a rich and inspiring experience for anyone who visits.
Image Credit: Go To Louisville
Louisville really has some really amazing things to do with kids and with family. There are the iconic attractions such as the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, and the Kentucky Derby Museum all about that very iconic horse race! From iconic horse races to just pure icons, kids can be inspired by the Muhammad Ali Center, or take a stroll through history and explore the Victorian buildings of Old Louisville.
Then you have the old-fashioned favorites with Louisville Zoo and Kentucky Kingdom - you can't go wrong with animals and rides when it comes to kids! Don't forget about those amazing photo opportunities at places like Big Four Bridge in Waterfront Park too.
Louisville is a wonderful city to visit, and so family friendly with so many kid-friendly attractions to see and do, so go on out and enjoy it for yourself on your next family day out - and don't forget to let us know what you discover too!
If you don't have a car, the best way to get around Louisville is using TARC, the great bus service that services downtown Louisville, and as far out as the airport, the zoo, Germantown and the Fair Grounds.
The website has all the routes listed and color coded for you, so it's really easy to see what bus route is best for you. They also have a live planner too, which is great if you really want to schedule your day!
To purchase a MyTARC card, you can do so online at www.ridetarc.org or one of the purchase and reload locations throughout the city, or have the exact cash fare when you board the bus ($1.75 for a single ride). Rides using the TARC card are $1.50 stored value, with a 10 trip pass offering the $1.50 per trip value.
This includes transfer trips within two hours of initial boarding. An additional $1.00 will be deducted when transferring from a local to an express route.
Source and Image Credit: More information here: RideTARC
Grab those walking shoes, because Historic Old Louisville is a great way to immerse yourselves in some of the rich Louisville history! In fact, this part of the city is home to the largest contiguous collection of Victorian mansions in the entire USA - so you might want to take your camera too!
Guided walking tours are also offered, and the Old Louisville area is also where you can enjoy events such as The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival in Central Park (the longest running outdoor Shakespeare festival in the country!), the Old Lou Brew Craft Beer Festival plus the Garvin Gate Blues Festival (the largest blues street festival in the Midwest!)
Image Credit & Website: Historic Old Louisville
Our Top 9 Fun Things To Do With The Kids In Louisville
1Kentucky Science Center
Science IS fun at this kids-tastic science center filled with multiple floors of exhibits that each allow kids to touch, experiment, learn, and play! The exhibits cover a whole range of topics from the world around us, what makes the human body unique, technology, and all the fun aspects of science!
The Kentucky Science Center also features a movie theater, as well as a host of programs and camps including No Limits Family Night! A great museum for kids where they are encourage to interact, use their imaginations, and uncover the wonders of science and beyond!
Image Credit: Kentucky Science Center
Celebrate the extraordinary role of Louisville Slugger in baseball’s past, present and future at the Louisville Slugger Museum, complete with 120ft high baseball bat! It's not just a museum though - it's also home to THE very factory that has been making Louisville Slugger bats since 1884, and YOU can take a tour!
The permanent and changing collections within the museums are a sports fans dream, with exhibits covering history, exhibits filled with memorabilia and artifacts from the most iconic events and players, and of course a museum store that will allow you to take your own piece of history home with you!
Image Credit: Louisville Slugger Museum
You'll really be part of history with a cruise on the Belle of Louisville - the only remaining operating Mississippi-style steamboat in the USA! Not only that, it's the most widely travelled steamboat in US history AND a National Historic Landmark! Today, it's an icon of the Louisville waterfront and a great activity for families.
There are a number of cruises you can still enjoy on the Belle of Louisville (and her counterpart (Mary M Miller), with sightseeing cruises, dinner cruises, and even kids cruises! Don't forget that camera, because not only will you have an amazing time, but you'll see some amazing sunsets too!
Image Credit: Belle of Louisville
It's time to celebrate art at the Speed Art Museum! The wonderful thing about the Speed Art Museum is that it caters for all people - all ages, and all art aficianado levels. Perhaps this is the first time in an art museum? Perhaps you can talk for hours about the difference between Dali and Degus? Speed Art Museum is for you!
The Speed Art Museum features modern architecture, diverse programming, interactive exhibits and exciting outdoor spaces, the Speed Art Museum offers countless opportunities for everyone to create their own connections with art, and experience art at their own speed!
Image Credit: Speed Art Museum
Louisville Zoo opened back in 1969, and is home to over 1,110 creatures from all over the world! Set across 130 acres, the beautiful wildlife live in natural settings that reflect their specific habitat - whether Africa, Australian Outback, or HerpAquarium!
What's also great about Louisville Zoo, beside the award-winning Islands, Gorilla Forest and Glacier Run exhibits that have been recognized by AZA for their excellence and innovation, but also that the zoo is dedicated to working with endangered species - which kids can learn about during the visit!
Image Credit: Louisville Zoo
Ready to be education, engaged and excitd about the world famous Kentucky Derby? The Kentucky Derby Museum is almost a right of passage to visit, because you're in Louisville! In fact, over 240,000 people each year from around the US and the world visit to learn all about this iconic event.
During your time at the museum, you can learn all about how the Kentucky Derby got its start, going back to the first Derby in 1875. You can enjoy two floors of interactive exhibits, a 30 minute guideed walking tour, a historic movie and a host of memorabilia and artifacts all relating to the Derby, from trophies to fashion!
Image Credit: Kentucky Derby
Get ready to make that SPLASH in Louisville at Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay - two fun parks in one! There are over 70 rides and attractions waiting to be enjoyed, including 2 amazing wave pools, play kids zones, splash zones, crazy lazy rivers and so much more - all in the heart of Louisville!
Then, turn your world upside down with rollercoasters, 5D cinema, bumper cars, giant wheels, rides that spin, rides that loop, and of course, rides for all ages, racers and chasers, and all your could want in a double theme park! Make that splash, kids!
Image Credit: Kentucky Kingdom
2 hours of thrilling and exhilarating adventures, throw in a Historic Tram Tour rich in history, add in a 90 minute walking tour - all set in some pretty spectacular caverns, and you have your Louisville Mega Cavern adventure! If that wasn't enough, you can also challenge yourself with the ONLY fully underground aerial ropes challenge course in the world!
Home to one of the largest caverns in the entire world (hence the nickname "Mega" Cavern!), what was once one of the best kept secrets in Louisville has grown into one of the best known family day out experiences! From the days of 1930s mining to thrilling zips, ropes and excitement, Louisville Mega Cavern is, well, MEGA!
Image Credit: Louisville Mega Cavern
Be inspired by the life of one of the greatest sports heroes - if not THE greatest - Muhammad Ali! Through interactive exhibitions, artifacts, historical video, and endless photographs, the Muhammad Ali Center dedicates it's space to this great sporting icon, and his significant impact on the world.
During your time at the center, you can learn how Muhammad Ali obtained greatness and then used it as a catalyst to do great things for the world and, in turn, inspire others to do the same. Exhibits incorporate the six core principles of Muhammad Ali’s life: Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Giving, Respect and Spirituality - all in the hometown of Ali himself!
Image Credit: Muhammad Ali Center
Muhammad Ali was an American boxer, activist and philanthropist. His nickname was "The Greatest", as he's considered not only the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, but greatest sports figures of the 20th century.
Image Copyright: Public Domain
Hunter S Thompson
Hunter S Thompson was an American author and journalist most famous for his books Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Hell's Angels which he wrote afteer living and riding with the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang.
Image Copyright: Public Domain
5 Fun Louisville Facts
Impress your friends with your amazing Louisville knowledge!
- 90% of the entire world's disco balls are produced in Louisville!
- The Slugger Museum is home to the largest baseball bat in the world! At 120ft tall, it's an exact scale replica of one used by baseball legend Babe Ruth!
- The Belle of Louisville is over 100 years old, and is the oldest operating Mississippi-style steamboat in the world, and now lives in Louisville! It not only still operates tours, but it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places!
- The city was named after King Louis XVI of France!
- The famous Kentucky Derby, held annually in Louisville, is the oldest continually running major sporting event in the entire USA!
Top 5 FREE Things To Do With Kids In Louisville
Louisville Nature Center
Enjoy nature AND learn all about the natural world without even leaving the city! The Louisville Nature Center is always free admission, and welcomes families from all across the USA (and the world!) to enjoy the many marvels of the natural world.
Located opposite the iconic Louisville Zoo, the nature center includes a sensory garden where kids can smell, feel and touch, along with a nature play area for kids to continue their imaginative play! There's an opportunity to view somee beautiful birds, and even terrerium specimins to study - as well as plenty of programs and events to keep your day filled with fun!
Image Credit: Louisville Nature Center
Tour the Cathedral of the Assumption
Built back in 1852, the Cathedral of the Assumption actually sat in a state of disrepair until 1994 when it was restored, and now it's not only an icon for the Catholic faith in Louisville, but also for the city of Louisville itself. It holds nearly 1000 people, and there are still daily masses that you can attend.
If you want to take up the Cathedral on their offer of free guided tours of the Archdiocesan History Center and the cathedral, call ahead as they run by appointment. Even without the guided tour, the Archdiocesan History Center offers an opportunity to experience first-hand, through objects and artifacts, the Catholic heritage of the Archdiocese of Louisville from its earliest beginnings in 1775 to the present day.
Image Credit: Cathedral of the Assumption
Explore E.P "Tom" Sawyer State Park
Did you know that EP "Tom" Sawyer State Park is home to the largest public swimming pool in Louisville AND largest splash park? That's only one reason to visit this super family friendly state park, so you're really going to be in for a treat. In fact, there are 554 acres of reasons!
Other highlights you can enjoy at this Louisville favorite include testing your skills at the only outdoor public archery range in the city, hike along Goose Creek Nature Trail, challenge yourself on the BMX Supercross track (one of only six in the nation!), or even join an interpreter for a guided hike. There's also an opportunity to enjoy a spot of tennis, and it's great for those four-legged friends too!
Image Credit: EP "Tom" Sawyer State Park
Stroll Across Big Four Bridge in Waterfront Park
Waterfront Park is just a river away (the Ohio River to be exact!) from Jeffersonville, Indiana - but connecting the two is the iconic Big Four Bridge, originally built as a railroad bridge for both passengers and freight in the 19th century.
Start your journey in Waterfront Park, where you can visit other sights such as the Vietnam Memorial, before heading to the very-safe-for-families bridge (it's only open to pedestrians and cyclists today!) for breathtaking views of the Ohio River. The bridge is also open 24 hours a day, so perfect for checking out the sunsets AND sunrises!
Image Credit: Our Waterfront
Visit the Art Museum at 21c Museum Hotel
Nestled in downtown Louisville on historic West Main Street (right along Museum Row!), is the 21c Museum Hotel, complete with a free entry contemporary art museum! Even the actual space is worth a visit, as the art is displayed across five 19th-century warehouses across more than 9,000 square feet!
The curated exhibitions and site-specific installations reflect the global nature of contemporary culture, and it's a wonderful way for kids to appreciate art. They galleries are open daily, and exhibitions rotate, so always something to go back to! Be sure to take advantage of regular cultural programming as well, and don't miss the 30ft David (inspired by Michelangelo!) when you arrive.
Image Credit: 21c Museum Hotels
Eat Like The Louisville Locals Do!
Bardstown was first founded in 1780, and is actually the oldest city in Kentucky. It also happens to be considered "The Best Small Town in the USA", so if that's the only reason you visit, it's a pretty good one!
Did you know that in Nelson County, there are over 300 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places? Well, nearly 200 of these are found in Bardstown, so you can just imagine what an incredible experience a visit here would be. (Parents, you might just love Bardstown for it being the "Bourbon Capital of the World"!)
Bardstown was actually named for the pionerring Bard brothers. You had William Bard who surveyed and platted the town, then you had David Bard who obtained a 1,000 acre land grant back in 1785. Originally called Baird's Town in 1788, it changed from Beardstown, to Beards Town, then eventually Bardstown.
Another fun fact about Bardstown, is the stagecoach stop that was built in 1779 still stands today as famed Old Talbott Tavern, which also happens to be the oldest bourbon bar in the world!
It's said that this tavern was visited by famous frontiersman Daniel Boone, as well as one Abraham Lincoln pre-Presidential days. If you look closely, in the upstairs there are even bullet holes that are said to have been put there by none other than Jesse James!
Parents, did we mention it's also the Bourbon Capital of the World?
Image Credit: Visit Bardstown
Here’s our top 4 Bardstown things to do:
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Let's get the family adventure started!