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Trip Report Trip Report: Long Weekend in Louisville, KY

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I took a three day trip to Louisville in June 2009 to attend a wedding. Fodorites gave me lots of helpful advice before I left and I'm sorry that I haven't been back sooner to update everyone on the trip. Better late than never... here's my trip report. Hopefully it will help someone else who is headed there.

* FRIDAY *

We flew out early from Los Angeles, changed planes in Dallas and (after a delay) arrived in Louisville around 7:00pm. Upon getting off the plane, I was amused to see tornado shelters in the airport terminal, a true novelty for a west coaster. I had to open the door and check them out.

We took a cab from the airport to downtown Louisville (a bargain at $18) and checked in at 21C Museum Hotel. Wow, I loved this hotel. It's the coolest little boutique hotel I've ever encountered. The museum in the lobby is filled with interesting contemporary art, the rooms are huge and nicely decorated, we had views out enormous windows to the Ohio River and service was fantastic all around. There's no question that this is THE place to stay in Louisville at the moment.

We hopped in a cab and went to North End Cafe, in the trendy Louisville neighborhood charmingly called Butchertown, to attend the rehearsal dinner for the wedding we'd come to town to attend. This restaurant is a favorite of the bride and groom, and I can see why. The space was inviting and the food was delicious. The staff were very friendly and we had a great time. Afterward, we all headed back to 21C to have a drink at the bar downstairs, Proof. This is definitely a hot spot in Louisville, with lots of young, trendy folks enjoying designer cocktails in the artistically designed bar.

* SATURDAY *

On Saturday morning we headed out to Churchill Downs with some friends and decided to try out the local bus system. It was very convenient to get out to Churchill Downs via the bus, and fun to see a bit of the city along the way. Less fun... the weather. It was about 95 degrees with lots of humidity. At Churchill Downs, we walked through the museum, took a quick tour that included watching the first race of the day, and then stayed on for a couple of hours to watch three more races. Didn't win any money, but had a great time. Some thoughts on Churchill Downs:

* The museum staff are very, very nice. The college-aged kid who led our tour clearly loves his job and was eager to answer questions.

* The museum is nicely laid out and has all sorts of interesting exhibits and information. Even people who aren't particularly into horse racing (like myself) will find something here that intrigues them. I learned quite a bit while strolling through, and that's always a good thing.

* The basic tour offered by the museum was totally not worth it. All we did was walk out to the track, hear a few minutes of history about the grounds and then watch the first race of the day. We should have just saved our money and gone to the track on our own. The tour to take is the one that goes out to the barns, but it was sold out when we arrived. If you know when you're coming, book that tour in advance.

* There are plenty of food and drink options inside the racetrack. Everyone in our group found something they liked.

* If you actually want to win money, learn a little something about horse racing before you arrive and pick up the little newspaper that has information about the horses. My super scientific method of choosing a horse based on the uniqueness of its name was not the way to go. Shocking, I know.

That evening we attended our friends' wedding at Yew Dell Gardens, just outside Louisville. Wow, this is a gorgeous spot. I believe the gardens are open to the public and if you're interested in such things, this is a lovely and serene place to enjoy the local flora and fauna. It was a spectacular setting for a wedding.

* SUNDAY *

After a post-wedding brunch with the wedding party at 21C, we took a walk along the Louisville waterfront and explored a bit of downtown. We walked down Main Street to the waterfront area, where we looked out over the river and saw the Belle of Louisville, a restored steamboat that is a popular tourist attraction. I believe you can take river cruises and such on the Belle. We admired all the public sculpture, walked through Fourth Street Live, a popular but charmless retail district and checked out the stately city hall. There were a lot of places we would have liked to go, such as the Muhammad Ali Center and the Louisville Glassworks, both of which are walking distance from 21C. Sadly, we were on a tight schedule due to wedding-related activities and couldn't see everything that we wanted to. Also, we were surprised to find how many things were closed on Sunday.

Later, we went out to visit our friends in the Louisville neighborhood called The Highlands. While there, we went on a long, scenic walk around the neighborhood (made possible due to the cooling weather). This area is filled with huge, beautiful homes set on tree-lined streets, large parks, and a main boulevard lined with coffee shops, cafes, bookstores, etc. We stopped at Heine Brothers' Coffee, which has excellent coffee and is a nice place to sit and relax. It's a great part of Louisville and one where I would have liked to spend more time. Eventually, we headed back to 21C to get ready for dinner. We took a cab back to Butchertown and ate at a restaurant called Varanese, which we were very excited about. While the setting and service were fantastic, neither of us liked our food, which was disappointing. We ended the evening with a walk through Butchertown.

* MONDAY *

We had a mid-day flight and not much time to see things this day. In the morning, we took a cab out to the Cherokee Park neighborhood and toured Whitehall, a historic home (part of Louisville's historic homes collection). It was really beautiful, and it being a Monday we had the place to ourselves. If you're at all interested in architecture or local history, check out the historic homes in the area. I loved Whitehall and was so glad we went there. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and helped bring the home to life for us.

Overall, it was a really fun trip and I was glad to be able to spend some time here. Some final thoughts about Louisville:

* The city is absolutely filled with public art. There are sculptures and statues just about everywhere you look. Louisville is also home to a ton of art galleries, large and small. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an American city so obviously dedicated to making its public space a showcase for art. It was really wonderful to experience.

* If you haven’t been to the South in the summer, I’m here to tell you that it is HOT. And buggy. I brought home some lovely mosquito bites as souvenirs. However, when it cools off and a breeze blows from the Ohio River, Louisville is such a wonderful place to spend a day outside in the sun.

* Downtown Louisville is clean, attractive and clearly growing by leaps and bounds. So why are there no people there? All weekend I walked around Louisville and the streets were completely deserted. When the work week arrived, the population downtown increased, but it was still not what you’d expect from a big city like this. It seems that everyone lives in outlying suburbs, not in the actual downtown area, and thus the weekends make it a bit of a ghost town.

* Cabs are cheap. The bus system is effective and easy to use. Downtown is quite walkable. I spent four days in Louisville without a car and really never felt that I needed one.

* When in Louisville, you should absolutely stay at 21C, a charming and memorable boutique hotel located right in the heart of downtown. I absolutely loved it and can’t recommend it enough.

* PHOTOS *

A view of 21C from Main Street: http://tinyurl.com/yhucetj

Churchill Downs: http://tinyurl.com/ylfq7aa

Louisville's waterfront and the Belle of Louisville: http://tinyurl.com/yljkyo4

Downtown Louisville: http://tinyurl.com/ykodwvy

Whitehall: http://tinyurl.com/ycp56gp

Dinner at Varanese: http://tinyurl.com/ye8w6p4

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