Let me start by saying 36 hours in Louisville, Kentucky, much like pretty much any large metropolis, is somewhat akin to saying 8 hours in Disney World. It’s just not possible to do more than scratch the surface of all there is to do in a city of over a million people. So what I’m going to tell you about is just what I experienced, with a few events I wish I’d had time for.
As is true with both Parkersburg and Marietta, much of Louisville’s life centers around the Ohio River. In the downtown area, known as the Central Business District, you’ll find one of the most spectacular riverfront parks you’ll ever experience. To put it plainly, it’s huge. At any given time on a weekday evening or all day on weekends, the lawn is large enough that several soccer games, ultimate Frisbee games, baseball games, and picnics may be going on at one time. And at night, there are often free concerts on that same lawn. There’s also a lovely wooded area filled with walkways if you’re not into active sports. Between the walkways are picnic tables with grills and a playground for the kids. This area, along with the rest of the park, is ground zero for runners and walkers. If you’re into that and go out in the half-hour or so before dawn, you’ll find literally hundreds of people running or walking in every direction. There are so many walkways crisscrossing the whole area that you can run for a week and never take the same route twice.
If your taste runs to something a little more relaxing, take a ride on the Belle of Louisville or its sister, the Spirit of Jefferson (named for Jefferson County). They are gorgeous sternwheelers that take folks on public dinner or sightseeing tours once or twice a day every day but Monday. They are both also available for private bookings. Wedding receptions are something I’ve seen launching on one of the two almost every time I’ve been in the city. Even if you don’t want to ride it, you could do what I’m doing even as I type this article and enjoy the calliope music playing while they prepare to launch.
Away from the river, but only a short way away, you’ll find one of the prettiest ballparks in all of the United States. Louisville Slugger Field is home of AAA Cincinnati Reds affiliate, the Louisville Bats. Minor League ball is one of the greatest bargains in sports today. The most you’ll pay for a ticket is $16, with many as little as $10. Regardless of whether you’re in the cheap seats, though, there’s no bad seat in this cozy throwback to the days of the good old fashioned ball park. And best of all, there’s almost always something fun going on. You don’t even have to like baseball to have a blast. There are games and activities going on between every inning, fun videos on the huge jumbo screen, and there’s a really good chance that you’ll find something on special at the concession stand. Several times a year there are dollar dog and drink nights or dollar beer nights or specials that include four tickets, four dinners, and four ball caps, all for less than forty bucks. Find that in a major league park.
Maybe the best part of Louisville is the food. There is a thriving restaurant community in the city, with the best of practically every cuisine you can think of. You could eat in a different restaurant every meal for weeks and not ever have to hit a chain. If you want lots of choices all in one place, start with 4th Street Live! It’s an outdoor pedestrians-only area lined with a mix of local and national brand restaurants. My favorite by far is a place called Birracibo, which is Italian for beer and food. It sounds more romantic if you don’t translate it, I guess. But the local craft beer list is as long as your arm. Try the West 6th IPA and a Neopolitan artisanal pizza. I had the pollo carciofo. I don’t know how to say it, but man, I sure didn’t have any trouble eating it. It has chicken and artichokes and is probably big enough for two normal people or one person like me. They have appetizers, sandwiches, tacos, full dinners—even a good array of vegetarian choices. And that’s just one restaurant. There are way more than I can list. But after you finish there, assuming you have room, go to The Fudgery. Not surprisingly, they sell fudge, and I’m talking about knock-over-an-old-lady-with-a-walker-to-get-her-out-of-the-way good fudge. And that’s not even the best thing there. They sell homemade (the ice cream and the cones) ice cream cones that are as big as a baby’s head.
If you have time to get away from downtown for one meal, make it the Bard’s Town on, oddly enough, Bardstown Road. A separate article could be written just on all the cool places on that road, but start your trip at a restaurant that looks an awful lot like William Shakespeare’s house. And that’s not a coincidence. Every dish has some sort of tortured Shakespeare-themed pun for a name. There’s The Shrimpest, Much Ado About Empanadas, Iambic Pork-tameter, Parting Is Such Sweet Potato, the King Slaw-dius Burger, and what I had, MacDeath (by Goodness), which is some of the best macaroni and cheese ever made. I had it with chicken. Save room for dessert because the Gooey Butter Cake is without exaggeration, the single best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Just saying those words—gooey, butter, cake—will tell you what you need to know. To see the whole menu or to find out about all the entertainment that goes on there too, visit their website.
There are literally dozens of cultural opportunities as well, from theater to concerts to an entire row of museums. First stop should be the Muhammad Ali Center. It’s six stories of history and philosophy. You start at the top with a multimedia movie that chronicles the history of Ali as well as his philosophy of life. From there, you make your way down floor-by-floor through exhibits that center on his early life, his boxing career, his conversion to Islam, his philosophy and life’s work, and his battle with Parkinson’s Disease. You simply cannot miss this.
Phew. I’m tired just typing all that. I did all that, but to be fair, I was here for a week. If you manage to cram all that into 36 hours, you are going to be one tired but full and happy person.