Famous for bourbon, its proximity to the original KFC and for being both the “Horse Capital of the World” and the “Front Porch of the South” Lexington sits at the heart of Kentucky’s bluegrass region, named so because of its abundant rolling hills and fields. Incidentally, the grass here isn’t actually blue unless it’s allowed to grow to several feet tall; at this stage, small blue flowers appear at the top of the grass. Anyway…
Also nicknamed the ”Athens of the West” due to its two major universities and intellectual reputation, Lexington is Kentucky’s second largest city by population and its major business centre to boot. But aside from its forward thinking, thrusting reputation, Lexington manages to straddle an old world charm, too, making it the perfect place for a holiday if you’re keen to explore this fascinating, traditional side of the States.
With that in mind, here are 5 tips for planning a trip to Lexington, Kentucky.
WHEN TO VISIT
Late spring and autumn are ideal times to visit Lexington; summers in Lexington are hazy and humid, with average temperatures regularly above 30°C in July and August and dipping into the minus numbers between December and February.
That said, June is a little more manageable temperature wise, and the month sees two hugely popular music festivals held in the city; Bluegrass, Kentucky’s oldest bluegrass event, and Broadway.
Lexington Pride is also held in June; the city has one of the US’ highest concentrations of gay and lesbian couples as well as an openly gay mayor, and the Pride festival here is a big deal, accordingly.
Alternatively, April and October sees the focus falling on Lexington’s horse history, with those two months hosting the Keeneland race meet. Spring and autumn are also an incredibly attractive time to visit this part of the world, as the region’s famous flowers and foliage are at their most striking.
WHERE TO STAY
The thriving downtown district is the ideal area to stay in if you’re visiting Lexington for a short while. Here you’ll find the city’s historic buildings, galleries, high-end restaurants and the majority of hotels.
Towards the Southern end of West Main street is where you’ll find Lexington’s bars densely packed together. If you want to stay in this area, consider The 21c Museum Hotel Lexington on West Main Street which is an 88-room boutique hotel, contemporary art museum and voted as one of the top hotels in the South in Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice awards.
If you’re here for the horses, then you want to be close to Griffin Gate. The Family Destination Guide, in their roundup of best hotels in Lexington, Kentucky, tell us that the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa is the ideal place to stay. It’s close enough to both the Kentucky Horse Park and the downtown district so you can get the best of both worlds.
For a taste of the Southern Countryside, consider the Shaker Village on 3501 Lexington Road; it’s been named a top hidden travel destination by BBC News and is the largest National Historic Landmark in Kentucky.
Just 15 minutes north of Lexington, you’ll find the small and charming Georgetown which is located within the golden triangle of Cincinnati, Louisville and Lexington. The Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm lets you get up close and personal with some of the retired horses who were once stars in this part of the world. Stay in the historic downtown district which has 200 buildings on the National Register for Historic Places. Oh, and it’s also the “maybe” Birthplace of Bourbon, speaking of which…
GO BOURBON TASTING
Bourbon – with the first syllable pronounced berr, not bor – is perhaps the quintessential Kentucky drink. Unique in flavour profile, colour and its primary ingredient of corn (for a whisky to call itself bourbon, its distillation ‘mash’ must be at least 51% corn) bourbon uses barrel ageing to achieve its characteristic finish. As such, it’s a drink with much complexity, both in its history and in its taste.
With 95% of the world’s bourbon made in Kentucky, it would be a sin not to explore the history of this famous drink while you’re visiting Lexington. The famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail should be your first consideration, but if the near 40 distilleries on this trail have got you feeling hungover before you’ve even begun, then consider a more compact tasting of Lexington’s 15 distilleries (all within 45 miles of downtown). Check out more information on that here.
If you’re going to zero in on a single distillery, then a must visit is the Fresh Bourbon Distilling Co. Nestled in the heart of Lexington, it’s one of the first African American-owned distilling companies in the country.
Since you’re in the Horse Capital of the World, it would be rude not to explore how and why horses are a massive part of Lexington’s identity and economy.
The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is the place to see and learn about all things horse. Alternatively (or additionally, of course), Keeneland Race Course is touted as one of the most beautiful race courses in the world. Here you’ll find the International Museum of the Horse and learn about equestrian history.
Take a tour of one of the many many horse farms in Lexington; there are more than 450 horse farms to be exact. Check out the website visithorsecountry.com where you can book tours of farms in the area or make the trip to the aforementioned Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm.
THE ORIGINAL FRIED CHICKEN
Lexington is the ideal base to explore (and of course, taste!) the state’s glistening and golden fried chicken. If you’re looking for the original Kentucky fried chicken, then it’s worth making the 90 mile drive south of Lexington on the 1-75 to North Corbin. Here, you’ll find where the Kentucky Fried Chicken empire began back in 1940 at Colonel Harland Sanders’ original restaurant, The Harland Sanders Café. The site has now been turned into a museum, with a modern KFC sitting adjacent.
If that’s a pilgrimage too far, then for somewhere more local, the famous and historic Parkette Drive-In in Lexington is the place to go. The Merrick Inn, on the edge of downtown Lexington, is also well known for their fried chicken. If you’re still hungry, take a quick 2 mile trip north to Local Feed in Georgetown. The restaurant is proudly farm-to-table, and does Southern fare superbly.