48 Hours in Louisville: Explore, Eat, Relax

Spend your day walking through nature or checking out the local spots, and your evening indulging in world-class cuisine. Or explore the city's waterfront view via bike and then enjoy a night on the town as the city comes to life. As Kentucky's largest city, Louisville has a friendly, yet funky small-town vibe. With parks around every corner and neighborhoods that support local and independent businesses, you will need to extend your trip by a couple of days. Grab post-adventure pints at a local craft brewery, and choose from the dozens of local restaurants with unique, farm-to-table style menus or upscale pub grub.

Exploring the ins and outs of Louisville would take weeks, but this insider’s guide will help you make the most of your 48 hours in Louisville.

WHERE TO GET CAFFEINATED

If drinking coffee in a funky atmosphere is your jam, then you’ve come to the right place, as Louisville is Kentucky’s craft coffee center. Sip on fresh espresso and check out the roastery where your coffee beans were roasted at Sunergos Coffee on Woodlawn Avenue. Shop for vintage records while you get caffeinated, and enjoy the vintage furniture and decor of Please & Thank You. And definitely don’t miss out on the chance to taste one of their famous chocolate chip cookies—it’s worth the trip just for a cookie.

Grab a bite at any of the local breakfast cafes and brunch spots, like Gralehaus, where you’ll find creative brunch items made from scratch, like biscuit and duck gravy. Build your own omelet or treat yourself to melt-in-your-mouth lemon soufflé pancakes at Toast on Market. At Con Huevos you can feast on Mexican breakfasts made from scratch, like huevos rancheros, a hearty breakfast fit for a busy day of exploration.

WHERE TO FIND NEARBY ADVENTURE

Cherokee Park
 Explore the open meadows and woodlands of Cherokee Park. LuAnn Snawder Photography

Nature lovers in Louisville don’t have to go far to explore the outdoors or just relax outside, because the city is home to 120 parks. In Jefferson Memorial Forest, the largest park in Louisville, you can roam 35 miles of woodland trails and get a feel for the natural heritage of Kentucky. Visit the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest and go on the canopy tree walk 75 feet above the forest floor. Or, take kids to the nature-themed playground in the Children’s Play Garden and explore miles of trails with diverse landscapes and topography.

If you like mountain biking, kayaking, hiking or trail running, spend some time in the Parklands of Floyds Fork or the Olmsted Parks. At Floyds Fork at Pope Lick Park, you can paddle, hike, or run trails in the woods of Turkey Run Park or Broad Run Park. Beckley Creek Park has several stocked fishing lakes, and there’s a peaceful spot to picnic at the lake overlook.

For a great view of Louisville, trek or drive up the forested hillsides of Iroquois Park, where you can also attend a summer concert at the large, open-air amphitheater. In Cherokee Park, you’ll find open meadows and woodlands where you can hike the 2.4-mile Scenic Loop Trail. If you’re looking for peaceful surroundings, meander along the edge of the Ohio River in Shawnee Park. If you’d like to go on a picnic or ride a bike along the water, visit Waterfront Park, right near downtown Louisville, where you can also attend a concert or festival on the lawn.

For a unique overview of Louisville’s parks and neighborhoods, bike or walk sections of the 100-mile loop trail that winds through several distinct natural areas in the city. The Louisville Loop trail connects the landscapes of the region with the neighborhoods and history, providing a great snapshot of Louisville and Jefferson County.

WHERE TO UNWIND

Kentucky Outdoor DiningAfter working up an appetite, wind down and refuel at any of the local watering holes. Locals head to Bardstown Road, where you’ll find everything from cool dive bars to hip restaurants and shopfronts displaying handmade goods and art. Choose from an enormous beer selection at HopCat Louisville and dine on creative pub food. Or, head to Holy Grale, the church of beer, where you’ll find a hand-selected tap list with beers from around the country and upscale pub grub. If you’re craving homemade pizza using local ingredients, head to the Garage Bar, and polish off that pizza with some bourbon or craft beer.

If you’re a beer lover, don’t miss Louisville’s local breweries, like Cumberland Brews, which serves great bison burgers. At Gravely Brewing you’ll find fresh brews, live music, and the Mayan Café food truck right outside its doors. If you visit the tap room at 3rd Turn Brewing, you might find the owners and brewers hanging out after work, and you can hit them up with your beer brewing questions.

A true foodie heaven, Louisville has dozens of local, farm-to-table restaurants with creative drink menus. Dine at Rye on Market to fill up on inventive dishes like seared trout with apple puree and spicy greens, and visit the bar for late-night cocktails. Harvest combines local ingredients in unique ways to create a farm-to-table southern food vibe, like wild-caught Kentucky catfish with succotash grits and tomato sofrito. And The Silver Dollar is the perfect place for whiskey and southern staples with a modern twist.

WHERE TO GET A GOOD NIGHT’S REST

Galt House HotelInstead of a bed and breakfast, how about a bed and drink? Choose which brews or cider you want stocked in your room at the Gralehaus Bed and Breakfast, and relax in a cozy room with artisanal furnishings and locally made bath products. Wake up and head down to the café for craft coffee and locally sourced brunch.

Just across the street from Central Park lies the Central Park Bed and Breakfast, an old Victorian-style mansion furnished with period antiques and architecture. Stay in plush beds with ornate decor and awaken to the sounds of birds chirping in the park. The Inn at the Park and the Dupont Mansion are other historic bed and breakfasts where you’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready for a full day.

The only hotel in Louisville on the Ohio River waterfront is the Galt House Hotel, an upscale hotel renovated from the 1800s that’s classic and elegant. Louisville also has a huge selection of hotels and motels, as well as unique Airbnb houses in every neighborhood.

Written by Jacqui Levy for RootsRated in partnership with Kentucky Tourism.