A young girl sits atop a horse as her father looks on

Unforgettable Itinerary: Statewide

5 Days Journeying Through Kentucky Culture & History

Kentucky’s diverse history is full of stories. Stories of courage, ingenuity and challenge. Stories of African Americans who were explorers and pioneers – not of new lands, but of new ideals. Stories from the untold to the unforgettable.

You can relive them and discover new ones on a weeklong tour of the state’s historically significant multicultural attractions. And when each day’s exploration is through, a winning mix of top-notch hotels, restaurants and other attractions will help create your own cherished vacation stories for years to come.

Day 1: Louisville

Immerse yourself in the inspirational Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville, celebrating the struggles and resilience of a champion fighter and humanitarian known as “The Greatest.” Browse three levels of interactive exhibits, multimedia galleries, historic videos and artifacts encouraging visitors to reflect on their own “greatness,” too.

Grab lunch at one of Louisville’s beloved soul food restaurants, then head over for an afternoon of horse-racing excitement and reflection at the Kentucky Derby Museum at famed Churchill Downs. Explore a unique exhibit celebrating the significant – and often little-known – achievements of African Americans in Kentucky Derby, then experience the race itself in stunning detail through a 360-degree multimedia film, “The Greatest Race.”

A misty drive leads to Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY

Day 2: LaGrange & Frankfort

Take a short 30-minute drive to the Oldham County Historical Society in LaGrange, inspiring visitors to improve their communities through a mix of exhibits, educational programs and special events at a renovated museum. Begin your visit with a walking, bus, cemetery or riverboat cruise history tour of the area, which was an important crossroads during the slave trade and, later, the Underground Railroad.

After lunch, make the short one-hour drive through scenic farmland to the Kentucky Historical Society headquartered at Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History in Frankfort, where a treasure trove of history awaits. Dating back more than 120 years, the society has grown to offer a massive collection of Kentucky memorabilia housed in a variety of themed exhibits. Afterward, tour the Old State Capitol and marvel at a striking presentation of the Commonwealth’s military history in a nearby fortress-like building overlooking downtown.

A family walks into the Kentucky Horse Park

Day 3: May’s Lick, Maysville & Lexington

Get an early start this morning for your 90-minute drive east on US 460 to Paris and US 68 up toward Maysville for a visit to Rosenwald’s May’s Lick Negro School, one of a few thousand state-of-the-art schools constructed for African American Children in the early 1900s. As the only one remaining in Northern Kentucky, May’s Lick is on the National Register of Historic Places. Just a few miles further north, make a stop at the National Underground Railroad Museum for exhibits of slavery artifacts, documents and other memorabilia documenting the area’s role in the abolitionist movement. Before leaving May's Lick, be sure to stop by the Birthplace of Col. Charles Young, a decorated graduate of West Point who served in the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 25th Infantry on his way to becoming the first African American to achieve the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army.

Retrace part of your route for the hour drive to Lexington and another stop on the National Register of Historic Places: African Cemetery No. 2. Dating back to 1869, the cemetery honors African Americans who fought for social, political and economic changes during and after the Civil War. Walk the hallowed rows of gravesites, including those of 43 soldiers who served in the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War – including one member of the famous 54th Massachusetts Regiment featured in the Hollywood film Glory.

A family explores Mammoth Cave

Day 4: Lexington, Nicholasville & Mammoth Cave

Before leaving Lexington, make tracks to the “Black Horsemen of the Kentucky Turf” exhibit at the International Museum of the Horse at Lexington’s Kentucky Horse Park, chronicling the influential contributions of African Americans to Kentucky’s horse industry. Next, just 30 minutes south in Nicholasville lies Camp Nelson National Monument, one of the best-preserved archaeological sites associated with Civil War-era U.S. Colored Troops. Camp Nelson National Monument was initially established as a Union Army supply depot and hospital, but became a key emancipation site and refugee camp for African American soldiers and their families.

Now travel two hours southeast to Mammoth Cave. Most visitors know this is the longest cave system in the world, but few realize African Americans played a vital role in the development of cave tour routes and the visitor experience throughout the 19th and early 20th century. The first black guides were slaves, and the stories of the significant impacts they made are still shared on guided tours today.

Frazier History Museum Shaker Village-CREDIT FRAZIER

Day 5: Russellville & Louisville

Take the hour drive southwest to Russellville’s SEEK Museum in the Black Bottom Historic District of Logan County, an emancipation epicenter notable for having the second-largest number of freed slaved in 1860 behind Jefferson County (Louisville). A collection of restored historic homes – including the oldest brick building (1810) still standing in Russellville and post-Civil War homes built by men who had fought for their freedom – now house fascinating exhibits. Cultural heritage programming includes outdoor blues concerts and other musical performances in the restored KP Hall, part of the “chittlin circuit” of the Jim Crow years.

Allow yourself plenty of time to explore here, but time your two-hour drive north back to Louisville to enjoy another evening of fine food and entertainment in this bustling river city to cap off your trip.

  • Where to Play: Shaker Museum at South Union
  • Where to Stay: Sisters on Sycamore B&B, Shaker Town B&B
  • Where to Eat: Bethel Dipper, Colonial Inn, Roy’s Bar-B-Que, Russellville Donuts
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