From Bourbon Delights to Historical Sights: 48 Hours in Frankfort, Kentucky
By Kate McDermott
Whether you’re after the best of bourbon country or drawn to old brick streets and historic architecture, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in charming Frankfort!
Day 1: Riverfront Beauty and Local Bourbon
Grab breakfast on the go at Engine House Coffee, a modern coffee shop inside a restored 1868 fire station. You can check out wall displays with old photos and station history while you enjoy organic coffee, espresso drinks, and a rotating selection of local pastries. Or dine at Main St. Diner, a 1950s-style eatery with aqua-blue walls lined with vintage records. The breakfast menu includes hearty fare like three-egg omelets, a sweet-and-savory Monte Cristo sandwich, and decadent chocolate chip pancakes.
Breakfast done. Time for fun. See the sights on a free 45-minute Frankfort Trolley tour and hear stories of Civil War intrigue and about filming the 1965 film The Great Race at Buffalo Trace Distillery. There are over 20 stops on the tour, from the Old Governor's Mansion to the Smithsonian-affiliated Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History. You'll be able to hop on and off at any of the destinations and explore at your leisure.
No bourbon lover should skip a visit to the sprawling Buffalo Trace Distillery. Reserve a free tour and tasting to sample award-winning bourbons like the Eagle Rare. Then, explore the warehouses, see the bourbon barrels and stroll through the arboretum and botanical gardens. Another must-tour distillery, Whiskey Thief Distilling Co., includes their “Thieve-Your-Own Bourbon Experience.” Sip craft bourbons straight from the barrel at cask strength and fill a bottle with your favorite for a custom souvenir.
Enjoy a wood-fired pizza lunch, and Kentucky brewed beer at Locals Food Hub and Pizza Pub. Chewy crust, house-made tomato sauce, and fresh toppings make these pizzas pop, with ingredients from Frankfort-area farmers and producers. Or, for lunch with a side of local history, head to Sig Luscher Brewery – Kentucky’s oldest brewery. Founded in 1866 and revitalized by Sig’s great-great-great-grandson in 2018, this brewery serves craft hot dogs, sausages, and refreshing Bohemian-style pilsners.
After lunch, hop on Kentucky River Tours’ "Bourbon Belle" Riverboat. Learn about legendary bourbon tycoons on the Bourbon and Boats Tour while a local expert walks you through barrel tastings on board. Back on land, head to Cove Spring Park for some fresh Kentucky air. Hike three miles of natural trails and elevated walkways that wind through 240 acres of wetlands and forests. Along the way, you’ll pass scenic streams, rumbling waterfalls and scenic overlooks. If you’re visiting with kids, check out the archery range. And for visitors with accessibility needs, the Sky Trail is paved and offers fantastic panoramic views of the city.
Kick off the night with a craft brew and a gorgeous sunset at West Sixth Brewery Farm. Enjoy a pre-dinner beer at the taproom and explore the 120-acre farm. It has a hop yard, chicken coop, apple and berry orchard, and an outdoor pavilion perfect for watching the sun descend over the rolling hills.
Dine at the casual yet elegant Limewater Bistro + Bar located in the historic Glen Willis house on the shores of the Kentucky River. With a menu featuring global-inspired cuisine made from fresh, local ingredients, you’ll dine on dishes like cheddar scallion fritters and pork schnitzel with braised red cabbage. If you’re in the mood for Italian, head to Serafini in the historic St. Clair Mall. Sample Italian fare alongside Southern favorites, like classic pasta with zesty marinara sauce and the Serafina Hot Brown. Check out the extensive bourbon and wine list – it’s the largest in Frankfort.
End the evening at House of Commons: A Bourbon Library, where the “librarians” curate and catalog rare and local bottles. Sample vintage pours or sip beautifully balanced cocktails from the sofas in their stunning tasting room.
Day 2: History and Heritage, Politics and Public Art
It's all about Kentucky history this morning with a visit to the Old State Capitol, an 1830 Greek Revival landmark that served as the original state capitol and boasts an impressive self-supporting stone staircase under a glass rotunda. Book a guided tour and learn about the politics and problems facing 19th- and 20th-century Kentuckians, from war and slavery to women’s rights. Next, tour the recently renovated Capital City Museum. Explore exhibits about Kentucky bourbon, crafting and casting, and Senator William Goebel's assassination. You’ll find displays filled with artifacts, newspaper clippings and old photographs in the Main Hall. Don't skip a visit to the grave of iconic pioneer Daniel Boone at Frankfort Cemetery. Boone and his wife, Sara, were the first to be laid to rest in this picturesque spot overlooking the city.
Round out the morning on the sweeter side of history with a tour of Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours and Museum. Here, you’ll learn how two enterprising young women started the business in 1919 before they could even vote. Tours come with a free chocolate sample – ask for an original Bourbon Ball. There’s nothing better than a bourbon cream center covered in dark chocolate and topped with a pecan.
For lunch, stop by Buddy’s Pizza for a New York-style pizza topped with classic ingredients like roasted garlic, bacon or tomato. Order whole pies or by the slice in their no-frills parlor. For lighter fare, Sage Garden Cafe offers fresh seasonal salads and sandwiches made with homegrown organic produce. Sit on the patio overlooking the gardens and try a cranberry chicken salad sandwich made with house-made artisan bread. And if you’re just in need of an afternoon pick-me-up, stop by the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe for an iced latte or espresso. They also serve sandwiches and wraps like eggplant panini with pesto, gouda and spinach.
After lunch, tour the grounds of the 1910 Kentucky State Capitol. Discover the gardens, the iconic Floral Clock featuring 10,000 flowers on the West Lawn, and historic markers honoring dedicated public servants. Inside, marvel at the glowing rotunda overhead and the intricate stonework and murals. Afterward, take the self-guided E. H. Taylor Jr. Audio Tour through downtown Frankfort. Scan QR codes with your smartphone along six stops to hear Taylor’s life story as the father of the modern bourbon industry.
Alternatively, you can spend the afternoon exploring Frankfort’s artistic side at Josephine Sculpture Park, a collection of nearly 70 works of art set among native meadows and trees. As you wander the park, you’ll discover a mix of permanent and seasonal sculptures made from wood, metal, and glass. Recent exhibitions featured Araan Schmidt’s “Upside-Down Hoedown,” which showcases two intertwined skeletons dancing on their heads, and Harry H. Gordon’s “Monk” – an abstract piece carved from stone.
Around town, dozens of works of art and architecture are on display. Take the Frankfort Public Art Tour and see popular sites like the stately sculpture of President Lincoln, the whimsical creatures of the “Being Yourself” mural and gorgeous historic buildings such as the Church of Ascension and the 1887 Old Federal Building.
Feast on delicious burgers, fresh salads, and local favorites (Kentucky beer cheese!) at Bourbon on Main. Sit on the back patio with views of the Kentucky River and sip a bourbon from their list of 200+ options. Just steps away, Goodwood Brewery whips up beer-battered cod, a Bavarian pretzel with beer cheese, and a beer-braised brisket burger. Pair your meal with a house brew, from the light Louisville Lager to a toasty Walnut Brown Ale.
For your last taste of Frankfort, head to Capital Cellars for an extensive wine, bourbon, beer, and spirits menu. Sample and sip at the friendly bar, and bring home a bottle for a delicious souvenir from your visit to Frankfort.