Louisville, Kentucky, is famed for its historic architecture and bourbon heritage, as well as for the Kentucky Derby © BDphoto / Getty Images
Luckily for fans of bourbon and racing, Louisville (that's Loo-a-vul to locals) – the capital of Kentucky's unique take on whiskey and the home of the Kentucky Derby – is home to a surprisingly walkable downtown. Indeed, bouncing between the city's main attractions after one too many Old Fashioneds is perhaps a little bit too easy to do!
But much of Louisville's allure lies outside its compact downtown core. If you plan to hit the city highlights that lie further afield or explore more of the city's historic and atmospheric neighborhoods, Louisville's excellent metro transportation options make urban navigation a breeze. Exploring Kentucky's biggest city is as smooth as the state's most famous hooch – here's a guide to getting around in Louisville.
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Discover downtown Louisville on foot
Many of Louisville's most celebrated attractions – the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Kentucky Science Center, the KMAC Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and the Frazier History Museum – all sit within half a mile of each other downtown, so it's easy to hit the big sights on foot.
This area on and around West Main St, known as Museum Row, is one of the South's most interesting and compact cultural quarters, and it's also home to one of the largest collections of cast-iron facades in the USA.
There are numerous other walkable attractions within four blocks of the center, including the city's celebrated Whiskey Row – once the hub of Kentucky's bourbon-making industry – which winds through the city one block north of Main, following East Main St and the Ohio River. Throughout downtown Louisville, bars, restaurants, distilleries and other cultural points of interest are clustered in this condensed core.
It's worth visiting Churchill Downs even if there isn't a race on © Thomas Kelley / Shutterstock
It's easy to explore Louisville with your own car or motorcycle
Downtown Louisville sits on the Kentucky-Indiana border (marked by the Ohio River, and colloquially known as "Kentuckiana" in these parts). It's intersected by Interstates 65 and 64, which dissect the downtown area near Waterfront Park and the pedestrian-only Big Four Bridge, providing easy access to the center. Fuel is easy to find; there's a handy online map showing alternative fueling stations (biodiesel, compressed natural gas, electric charging stations etc) in Kentucky.
Parking charges apply in the downtown area between 7am and 6pm – you'll pay $2 per hour for the first two hours and $3 per hour for each additional hour (with a limit of one to four hours of parking, as indicated on street signs). On-street parking in metered areas is free after 6pm Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday. There are also 15 parking garages and two surface lots downtown. Outside of the downtown area, finding free street parking is usually not a problem.
A word of warning for visitors traveling between Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Louisville: RiverLink, which manages the electronic-only toll system for the Ohio River Bridges Project, charges double for drivers without a pre-registered account (so pretty much everyone who doesn’t live in Kentuckiana). Expect a charge of $4.42 to cross, instead of the $2.21 charged to local residents.
Tackle Louisville's historic neighborhoods and Churchill Downs by TARC bus
Unfortunately, the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) canceled the excellent (and free!) LouLift bus route that hustled folks between its top attractions in 2020, but there's a chance this tourist-friendly bus link will be restored. Even without this handy service, the city's bus transportation system is still a cost-effective and efficient way to navigate the city.
It's a 25-minute ride on bus 43 from the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory to Monnik Beer Co in the historic neighborhood of Germantown, and a 40-minute ride on bus 4 to reach Churchill Downs – the landmark racetrack for the Kentucky Derby. A single ride costs $1.75 (on local buses) or $2.75 (on express buses).
If you buy the stored-value contactless MyTARC smart card ($5), you'll save $0.25 per ride over the cash fare, and get free transfers within a two-hour timeframe. Cash fares must be exact change only. TARC supports real-time trip planning via Google Maps.
Downtown Louisville framed by the George Rogers Clark Memorial Bridge © Sean Pavone / iStockphoto / Getty Images
LouVelo, Lime and Bird provide bikes and e-scooters in Louisville
Louisville's newly-implemented public bike-share program, LouVelo, offers more than 300 bikes at 32 bike stations around the city, which you can access via station kiosks, smartphones or a membership card. The scheme covers some of Louisville's most vibrant neighborhoods, including Downtown, Nulu, Old Louisville and the area near Waterfront Park. Pay-as-you-go pricing starts at $3.50 for 30 minutes. If you're more the dockless electric scooter type, Lime and Bird rides can easily be found around the city.
For more bourbon and less driving, hail a rideshare
As is the case in most US cities, rideshare companies Uber and Lyft operate all over Louisville, alongside traditional taxi companies. According to Louisville Tourism, Uber is the more popular of the two, but Lyft can sometimes be cheaper.
Beat the traffic by riding, skating, scooting, running or walking the Louisville Loop
The Louisville Loop is a 100-mile mixed-use trail system that will eventually encircle the city. At the time of writing, nearly 50 miles of trails were already in operation, including a 24-mile stretch along the river on Louisville's west side. The loop will eventually connect many of the city's historic neighborhoods, museums, attractions and green spaces.
There's no estimated completion date for the network, but sections such as the Floyds Fork section by The Parklands and the Big Four Bridge Trailhead to Shawnee Park or Southern Indiana are great ways to travel between some of Kentuckiana's best natural attractions. Upon completion, the Loop may completely transform the way the city moves.
Bourbon barrels piled up at the Old Forester Distilling Co in Whiskey Row, Louisville © CNMages / Alamy
Take a tour to get the best from the Bourbon Trail
Traveling along Kentucky's Bourbon Trail tasting the wares of the state's historic distilleries presents travelers with a bit of a conundrum. Who wants to sacrifice themselves as a designated driver? Nobody, that's who! Adding to the challenge, bourbon clocks in somewhere between 80 and 100 proof, so it doesn't take much to tip you over the limit. Nursing a Kentucky-born Old Fashioned requires skill and appreciation – leave the driving to others!
To explore the city's distilleries safely, without racking up a big bill for taxis or rideshares, contact Mint Julep Experiences, which offers tours to historic and craft bourbon distilleries east and south of Louisville. They also run the Bourbon City Cruisers, six-passenger eco-friendly tuk-tuks that whisk whiskey fans around downtown.
Why rideshares are my favorite way to travel in Louisville
Louisville is a town that appreciates its drink. Whether you plan to hit highlights such as Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum (and sample a famed mint julep cocktail) or hit up the atmospheric bars, restaurants and breweries in historic neighborhoods such as Germantown and Butchertown, It's best to leave the driving to someone else. Rideshare apps strike the perfect balance between cost and efficiency when exploring Louisville – when I research the city for Lonely Planet's USA guidebook, that's how I get around.
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