Hank Phillips, Deputy Commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Travel & Tourism, highlights the Bluegrass State's must-see locations.
Why visit Kentucky?
Groups have experiences here they cannot have any other place. Consider our "There's Only One Kentucky" campaign: There's only one Kentucky Derby, Horse Capital of the World, Bourbon Country and Bourbon Trail, birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali Center, Corvette assembly plant, National Quilt Museum, birthplace of bluegrass music, Red River Gorge, Beer Cheese Festival, and Beer Cheese Trail. Kentucky is one of kind.
What exciting things are happening here?
The single most exciting thing is the absolute explosion of interest in the bourbon experience. It speaks to lifestyle as much as specific attractions, history, and traditions. What's evolving is a regional destination that doesn't take a backseat to a place like California wine country. Distillery owners focus on creating visitor experiences, installing extraordinary art or other assets. Recently, a major distillery opened a multimillion-dollar visitors center. Most have new or expanded centers, or have announced plans. Bourbon is the hottest thing happening in Kentucky.
Louisville and Lexington's culinary scenes are fueled largely by bourbon, and farm-to-table initiatives. There's growth in their top-flight culinary offerings. A number of new restaurants show organic growth and migration of top chefs. More tradition-laden places also offer top quality and interesting cuisine: Boone Tavern (Berea), Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. Owensboro in particular boasts Western Kentucky barbecue and an annual international barbecue festival. Kentucky is a treasure chest of local, authentic, wonderful places to eat.
Paducah, a hip artist and artisan enclave, has come on strong and is gaining international attention as an art center. UNESCO designated it the world's seventh Creative City of Crafts and Folk Arts. Berea's Festival of Learnshops offers experiential opportunities, where visitors take classes with various artists and artisans.
What translates to the student/youth market?
In Louisville, the Muhammad Ali Center is extraordinary as a museum and an interactive place that helps visitors understand Ali's life, in the ring and through his accomplishments and ideals. At the Louisville Slugger Museum, learn (and watch) how Major League Baseball bats are made. The Kentucky Derby Museum offers an interesting history of the Derby and thoroughbred racing. Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay are a new fun element. Mega Caverns is a huge underground caverns with, among other things, underground ziplining.
The Corvette assembly plant and museum are in Bowling Green. Mammoth Cave National Park, the world's largest explored cave system, combines fun with intense, unforgettable learning experiences. Lincoln's birthplace is a national historic landmark. Beech Bend is a great theme park—kind of a throwback. Within an hour of Nashville, Bowling Green pairs well with a trip to Tennessee.
For equine experiences visit the Lexington area, with its horse farms and the Kentucky Horse Park. For music and arts there's the bluegrass aspect, and festivals throughout the state. Lexington and Louisville have top-class performing arts venues.
What are some off-the-beaten-path venues?
The Keeneland Track Kitchen (Lexington) serves the entire culture of one of the country's best, most beautiful racetracks. Visitors to that kitchen sit with track workers, owners, trainers, jockeys. At Old Friends (Georgetown), a facility for retired thoroughbreds, creator Michael Blowen (a former Boston Globe film critic) gets right out with the visitors.
Yew Dell Botanical Gardens (Crestwood), an old estate, is a huge expanse with intensely beautiful gardens and structures. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest's 14,000 acres near Bardstown has hiking trails, picnicking areas, flora and fauna, and trees, seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
For more information, visit www.kentuckytourism.com.
Written by Amy L Charles, the editorial director for Groups Today.