A Go-To Louisville KY Guide for Best Hotels, Attractions, & Dining

Discover the top things to do in Louisville KY including suggestions on where to stay, Louisville's best restaurants, & more...

I’ve visited Louisville four times now, and each visit has been a unique experience, revealing new aspects of Louisville’s rich cultural heritage and vibrant atmosphere.

Based on my travels and experiences in Louisville KY, here are my top hotel recommendations, attractions, and dining suggestions that have consistently made each trip to this historic city a memorable one.

Louisville ky

“Louisville and the surrounding areas are the center of massive creativity and massive weirdness. The place has its flaws: You move away, but you’re always going to come back.” Jim James

Where to Stay in Louisville KY

The Brown Hotel

Lobby at the brown hotel
Lobby at the Brown Hotel

The Brown Hotel is one of my go-to favorite places to stay in Louisville KY:

◊ This historic hotel in the Georgian-Revival style is located in the heart of downtown Louisville at the corner of 4th and Broadway, within walking distance of most major attractions and restaurants. 

The Lobby Bar is an elegant cocktail in its own right, blending the refined with the relaxed, and worth a visit whether you’re staying at the hotel or not. Order a bourbon, or a flight, or one of their stellar concoctions, and settle in to enjoy the live pianist churning out a variety of tunes. 

The English Grill is where Kentucky’s legendary “Hot Brown” was born. “In the 1920’s, The Brown Hotel drew over 1,200 guests each evening for its dinner dance. By the wee hours of the morning, guests would grow weary of dancing and make their way to the restaurant for a bite to eat. Sensing their desire for something more glamorous than traditional ham and eggs, Chef Fred Schmidt set out to create something new to tempt his guests’ palates. His unique dish? An open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and a delicate Mornay sauce.” | TheBrownHotel.com

Hotel Distil

Exterior of hotel distil in louisville, kentucky at night
Hotel Distil

On my most recent trip to Louisville, I stayed at Hotel Distil on Whiskey Row, and I would gladly stay there again. It’s an ideal location for walking to many major downtown distilleries and the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory.

Louisville slugger museum exterior with big baseball bat
Louisville Slugger Museum

Plus the Hotel Distil also houses one of Louisville’s best restaurants, Repeal.

Top Louisville KY Attractions

Whiskey Row: Distillery Tours

Bourbon glass fountain at evan williams
Bourbon Glass Fountain at Evan Williams Distillery

Kentucky is synonymous with bourbon (and, of course, horse racing at Churchill Downs at the Derby with its show-stopping hats), so a trip to the heart of bourbon country isn’t complete without a tour of at least one of its many distilleries along the bourbon trail.

During the 1840s, Main Street in Louisville, situated just one block from the Ohio River, became so populated with whiskey firms that it was dubbed “Whiskey Row.”

There, distilleries, warehouses, sales agents, and distributors all operated. Their various roles in the whiskey market helped make Kentucky the leading producer of distilled spirits. 

The cast-iron storefronts built between 1852 and 1905 were thankfully saved from demolition in 2011, making way for bourbon brands to move in and revitalize the buildings to house touring facilities showcasing the complex distillery process.

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Evan williams bourbon glass feature fountain louisville
Evan Williams Bourbon Glass Fountain

One of the first “Whiskey Row” distilleries to open its doors was the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and it’s still one of the best.

Visitors learn the history of bourbon making in Louisville KY and Evan Williams’ key role in it. The tour also outlines the history of the city itself from its early origins, through the devastating time of Prohibition to the present.

All tours conclude with a bourbon tasting in one of the upstairs rooms on the recreated street of “Whiskey Row.”

Evan williams bourbon glass flight
Evan Williams Bourbon Glass Flight

One tasting room is a “speakeasy” that once stood on that site with Prohibition-era replica tables where the bourbon could be hidden inside. An easy lift on the tabletop in front of you reveals the inner compartment that contains pre-filled bourbon glasses.

Although it’s one of the lower-priced bourbons, Evan Williams is remarkably good in its flavor profile, smoothness, and complexity, and Evan Williams Single Barrel is excellent. Whenever I’ve done a blind bourbon-tasting flight, their Single Barrel always ranks in my top 3.

Evan williams bourbon
Evan Williams Bourbon

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is a popular destination on Whiskey Row so be sure to reserve ahead.

Old Forester Distillery

Old forester bourbon distillery copper column
Old Forester Bourbon Distillery

The Old Forester Distillery Tour & Visitor Center opened on “Whiskey Row” in the summer of 2018. Although it’s a relative newcomer to Louisville’s historic downtown district, Old Forester is the only bourbon continuously sold by the same company before, during, and after Prohibition.

But that’s not the bourbon’s only claim to historic fame. In 1870, George Garvin Brown ensured his bourbon’s consistent quality by becoming the first distiller to sell the bourbon in a sealed glass bottle.

The general tour is a top-quality experience with one of the most memorable aspects being that you can see the meticulous barrel-making process first-hand.

A worker at old forester hand making a bourbon barrel
Making a Bourbon Barrel

It’s one thing to look at a charred American white oak barrel stave, but it’s something else to see (and feel the heat) of that charring in person.

Charring a bourbon barrel at old forester distillery
Charring a Bourbon Barrel

The Old Forester Distillery tour ends as most tours do in a private room with four bourbons to taste.

Paired with the tasting is Old Forester’s chocolate-dipped bourbon modjeskas, which are marshmallows wrapped in caramel and then dipped in bourbon dark chocolate, topped off with smoked sea salt. If you love them, you can buy a bag in the gift shop which is filled with loads of other great gifts.

If you’re in a hurry and can’t find the time to tour Old Forester, you can pay a visit to George’s Bar which is a cozy cocktail lounge offering cocktails and flights in the visitor center.

Additional Distillery Tours

Bourbon flight tasting with chocolate pairing at angel's envy distillery
Bourbon & Chocolate Tasting Angel’s Envy

While the Evan Williams Experience and Old Forester are my top two recommendations for Whiskey Row, some additional great options to explore are:

For more in-depth information on the other bourbon distillery tours near Louisville including the three listed above, click here for the 13 Best Bourbon Trail Tours: A Regional Travel Guide to Kentucky’s Distilleries.

Frankfort Avenue

Frankfort Ave is one of the most interesting, historical, and fun-filled streets in all of Louisville KY. 

If you’re in the mood for quirky shops, bookstores, coffee shops, one-of-a-kind bars and restaurants, or even a vintage bowling experience, then Frankfort Ave is where you need to go.

The Frankfort Avenue Business Association is active in keeping Frankfort Avenue brimming with character and events. With more than 30 locally-owned restaurants, the street is a go-to spot for some of Louisville’s best dining and outdoor eateries.

For more information on upcoming events and vendors on Frankfort Ave, click this link for funonfrankfort.com. 

4th Street Live

4th street live louisville at night
4th Street Live

Located in the heart of downtown Louisville near many of its major hotels and restaurants, 4th Street Live is a vibrant dining and entertainment district. This Louisville hub provides an ongoing event schedule featuring festivals, live music, sporting event watch parties, and charitable benefits.

The majority of the restaurants at 4th Street Live are larger chains with a more casual, pub-brewery vibe, so if you’re looking for more unique dining experiences, check out my favorite spots listed below.

Best Louisville Restaurants & Bars

Guacamole Modern Mexican

Guacamole modern mexican dishes louisville ky
Guacamole Modern Mexican

It’s been months now, and I’m still craving this restaurant.

Guacamole Modern Mexican is as visually stunning as it is deliciously stunning. The name actually doesn’t do it justice because it offers so much more than guacamole.

Guacamole modern mexican louisville elote
Elote

What sets this restaurant apart is that it features flavors from all over Mexico, with influences from Oaxaca, Puebla, Riviera Maya, Tulum, and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Guacamole modern mexican fish plantains entree
Pan Seared Fish & Roasted Plantains

Dining here was an exciting exploration of flavors and cooking techniques, surrounded by a vibrant atmosphere.

Feed me tacos and tell me i'm pretty neon sign
“Feed me tacos and tell me I’m pretty”

The restaurant has also been artfully divided into 4 rooms each with its own cultural or geographical theme.

Tacos & chill pink neon sign restaurant interior
Tacos & Chill

Many restaurants either get the atmosphere right and the food is just okay, or vice versa, but in the case of Guacamole Modern Mexican, they absolutely nailed both. Looking forward to dining here again next time I find myself in Louisville KY.

Smoking old fashioned drink
Smoking Old Fashioned
Tulum row of hanging chairs inside guacamole modern mexican louisville
Tulum Chairs at Guacamole Modern Mexican

Be sure to reserve in advance because the restaurant fills up fast.

Repeal Oak Fired Steakhouse

Repeal steakhouse restaurant interior louisville
Dining Room at Repeal

Located inside the Hotel Distil, Repeal Oak Fired Steakhouse can be a difficult place to reserve, even in advance. It’s a large restaurant, yet there’s a cozy warmth about it that blends refinement with casual comfort.

The menu offers classic steakhouse options alongside fresh seafood selections and even a couple of vegetarian entrees. The sides are meant to be shared and you can dine as decadently or as lightly as you wish.

Repeal is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but if you want to eat here for dinner, be sure to snag a reservation.

Volare

Volare italian restaurant exterior louisville
Volare

Just in case you need another reason to visit historic Frankfort Ave, Volare Italian Ristorante is located there and it is well worth a visit.

Only open for dinner, the atmosphere is classic and refined. Live music fills the air with romantic classics from 7:00 – 10:00 each Wednesday through Saturday.

The menu at Volare is definitive Italian but with a heavy emphasis on locally sourced farm produce.

Proof on Main

Proof on main dining room in louisville
Dining Room At Proof on Main

Proof on Main in Louisville KY is an art lover and foodie’s dream—artistry in the atmosphere, style, and entrees.

The interior is a bustling hive of energy decorated in a colorfully eclectic and slightly bohemian style. The bar is its own separate, darker space, warmly lit and inviting. 

The menu at Proof on Main is small, but every item is elegantly crafted and prepared. The plates are tapas-sized and easily shareable. Order several and just feast on all the flavors.

Did I mention it’s attached to an art gallery? The 21c Museum & Hotel features rotating exhibits, and it’s an ideal place to walk around and enjoy either before or after your meal.

Hell or High Water Bar

Vesper cocktail
Vesper Martini at Hell or Highwater Bar

A Reservation is a must if you want to enjoy a cocktail in this swanky, speakeasy space at Hell or High Water Bar

Bookshelves hell or highwater bar
Hell or Highwater Speakeasy

Upon arrival, we were led past the curved bar and red velvet booths to a high-ceilinged room filled with bookshelves, leather sofas, and chairs, with an old piano in the corner. 

Red curved sofa
Seating at Hell or Highwater Bar
Piano against brick wall
Old Piano at Hell or Highwater Bar

Up the stairs to the mezzanine floor are curtained hideaways, perfect for 4 people. 

A red lamp with gold tassels and fringe provides a soft glow, and 1920s and 30s music crackles out from an old radio behind the banquette. 

Fringe lamp

A call button is also located there where you can ring up the waiter to request more drinks. 

There is another private, “hidden” room located just opposite. 

Leather sofa in hidden room
Hidden Room at Hell or High Water

The exterior looks like a large wardrobe, giving off some extremely “Narnia-esque” vibes, but once you walk through the wardrobe and up a few steps, you find yourself in a large sitting room, also lined with bookshelves and a window offering views of the main floor below. 

Hell or Highwater Bar is a class act with attention to detail, nostalgic jazzy music, and a wide array of books. If you have the time, sample from both the “Hell” and “Highwater” sides of the cocktail menu.

Susan cook books theroadtakento library

Louisville KY is a diverse city with so much to see and do and so many delicious restaurants. The area is also a haven for bourbon lovers, yet also filled with family-friendly attractions too. I always look forward to a return visit…

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1 thought on “A Go-To Louisville KY Guide for Best Hotels, Attractions, & Dining”

  1. The taste of Maker’s Mark Bourbon is marvelous. It’s sweet and smooth. I have tried this and this drink didn’t disappoint me. There are so many drinks in this price range but I especially like this one.

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