The Best Things To Do In Paducah, Kentucky's Creative City

Explore a river town powered by the arts.

Colorful Mural in Paducah, Kentucky


“Paducah is a big little town,” says Tom “Fish” Adams, who opened the whiskey bar Barrel & Bond with Brian Shemwell in 2019. Standing in a 19th-century building set atop one of the first parcels of land in town, he regales guests with tales about Kentucky spirits. Pulling his favorites from the shelf, he uncorks them, inhaling deeply and pointing out the colors—crimson, amber, caramel. He holds them up to the light, the bottles glowing like stained glass.

As he explains the journey from barrel to bar, he gestures to the rows of varieties glinting on the shelves and describes them: peppery, sweet, silky, buttery, smooth, notes of banana, hints of burnt sugar. “Each one is a story,” he says. “When all the elements come together in the barrel, magic happens.”

Inside view of the historic, Barrel & Bond building
Barrel & Bond, a bourbon aficionado's dream, is in one of the town's most historic buildings.


It’s certainly happening in Paducah, where a special admixture of people, places, and creativity enlivens the streets and storefronts. Paducah sits where the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers meet, and over the years, it has become a vibrant town with an inventive soul.

Early on, the western edge of Kentucky was known for the constant flow of steamboats along the water, but these days, it’s a hub for expression and entrepreneurship as well as a walkable destination ideal for a relaxed long weekend getaway. 

Discover Local Treasures

In Barrel & Bond, Fish points out a stack of bowls. They are the work of ceramist Michael Terra, whose studio is in Paducah’s LowerTown Arts District. Throughout the neighborhood, historic houses have been turned into studios and shops where local potters, painters, and other makers create and sell their wares. It’s also home to the Paducah School of Art & Design, an arm of West Kentucky Community and Technical College that offers courses in printmaking, ceramics, metals, drawing, photography, etching, and more.

Ceramics and artful offerings at Frenchtown Station
The artfully reimagined home of antiques and decor shop Frenchtown Station.


“Paducah has committed to the arts in a way few places do,” says Matt Collinsworth, CEO of The National Quilt Museum, which is located downtown. “The positive impact of the arts on a community can’t be overstated, and Paducah recognized decades ago what they could do. Everyone can be involved.” During a visit to the museum, one of the foundations of the creative landscape here, you can marvel at the artistry on display while learning about the stories carefully woven into each piece, the hands that made the stitches, and the details in the fabrics. Walking through the space, he points out one remarkable quilt, which hangs along the wall and looks as though it were made of softly puckering batting and thread but is actually carved from basswood.

Person sit in front of quilt at the National Quilt Museum
Stop by The National Quilt Museum (pictured) or the Yeiser Art Center to view an exhibition or participate in a community project. Down the street, MAKE Paducah is also open for studio classes and workshop bookings.


In 2013, Paducah’s dynamic scene earned it membership in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, a group of communities devoted to investing in and developing the arts. And creativity is everywhere you look: in the LowerTown Arts District; the crafts-minded downtown shops; the shiny new Carson Center for the Performing Arts; the concerts of the Paducah Symphony Orchestra; and the Yeiser Art Center, which hosts local projects along with world-class exhibitions and is the oldest organization of its kind in town.

Inside the same building, which was originally built in 1905, is the main stage of Paducah’s thriving community theater group, Market House Theatre (MHT). “Historic preservation is in our DNA,” notes Michael Cochran, executive director of MHT. The organization was originally founded to save the building where it makes its home, and its footprint has only grown over time. Across the street, in the bubblegum-pink Finkel’s department store, MHT is in the midst of restoring spaces for workshops and dance studios. “Working with these buildings, we unearth layers of history. We’re always asking, ‘How do we return this to use?’ ”Cochran says while walking through the scene shop, where set pieces lean against walls and the smell of fresh paint lingers in the air. “During rehearsals, we often open up the doors so anyone passing by can see the arts happening.”

Street view of the Market House Theatre
The historic home of Market House Theatre.


Delve Into Paducah's Past

Paducah’s stories are embedded in these spaces and are also present in the town's public art. Around the corner from MHT, you can see the Wall to Wall Murals, which are painted along the face of the downtown flood wall where the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers meet. What started as just an idea has now taken shape as an extended piece of art depicting over 50 moments from the town’s past. Beginning in the 1990s, artist Robert Dafford worked with the historical society to develop the scenes behind the decades-long project. “Our question was, ‘How did Paducah become Paducah?’ So we dove into the archives to find out,” he says.

A room at The 1857 Hotel
Turn In at The 1857 Hotel. Reserve a room at this boutique stay to be near the bustle of downtown. It also offers bookable condominiums along Market House Square.


A museum shining a light on history through storytelling is Hotel Metropolitan, where Betty Dobson, the owner and coordinator, tells visitors about the original proprietor, Maggie M. Steed, and past guests of the establishment through an interactive tour (available by appointment). She shares the importance of this spot, a travel hub that was once listed in the Green Book, a guide that provided information on businesses and other places where Black travelers would be safe when moving through the segregated South. It was a hotel where, Dobson says, “Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Thurgood Marshall walked through the front door and felt welcome.” Visitors can now learn about the lives of the former owner and guests through the rooms where legendary musicians, athletes, and politicians stayed during the 20th century.

Throughout Paducah, preservation-minded entrepreneurs are re-enlivening these long standing spaces. That includes The Coke Plant, an Art Deco bottling facility that Meagan and Ed Musselman have turned into a mixed-use hub in Midtown. It’s home to a coffee shop, co-working space, and Dry Ground Brewing Company— so named because it stands well inland, beyond the reach of Paducah’s famous 1937 flood. Beyond a fresh coat of paint, these structures are getting new lives, new entries in the futures of the historic buildings.

Explore Shops & Restaurants

Frenchtown Station is another Paducah business powered by artistic ingenuity. Housed in a refurbished 1930s filling station originally designed to resemble an English cottage, today the antiques shop is stocked with beautifully reimagined and restored pieces for home and garden gathered by Ginny Hutson, whose creative eye powers the store. She and Chris, her husband, worked with the grandson of the station’s original builder to bring the structure back to life. You can see the history in the layers of the shop, the architectural elements left over from its previous incarnations: exposed brick, wooden beams, and framed whisky boxes found in the attic during the renovation.

“We look for unique and repurposed items—things we love—and then we share the details of the new arrivals in the shop. For us, it’s about the people and stories behind the pieces,” Ginny says, pointing out a table made from an old workbench and elegant lamps fashioned from industrial artifacts. Next door, the family turned an old barbecue joint into Slim’s Frenchtown Mercantile, which opened in 2019 and now features shelves brimming with a wide array of gifts, including Kentucky made products.

Stories are at the heart of the Hutsons’ business and the spaces they’re turning around. That’s partly because their own lives are deeply rooted in Paducah. “We met during high school and had our first date at the Columbia Theatre,” Chris says. Located downtown, the Columbia has endured many years of neglect and disrepair, but some of its original features are still shining, including the blue-and-white tiled exterior and glitzy interior with gold-and-silver proscenium scrollwork rising over the stage.

Chris is part of a small group of community members turned preservationists helping to bring it back to its former glory. “Our plan is to restore, maintain, and save the structure,” he explains. Their eventual goal is to create a performance-and-event space where neighbors will once more be able to gather and make new memories. Layers upon layers of lived experiences and shared histories create deep connections between people and place, particularly in a town like this one. 

The art of storytelling is everywhere you look in Paducah, from the surprises hidden in an antiques shop to the glimmering facade of an old theater. It’s the result of people coming together to reimagine something old and make something new. If you walk out to the river late in the day, when the sun is setting and speckling the sky with pinks and blues, you’ll see locals and visitors parking their cars along the harbor’s edge, close enough for the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers to lap their tires. They set up their lawn chairs to chat with friends and listen to the sounds of the water moving. In these moments, and throughout the town, there are echoes of creative confluence, the joinings of life that create a vibrant community. Of all Paducah’s artistic endeavors, this may be the most remarkable of them all.

How To Spend A Day In Paducah

10 A.M. Grab Breakfast

For a hearty breakfast, Gold Rush is the place. Think themed breakfast plates, omelets, pancakes, and waffles. Or try Piper's Tea and Coffee, which is located in the historic Coke Plant in midtown Paducah and has single origin brews and small-batch teas. There's also Midtown Market, which has breakfast sandwiches, burritos, yogurt parfaits, and coffee. For a quick bite, Etcetera Coffeehouse and Etcetera Squared are laid-back breakfast stops in town. 

11 A.M. Shop Downtown 

Antiques at Frenchtown Station
Explore artful offerings at Frenchtown Station.


Browse the shops in Paducah’s walkable downtown, including Raven & Moth; Art Guild of Paducah; With Love, From Kentucky Gift Shop; and Tuscan Rose Yarn & Hand Dyed Fabrics. Or travel down Jefferson Street and head over to Frenchtown Station (pictured), a beautiful antiques shop filled with restored and repurposed wares.

 1 P.M. Lunch at Kirchhoff’s Bakery

Enormous sandwich enveloped in freshly baked bread at Kirchhoff’s Bakery


There’s always a lunch rush at this storied spot (which first opened in 1873), but no one minds. That’s because what’s coming out of the kitchen is fantastic. The bakery's t-shirts read “Eat Art,” and once you taste the freshly baked breads that envelop the enormous sandwiches, you’ll understand why.

2 P.M. Explore the Arts 

Stop by The National Quilt Museum or the Yeiser Art Center to view an exhibition or participate in a community project. Down the street, MAKE Paducah is also open for studio classes and workshop bookings. 

7 P.M. Dinner at Freight House

 Handcrafted dishes served at FoxBriar Cocktail Bar


Sara Bradley’s restaurant is at the top of everyone's list when dinnertime arrives. “It’s an artistic community, and food is art,” says the chef, who returned to her hometown after stints in kitchens across the country and a tenure on Top Chef. “New York taught me about technique, and Chicago taught me about flavor,” she says. She put both to work—and combined them with Kentucky traditions and local ingredients—when she opened Freight House in 2015. Go ahead and make reservations every night of your trip; you'll want to try the whole menu.

9 P.M. Drinks at The FoxBriar Cocktail Bar

A newly designated entertainment district in walkable downtown Paducah means that the fun goes on: Order handcrafted options at this spot on Broadway Street. 

 11 P.M. Turn In at The 1857 Hotel

Reserve a room at this boutique stay to be near the bustle of downtown. It also offers bookable condominiums along Market House Square. 

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