Photo: Robbie Caponetto

No hat required. 

Louisville is a city of juxtapositions. Millions descend upon it to watch just two-minutes of horse racing, and yet, while the Kentucky Derby may be one of the more iconic events in Southern culture, the people of the city would be the first to tell you that they don’t identify as Southern, at least in the way some might see folks from Charleston or Nashville. It’s true; Louisville is it’s own microcosm of Appalachian tradition mixed with urban-driven innovation, blending old and new together much in the way other anomalous Southern cities like New Orleans do.

Here are five ways to experience Louisville. You can leave your hat at home.

Louisville may have one of the most underrated dining scenes in the country. While Ed Lee’s and his empire of restaurants (Milkwood, 610 Magnolia, and the upcoming Whiskey Dry) that blend the borders of Korean and Country cooking put the city on the culinary map, Louisville has more options to explore than ever before. Our greatest hit list? Grab coffee and a bagel (and a chocolate chip cookie) at cafe-record store hybrid Please and Thank You; share a Local Mushroom wood-fire pizza and a ham tasting board from Garage Bar; make a dinner reservation at chef Annie Pettry’s elegant but cozy Decca; and head to Gralehaus on Sunday for brunch (try the country ham and egg crepe) in the courtyard next to their neighboring beer bar housed in a former chapel fittingly named Holy Grale. 

  • Hotel hop from the 21c Museum Hotel to the historic Seelbach Hotel. One gives you an avant garde art gallery and the other the lobby that inspired F. Scott Fitzgerland to write the Great Gatsby (the stairwell served as inspiration for the film version). Both have some of the best fine dining options in town including the 21c’s Proof on Main, an equally contemporary take on locally sourced ingredients, and the Seelbach’s Oak Room, a AAA five-diamond restaurant that's more known as where Al Capone smoked cigars and played cards.

     

  • While Derby fans flock to Louisville in May, Forecastle is the focus in July. The annual music festival that grew from a neighborhood get together thrown by founder J.K. McKnight into summer festival juggernaut has headliners including Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Sturgill Simpson, and LCD Soundsystem lined up for this year.

  • Of course Kentucky is known for its Bourbon Trail, but you don’t have to leave Louisville to experience the state’s most famous export. The Brown-Forman Cooperage offers tours of the facility where barrels are made for brands like Woodford Reserve; distillers like Evan Williams and Jim Beam both have urban outposts in downtown Louisville; and the legendary Stitzel-Weller Distillery home to brands like Bulleit and Blade & Bow is just a short drive on the outskirts of town. For the best bourbon bars in the city, head to The Silver Dollar and Haymarket Whiskey Bar. It may not be bourbon, but the Butchertown neighborhood’s craft distillery Copper and Kings hosts visitors at their railway car-inspired facility for tastings of their brandy and absinthe.

  • Frederick Law Olmsted may be best known for designing New York’s Central Park and Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, but before he passed away he and his sons helped design the Louisville Park System. To see his design principles in action, take a stroll or a bike ride through Cherokee Park, which is filled with old growth trees that explode into color during Spring and Fall.