Enjoy the Sights & Spirits of Louisville

September 28, 2010

The Kentucky Derby and thoroughbred horse racing, baseball bats, and fried chicken--all icons for Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville.

But to think that’s all there is to this city is a mistake. Louisville was incorporated in 1780 and has a rich history, and modern Louisville is a blend of old and new with a surprising combination of sophistication and down-home friendliness and charm.

It also is a dynamic center for manufacturing and commerce.

Louisville is home for Humana and Kindred Healthcare; two large Ford manufacturing plants, a major General Electric appliance factory, and is the primary domestic hub for United Parcel Service, and the world’s best-known wooden baseball bat, the Louisville Slugger.

The Kentucky Fried Chicken (now known simply as KFC) empire founded by Col. Harlan Sandersnow is part of Louisville-based Yum! Brands, the world’s largest restaurant company with 34,000 locations in more than 100 countries, and in addition to KFC includes, Long John Silver’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and A&W. Another well-known fast food name, Papa John’s Pizza, also is based in Louisville

Louisville also has become one of the nation’s busiest and most attractive convention and trade show venues.

The 400-acre Kentucky Exposition Center (KEC), site of ICUEE since 1987, includes more than 1.2 million square feet of exhibit space, additional outdoor demonstration areas, arenas, and a sports stadium--now the sixth largest convention venue in the country, says the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. Downtown, the Kentucky International Convention Center offers meeting planners 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, 52 meeting rooms, and a 30,000-square-foot ballroom.

There’s plenty to see and do in Louisville in close proximity to KEC and convention hotels. (All telephone numbers listed are in the (502) area code).

Between KFEC and downtown is Old Louisville containing well-preserved Victorian homes built by business owners who became wealthy following the Civil War. Adjoining this historic area is the campus of the University of Louisville which includes the Speed Art Museum. Downtown along West Main Street is the largest concentration of cast iron front buildings anywhere except New York City. The Main Street Cultural District includes the Louisville Science Center, Kentucky Center, and Actors Theatre of Louisville. Along the river, Waterfront Park is a great place to relax with broad promenades, places to eat, boat docks, and concerts and special events.

Churchill Downs, 700 Central Ave., 636-4400. It isn’t necessary to be a horse racing enthusiast to enjoy a look at America’s most famous race track where the Kentucky Derby has been run every spring since 1875. The grandstand with its twin spires was built in 1895 and is a National Historic Landmark. A $121 million expansion and renovation was completed just over two years ago with careful attention to preserve the historic feel of the place.

Kentucky Derby Museum, 704 Central Ave., 637-1111. Adjacent to Churchill Downs, the museum has three floors of exhibits about the past and present of Thoroughbred racing and especially the historic Kentucky Derby. The 360-degree video presentation, The Greatest Race, captures the drama and pageantry of a day at the Derby

Fourth Street Live! Fourth Street between Liberty and Muhammad Ali Blvd.,is a $70 million entertainment district in the heart of downtown is an ideal destination for a night out and includes restaurants and bars, a billiards lounge, and an upscale bowling alley, all within walking distance of many downtown hotels.

Louisville Slugger Museum,800 W. Main St., 588-7228. A 120-foot-high bat marks the entry of this fascinating museum with varied baseball exhibits, including the opportunity to experience what it’s like to face a 90-mph fast ball. A self-guided tour of the Hillerich & Bradsby bat factory is included in the entry fee.

Muhammad Ali Center, One Riverfront Plaza, 584-9254. Still under construction during 2005 ICUEE, this impressive facility is open and houses an international education and cultural center that is inspired by the ideals of its founder Muhammad Ali. Two-and-a-half levels of interactive exhibits and captivating multi-media presentations present Ali’s life story through the core values of his life to foster respect, hope, and understanding and to inspire children and adults to reach their full potential. At the peak of his career, Louisville’s most famous native son was thought to be the world’s most recognized person.

Frazier International History Museum, 829 W. Main St., 412-2280. This unusual museum’s exhibits and artifacts document 1,000 years of British and American arms, including more than 300 pieces from the Royal Armouries of Britain, the only place in the U.S. where pieces from this collection can be seen.

Louisville Science Center, 727 W. Main St., 561-6100. More than 40,000-square-feet of hands on exhibits about the workings of science and technology, including a four-story IMAX theater presenting a variety of films, including NASCAR and Forces of Nature.

Belle of Louisville and Star of Jefferson, 401 W. River Rd., 574-2992. A river cruise may be just the thing after a long day of convention activities. The Belle of Louisville is said to be the oldest operating stern-wheel steamboat in operation. Three decks accommodate as many as 650 passengers. The steam calliope produces 332 different whistles. The smaller, diesel-powered Spirit of Jefferson has a capacity of 300 passengers and is air conditioned and heated.

An excellent source of information about what to do in Louisville is the web site of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau: http://www.gotolouisville.com