What are the five best things to see and do in Lexington?

Right in the heart of Kentucky, Lexington's main attractions are the same things that set the Bluegrass State apart. There's a bit of American history, a touch of local tradition and ample opportunity to explore. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to see and do in Lexington.
 
1. Keeneland Race Course. There may be no more beautiful venue for thoroughbred racing than Keeneland Race Course. Surrounded by rolling hills and barns that house champion thoroughbreds, Keeneland holds its spring and fall meets in April and October, respectively. Bow ties, sundresses and seersucker are common at the track, which draws some of the finest horses from around the world.
           
2. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Just a short drive outside town, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is home to a half-dozen of the world's most famous distilleries. Learn the history behind Maker's Mark and its signature red wax, or glimpse the handcrafting process at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, America's oldest. Some tours are available free of charge.
 
3. Get a history lesson. Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born in Kentucky, but it was Mary Todd Lincoln who spent her formative years in the commonwealth. The 14-room home, which was originally built as an inn in the early 19th century, is now open for tours from March to November.
 
4. The Kentucky Theatre. Not far from city hall and the courthouse is the Kentucky Theatre, another pillar of the community. The theater was damaged by a fire in 1987, but Lexington’s citizens slowly rallied to restore it and it reopened in 1992. Today "The Kentucky" — complete with a vintage marquee — shows mostly foreign and independent movies. But it's also home to the Woodsong’s Old-Time Radio Hour, which tapes over 40 shows every year featuring folk and bluegrass music.

5. The Henry Clay Estate. Henry Clay, the statesman known as "The Great Compromiser," made his home in Lexington. Ashland, his estate, was made a national historic landmark in 1961, and the 18-room mansion is open for tours today. Its outbuildings, gardens and surrounding grounds provide a glimpse into the life of the upper class in the 1800s, while educating the public on Clay's role in history.

  • On July 19, 2012
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    What are the best things to do in Lexington in winter?

    While we love visiting Lexington all year long, the winter offers a range of activities that you won’t find anywhere else. The best things to do in Lexington in winter begin with a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park, which is beautiful no matter the season; and when there’s a blanket of snow on the ground, the horse farms surrounding the town take on a picturesque glow.
     
    But Lexington revolves around basketball in the winter. Rupp Arena, the largest basketball arena in the country, is home to the Kentucky Wildcats. Students wait in the cold for hours in advance for the best seats, and the power players in town can be found near the floor in what is known colloquially as "Millionaire's Row." Tickets can be hard to come by, but the spectacle alone is worth the price of admission. Just across the street from Rupp Arena is Triangle Park, which boasts an outdoor ice skating rink when the temperatures dip.
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    What is the best thing to bring home from Lexington?

    Short of snagging a winning ticket from the track, a small memento like a horseshoe is one of the best things you can bring home from Lexington. Want something with a personal touch? R.E. Fennell's supplies goods to horsemen in the area, but it also makes fine leather belts with individualized nameplates. Or, a personalized bottle of bourbon from one of the nearby distilleries is perfect for both display and consumption.
     
    You're unlikely to travel anywhere in town without seeing someone bedecked in University of Kentucky blue, and the best place to find your own Wildcat gear is at Kennedy's Bookstore. If you'd like something to share with friends, a Bourbon Barrel Cake is a unique desert sold around town, but it’s difficult to find outside the Bluegrass.
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    What are the five best Lexington food experiences?

    A taste of Lexington will include bourbon and produce from local farms. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s best food experiences in the Bluegrass:
     
    1. Breakfast at Keeneland Race Course. If you're in town during racing season at Keeneland, the track offers a full breakfast in the Equestrian Dining Room on Saturday mornings. Watch the horses work out before first post, and learn how to follow the action from professional handicappers. There are also children's activities and a chance to get up close to many of the horses.
     
    2. Fried chicken at Merrick Inn. Forget about the drive-through if you're in search of fried chicken. Merrick Inn, family-owned for more than 30 years, serves one of the best renditions of the southern favorite. Order a half chicken or a fried breast accompanied by country ham, red-eye gravy and a spiced peach.
     
    3. College grub. Beer and pizza has long been a staple of college life, and Lexington has more than its share. Just across the street from the University of Kentucky, students often stop in for a quick slice at Pazzo's Pizza Pub between classes. The pizza is great, but the beer is even better — there are 40 brews on tap.
     
    4. Hot Brown Sandwich. The traditional Hot Brown Sandwich is unique to the commonwealth, but a favorite of all who try it. The open-faced roasted turkey sandwich is toasted until the bread begins to brown, then covered in Mornay sauce, tomato slices and bacon. Several restaurants around the state serve the Hot Brown, but one of the best in Lexington can be found downtown at deSha's.
     
    5. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. This stiff drink is a melding of Kentucky's traditional bourbon with a rich ale. The award-winning beer, made in Lexington, is aged in old bourbon barrels, soaking in the flavor from their previous contents. The result is a full-bodied, dark beer with vanilla notes and a strong hint of bourbon.
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  • On July 19, 2012
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    Where is the best nightlife in Lexington?

    Being a college town, Lexington offers a nightlife scene that skews from sports bars that appeal to a younger crowd, to more sophisticated wine and piano bars. A younger crowd will feel at home in the bars surrounding campus, including Two Keys Tavern, but there's more variety downtown. Right on Main Street is a pavilion, which boasts a vibrant row of bars with a roped-off outdoor area that fills up on temperate nights. Bluegrass Tavern is a cozy, relaxed setting with a diverse crowd, while Skybar offers a sleek, modern environment with views of downtown. Wildcat Saloon is likely to be packed with college students unwinding from a week of classes. The Penguin Dueling Piano Bar, a short walk away, features live music every weekend. Also nearby, Grey Goose Bar offers an intimate setting and a patio with an outdoor bar.
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    What is the best way to see Lexington in one day?

    If you want to see Lexington in one day, start early and get out of the city. Fog often rolls in on the horse farms surrounding the city in the early morning as trainers rise to put their thoroughbreds through a workout. Many farms offer guided tours. If you're willing to go farther out, a trip to one of Kentucky's myriad distilleries on the Bourbon Trail offers the chance to learn about the drink for which the state is known.
     
    Stop back in town for lunch at a local favorite like Ramsey's Diner or Alfalfa before continuing your day. If you're in town during April or October, a visit to Keeneland Race Course is a must. First post is usually around 1 p.m., and racing runs through the early evening. Otherwise, stop by the Ashland, Henry Clay’s estate, or the Mary Todd Lincoln House for a lesson in American history. Both will place you downtown, where you can grab dinner at Lexington landmark deSha's.
     
    Unwind in the evening with a trip to the downtown pavilion and a nightcap. If you're not in the mood for the bars, a show at the Kentucky Theatre is a quiet alternative to end your busy day in the Bluegrass.
  • On July 19, 2012
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    What are the five best places to eat in Lexington?

    Perhaps more than most small cities, Lexington eschews national chains in favor of longstanding local culinary traditions. Some dishes you find (ahem, fried chicken) won't surprise you; others will open delicious new doors.
     
    1. deSha’s. Right in the middle of everything is deSha's, an iconic restaurant and bar situated on a street corner in the heart of downtown. It's been a favorite of some of the biggest personalities in town for decades, from basketball coaches to politicians. There's a full bar with top-shelf bourbon, but the peerless atmosphere is what keeps it atop the Lexington food chain.
     
    2. Dudley’s on Short. A Lexington mainstay for nearly 30 years, Dudley’s on Short is known for its historic setting and locally focused menu. Look for items like local lamb sweet potato empanadas, country ham gritters and grilled sea scallops.
     
    3. Jonathan at Gratz Park. Chef Jonathan Lundy is at the helm of this Bluegrass restaurant, which puts modern spins on Kentucky classics. The dinner is outstanding with dishes like country ham pot stickers and sweet tea brined pork; but we love coming here for Sunday brunch, when you can nosh on dishes such as the Bourbon Barrel Smoked Salmon with maple mustard glaze, egg salad, arugula, rye toast and crispy capers.
     
    4. Malone’s. Years ago, a local businessman was unsatisfied with the steakhouse offerings in Lexington, so instead of settling, he opened Malone's. The menu is built around beef, but it also offers a variety of sandwiches, salads and seafood. The first restaurant was such a hit that it spawned two more locations in Lexington.
     
    5. Alfalfa. Nearly everything on the menu at Alfalfa is made from fresh, local ingredients. Its expansive vegetarian options and brunch menu are what made it famous, but its broad menu will satisfy appetites of all kinds. New dishes are frequently offered, and there's always a large section of specials.
  • On July 19, 2012
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    What are the five best places to stay in Lexington?

    The best places to stay in Lexington vary from contemporary hotels to bed and breakfasts with Southern charm. Here are five that Forbes Travel Guide recommends:
     
    1. Hyatt Regency Lexington. If location is your primary concern, the downtown Hyatt Regency places you right in the middle of the action. It's attached to Rupp Arena, home of the University of Kentucky basketball team, and the Lexington Convention Center. With over 300 rooms and all the amenities a visitor could hope for, it's an ideal pick for many.
     
    2. Castle Post. About 20 minutes from downtown Lexington, the grand stone walls of this gothic castle are juxtaposed with 16 luxuriously appointed rooms. The castle was renovated in 2008 and includes ballrooms, a great hall, upscale accommodations and spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.
     
    3. Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa. This hotel is located away from the bustle of downtown, but since Lexington is small you’ll never be far from the action. Take advantage of the Marriott’s spa and golf course, so you can unwind after a day of business meetings or exploring the Bluegrass.
     
    4. Essence of the Bluegrass. Get a real feel for Lexington by staying at the bed and breakfast on a horse farm. You’ll be just five minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park, and inside the hotel you’ll be treated to a grand lobby and suites with dome ceilings and Jacuzzis.
     
    5. Lyndon House Bed and Breakfast. This downtown escape is close to the historic Transylvania University and within walking distance of several major tourist attractions. You'll find Southern hospitality within the Victorian building, as well as a handful of warmly decorated rooms.
  • On July 19, 2012
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    Where is the best shopping in Lexington?

    There's no one district in Lexington known for its shopping, and but you will find the city dotted with stores. If you're looking for a place to touch on all the basics (and major brands), downtown has plenty to offer.
                                                                 
    Men will find everything they need for a day at the racetrack or a day at the office at Graves-Cox & Co, one of Lexington's oldest clothiers. The store first opened in 1888 and is now run by the third generation of the Cox family. About a block away, women can stop in and find a trendy outfit at Runway Couture or at a number of other shops at Victorian Square. Also in Victorian Square is Only in Kentucky, the perfect place you to find a memento — think bourbon candies and local foods — of your trip to the Bluegrass.
  • On July 19, 2012
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    What are the five best things to do with kids in Lexington?

    Lexington gives kids the chance to get outside and discover new things. Horses enthrall children of all ages, but outdoor educational opportunities aren't limited to equine interests. Read on Forbes Travel Guide’s five best things to do with kids in Kentucky.
     
    1. Kentucky Horse Park. There's no better place to understand what makes Kentucky "The Horse Capital of the World" than Kentucky Horse Park. Over 100 horses, including several thoroughbred champions, live on the state-owned farm, which covers over 1,200 acres. Kids will love the chance to get close to the four-legged athletes, while the educational programs are interesting enough for adults. Pony rides, trail riding and tours of the park in horse-drawn carriages are also offered.
     
    2. Explorium of Lexington. Lexington's children's museum, the Explorium, offers a hands-on experience for children of all ages. A handful of exhibits — expect ones on nutrition, homes and water — are permanent, but others rotate. There's also an open art studio and a dedicated bubble room.
     
    3. The Arboretum. Located on the edge of the University of Kentucky campus, the Arboretum serves as the state's botanical garden. The Walk Across Kentucky path meanders 2 miles through the park and features the flora of regions across the state — from river flood plains to coal-laden mountains and verdant forests. The special children's garden, open seasonally, is an inviting environment for youngsters to discover nature.
     
    4. Farmers’ market. During the spring, fall and summer, there are farmers' markets four days a week in Lexington. There's far more than locally grown produce to be found: fresh honey, wine from nearby vineyards and flowers can also be purchased at the farmers’ market, which rotates locations around town. There are also occasional cooking demonstrations and educational programs for kids.
     
    5. Jacobsen Park. This park is a nearby escape for those in search of a quick outdoor adventure. The 216-acre park includes a large pond for fishing, as well as a playground complete with tunnels and slides. Basketball courts, pedal boats and a long walking path round out the activities for older kids.
  • On July 19, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the five best things to see and do in Lexington?

    Right in the heart of Kentucky, Lexington's main attractions are the same things that set the Bluegrass State apart. There's a bit of American history, a touch of local tradition and ample opportunity to explore. Here are Forbes Travel Guide’s picks for the five best things to see and do in Lexington.
     
    1. Keeneland Race Course. There may be no more beautiful venue for thoroughbred racing than Keeneland Race Course. Surrounded by rolling hills and barns that house champion thoroughbreds, Keeneland holds its spring and fall meets in April and October, respectively. Bow ties, sundresses and seersucker are common at the track, which draws some of the finest horses from around the world.
               
    2. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Just a short drive outside town, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is home to a half-dozen of the world's most famous distilleries. Learn the history behind Maker's Mark and its signature red wax, or glimpse the handcrafting process at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, America's oldest. Some tours are available free of charge.
     
    3. Get a history lesson. Both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born in Kentucky, but it was Mary Todd Lincoln who spent her formative years in the commonwealth. The 14-room home, which was originally built as an inn in the early 19th century, is now open for tours from March to November.
     
    4. The Kentucky Theatre. Not far from city hall and the courthouse is the Kentucky Theatre, another pillar of the community. The theater was damaged by a fire in 1987, but Lexington’s citizens slowly rallied to restore it and it reopened in 1992. Today "The Kentucky" — complete with a vintage marquee — shows mostly foreign and independent movies. But it's also home to the Woodsong’s Old-Time Radio Hour, which tapes over 40 shows every year featuring folk and bluegrass music.

    5. The Henry Clay Estate. Henry Clay, the statesman known as "The Great Compromiser," made his home in Lexington. Ashland, his estate, was made a national historic landmark in 1961, and the 18-room mansion is open for tours today. Its outbuildings, gardens and surrounding grounds provide a glimpse into the life of the upper class in the 1800s, while educating the public on Clay's role in history.