Last Updated on September 24, 2021 by Candy Wafford
Coming to Lexington, Kentucky? First, let me say congratulations on getting to visit this beautiful city! Lexington is one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. But I may be a bit biased as I am a born and bred Lexingtonian. And as a local, I can assure you that there is so much to see and do in our fair city. Read on for my complete guide of what to do in Lexington.
Best Time To Visit Lexington
Spring and Fall are the best times to visit Lexington, Kentucky. The weather is comfortable and in the spring trees are full of colorful blooms and the foliage in the fall is a spectacle of color. This is also when Keeneland and Churchill Downs hold their thoroughbred racing meets.
Where to Stay in Lexington
Lexington and the surrounding area have a variety of options for lodging from staying in a castle to chain hotels, to staying in a RV park. I’ve selected a few of the more unusual options of places to stay in Lexington.
A castle in Kentucky?
The Kentucky Castle is located minutes from Bluegrass Airport and Keeneland in Versailles, Kentucky. Growing up in Lexington, the Castle is just part of our landscape and there was never a shortage of stories about it. The Kentucky Castle features 14-rooms, a restaurant, a newly opened spa, and a rotating series of events from murder mystery dinners to yoga on the rooftop. If you’re looking for things to do with kids in Lexington, definitely check out the event offerings to see if they are doing a fairy tale tour while you’re in town.
The Ruin Bed and Breakfast
Also located just outside of Lexington is The Ruin Bed and Breakfast. This unique B&B is located on the former Glenn Springs Distillery. The owners refurbished a portion of the original structure and built a new interior using many of the materials from the property. The Ruin is perfect for visitors looking for a little romance while in the Bluegrass State and is conveniently located near horse farms and bourbon distilleries.
Hotels in Downtown Lexington
Looking for a hotel in downtown Lexington? There are two brand spanking new Marriott properties as well as a Hyatt and Hilton. If you are visiting Lexington while attending a conference or attending an event at Rupp Arena, each of these hotels are just steps away from the Convention Center and Rupp.
21C Museum Hotel
The 21C Museum Hotel Lexington is located in the middle of downtown Lexington making it a perfect option for those wanting to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle of our beautiful city. As with all 21C hotels, the focus here is on contemporary decor and art. The Lockbox restaurant features local ingredients in their innovative cuisine and was voted the best date spot in Lexington.
Things to Do in Lexington
Horses, Horses, & Horses!
Y’all are in the Horse Capital of the World where it’s all about horses. Expect to see horses everywhere you go in Lexington. Everywhere. Horses are a huge part of our identity, our landscape, and our economy.
Keeneland is hands down one of the most beautiful places in Lexington. This thoroughbred race track doesn’t get as much attention as Churchill Downs in Lousiville, but it should. Meets are held each April and October, two of the prettiest months in Kentucky. Not a gambler? You should still visit Keeneland to take in the beautifully manicured grounds and watch the horses as they make their walk in the paddock before each race. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon.
Keeneland is also a great place to try Kentucky cuisine such as burgoo and mint juleps. Visit their website to find a list of year-round events including many activities for kids.
The Red Mile
Lexington has two race tracks. The Red Mile Harness Track is Lexington’s oldest course and features harness racing or standardbred racking. Not familiar with harness racing? Instead of a rider, the horse pulls a driver in a cart, similar to chariot racing. In addition to betting on the horses, visitors can see other races simulcast on 175 televisions or have some fun in their gaming center.
Kentucky Horse Park
The Kentucky Horse Park is the place in Lexington to see and learn about horses. A visit to this lovely park is a must for anyone visiting Central Kentucky. Parks tickets include admission to the International Museum of the Horse, the American Saddlebred Museum, the grounds, and horse-drawn tours and live presentations during the summer.
The park is home to many equestrian events as well as other events in the Alltech Arena. It’s also the site for the Southern Lights Light Show during the holiday season. It’s the perfect place to spend a day for all horse lovers and anyone wanting to learn more about these majestic creatures.
Horse Farm Tours Lexington
Years ago, when I was much younger, I had the opportunity to take visitors to see horse farms in Lexington. Along the drive they commented on how beautiful the houses on the farms were to which I responded, those are the horse barns! Horse farms in this part of the world are grand with beautiful Southern homes, massive barns, and rolling fields with frences of white-plank or limestone rocks. One of the best things to do in Lexington is to simply take a drive down one of the many rural roads that feature one horse farm after another.
There are about 450 horse farms in the area, and about 150 in Lexington alone. All are working farms which means you need to make an appointment to visit or book with a tour company. VisitLex has a list of tour companies that offer guided tours.
One of my favorite experiences recently was a visit to a thoroughbred breeding farm. Seeing baby foals up close is an experience like no other. And you may just be meeting a future champion!
Note: I’m generally not a fan of animal tourism. But horses in Kentucky are treated like royalty!
Flying into Lexington via Bluegrass Airport? Make sure you book a window seat so you can see our stunning farms from above. It’s one of my favorite things about my home airport.
Bourbon in (and around) Lexington
Not only are you in horse country when visiting Lexington, but you are also in bourbon country. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kentucky where you will find 18 distilleries along central Kentucky’s gorgeous countryside.
If you don’t plan on doing the trail, I strongly encourage you to visit at least one distillery and to sample at least one or two bourbons. Our distilleries are located in urban areas like the distillery district just outside of downtown Lexington to distilleries nestled in the heart of horse farm country a mere thirty minutes from Lexington.
Visit Historical Sites
Lexington has a rich history and history buffs can experience many historical sites first hand. You can tour the home and grounds at Ashland, the great statesman Henry Clay’s home. The Mary Todd Lincoln House was the childhood home to Abraham Lincoln’s wife, Mary and is located within a few blocks of all of the hotels in downtown Lexington.
A personal favorite of mine is taking the twenty-minute drive to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. The largest restored Shaker community features acres of bucolic farmland and dozens of restored 19-century buildings. Visitors to this National Historic Landmark can enjoy a delicious meal at the Trustee’s Office dining room, tour the buildings, hike one of the 33 miles of trail, or attend one of the many special events.
Visitlex has a complete list of historic sites in the Lexington area. Their trip planner is a useful guide to track all of the things you want to see during your time in Lexington.
Outdoor Activities in Lexington
Parks in Lexington ran the gamut from small urban parks to vast nature reserves.
- Jacobson Park – Features 216 acres and includes a reservoir where you can fish or rent a paddleboat. A great place to have a picnic.
- Raven Run Nature Sanctuary – Located along the Kentucky River, Raven Run is a wonderful place to spend an afternoon hiking and admiring the natural beauty in this area. You will also find historic remnants left behind by early 19th century settlers throughout the park.
- McConnell’s Springs – If you are interested in the history of Lexington, a visit to McConnell’s Springs is a must-do. The park features several natural springs and many year-round activities.
- Triangle Park – Located in the center of downtown Lexington, Triangle Park has a lovely water feature making it one of the most instagrammable places in Lexington. An ice skating rink is installed each winter and summer finds many fun activities including movies in the park.
- Thoroughbred Park – This downtown park is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Lexington.
- Legacy Trail – When fully completed, the Legacy Trail will feature 12-miles of shared-use greenway trail running from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park. Eight miles are currently completed so you can enjoy it today.
Cycling in Lexington
Cycling enthusiasts will love taking a ride through our scenic backroads. VisitLex has a Bike Lexington Map as will as routes mapped out for cyclists to ride through Lexington’s historic neighborhoods. A unique option to the area is to bike along the Bourbon Trail combining several of the activities that make Lexington so special.
Take an Art Walk
Lexington has a thriving street art scene. You’ll find loads of art murals downtown, the Distillery District, and other areas of Lexington. Check out some of my favorite downtown street art here.
Where to Eat in Lexington
Looking for the best places to eat in Lexington? Two hot spots for local dining are downtown and the Distillery District. But you can find great places to eat in Lexington in every neighborhood. I highlighted some of my favorite local restaurants here and here.
If you are looking for places outside of Lexington, many great restaurants are just a short drive away in the neighboring towns of Versailles, Frankfort, Georgetown, and Midway. Bonus, you’ll get to see some our of our beautiful countryside on the way!
Downtown Lexington Restaurants
Downtown Lexington has restaurants to suit every taste and budget. Looking for fancy? Head over one of the upscale steakhouses in the middle of downtown Lexington, Tony’s of Lexington or Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse. Looking for something casual? Checkout Joe Bologna’s for pizza that Lexingtonians have been enjoying for decades. And if giant breadsticks and pizza aren’t enough to convince you, Joe B’s as it’s referred to around here, is in an old church making for a really cool setting.
Visit the VisitLex site for a comprehensive list of restaurants in Lexington.
Where to Find Something Sweet
I’m always looking for the best local places to satisfy my sweet tooth when traveling. And doughnuts and ice cream are some of my favorites. I wrote an article on some of the best bakeries in Lexington but here are a few more!
Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge
Crank & Boom ice cream started when the owners were looking for a dessert to serve in their Thai restaurant. The ice cream was so popular it became their passion project and they now crank (see what I did there?) out a variety of flavors made in house using local, all-natural ingredients. I’m partial to the Bourbon & Honey and Kentucky Blackberry and Buttermilk flavors.
Their Distillery District location is a great spot to hit up after dining in the area or visiting one of the local nightspots. Their second location is in The Barn at the Summit and makes for a great break while shopping. You can also find pints to go at stores throughout Lexington.
North Lime Coffee and Doughnuts
North Lime Coffee and Doughnuts‘ two Lexington locations serve up some of the best doughnuts in town. Each location features a daily selection of flavors including glazed, powdered, and funnel cake and monthly and daily specials. The blackberry filled is my favorite but the french toast is always a popular option in their annual March Madness Championship.
Gelato at Spotz Gelato is made in small batches using local ingredients as often as possible. In addition to scoops, you can enjoy ice cream sandwiches, sundaes, milkshakes, and ice cream floats. I highly recommend the Spotz Sampler where you can try four flavors from the ever-changing menu of options. With locations in downtown Lexington and neighboring Versailles and Georgetown, a scoop of ice cream is also close by.
Whether its bourbon, horses, sports, or work that brings you to Lexington, I think our just-right-size, warm hospitality, and beautiful surroundings will make you a fan!
Have you been to Lexington? Share your favorite thing about it in the comments!