Lexington, Kentucky is known for its association with the horse racing industry. While most visitors come for the races, there’s so much more to see in this college town, home to the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University. Lexington is also located along the Bourbon Trail, lined with both craft and large bourbon distilleries. The craft beer scene is thriving as well and the restaurants in the city are among the best anywhere.
But if horses are your calling, be sure to visit during one of the races at Keeneland, one of the oldest racetracks in the country. You can also tour local horse farms that have been run by generations of families and visit the International Museum of the Horse for background information on the industry. The downtown area is undergoing a revitalization, but most of the attractions popular with horse lovers are outside the city limits.
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What to Do
Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate–This elegant estate was once home to Henry Clay, a statesman known as the Great Compromiser. You can tour the 18 room mansion and its stunning grounds, which have been restored to the condition of when the family lived there, including much of the original furnishings. 120 Sycamore Road
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill– This rural attraction outside of Lexington has a recreated village from Shaker times. You can see the 3,000 acres of hiking and riding paths and watch demonstrations on Shaker crafts. They run a number of activities like trail runs and paddleboard yoga on the river. 3501 Lexington Road, Harrodsburg
International Museum of the Horse– You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about the horse racing and breeding industry at the International Museum of the Horse. As a part of the Smithsonian-affiliated Kentucky Horse Park, there are exhibits on horse racing in China and Arabia as well as modern racing. 4089 Iron Works Parkway
Lexington also has a number of historic homes worth visiting, including the Mary Todd Lincoln House, where the First Lady grew up, the Hunt-Morgan House, Waveland State Historic Site, home to a relative of Daniel Boone, and the Latrobe House.
Where to Eat
Coles 735 Main– The atmosphere at Cole’s, with its mood lighting and large windows facing the busy street, make it a favorite of locals during the week as much as on the weekends. They may be known for their steaks, but the other main dishes are just as delicious, especially the rainbow trout. Try the panko fried avocado, a crowd favorite, paired with one of their bourbon cocktails. 735 East Main Street, (859) 266-9000
AZUR– The modern decor makes Azur unique in the Lexington dining scene but the food matches it. Lobster crepes are an addictive appetizer and the portions on the main dishes are large enough to share or take home to enjoy later. 3070 Lakecrest Circle, Suite 550, (859) 296-1007
Doodles– A former gas station, this restaurant is a local favorite for its all-day breakfast with special items like the Kentucky Hot Brown Quesadilla and egg in a biscuit. They proudly serve local produce and ingredients. 262 North Limestone Street, (859) 317-8507
Shakespeare & Co– While this downtown restaurant may be a chain, it’s the first United States location of an otherwise Middle Eastern brand owned by Sheik Mohammed. The Rococo decor and Mediterranean cuisine make it a favorite of both ladies who lunch and men out for a beer and a soccer game. It’s one of the few places where you can get both biscuits and halloumi! 367 West Short Street, (859) 367-0413
Where to Sleep
There aren’t many options in downtown Lexington, but you’ll find major chains Hilton, Hyatt, and Holiday Inn. The 21C Museum Hotel Lexington is a boutique hotel downtown. The Sire Hotel is another favorite, located in the former Gratz Park Inn space. Shaker Village also has accommodations.
Further out of town, you have more options, including bed and breakfasts and even more chains. There aren’t many budget options to speak of, apart from very basic hotels costing at least $50 per night and going up from there. Airbnb is another good option for a more local experience without breaking the bank.
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I visited Lexington with Visit Lexington, but all opinions are my own.