Louisville City Guide

Louisville City Guide

Louisville is a pretty darn cool town, y’all. Big enough to have tons of amenities, but small enough that you can get around easily between our interesting inner-ring neighborhoods. Southern enough to be featured in Southern Living, but not Southern enough to serve our tea sweet. (Indiana is right across the river, after all.)

While you’re here: focus on the vibrant arts culture, the truly amazing food scene, and the walkable, shop-able neighborhoods like Crescent Hill, Clifton, and the Highlands.

I could have gone on forever, but this list is a solid start to planning your time in Louisville.

Books

Carmichael’s Bookstore. Louisville’s independent bookstore. Two locations in two great neighborhoods: 2720 Frankfort Ave (Crescent Hill) and 1295 Bardstown Road (Highlands). Carmichael’s Kids, a dedicated kids’ store, is two doors down from the Highlands location at 1313 Bardstown Road.

A Reader’s Corner. Used books on the north end of Frankfort Ave, in the Clifton neighborhood. not far from downtown and right by Sweet Surrender and Silver Dollar.

Coffee

Sunergos Coffee. My favorite, but a bit off my beaten path. 2122 South Preston Street (U of L), 306 West Woodlawn Ave (Iroquois Park), 231 South Fifth St (downtown)

Please and Thank You. Small-batch Southern bakery and coffeehouse. No decaf. Amazing baked goods. 800 East Market St (NuLu) and 2341 Frankfort Ave (Clifton)

Heine Brothers Coffee. Louisville’s original independent roaster. 14 area locations; I wrote most of Reading People at the Shelbyville Road store.

Atlantic No. 5. Eatery and general store offering espresso drinks plus a selection of homemade sandwiches, biscuits salads, desserts and grab-to-go meals. West Main (downtown)

Quill’s Coffee. Great coffee, beautiful stores. 930 Baxter Ave (Highlands), 327 W Cardinal Blvd (U of L). Two locations coming Spring 2017 to NuLu (E Main) and St Matthews (St Matthews Ave).

Food

Proof on Main. Smack in the heart of downtown, in the 21c Museum Hotel, which is worth a peek inside. (Don’t miss the bathrooms.) Southern influenced cuisine and seasonal cocktails. The museum features national and international art and installations. 
702 West Main St

Seviche. This upscale Latin fusion restaurant is a personal favorite. 1538 Bardstown Rd (Highlands)

LouVino. This is a great place for a girls’ night; I keep meaning to stop in with my husband. Southern-inspired small bites, wine, wine flights, desserts, and Sunday brunch. 1606 Bardstown Rd (Highlands), 11400 Main Street (Douglass Hills)

Café Classico. European-style café offering a quick lunch or full dinner, plus Illy espresso drinks. 
2144 Frankfort Ave (Clifton)

Mojito Tapas Restaurant. Amazing tapas and a family favorite. 2231 Holiday Manor Center (Holiday Manor)

Ghyslain. (geez-LANE) Bistro fare (don’t miss the duck fat fries) and gelato, French pastries, and chocolates. 1215 Herr Ln #101 (Westport Village).

Royals Hot Chicken. Nashville-style hot chicken in Nulu. 736 East Market St

Mayan Café. Local, seasonal Mayan food, and a longtime Louisville favorite. 813 East Market St (Nulu)

The Silver Dollar. Southern eats, a million varieties of bourbon, excellent brunch. 1761 Frankfort Ave (Clifton)

Grind Burger Kitchen. Grind started as a food truck and now has a beautiful brick and mortar home, with a great porch. All ingredients are locally and sustainably sourced. 829 East Market (Nulu)

Blue Dog Bakery & Café. Illy coffee, baked goods, seated breakfast and lunch service. Their bread is on the tables of nearly every fancy restaurant in the city. 2868 Frankfort Ave (Crescent Hill)

El Mundo. Made from scratch Mexican food and drinks. It’s hard to beat their nachos for dinner on the patio on a beautiful night. 2345 Frankfort Avenue

To Go Sushi. This may sound like a bad idea but this little place on Lyndon Lane does amazing (and huge) rolls at a great price. Small amount of eat-in seating but this isn’t a place you visit for the atmosphere. 700 Lyndon Ln (Lyndon)

Taco Luchador. Great tacos and sweet potato fries in a casual setting. 938 Baxter Ave (Highlands), St Matthews location in the works as of Spring 2017

Cold stuff/desserts

Graeter’s. The city’s best ice cream in multiple locations, including St Matthews, the Highlands, and Crescent Hill.

The Comfy Cow. Also possibly the city’s best ice cream in three locations. Try an ice cream flight while you’re there. 2221 Frankfort Ave (Clifton), 1301 Herr Ln (Westport Village), 13301 Shelbyville Rd (Middletown)

Steel City Pops. Gourmet pops made from all-natural ingredients, in flavors like elderflower, pineapple jalapeño, and buttermilk. If you’re lucky you may spy their popsicle stand at a local park on a nice summer evening. 1021 Bardstown Rd (Highlands)

Sweet Surrender Dessert Café. Decadent desserts with an emphasis on lavishly frosted layer cakes. 1804 Frankfort Ave, just by A Reader’s Corner (Clifton)

Shopping

The Urban Farmhouse Market and Urban Farmgirls. Simple, vintage, and farmhouse-inspired, offering home decor and accessories and apparel in their respective adjoining shops. 2830 Frankfort Ave (Crescent Hill)

Clodhopper’s. Eclectic selection of designer apparel, especially dresses and denim, in the remodeled Vogue theater. 3725 Lexington Rd (St Matthews)

Elizabeth’s Timeless Attire. Vintage clothing spanning the decades. They stock whatever they can get their hands on, so the selection is unpredictable—but it’s always interesting. 
2050 Frankfort Ave (Clifton)

Stag + Doe. My new crush. Fresh and affordable modern design in an adorable new row of shops and restaurants. While you’re in the area grab a tasty bite at Pho Ba Luu or outrageous sweets at Hi-Five Donuts. 1013 East Main St (Nulu)

Revelry Boutique Gallery. Handmade jewelry, art, and home decor, plus a rotating gallery display. 742 East Market St (Nulu)

Scout. Modern, eclectic mix of furniture, home accessories, art, and jewelry. 720 East Market (Nulu)

Architectural Salvage. Renowned home of thousands of hard-to-find and one-of-a-kind decor items that draws builders and regular folk from all over the country. Acres of antique salvaged glass, mirrors, tiles, furniture, fixtures and a sea of miscellany. 
618 East Broadway (downtown)

To See and Do

Frankfort Avenue Trolley Hop. Free trolleys circulate between over a hundred galleries, shops, and eateries on the final Friday of each month. (Crescent Hill, Clifton, Nulu)

Old Louisville. Louisville is home to an impressive number of preserved and lovingly restored Victorian mansions in the country. (Old Louisville, near U of L)

Speed Museum of Art. Re-opened in early 2017 after a long renovation. Features global works, with a focus on Western art.
 Free admission on Sundays. 20345 South Third St (U of L)

Kentucky Museum of Arts and Craft. Don’t let the name mislead you: this is a contemporary art museum with a very cool gift shop. 
715 West Main St (downtown)

Louisville Slugger Museum. Even if you’re only a halfhearted fan, this is a pretty great museum. If you’re in the area be sure to goggle at the 120 foot-high baseball bat out front on Main Street.

Daisy Buchanan’s house. Historians and lit-lovers disagree on which Highlands home actually served as inspiration for Daisy’s home in The Great Gatsby, but 1400 Cherokee Rd is the frontrunner. (Highlands)

The labyrinth at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. An authentic labyrinth, located just off the entrance to the seminary at 1044 Alta Vista Rd. (Lexington Rd)

Churchill Downs. Home to the Twin Spires, the Kentucky Derby, and live racing. 700 Central Ave (near U of L)

The Bourbon Trail. Bourbon country is just outside Louisville in Central Kentucky. Explore the historic distilleries of Kentucky’s beautiful countryside, on your own or by guided tour.

To Stay

21 C Museum Hotel. Voted by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards as the #1 hotel in America. Modern boutique hotel with interactive art exhibits, even in the lobby’s bathroom! 
700 West Main St (downtown)

The Seelbach Hilton. This historic hotel appears in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. 
500 South Fourth St (downtown)

Aloft Hotel Louisville. Louisville’s newest boutique hotel on historic Whiskey Row. 102 West Main St (downtown)

Louisville City Guide

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24 comments

  1. Brandyn says:

    I’ve been to Louisville 2-3 times for work, and came home each time saying my family should go there for vacation. It actually felt a lot like Omaha(home) just with a few more/different entertainment options. Unfortunately, we haven’t made it for vacation yet. It’s one of the awkward distances where driving is a little farther then is convenient, but flying would take almost as long because it’s not direct.

    Anyway great list, I’ll definitely remember to check it when I finally make there for vacation.

  2. Kasey says:

    Thank you for this! We live in Indy and travel down your way often because my husband has family on both sides of the river. It’s nice to have some new recommendations. We were actually just at El Mundo on Saturday night with family. My husband was also a big fan of the Irish Rover when he lived there.

  3. Katie Fox says:

    I love Louisville! I lived there for one year only – the ’03-’04 school year – and fell in love. I lived in the Highlands area. I definitely enjoyed Heine Brothers coffee…and Graeter’s…..and ate quite a few lunches at Stevens & Stevens Deli – have you been there? I couldn’t find good Mexican/Latin food back then (native Texan here) so I’m glad to hear there are some great options now. I still have some friends there, so maybe it’s time for another visit. 🙂

  4. Jill K says:

    Daisy Buchanan’s house! No way! I went once for work, but missed that. I had a great time, and would to take my family back. It’s a long drive, but do-able, from DC.

  5. I am a Louisville resident and love this list you put together. I might just have to send it out to family and friends before they visit…Also, I lived on Cherokee for 3 years and I had no idea one of my neighboring houses was the Daisy Buchanan house!

  6. D says:

    Can I say that the Louisville Zoo is one of my favorites in the whole country? They have a petting area that does not allow food, so the goats are not expecting to be fed. They are calm, so very young children can approach them and pet them without being accosted for kibble. It’s small enough to walk in an few hours but interesting enough to stay all day. I am also a huge fan of the herpaquarium where you can see an anaconda and a white alligator and get out of the weather for a while if needed. Entrance fees are reasonable. Go around the zoo anti-clockwise and ride the carousel as a nice capstone to your day right before you leave.

    PS- GRAETER’S BURBON BALL ICE CREAM IS THE BEST EVER.

    • Jennifer Haddow says:

      I will second the zoo (we have a membership and take advantage of reciprocity at other zoos around the country) and will raise you a meal at Zen Garden (also in the Crescent Hill area near Irish Rover and El Mundo. Also, if you visit the zoo this summer, you should time your counter-clockwise trip so you get to see the Bird Show and did you know there will be a Butterfly Exhibit this summer?

  7. Rose Booth says:

    I’m a native Louisvillian and lived here all my life and I applaud this whole list! And, thanks, Anne, for the thumbs up for To Go Sushi….I’ve often wondered if it was good or not. I’ll add North End Cafe – two locations Frankfort Avenue near Downtown and Bardstown Road in the Highlands. Excellent food also locally sourced.

  8. Casey says:

    Haha, to-go sushi (the concept) is NOT a bad idea! My favorite sushi joint in New Orleans (when I lived there) was Mikimoto, which has a drive-through window. You call ahead and then just drive over, and they hand it to you out the window. It used to be a fast-food joint. It was on my way home from work, so super-convenient for dinner!
    Louisville sounds fun. I have an infant and don’t know anyone who lives there, so any possible visit would be far in the future… but you’ve got me convinced to put it on my Someday/Maybe list!

  9. Diana says:

    Hey, being across the river from Indiana isn’t a bad thing! I’ve been to Madison, Indiana which isn’t super far from you and that was a great place to visit with some nice state parks nearby. Louisville would probably make a good short trip!

    • Jennifer Haddow says:

      Indiana – Derby Dinner Playhouse and these restaurants on the river give a great view of the Louisville skyline.

  10. Angela says:

    As a Kentucky girl myself I have been to Louisville but have never really “seen” Louisville. I want to try/see some of these places on your list. Nice thing for me is Louisville is less than two hours from my part of KY so I could make a few day trips. Last year I went to the Louisville Zoo for the first time and I loved it!

  11. Lauri Manes says:

    I grew up visiting Louisville every year, multiple times, but did not start to explore the city until I was in my twenties. It’s a special place for me, my mother is from Louisville and though I never lived there it has very much been a home away from home for me. There is still much to discover but I LOVE Old Louisville! That is where I’d want to live. I am also a fan of the Big Four Bridge. We walked that on a beautiful Sunday morning last May. Next time I will have to check out Daisy Buchanan’s house. I had no idea!

  12. This post is great timing for me. My husband and I are moving to Louisville in a month! We have visited a couple of times and love the city. Can’t wait to live there and experience the city as locals.

  13. Jess says:

    Great list!! I lived in Louisville for 16 years and many of these places were frequent stops. My favorite deli was Stevens & Stevens (The Benedictine and Bacon sandwich! Oh my!) Also, Ramsi’s in the Highlands. I haven’t been back to check out Nu Lu yet, but it is on my “must-see” list. I am intrigued by this Daisy Buchanan house; I may have to check that out next time I visit. Thanks!

  14. Esther Beard says:

    I’ve lived in Louisville for nine years and absolutely love your list! Some of my favorites and some new ones I need to try (Hello,To go sushi!) But girl, have you been to McQuixote books & coffee?! I just discovered it and it is so wonderful! It is Portland so it would be a bit of a trek for you (was definitely for me!) It is so.worth.it. books everywhere and ahhhmazing coffee.

  15. Ellen W says:

    I would love to visit Louisville and my boys want to see the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. My cousin is a professor at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville, IN so I’m hoping we’ll make the trip in the next few years.

    • Jennifer Haddow says:

      I live in Louisville and I still haven’t been. I really want to go this summer before the Lego Exhibit ends.

  16. I’m just a few hours north in Indianapolis and we’ve explored Louisville a few times. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law got married at the Seelbach a few years ago and we had a great time staying downtown. Seeing your food list makes me think a grown up only trip is in order. What a great idea for a post. I might have to go make one about Indy now!

  17. Karen says:

    So, I’m a traveling nurse looking for a new place to set down roots. For many reasons, Louisville is on my radar. Which neighborhoods do you most recommend, and which areas to avoid? Any advice on setting down roots?

    Sorry this isn’t a literary question, but I’ve been listening since the first podcast and you always have nice, logical opinions on things. I’m collecting logical opinions right now.

    • Anne says:

      Oh goodness, this is such a difficult question to answer! I know which communities *I* personally would like to live in, and which ones I wouldn’t, but I have friends that feel the exact opposite from me because we want different things.

      I know that sounds wishy-washy, but it depends on what you’re looking for. I will say that there are so many good neighborhoods and parts of town to choose from, and we have a surprising number of friends who have moved to Louisville under what sounds like similar circumstances to your own—they wanted to get out of a big, expensive city (San Francisco, Chicago, DC), started researching their options, and ended up here. We think it’s a nice place to land. 🙂

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