The “Heart of Kentucky,” both in location and nickname, Lexington is the state’s second largest city. Built on a bed of limestone in 1775, Lexington’s mainstays and city trademarks—bluegrass, rich soil and distinctly flavored liquors—depend on the minerals provided by its foundation. Additionally, these minerals make the horses stronger, and, according to some sports fans, help make the University of Kentucky Wildcats seemingly unstoppable.
A top attraction in Lexington, the “Horse Capital of the World,” is horse racing. Horse races draw scores of tourists in April and October. Kenneland Race Course on Lexington’s west side has manicured lawns, large trees and a limestone building, and served as setting for the film Seabiscuit. The Thoroughbred Training Center on Paris Pike houses two racetracks and offers tours which explain the rigorous training that goes into building a racing champion.
At Kentucky Horse Park, visitors have access to over 1,200 acres of equestrian activities such as the arena shows and the Parade of Breeds. The International Museum of the Horse, run partly by the Smithsonian, and the American Saddlebred Museum are also onsite, as well as a memorial to champion horse, Man o’ War. Park visitors can take a 45-minute horseback riding tour through the pastures to see horses in their natural habitat.
Another Kentucky trademark is bourbon, and the liquor is produced at several distilleries in the Lexington area. Lexington tourists who want who want to tour a facility where bourbon is made can travel 22 miles west of the city to the Wild Turkey Distillery, the distillery closest to the city.
Also known as the “Athens of the West,” Lexington is rich in history and sophistication. The Mary Todd Lincoln House at 578 W Main Street, an example of turn-of-the-19th-century Georgian architecture, is the nation’s first structure restored to honor a First Lady, with tours provided by appointment.
Southwest of Lexington proper, tourists can visit the Waveland State Historic Site, built by Daniel Boone’s descendants, before visiting the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, former site of the nation’s largest Shaker community. Here, visitors can hike, cycle or horseback ride through 3,000 acres of Nature Preserve surrounded by hand-laid stone walls.
Another top attraction in Lexington is Ashland, Henry Clay’s estate. Located on the city’s east side at 120 Sycamore Road, the 20-acre estate includes the statesman’s 18-room mansion, outbuildings, gardens and trails. Another must-see landmark is the Adam Rankin House, Lexington’s oldest home, located in the historic South Hill district. Downtown is the University of Kentucky, home to the legendary Wildcats and location of The Art Museum which features collections dedicated to Abstract Expressionism and American Impressionism.
Lexington tourists can continue enjoying the city’s history over dinner downtown at Desha’s, housed in a Victorian building and serving sugar-spiced chargrilled salmon and the region’s staple dish of hot browns. For more casual dining, Pazzo’s, a pub on South Limestone Street and another downtown favorite, offers a large selection of beer of tap along with hand-tossed pizza.