Create forever memories experiencing Kentucky’s rich equestrian culture and captivating bluegrass music.
Kentucky is known worldwide for its smooth and tasty bourbon, but let’s talk about two other Kentucky icons: thoroughbred horses and bluegrass music. In this Southeastern U.S. destination, you’ll find legendary racetracks, beautiful horse farms and an impressive range of equestrian activities for all skill levels. When it comes to music, feel the good vibes at numerous bluegrass concerts and festivals year-round, and learn about the genre’s history at institutions statewide. No matter where your day takes you, plan to relax in the evening sipping on the state’s cherished spirit, bourbon.
Welcome to Horse Country
Good times await across horse country. Tour legendary racing grounds, meet horses and farmers, or enjoy the scenery on thousands of kilometers of equestrian trails. Kentucky has several thoroughbred racetracks, including the famed Churchill Downs in Louisville, home of the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby. The race itself caps off the two-week long Kentucky Derby Festival in late April/early May, consisting of can’t-miss events like the Great Steamboat Race, the Pegasus Parade and even a marathon. The Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs hosts exhibits, events and programs, so you can learn about this historic venue and sporting event year-round.
About 1.5 hours away, Lexington calls itself the Horse Capital of the World and for good reason. The area surrounding this vibrant city is home to around 450 horse farms, the world’s largest thoroughbred auction house and an equine theme park. Lexington’s Keeneland Racecourse has hosted the Breeders Cup multiple times and offers tours year-round. Take one to get the inside scoop about the highest ranked thoroughbred racetrack according to the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA). Nearby, the Kentucky Horse Park contains four horse-related museums, puts on two horse shows daily, holds international equestrian competitions, and provides horseback rides for adults and pony rides for children.
Smaller towns boast an array of horse attractions, too. In Henderson, Ellis Park has been hosting live races during the summer since it opened in 1922. It’s located on the Ohio River, surrounded by scenic natural beauty including state forests and bucolic horse farms. In Franklin, see the unique kidney-shaped (rather than oval) racetrack at Kentucky Downs. Also highly ranked by HANA, it is the only turf course in the nation, providing a level of difficulty only found here and a truly special experience for spectators.
Girl petting a horse at one of Kentucky's iconic horse farms
Bluegrass Music in the Bluegrass State
Bluegrass music got its start in Kentucky, and the folk genre is celebrated with festivals, concerts and museums throughout the state. Bill Monroe, often referred as the Father of Bluegrass, named his band the Blue Grass Boys after the long meadow grass that covers rolling hills throughout the state. In Rosine, his childhood home has turned into the Bill Monroe Homeplace, a memorial for the star, with tours often given by members of his family. Down the road, free bluegrass shows take place under the stars at Rosine Barn Jamboree.
Bluegrass icons are honored at the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in Owensboro, where interactive exhibits and concerts, jam sessions and musical events are open to the public. The institution presents the annual ROMP Festival, showcasing a full lineup of top bluegrass performers mixed with family fun, farm-to-table eats and art installations. The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame in Mount Vernon also honors bluegrass legends with artifacts from inductees and an outdoor amphitheater for concerts. Paintsville is home to the US Highway 23 Museum, highlighting country and bluegrass entertainers that came from Eastern Kentucky, including Billy Ray Cyrus, The Judds, Tyler Childers, Chris Stapleton, Loretta Lynn and more. Lynn, often referred to as the Queen of Country, was born nearby and her rustic family home is full of memorabilia.
Additional bluegrass music festivals include The Spirit of the Bluegrass, formerly the Festival of Bluegrass, which takes at Kentucky Horse Park every June with three days of music, parades and fun. The Rough River Dam Resort State Park, near charming small-town Falls of Rough, puts on free bluegrass concerts every second Friday of the month.
Bluegrass music performance at the annual ROMP Fest in Owensboro
Multiple airports provide access to Kentucky, through connecting flights, into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), Louisville International Airport (SDF), Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport (OWB), and Blue Grass Airport (LEX) in Lexington.