Every year during the first weekend in May, derby enthusiasts flock to Churchill Downs, a stadium located in southern Louisville, Kentucky, to behold the majestic pastime of horse racing. The population swells by more than 150,000 for this popular spectator event in the Bluegrass State that has been proudly going strong since 1875, making it the longest running sporting event in U.S. history. Notably, rain, snow, and even world wars haven’t stopped the Derby from taking place, cementing its steadfastness. In addition to longevity, it is known for its “see and be seen” style that includes epic hats and ladies fashion, making the Derby an opportunity to look good while having tons of fun.
But the Derby is more than just a longstanding horse race that brings a significant crowd sporting fancy fashion and sipping mint juleps. The town of Louisville prides itself on having plenty of its own traditions and culture for its guests whether they are eating, drinking, or doing a little sightseeing. Suffice it to say; the Derby is also an excellent opportunity for guests to partake of what the town and community have to offer from soup to nuts.
Where to stay
Lodging is always a huge priority, especially when where you stay hinges on several factors including traffic and weather. In the case of the Derby, and Louisville lodging, the proximity of where you stay and distance to the racetrack comes into play. The location of your rental also needs to depend upon which races you plan to watch. Prior derby schedules have started the first race at around 10:30 AM, with up to 13 races per day and the actual Derby itself slotted for race #11 at around 6:25 PM. Similarly, depending on where you stay and when you expect to arrive, it’s important to note that the races will take place rain or shine. The location could make for some interesting dilemmas if you’ve spent the day partying in a downpour or sipping a few mint juleps in the sunshine only to find yourself on a long slog across town to your house rental for the derby to rest and relax.
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What to do
If betting on races, people watching, and getting festive during your stay isn’t enough, you are in serious luck because Louisville has plenty of other activities. In addition to the racetrack, Churchill Downs has its museum which showcases the history and culture of the sport. Off-campus, baseball fans can take themselves to the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, where the famously celebrated bat takes front row and center. There is also the Louisville Zoo, Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, and the Kentucky Science Center. And if you’re feeling that your trip to a southern town along a river wouldn’t be complete without a riverboat excursion, the Belle of Louisville is waiting for you.
How to get around
Each year, the city releases parking and traffic information ahead of the race days. Of course, there are taxis and car services, but if you intend to drive, plotting how you will get there and where you will park could involve a little bit of planning. One option could be to take a shuttle if the place where you are staying offers shuttle service. Another option, if you are not interested in risking the traffic and parking situations in Louisville, is always mass transit. The local bus takes roughly 30 minutes from the city center to the stadium. Schedules and other information can be found here.
What to eat
Ready to get out of the stadium and try some other, more down-home cuisine? You’re in luck. There are several locally-sourced dishes you can try. In addition to fried chicken, for starters, there’s the Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich with a special sauce that is baked and topped with tomato and bacon. It’s been a local tradition since 1926 that you can only find at the nearby Brown Hotel. If a sandwich isn’t on your radar, there’s always Burgoo, a hearty stew made of beef, pork, chicken or mutton. Ready for dessert? Check out Derby Pie, a concoction of chocolate chips, walnuts or pecans, and Kentucky Bourbon baked in a pie crust.
Where to Shop
A trip to Louisville isn’t complete without stopping in to some of its swankiest shops, salons, and spas. For the Derby set, if you’re a lady who’s looking for a Derby hat, there are plenty of places to get your dome decorated. Similarly, anyone on the hunt for the perfect dress will find plenty of great options in town. But why should the ladies have all the fun? Louisville has also got the gentlemen covered with boutiques, resale, and vintage shops.