12 Top-Rated Things to Do in Paducah, Kentucky

Written by Brad Lane
Sep 14, 2020

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Surrounded by several major American waterways, Paducah is at the heart of the Four Rivers Basin in western Kentucky. Historic downtown Paducah abuts the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, and the wide banks of the Cumberland and Mississippi Rivers are found nearby.

The Floodwall Murals separating the historic downtown district and the river's edge best exemplify the city's connection to the water. These multi-colored murals illustrate a bright picture of Paducah's storied past. Across from the murals, the downtown district provides a dense collection of cultural establishments within historic buildings.

Just a few downtown attractions include discovery centers, local eateries, and public events like the Paducah Farmers' Market. For any yarn spinners out there, the National Quilt Museum is also near downtown. This nationally recognized museum and education space features hundreds of colorful artworks on display.

Surrounding the city, natural spaces like the Shawnee National Forest and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area provide even more to explore when visiting Paducah.

Spend some time seeing the sights with our list of the top things to do in Paducah, Kentucky.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. The National Quilt Museum

Quilt at the National Quilt Museum
Quilt at the National Quilt Museum | Ryan Dickey / photo modified

Adjacent to the historic downtown district, this world-renowned museum displays the creative thread that winds its way throughout the rest of the city. As a leading institution of quilting and fiber artworks, more than 100,000 patrons visit the National Quilt Museum each year, including many international tourists.

Adorning all 13,000-square feet of the museum, stunning quilts and other fine fiber artworks draw a diverse crowd. The regularly rotating galleries at the museum ensure something new to see with each visit. The museum is open seven days of the week throughout the summer and closed on Sundays between December and February.

The brainchild of two passionate quilters in Paducah, the National Quilt Museum and American Quilters Society strive to educate and advocate for the artwork. Offering adult workshops, junior quilters clubs, and multi-day retreats, the museum inspires creativity in many ways.

Other fun attractions at the museum include a free lobby area adorned with stained glass windows and various sculptures. Great for a group visit, the museum offers a program called "The Museum Experience," which provides a guided tour and a hands-on quilting activity.

Address: 215 Jefferson Street, Paducah, Kentucky

Official site: http://www.quiltmuseum.org/

2. Historic Downtown

Yeiser Art Museum, downtown Paducah

Yeiser Art Museum, downtown Paducah | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Separated by the iconic Floodwall Murals, the brick-laid sidewalks of historic downtown attract the footsteps of tourists and residents alike. Throughout the narrow and shaded streets, different art galleries, museums, and local eateries provide many reasons to visit. This pedestrian quarter also exudes a laid-back atmosphere and encourages a slowed-down pace.

A few recommended places to visit downtown include the William Clark Market House Museum, which is made to resemble a 19th-century drugstore. Nearby, the Yeiser Art Center displays a great collection of local artworks. Historic downtown is also the best place to visit for local eats, including places with great lunch menus like Kirchhoff's Deli & Bakery.

The Market House Theatre is a great place to catch a live show downtown, and the nearby Maiden Alley Cinema and Gallery is a unique movie house screening classic, foreign, and independent films. Many of Paducah's other prominent attractions, including the National Quilt Museum, can be found adjacent to this designated historic downtown district.

3. Portraits of Our Past Floodwall Mural Editor's Pick

Floodwall Murals

Floodwall Murals | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Separating the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers with historic downtown, the floodwalls of Paducah are adorned with a little more color than your average water barrier. Across the entire concrete structure, 50 different murals depict a vibrant picture of Paducah's past.

Ranging from native inhabitants of the region to Paducah's introduction as an "Atomic City," this eye-catching public art project was created by renowned muralist Robert Dafford. Each mural is a work of detailed art to appreciate, and they make an impressive display lining the river.

The shoreline on the riverside of the murals offers a great place to enjoy a packed lunch or find some afternoon respite during the summer.

Address: 2613 North Water Street, Paducah, Kentucky

4. River Discovery Center

Boat Simulator at the River Discovery Center

Boat Simulator at the River Discovery Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Across the street from the Floodwall Murals, this all-ages museum highlights the heritage and importance of the surrounding Four Rivers Basin. Hands-on exhibits and interactive displays at the museum relate to the natural, cultural, and historical attributes of the nearby watershed.

Different galleries at the River Discovery Center include river basins and rainwater, historic steamboats and their captains, as well as the water's role in the Civil War. A unique five-monitor Boat Simulator at the museum allows for an immersive audio-visual experience behind the wheel of a steamboat.

The museum also sponsors many educational programs and events, including animal encounters, career days, and the annual Paducah Dragon Boat Festival. The museum is open seven days of the week during the summer and closed on Mondays between December and March.

Address: 117 South Water Street, Paducah, Kentucky

Official site: http://riverdiscoverycenter.org/

5. Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Encompassing more than 170,000 acres, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is administered by the U.S. National Forest Service (USFS). Surrounded by two massive man-made reservoirs, one of which is created by the Kentucky Dam only 20 miles from Paducah, this world-renowned natural space is popular for hiking, cycling, hunting, fishing, and water sports.

Other popular things to do in this natural area include wildlife watching, geocaching, and packing a picnic to enjoy a meal with a view. Several camping opportunities are found throughout the forest ranging from backpacking to RV parking. Nearly all the camping options in the recreation area include views of the water.

The Woodlands Nature Center is a popular spot to visit and features a rehabilitated animal viewing area, guided nature walks, and other child-oriented nature programs. The designated Elk & Bison Prairie is also fun to visit, allowing patrons to slowly drive through a 700-acre enclosure where the animals live.

For a look into some of the heritage of the area, The Homeplace 1850s Working Farm is a living-history museum within the recreation area. This immersive education space is complete with costumed employees and seasonal events throughout the year.

Address: 238 Visitor Center Drive, Golden Pond, Kentucky

Official site: https://www.landbetweenthelakes.us/

6. Bob Noble Park

Bob Noble Park

Bob Noble Park | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

On the north side of the city, west of the downtown district, this 135-acre park offers many family-friendly things to do. The centerpiece attraction is a five-acre lake complete with fishing piers, a fountain, and a scenic walking path. Other popular recreation outlets at Bob Noble Park include a swimming pool, skate park, and playground equipment.

The Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail is a popular pedestrian path that winds throughout the park. Users can hop on the Greenway Trail head downtown from Bob Noble Park. A variety of athletic fields and courts are also often used within the park.

The park is designated as day-use and is open from sunup to sundown.

Address: 2801 Park Avenue, Paducah, Kentucky

7. Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail

Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail

Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Connecting downtown with Bob Noble Park, the Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail is a non-motorized pedestrian path popular with walkers, cyclists, strollers, and rollerbladers. Linking together cultural and natural attractions of this city, this Greenway Trail is a great way to get around without a car.

Benches, community bike tools, and a wide array of natural landscapes line the trail, including scenic bridges and viewpoints. Stuart Nelson Park is another prominent stop along the trail, which has a dog park and disc golf course.

Official site: http://www.paducahky.gov/greenway-trail

8. Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee National Forest

Abutting the Kentucky border in Illinois, the Shawnee National Forest is an immense natural playground with many recreational outlets. Shaded campgrounds, towering rock formations, and a plethora of water activities can be found in Shawnee, always with something new to explore

Encompassing nearly 300,000 acres of southern Illinois, this federally designated play-space can be reached from Paducah in an average hour-long drive. Lake Glendale Recreation Area is one of the closest designated areas within the forest to Paducah, and provides opportunities for hiking, camping, swimming, and boating.

Further north in the national forest, places like Garden of the Gods and Bell Smith Springs Scenic Area are worth the 60-mile drive. For some in-person information about the forest, the Hidden Springs Ranger Station is in the nearby city of Vienna, Illinois.

Official site: https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/shawnee/home

9. Paducah Railroad Museum

Paducah Railroad Museum

Paducah Railroad Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Near downtown, the Paducah Railroad Museum dives into the rich locomotive history that helps define the city. Great for train enthusiasts and general interest, the museum contains a wide range of displays, models, and artifacts of the locomotive age.

The popular Train Simulator at the museum allows visitors to feel what it's like to guide a train down the tracks. The Railroad Museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 12 to 4pm, with extended hours on Saturday. Guided or group tours can be scheduled ahead of time.

Address: Washington Street & Marine Way, Paducah, Kentucky

Official site: http://www.paducahrr.org/

10. Paducah Farmers' Market

Downtown Farmers' Market

Downtown Farmers' Market | Douglas Whitfield / photo modified

Within eyesight of the Floodwall Murals and the National Quilt Museum, the large open-air pavilion of the Paducah Farmers' Market is always bustling on Saturdays between April and October. Local fruits and vegetables, farm-raised meats and eggs, and a wide variety of artisan and homemade goods can be found for sale, including vendors serving fresh-made breakfast and lunch entrees.

The many great locally sourced items found at the Farmers' Market are only half of the appeal of this outdoor event. The other half comes from the strong sense of community at every event. Live music, face painting, and different "Celebration Saturday" events make the farmers market fun for the whole family.

Address: 306 North Second Street, Paducah, Kentucky

11. Lloyd Tilghman House & Civil War Museum

Inside Lloyd Tilghman House & Civil War Museum

Inside Lloyd Tilghman House & Civil War Museum | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Just outside of downtown and a few blocks from the McCracken County Public Library, this Civil War museum is housed within an 1852 Greek Revival home once belonging to General Lloyd Tilghman of the CSA. Inside this quaint and historic residence, the museum contains many artifacts and displays describing Kentucky's role in the Civil War.

Antique firearms, soldier uniforms, original correspondence, and a look into the life of a decorated Civil War General all provide an immersive visit into the past.

Open to the public between April and November, the museum also provides tours by appointment throughout the rest of the year.

Address: 631 Kentucky Avenue, Paducah, Kentucky

12. Whitehaven Welcome Center

Whitehaven Welcome Center

Whitehaven Welcome Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

An easy stop off Interstate 24, the Whitehaven Welcome Center is a historic mansion now serving as an interstate tourist welcome area. Dubbed as the Gateway to the South, this 1860s southern mansion goes well beyond an ordinary rest stop. The entire facility is adorned with historical displays, period furniture, and welcoming grounds for a picnic or play space.

The many artifacts inside can only be seen on a free guided tour offered most afternoons. The lobby with restrooms and vending machines is open 24 hours a day, and any groups who want to make an educational rest stop as they visit Kentucky should call ahead to schedule a tour.

Address: 1845 Lone Oak Road, Paducah, Kentucky

Where to Stay in Paducah, Kentucky for Sightseeing

A few mid-range and modern hotels can be found at the heart of the city near the river, and a mix of hotels is located west of this downtown area.

  • Mid-Range Hotels: For riverfront views and instant access to many of Paducah's top attractions, Holiday Inn Paducah Riverfront is a longstanding favorite hotel in the city. With a full-service restaurant, large fitness center, and plenty of space for a conference, the Holiday Inn is a popular place for business, family, and vacation travel. The biggest appeal of this riverfront hotel comes from the outdoor courtyard overlooking the nearby water.

    Also in the downtown district, The 1857 is another popular option, which features historic accommodations and modern rooms, as well as easy access to the surrounding downtown area.

    One of the top-rated hotels in Paducah, La Quinta Inn & Suites Paducah is located west of downtown and has a great reputation for clean rooms, friendly front desk service, and a dependable good night's sleep.
  • Budget Hotels: Many of the most affordable hotel options in Paducah can be found west of the downtown district near Interstate 24, and places like the Pear Tree Inn Paducah provide a great rate and good service. Well-known for its accommodating staff, the Pear Tree Inn receives many repeat visits thanks to its clean, spacious, and modern rooms.

    Just a few miles north on I-24, America's Best Value Inn Paducah also provides a low cost place to spend the night, as well as clean rooms and a deluxe continental breakfast.

    On the south side of town, near the Whitehaven Welcome Center, Travelers Suites provides larger rooms at a great rate, perfect for bigger families or anyone that likes more space.
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