13 Top-Rated Things to Do in Paducah, Kentucky

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Dec 23, 2023
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Author Brad Lane enjoyed a reporting trip to Paducah among other Kentucky cities.

Paducah is at the heart of the Four Rivers Basin in western Kentucky, surrounded by several major American waterways. 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.

Historic farmhouse in Paducah, Kentucky
Historic farmhouse in Paducah, Kentucky

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 places to visit within historic buildings.

Just a few downtown tourist attractions include discovery centers, family-friendly 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 is a major destination for quilters and the interested public.

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

Enjoy your Kentucky vacation with our list of the top things to do in Paducah, Kentucky.

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.

Stunning quilts and other fine-fiber artworks adorn all 13,000 square feet of the museum, drawing a diverse crowd. The regularly rotating galleries ensure something new to see with each visit. Other fun attractions at the museum include a free lobby area adorned with stained glass windows and various sculptures.

The museum is open seven days a week throughout the summer and closed on Sundays between December and February. The museum offers a program called "The Museum Experience," which provides a guided tour and a hands-on quilting activity.

The National Quilt Museum and American Quilters Society also strive to educate and advocate for the artwork. The organizations offer adult workshops, junior quilters clubs, and multi-day retreats.

Address: 215 Jefferson Street, Paducah, Kentucky

Read More: Best Places to Visit in Kentucky

2. Portraits of Our Past Floodwall Mural

Floodwall Murals
Floodwall Murals | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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

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. The adjacent Paducah Riverwalk, touring the murals, also offers a great walking path after enjoying a meal downtown.

Address: 2613 North Water Street, Paducah, Kentucky

3. Historic Downtown

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

The brick-laid sidewalks of historic downtown Paducah attract the footsteps of tourists and residents alike. Throughout the narrow and shaded streets, barricaded from the river by the iconic Floodwall Murals, different art galleries, museums, and local eateries provide plenty of things to do. This charming pedestrian quarter 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 tourist attractions, including the National Quilt Museum, are next to this designated historic downtown district.

4. River Discovery Center

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

This all-ages museum highlights the heritage and importance of the surrounding Four Rivers Basin, located across the street from the Floodwall Murals. 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 a week during the summer and closed on Sundays between December and March.

Address: 117 South Water Street, Paducah, Kentucky

5. 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, the 135-acre Bob Noble 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 include a swimming pool, skate park, and playground equipment.

The Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail is a popular pedestrian path winding through the park. Users can hop on the Greenway Trail to head downtown from Bob Noble Park. A variety of athletic fields and courts are also often utilized throughout the day.

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

Address: 2801 Park Avenue, Paducah, Kentucky

6. Fort Massac State Park

Fort Massac State Park
Fort Massac State Park

Fort Massac State Park is on the opposite bank, across the Ohio River from Paducah on the southern tip of Illinois. It was Illinois's first state park and a site of longstanding history. Its strategic location has served as a fort since at least the 1750s under French command. But the entire area, on a hilltop overlooking the river, was a strategic location for native populations for eons prior.

Today, a reconstruction of the fort serves as the centerpiece of the park. However, the several outdoor attractions and sightseeing opportunities throughout the park's nearly 1,500 acres are what draws a crowd. Hiking, mountain biking, horse riding, and picnicking are just a few everyday activities. Boating and fishing are also popular in the adjacent river.

Fort Massac is also a popular spot to spend the night. The campground at the state park accommodates tent camping and RV camping. Over 50 sites accommodate RVs with electric hookups and an available dump station. RV campers also have access to a separate shower building.

7. Whitehaven Welcome Center

Whitehaven Welcome Center
Whitehaven Welcome Center | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

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 is an easy stop off Interstate 24 and goes well beyond an ordinary rest area. The entire facility includes 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

8. 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

Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area encompasses more than 170,000 acres of land surrounded by two massive man-made reservoirs, 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 throughout range 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

Read More: Best Lakes in Kentucky

9. Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail

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

The Clyde F. Boyles Greenway Trail is a non-motorized pedestrian path connecting downtown with Bob Noble Park. It's popular with walkers, cyclists, strollers, and rollerbladers and is a great way to get around without a car. The trail spans approximately five miles and is paved the entire way.

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 small dog park and disc golf course. Stuart Nelson Park is also home to a collection of picnic shelters that are popular spaces throughout the summer.

10. Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee National Forest
Shawnee National Forest

Shawnee National Forest is an immense natural playground with many recreational outlets abutting the Kentucky border in Illinois. Shaded campgrounds, towering rock formations, and a plethora of water activities are 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.

11. 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. Volunteers at the museum are happy to elaborate on the displays and exhibits and how they relate to the city streets outside. It's a family-friendly museum, and kids tend to gravitate toward the elaborate model train sets chugging on their tiny tracks.

The Railroad Museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 12 noon to 4pm, with extended hours on Saturday. The museum closes throughout the winter months, typically re-opening in March. Guided or group tours can be scheduled ahead of time.

Address: Washington Street & Marine Way, Paducah, Kentucky

12. Paducah Farmers' Market

Paducah Farmers' Market
Paducah 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. The market occurs between 7:30am and 1pm; arrive early to beat the crowds.

Local fruits and vegetables, farm-raised meats and eggs, and a wide variety of artisan and homemade goods are found for sale, including vendors serving fresh-made breakfast and lunch entrees. Many of the same vendors return week after week, but thanks to the seasonal nature, expect changing produce throughout the year.

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

13. Lloyd Tilghman House & Civil War Museum

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

This Civil War museum is just outside of downtown and a few blocks from the McCracken County Public Library. It's 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

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, a 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.

Map of Things to Do in Paducah, Kentucky