12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Lexington, KY
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The city of Lexington, home to the University of Kentucky and an important economic and cultural center, lies in the heart of Bluegrass Country. The region is famed for its horse breeding, and Lexington claims the title of "horse capital of the world." The horse paddocks enclosed by white fences are common sights.
Besides the many equestrian-related things to do, Lexington is filled with numerous historical, natural, and cultural attractions to explore. The Mary Todd Lincoln House provides perspective on this influential First Lady, and the Aviation Museum of Kentucky highlights the state's high-flying history. For a fun afternoon or evening activity, catch the latest indie or blockbuster movie at the historic Kentucky Theatre.
Before heading out to explore the city, see our list of the top attractions and things to do in Lexington.
See also: Where to Stay in Lexington
Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.
1. Visit a Working Horse Farm at the Kentucky Horse Park
The world-famous Kentucky Horse Park lies 10 miles north of Lexington (I 75, exit 120). This is a working horse farm that is open to the public. It offers all kinds of information on horses. Here, in Bluegrass country, everything centers on horses and the horse park is a good first step in learning about the tradition of horses in Kentucky.
There is a Visitor Center that shows films on the park and supplies information on particular activities and events. The International Museum of the Horse, with the Calumet Trophy Collection, gives a comprehensive view of the history and importance of the horse, while great racehorses are honored in the Hall of Champions.
An interesting walk through the park is worth taking and it includes demonstrations of the crafts of blacksmiths, wagoners, harness makers, and a parade of thoroughbreds. Visitors can also enjoy horse trekking and rides in horse-drawn carriages. The Kentucky Horse Center is also a training center for thoroughbreds.
For those traveling with RVs, you may want to consider staying here. The park has 260 camping spots available with 20/30/50 amp service.
Address: 4089 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://kyhorsepark.com/
2. Watch a Race at Keeneland
Founded in 1936, Keeneland is a professional racecourse that is open to the public and surrounded by elegantly decorated grounds. There are many reasons outside of race day to visit Keeneland, including simply touring the facility and soaking up the aura of thoroughbred racing culture. One of the highlights of a visit here is watching the thoroughbreds doing their morning training runs.
As a major leader in the industry, Keeneland also hosts some of the largest thoroughbred auctions in the country at different times throughout the year. Other fun things to check out include extensive historical archives of the thoroughbred industry, a retail shop with equestrian gifts, and the Keeneland Kids Club for those 12 and under.
Address: 4201 Versailles Road, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://www.keeneland.com/
3. Mary Todd Lincoln House
Mary Todd Lincoln House was originally built in 1803 to 1806 as an inn, and in 1832, Mary Todd's father purchased this house in Lexington for his family. Mary Todd, who would later become Abraham Lincoln's wife, visited her girlhood home often.
The Georgian-style brick house is furnished in period and displays family portraits, as well as personal items of the Lincoln-Todd families. Visitors can tour the 14-room house on an hour-long guided tour, which also tells the remarkable story of the influential First Lady who grew up in the home.
Address: 578 West Main Street, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://www.mtlhouse.org/
4. Aviation Museum of Kentucky
Located at the Bluegrass Airport, the Aviation Museum of Kentucky in Lexington is designed to educate about the aviation industry and inspire those interested in pursuing a career in aviation. Various aircraft are on display, both inside the 25,000-square-foot facility and outside. Traveling exhibits are also on display throughout the year, be sure to check out the website to see what is arriving.
The museum houses the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame, recognizing the accomplishments of Kentuckians. Special aviation camps take place at the museum throughout the summer for ages from 10 to 18 and older.
Address: 4029 Airport Road, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://www.aviationky.org/
5. Fort Boonesborough State Park
One of the best family-friendly places to visit near Lexington is Fort Boonesborough State Park. This historic fort dates from 1775. Wonderfully recreated from the original plans, the fort today is a snapshot in time from the 18th century. Kids will love the costumed docents as they go about daily life using historical items from the time period.
In addition to the fort, the state park also has a giant pool with a splash pad area for children, an ideal place to cool down on those hot, humid Kentucky summer days. The park also has a miniature golf course, walking trails, a museum, and a 166-site campground.
The green space around the fort and the trees nearby provide an excellent habitat for birds. Keep an eye out for wild turkeys roaming about, and listen carefully for the tell-tale knocking of pileated woodpeckers.
The park is about a 40-minute drive southeast of Lexington.
6. University of Kentucky
John Bowman began the Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1865, which was renamed the University of Kentucky in 1916. Guided tours of the Lexington campus are offered to the public and depart from the visitor center. One of the attractions is the University of Kentucky Art Museum featuring changing exhibits from its permanent collection.
Works include paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts, as well as special loan exhibits. Other things to do on campus include the Buell Armory; a campus bookstore; and the Rupp Arena, home to Kentucky Wildcats basketball.
Official site: http://www.uky.edu/
7. Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
Raven Run is a 734-acre nature sanctuary and outdoor destination with more than 10 miles of hiking trails, a nature center, and a bird blind for nature observation and education. The sanctuary is home to a large variety of birds and hosts an assortment of events throughout the year, including weekly yoga sessions, special programs for little explorers, and organized running events. Within the sanctuary, the Joe Pulliam Memorial Garden is a Monarch waystation, attracting and supporting butterflies as they make their way across North America.
Address: 3885 Raven Run Way, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://www.lexingtonky.gov/index.aspx?page=276
8. Lexington Cemetery
The Lexington Cemetery was established as a public cemetery in 1849. It highlights the social, political, military, and environmental history of the community. The cemetery is also a beautiful green space, encompassing more than 170 acres of land.
A walking tour, with labeled metal plates, allows visitors to learn about the many types of trees in the cemetery. Bird watchers often visit, as the quiet environment lends towards rare sightings. On the last Monday in May, the cemetery hosts a Memorial Day observance with a symbolic service, and anyone looking to pay their respects is encouraged to attend.
Address: 833 West Main Street, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://www.lexcem.org/
9. Waveland State Historic Site
Also known as the Joseph Bryan Estate, the Waveland State Historic Site offers a glimpse of plantation life in the 19th century. The main tourist attraction is the Greek Revival mansion that was built in 1847. Also on the grounds are an icehouse, smokehouse, and servants' quarters, which have all been restored.
You can take a guided tour and stroll around the gardens. Special events at the Waveland include Tea Tuesdays, Derby Day Breakfasts, and vintage baseball games with costumed characters throughout the summer.
Address: 225 Waveland Museum Lane, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://parks.ky.gov/parks/historicsites/waveland/
10. Red Mile Harness Track
The Red Mile in Lexington is a one-mile oval track for trotters and pacers. It's the second-oldest harness racetrack in the world, with live races from July through September. Daily workouts can be viewed from dawn until late morning at this historic track. Many on-site dining options, like the 1101 Grill, provide affordable and satisfying fare. When races aren't occurring at the Red Mile, the facility simulcasts races from around the world on more than 175 HD televisions.
Address: 1200 Red Mile Road, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://redmileky.com
11. Hunt-Morgan House
John Wesley Hunt, the first millionaire west of the Alleghenies, built this Federal Period town house in Lexington in 1814. Features of the house, sometimes referred to as Hopemont, include a three-story, cantilevered staircase; the garden and walled courtyard; a collection of Kentucky furniture; early 19th-century portraits; and porcelain.
The home is part of the larger Gratz Park Historic District in downtown Lexington, which is made up of the city park and many 19th-century homes and mansions.
Address: 201 N. Mill Street, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/lexington/hun.htm
12. See a Movie at the Kentucky Theatre
From the first "talkies" to air conditioning and midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Kentucky Theatre of Lexington in downtown Lexington has a near-century history in the community. In all that time, this now historic movie theater has ebbed and flowed with the economy and still features the latest blockbusters and a long lineup of alternative and indie movie showings. Much of the appeal about seeing a movie at the Kentucky Theatre is the immediate sense of history surrounding the screening.
Address: 214 E Main Street, Lexington, Kentucky
Official site: http://www.kentuckytheater.com/
Where to Stay in Lexington for Sightseeing
Many of Lexington's key attractions are located in the downtown area or just a short drive away. For first-time visitors this is the best place to stay. Below are some highly rated hotels in convenient locations:
- The Hilton Lexington Downtown is ideally located in downtown and is attached to the Lexington Convention Center. Within walking distance of the hotel are a wide assortment of interesting restaurants and the Mary Todd House.
- The new 21c Museum Hotel Lexington is a great boutique option for those looking for something completely different. Housed in the historic Fayette National Bank building, the hotel has contemporary rooms and features a gallery with trendy artistic works on display.
- Just north of downtown is the Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa, a full-service resort with an on-site spa, award-winning restaurant, and 18-hole golf course.
- A five-minute drive north of the city center is the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington featuring rooms with kitchens and separate sitting areas. A full cooked-to-order breakfast and evening appetizers are included in the rate.
- Another all-suite option, five minutes southwest of downtown, is the Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center . This recently built property is pet friendly, features a saltwater pool, and is centered in a lively area near the University of Kentucky.
- The DoubleTree Suites, with whirlpool tubs in every suite and a seasonal outdoor pool, is a standout for its European-inspired décor.
- The best budget hotels are located outside the city center. The Country Inn & Suites By Radisson, slightly east of downtown on a quiet side street, offers large rooms at an attractive price.
- Nine miles south of downtown and easily accessible off I-75 is La Quinta Inn & Suites. This hotel has expansive grounds and is within walking distance to many chain restaurants.
- Offering good value, the recently renovated GuestHouse Inn & Suites features decent rooms, complimentary breakfast, and an indoor pool.