Destination Lexington: A Bluegrass Travel Guide

Heading to Lexington, Ky. for the Keeneland meet but not sure what to expect or how to make sure your trip is awesome? Have no fear, this Lexington city guide has all the info you need to plan a winning weekend, from where to stay, eat and drink to what to do when you’re not at the races.

The Track

Keeneland Race Course is one of Thoroughbred racing’s most iconic tracks. Located on the edge of Lexington overlooking the rolling Bluegrass, Keeneland’s stone façade and shady parking lot clue visitors in to the southern charm they’ll soon be surrounded by. Be sure to indulge in some bread pudding, burgoo and Kentucky bourbon as you enjoy top-class racing.

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Where to Stay

Lexington has just about all the national chain hotels you could think of, but if you’re looking for somewhere uniquely Lexington, we’ve got three great options for you:

21c Museum Hotel: Lexington’s newest boutique hotel also serves as a contemporary art museum, in the heart of downtown. It’s located in the historic National Bank building and also home to Lockbox restaurant, a great option if you don’t feel like venturing too far after the races.

Eighth Pole Inn has recently undergone a complete remodel but still retains its original charm. Co-owned by Jim and Susan Hill, owners of Margaux Farm and such racehorses as Grade 1 winner Grand Arch, Eighth Pole Inn is just two miles from Keeneland and nestled in the heart of horse country on a working farm.

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Gratz Park Inn is found downtown just off Lexington’s historic Gratz Park, where you can take a walking tour of the centuries-old neighborhood. Have dinner at the inn’s Distilled restaurant after a long day at the races and enjoy a farm-to-table menu and local bourbons.

Where to Eat

Lexington is becoming known for its diverse and interesting restaurant scene. Below are just a few of the local options, but you can find an extensive list here.

County Club is a hip, cozy restaurant near West Sixth Brewing just north of downtown. With a menu featuring smoked Kentucky meats, poutine and blackboard specials, County Club is a popular place, especially for al fresco dining in the warmer months. They also have a great brunch on Sundays.

Middle Fork Kitchen Bar is a new restaurant in Lexington’s burgeoning distillery district where plates are designed to be shared. With a wide range of unique and locally sourced menu items and an open kitchen design, Middle Fork is a good place for a group after a day at the races. Like County Club, they also offer Sunday brunch.

Wallace Station and Windy Corner Market are two restaurants owned and operated by local chef Ouita Michel. Both are located in the country and both have outdoor seating, perfect for a warm spring or fall day. These are favorites of locals and the line can sometimes stretch out the door, but once the food arrives at your table you’ll realize it was worth the wait.

Where to Grab a Drink

There are plenty of Lexington options for celebrating your Pick 6 score or drowning your sorrows after a day at the track when you lost more than you won. Find a sampling below.

JDI, or Jefferson Davis Inn, is popular with University of Kentucky students and alums, especially before and after games, but it’s great for non-Wildcats, too. JDI not only has an extensive beer menu and cocktail list, it claims to offer an impressive 109 whiskey options. Plus, the food is more than tasty enough to accompany a few post-Keeneland drinks.

McCarthy’s Irish Bar is a no-nonsense pub downtown that is a favorite for local horsemen. The food is standard bar fare but you can enjoy a Guinness or Smithwick’s surrounded by equine decor. Come here for classic bar atmosphere, sometimes with a college crowd, and to rub elbows with some of the Thoroughbred industry elite.

National Provisions includes a bakery, beer hall, restaurant and market in a refurbished warehouse on National Ave. They have happy hour drink specials and great appetizers, plus with a bakery onsite, the bread is not to be missed. Great atmosphere in a unique setup, but be warned, they close at 10 p.m., so this is not your best option if you want to be out late.

What to Do

Hiking, history, horses, bourbon and wine—no matter your interest, Lexington has something for everyone. Read on for a few ideas for how to spend your time when you’re not at the track.

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Hiking: Lexington has a great parks system, and you can find fun hiking inside the city limits at McConnell Springs. Raven Run, just outside the city, is another Lexington park with fantastic hiking along the Kentucky River palisades and forests. If you want to venture a little further from the city, Red River Gorge near Stanton, Ky. has great hiking and gorgeous views, as does the Berea College Forest’s Indian Fort Mountain trail (locally known as “the pinnacles”) at Berea, Ky. Just past Red River Gorge is Natural Bridge State Resort Park, another wonderful place to spend an afternoon outdoors.

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History: If history is your thing, Lexington provides plenty of educational opportunities. Visit the Mary Todd Lincoln house, home of Abraham Lincoln’s wife and the first historic site honoring a first lady. Take in Henry Clay’s Ashland estate, home of the successful attorney and politician known as the great compromiser, or tour Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg, Ky., where the Shaker religious sect thrived for 100 years. Other places you might want to visit: the Hunt-Morgan House, Waveland or the Latrobe house.

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Horses: As the Horse Capital of the World, there’s certainly no shortage of equines near Lexington. Aside from Keeneland, many of the famous Thoroughbred farms in the surrounding area offer tours where visitors can see how a farm works and, in some cases, get to meet famous stallions. You can go through a tour company or call Horse Country, Inc. which is a coalition of farms offering tours. The Kentucky Horse Park is a state park that’s especially great for families where you can see and learn about all things horse-related, including some famous racehorse retirees at the Hall of Champions. You can also visit with Thoroughbred retirees at Old Friends, a farm where many stars of the sport now live out their days basking in the sunshine. The farm offers tours, but be sure to call first.

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Bourbon and wine: Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail has become famous as visitors flock to the state to learn about bourbon, including distillery tours and sampling, in a state where there are more barrels of bourbon than there are people. There are several distilleries in the Lexington area which offer tours at little or no cost and well-stocked gift shops. Town Branch is in the city, and Buffalo Trace, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve are all within easy driving distance of Lexington and a great way to spend a couple hours. If you prefer wine to whiskey, there are also several wineries in the area which offer tasting rooms and often gift shops, including Castle Hill, Equus Run, Grimes Mill, Jean Farris, and Talon.

Enjoy your trip to Lexington, and let us know if you have any favorites that didn’t make the list!

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