LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Reuters Life!) - Known for its Kentucky Derby and its baseball bats, Louisville, Kentucky is a cosmopolitan city that feels both Midwestern and Southern, with a lively arts scene, acclaimed parks system and waterfront skyline.
The biggest city in Kentucky is located just south of Indiana, across the Ohio River, which was once considered part of the Mason-Dixon Line that separated the North and South during the United States’ Civil War.
For a weekend visit, Louisville offers bourbon tasting, horse racing, good restaurants and museums including one dedicated to one of its famous sons, boxer Muhammad Ali.
5 p.m. - Check into 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Louisville’s Museum Row along West Main St. The luxurious boutique hotel is housed in a series of renovated 19th century tobacco and bourbon warehouses and was voted No. 1 hotel in the U.S. and No. 6 in the world in Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards in 2009 and 2010.
6 p.m. - After unpacking and relaxing, have dinner and drinks at the hotel’s restaurant, Proof on Main, where the Southern and Italian-inspired menu showcases local ingredients and unusual meat dishes such as Kentucky bison tartare, bison marrow bones and sweetbreads.
The bar, considered a stop along the Urban Bourbon Trail, offers more than 50 Kentucky bourbons and seasonal cocktails.
9 p.m. - Once you’re sated, explore the huge expanse of exhibition space in the hotel lobby and basement that makes up 21c museum, which claims to be North America’s first museum dedicated solely to contemporary art of the 21st century.
Permanent works include an army of plastic 4-feet-tall (1.21 meter) red penguins that migrate throughout the hotel, and Text Rain, an installation where viewers stand before a projection screen and interact with colorful falling letters that can form lines of a poem. The museum is open to the public around the clock.
8 a.m. - Get an early start and have breakfast at your hotel or a local cafe.
9 a.m. - Take a bourbon tour and tasting. Some one-third of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky and there are many distilleries in the area that offer facility tours and tastings of America’s homegrown spirit.
Join a tour, such as those operated by Mint Julep Tours, or rent a car and go out on your own. The Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s website for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, www.kybourbontrail.com, has directions, maps and other information to get you going. Here is just an example of one itinerary.
10:30 - Visit the picturesque Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky, which is nestled amid rolling hills and flanked by thoroughbred horse farms.
A “bourbon discovery tour” explains the history of bourbon and the manufacturing process and offers a sampling at the end. The tour costs $5 per person. There is also a “picnic on the porch” during the warmer months. www.woodfordreserve.com
1:00 - After a leisurely lunch visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, Kentucky. This modest museum, which claims to be the country’s only museum dedicated to American whiskey, houses a sizeable collection of historical photos, bottles and other ephemera related to whiskey and the South.
Bardstown, the “bourbon capital of the world,” has a small downtown area with several restaurants and shops.
3:00 - If you still have the energy take a final tour at Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky. Last guided tour of the grounds leaves at 3:30. The visitor center is open until 4:30. www.jimbeam.com/visit-the-bourbon-distillery
Other distilleries in the area include Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark, and Heaven Hill.
7:00 - Try dinner at 732 Social, at 732 E. Market St, where the menu of small and large plates changes daily. Check out the sizable bourbon list.
Louisville has plenty of restaurants, many of which are clustered around Market and Mains streets, so visitors can have their pick.
9:00 - Finish the night with a drink at one of the city’s piano bars, or if you have the stamina follow the Urban Bourbon Trail.
10:00 - Breakfast at Toast on Market, 736 E. Market St. The breakfast menu, served all day, includes treats like Monte Cristo French Toast and bread pudding pancakes.
12:00 - For sports lovers and fans of boxing a visit to the Muhammad Ali Center, 144 N. Sixth St, Louisville is a must. The museum and cultural center explores the life and values of the boxer, and has an interactive training segment that lets visitors shadow box and feel the power of an Ali punch. www.alicenter.org
2:00 - Sample some horseracing at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. The box office is open from 11 am to 2 pm. Get a good seat, bet as little as $2, and learn how exciting two minutes can be. www.churchilldowns.com/
Reporting by Martinne Geller; editing by Patricia