Bourbon and Bards, Caves and Corvettes. If you just thought of fried chicken, you’re missing out. Here’s a guide to a weekend in Bowling Green and Louisville, Kentucky.
Something I’m constantly reminding myself is how big America is. As a stereotypical coastal person, I’ve far from been to every state in this great country so I happily accepted an invitation from the Kentucky Tourism board to visit.
Let’s shoot a Western!
Start in Bowling Green. Downtown Bowling Green’s main square and Fountain Park is straight out of a movie set. Western style colorful buildings, an old-school theatre, the Capitol Arts Center, dating back to the 1890s, and a beautiful park with ornate cast iron fences with romantic southern curlicues. I went in the early morning and there was a stunning morning mist and suddenly the square came alive with Bowling Greeners starting their day. While there, grab a coffee at Spencer’s on College street.
Where to stay. The Hotel Sync, an exec suite apartment style living on Corvette Dr, is right next door to the racetrack. You can practically smell the motor oil! It’s actually where I grabbed the best cappuccino in Kentucky!
A perfect weekend in Western Kentucky must include what is perhaps Bowling Green’s top destination, The Corvette Museum and NCM Motorsports Park. Bowling Green is where Corvettes are manufactured and Corvette owners have the option of picking up their customized beauties here! Book a Corvette driving experience at NCM Motorsports Park and have some fun on the technical track the pros play on. I tried it. Now, there’s a thing called the Sink Hole, which is a little scary in a region and site known for them. But hey, this New Yorker survived it so you will too! Visit the Corvette Museum for full on nostalgia and I even tried my first Kentucky Brown sandwich at the delicious restaurant there, Stingray Grill!
Speaking of those Sink Holes, Kentucky is home to the world’s longest known cave system with much of it still unexplored. Into outdoor fun? Visit Mammoth Cave (a National Park). There are underground river tours, full on spelunking or smaller jaunts to the cave entrance. Something for everyone.
Explore the Past. Find fulfillment exploring often overlooked parts of American History.
Spend a morning at The Seek Museum, a stop on the US Civil Rights Trail in nearby Russellville. This multi-building campus explores an urban plantation, and what was once a bustling area of town for newly freed Black people. Brilliant and proud Kentucky native Michael Morrow adeptly guides you through everything from the Liberia movement to the first Black woman white house correspondent, Alice Allison Dunnigan, to the life of famed singer Mary Ann Fisher and especially hard to digest lynchings.
You’ll eat good in Bowling Green!
The food was excellent in Bowling Green and not solely Southern comfort cuisine but internationally!
Here’s a fun fact about Bowling Green. EVERYONE’S WELCOME HERE! Really, pound for pound Bowling Green takes in the most refugees in Kentucky. Bowling Green has a huge population of refugees and has become a melting pot in the last few decades. This is where you should go in the US for Bosnian food!
The owner of one of the restaurants we went to, The Bistro is a Bosnian American restauranteur and pillar of the community. Another large group: Congolese. Leading to a thriving restaurant and market scene.
The Bistro serves up elevated standard American fare in a charming historical building. The cocktails are truly next level.
Another standout, Anna’s restaurant. For me, it was more about the location and the owners story. Located in a former church, Anna’s elicits that wow factor — a neoclassical Greek building lit in neon lights. Upon entering, you know this is the restaurant where I’m going to have a good time. Delicious and hearty mediterranean cuisine created by owner and namesake Anna. Her husband owner Vilson Qehaja moved with his family to Bowling Green in 2000 after the Kosovo War left them with little. Vilson painstakingly restored and renovated the Victory Baptist church with his father, turning it into a premier restaurant and event space. It took them four years! Every corner in this labor of love can be seen, from the inside rails (procured from former storm shelters) to the beautiful stained glass windows.
These meatballs! This restaurant wasn’t originally on my itinerary but it was definitely my favorite meal in Bowling Green. Try new kid on the block, Hickory & Oak. It’s in a part of town that’s a new development. With some life-size faux smokehouses in the decor it’s a really cool looking place. Mixing modern and tradition. I had a delicious bourbon cocktail and red wagyu meatballs with grape bbq! I’m still thinking about that bbq. I spooned it up after I finished the meatballs. This was a quick stop before dinner but the next time I’m in Bowling Green, I’ll definitely be going back.
A little under two hours away, you can definitely do Bowling Green and Louisville in a weekend trip. Trust me, you won’t want to miss Louisville. It is a FUN city.
Where to stay. The Grady Hotel in Louisville, a high design boutique hotel on Whiskey Row. Definitely a great place to stay, within walking distance of a lot of great sights for first timers to Louisville. The Wild Swann, bar and restaurant there is very swanky with great cocktails and bites.
Minutes away from The Grady Hotel is the renowned center of perhaps Louisville’s most famous son, Muhammad Ali! Another stop on the Civil Rights trail, the Muhammad Ali Center is a multicultural center with an award winning, interactive museum dedicated to the life and legacy of the great Muhammad Ali. On display are not just memorabilia like his gloves but artwork of Ali, poetry, videos! To say that this museum was inspirational would be an understatement. Be great, do great things is their motto and I certainly left inspired and empowered.
It’s more than Kentucky Fried Chicken, but yea, it was started here!
Kentucky Brown, Derby Pie, Louisville is home to many amazing delicacies and a perfect weekend in Western Kentucky is not complete without gobbling these up! Our first stop was Feast BBQ. A must have while you’re there? The Louisville BBQ wings and baked beans! Actually everything was delicious. The mac and cheese balls were amazing and we’re in the town of bourbon so you must try a bourbon slushy!
Louisville will never run out of Bourbon.
Try the Evan Williams Bourbon experience to see an urban distillery and an interesting interactive tour. The building itself houses a lot of history and they were able to recreate a lot of that Louisville history right there on Whiskey Row. I attended the Bourbon Classic that evening and was able to try a huge amount of Kentucky’s finest, but I certainly left Evan Williams tipsy! Bourbon basic 101? Bourbon is a type of whiskey.
A piece of American literary history
Are you an F. Scott Fitzgerald fan? Visit his favorite watering hole when he was in Kentucky: the Rathskeller at the Seelbach Hotel. The Seelbach hotel is a building from 1905 that personifies Jazz Age decadence and transports you back to the glamor of that time as soon as you approach it from the sidewalk. It’s on the register of Historical Places. The Seelbach is where Fitzgerald allegedly met bootlegger, George Remus, who some consider the inspiration for Jay Gatsby. In The Great Gatsby the Seelbach is where Daisy marries Tom Buchanan in the Grand ballroom, renting out a whole floor. Fitzgerald was thrown out of the Rathskeller, during the war a USO, quite a few times due to his drunken antics. Seeing those unique Rockwood pottery tiles lining the archways of this cavernous space filled my litnerd dreams. It was a wonderful cap to a perfect weekend in Western Kentucky.
Getting to your perfect weekend in Western Kentucky
Nashville’s airport is about an hour’s drive from Bowling Green and I would suggest flying in there. Louisville has the Muhammad Ali International airport right in the city making it very easy to get around.
Louisville is wonderful. It’s one of those old American cities draped in a lot of history reflected in the architecture, people, food. I went in expecting to like it and I certain did, but you know, there was something about Bowling Green.
Bowling Green surprised me as I said and ultimately, it was the kind people that would bring me back. I could see how refugees from across the world made their home in Bowling Green. It was wear I received kind smiles and hugs, and even an Uber giving me sage advice to watch out in the big city that’s Louisville. It had that warm small town charm that is just so American and I miss living over seas. In Bowling Green, I actually saw how America can welcome the rest of the world.
I hope you enjoyed this perfect weekend in Western Kentucky!
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