Enjoy Sightseeing, Dining, Shopping and Entertainment in the "City in the Park"
Unless otherwise noted, phone numbers are in the 859 area code.
Lexington has been called "the city in the park" because of its location at the center of hundreds of beautiful, park-like horse farms. But the nickname also seems an apt description of the cosmopolitan yet casual atmosphere of the downtown area.
Lexington offers a charming blend of big-city amenities and small-town friendliness. Before, after and between meeting sessions at the modern Lexington Center convention complex, you'll find plenty to see and do. Beautiful historic office buildings, churches and homes; many of Lexington's finest restaurants, specialty shops and galleries; and major performance and sports arenas are all within easy and safe walking distance.
A variety of excellent accommodations are convenient to the convention center and downtown attractions, including the Hilton Lexington/Downtown (369 W. Vine St., 231-9000) and Hyatt Regency Lexington (401 West High St., 253-1234); the elegant and historic The Sire (120 W. 2nd St., 231-1777); The Lyndon House (507 N. Broadway, 420-2683); and the new 21c Museum Hotel (167 W. Main St., 899-6800). A Marriott and a Residence Inn are slated to open in the City Center block within the year.
For a street map of the central downtown district in PDF file format click here.
Attractions Old and New
Looking at downtown Lexington today, it's hard to imagine a town of log blockhouses and cabins, or the sight of horses racing down Main Street, but both were part of the city's early history. Lexington was Kentucky's first big city - a bustling commercial, education and cultural center by 1800. Take a walk in the historic neighborhoods near Lexington Center, or along Main Street, and you'll find architecture spanning over 200 years. A few attractions of special note:
- The Mary Todd Lincoln House, adjacent to Lexington Center at 578 W. Main St. was a girlhood home of the First Lady, a member of a prominent early Lexington family. Guided tours are given Monday through Saturday, mid-March through November. Admission charged. 233-9999.
- The Hunt-Morgan House, northeast of the convention center complex at 201 North Mill St., was built in 1814 by Kentucky's first millionaire, John Wesley Hunt. The house includes the Alexander T. Hunt Civil War Museum with items relating to Hunt's grandson Confederate General John Morgan. Guided tours are available Wednesday through Sunday, April through October. Admission charged (253-0362). While in the historic Gratz Park neighborhood you might also want to stroll the campus of the oldest college west of the Alleghenies, Transylvania University, Third and Broadway. At 178 N. Mill St. you'll pass the 19th century law office of Henry Clay, the famous U.S. Senator and one of early Lexington's prominent citizens.
- If you brought your family along (or are just a kid at heart), a must-see attraction is the Explorium of Lexington (Lexington Children's Museum), located in The Square, a complex of 16 restored 19th century commercial buildings at Main and Broadway. The 14,000-square foot museum features a variety of hands-on activities, from an "archaeological dig" to giant soap bubbles. Open Tuesday through Sunday year round. Closed on Mondays during the school year. Admission charged. 258-3253.
- That 30-story glass office building towering over Main Street is Lexington Financial Center ("Big Blue" to locals) and the city's tallest building.
For self-guided downtown walking tour options, contact the Lexington Visitors Center, 215 W. Main St. 233-7299. Carolyn Hackworth operates Historic Downtown Walking Tours with guided walking tours of downtown Lexington by appointment. Learn about the history of downtown as reflected in historic commercial buildings, churches and homes. 321-5897. New culinary walking tours are currently under development. Check with the Visitors Center for the latest information.
If you have a special interest in architecture, there is a free app for Android and iPhone that you'll want to download before you arrive (search for "LexArch"). Enjoy photography, text and audio demonstrating many facets of the design, construction and purpose of thirteen buildings near, and including, Fayette County's Old Courthouse. The courthouse has been renovated and is now home to the Lexington Visitors Center, business offices, Zim's Cafe and The Thirsty Fox.
Bluegrass Note: Getting to and from downtown Lexington is easy. Blue Grass Airport is about a 10-minute drive away (as are those famous horse farms, golf courses and major attractions such as the Kentucky Horse Park).
Whether looking for decorative accessories, artwork, fine jewelry or distinctly -Lexington souvenirs, you’ll find a small selection of stores at The Square and The Shops at Lexington Center. Connected by covered ped-way, these two complexes make a great rainy (or sunny) day destination! You’ll find places to eat and drink as well. Most shops are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Duck in to Keeneland Mercantile next to Starbucks in the new City Center complex. Their high-end merchandise reflects the cultured lifestyle of the Horse Capital of the World with a curated selection of beautifully-crafted goods from throughout the South,
Bluegrass Note: Spring through fall, local farmers sell vegetables, fruits, flowers and more at the Farmer's Market (Saturdays in the Pavilion at Cheapside Park and Tuesdays and Thursdays on Maxwell at Broadway). To find out about other special downtown activities, call VisitLEX at 233-7299.
If hunting for treasures from the past is your passion, visit Heritage Antiques located in the big white church three blocks away. (154 N. Broadway 253-1035). At the East end of Main Street, browse through Ann Greely Interiors and Antiques (497 East Main Street; 367-0200).
If fashion is your passion, you won't be disappointed at Lexington's own Bella Rose. Locals have headed to the corner of Maxwell and Upper for over 30 years to find out what is hip and chique this season. 255-2565.
Bluegrass Note: An interesting used bookstore is located in the basement of the Lexington Public Library, 140 E. Main St. The library also offers an art gallery, computers with Internet access and a good view of downtown from the upper floors. 231-5500.
Downtown is home to many of Lexington’s most popular and creative restaurants: more than one hundred, in fact! In addition to the excellent hotel restaurants, Triangle Grill (Hilton), BlueFire Bar & Grill (Hyatt Regency), Lockbox (21c) or Distilled at Gratz Park, you can walk to a variety of delicious experiences, as fancy or informal as you desire. From the more than 100 places to eat in downtown Lexington, here are a few suggestions:
In The Square, Tony’s offers elegant fine dining, Pies and Pints offers tasty pizzas and lots of beer options, and the new lunch hot spot Vinaigrette is hugely popular for their salads. Saul Good occupies the corner space at Broadway and Short making it the perfect place to grab a cocktail or a meal before a show at the Lexington Opera House. Hop Cats is also located in The Square.
For hearty burgers and other “bar food,” try Sawyer’s Bar and Grill at the corner of Main and Broadway. If you are in the mood for something sweet, walk right around the corner from Sawyer's and enjoy some gelato from Spotz, located on Broadway. The new City Center complex across from Lexington’s renovated Historic Courthouse boasts a Jeff Ruby’s. For sophisticated Italian dining with a California attitude, try Portofino’s (249 East Main; 253-9300). Sublime traditional, Sicilian and specialty pizzas are found at Joe Bologna’s, 120 W. Maxwell St. This local favorite also serves pasta and awesome breadsticks drenched in garlic butter.
Bluegrass Note: Early Risers? A variety of gourmet coffees and pastries are served at the downtown Starbucks on the corner of Main and Broadway. They open at 6:00 a.m.
A number of small bistros and fine dining establishments have opened across from Lexington's beautiful courthouses (no, you're not seeing double!) Dine at the very, very French, Le Deauville just up the street. 246-0999. At 155 North Limestone is Oscar Diggs, A popular spot, they feature a small but impressive seasonal menu. 523-8305.
At Short and Market is another top Lexington restaurant, Dudley's. Located in the historic Northern Bank Building built in 1889, this elegant spot features seafood and Continental specialties, with an excellent wine list and Sunday brunch. Also on Short: Lexington's gastro pub, the Village Idiot, as well as Shakespeare and Co., a restaurant with great food and eccentric decor.
Jefferson Street is Lexington's newest burgeoning restaurant district. There you will find Stella's Deli, Nick Ryan's, West Sixth Brewing Company, County Club, Grey Goose, Blue Heron, and more!
Bluegrass Note: Weather permitting, dine outdoors on the patio at Grey Goose or Ruddy Duck. Many downtown restaurants have sidewalk seating as well.
Lexington's hottest nightspots are in the downtown area, offering a wide variety of entertainment and ambiance. In addition to those mentioned under restaurants, here are some other current favorites. Many clubs close at 1 a.m. but some remain open until 2:30 a.m. Legal drinking age is 21.
Ruddy Duck on Mill Street offers great food in a casual atmosphere, inside or on the patio, and is the place to be at Happy Hour (254-0046). Make a night of it: stay on for the live music and party till the wee hours of the morning.
Facing Cheapside Park, Bluegrass Tavern is a great place to find your favorite Bourbon from among 187 labels. 389-6664. On the top floor of the tall building to the left, you will find Skybar. 368-7900.
Parlay Social at the corner of Market and Short, is a speakeasy-style lounge offering cocktails and pub grub, plus live music. 244-1932. Belle's Cocktail House at 156 Market Street is run by the publishers of the Bourbon Review. Call first: 389-6777. For a true Irish Pub go to McCarthy's Irish Bar (258-2181) at 117 S. Upper, or Molly Brooke's (420-5792) at 109 North Limestone.
If you are a pool shark in search of billiard tables, head to Yesterday's at The Shops at Lexington Center. 231-8889.
For a unique way to experience downtown on a pub crawl, book one of Lexington's two party bikes. Tours last about two hours. You provide the "horse power" by pedaling the bike, which seats around 15 people. Contact the Big Blue Pedaler, 469-6929, or the Thirsty Pedaler, 619-4161.
Check out an exciting new area of development downtown: the Distillery District. It is home to coffee shops, artist studios, an ice cream lounge, restaurants and bars, plus a brewery, two distilleries and a music hall. Head out Manchester Street to explore this area blossoming around the site of the old James E. Pepper distillery.
Bluegrass Note: Pamper yourself with deep tissue and other massages available at The Massage Center, 380 Mill in Dudley Square, 231-1782. If it's a workout you prefer, contact Proof, 230 W. Main St. The club has racquetball and squash courts, a running track, sauna and weight rooms, with special day rates for visitors. 559-0230.
For Sports Fans
Lexington's passion for basketball is legendary, and Rupp Arena in Lexington Center is home court to one of the top programs in college basketball, the University of Kentucky Wildcats. Tickets are difficult to obtain but you may call the UK ticket office at 257-1818 to check availability. Hard-core fans make a point to take a peek at Rupp Arena through a viewing window inside the Lexington Center offices. 233-4567.
Basketball isn't the only game in town though. The Lexington Legends, an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals, play at Lexington's new state-of-the-art baseball stadium on North Broadway. Tickets are usually available at the box office on game day. 422-7867.
Bluegrass Note: Lexington is also a city with parks. Try these relaxing urban greenspaces for an impromptu picnic or restful break: Just across Main Street from Lexington Center is Triangle Park, beautiful day and night with its stepped, lighted fountains. Gratz Park, 3rd at Mill, is located in a lovely historic residential neighborhood. After viewing the statues on the grounds of the Fayette County Courthouse on Main Street, pause at Cheapside Park, historically the site of slave auctions, abolitionists' speeches and "Court Days" trading. Phoenix Park is next to Lexington Public Library on Main Street. At the east end of downtown is Thoroughbred Park, where life-size bronze horses "race" and "graze." (On a walking or jogging regimen? From Triangle Park to Thoroughbred Park and back along Main Street is about 1 1/2 miles.)
Today, as historically, downtown is the center of cultural life in Lexington. Touring professional theater, some Lexington Philharmonic concerts and other arts performances are on the bill at the restored 1887 Lexington Opera House, Broadway and Short streets; call 233-3565 for ticket information.
The Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main Street, is a restored 1920s movie house that shows classics, foreign and some first-run films, with occasional concerts. 231-7924. The recently renovated Lyric Theatre, historically the entertainment centerpiece for Lexington's African-American families, hosts a broad range of programming and is home to "WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour," an internationally syndicated live radio show. 252-8888.
ArtsPlace, 161 N. Mill St., is headquarters to several Lexington arts groups. A gallery features changing exhibits and Red Barn Radio tapes live Bluegrass shows in the summer. 233-1469.
There are frequent musical and theatrical performances at the Downtown Arts Center on Main Street. Local and regional theatre groups often perform in the Black Box Theatre on the first floor.
Throughout downtown you can discover more than 30 galleries and artist studios. There is a bi-monthly Gallery Hope that includes them all, as well as special art displays in non-traditional spaces. Contact LexArts for more information. 255-2951.
Bluegrass Note: Art can be found in unexpected places. If you are a fan of street art, you might enjoy taking our "Mural Challenge".
Places of Worship
Visitors to Lexington often remark on the many steeples in the downtown area. The beautiful sanctuaries in downtown house some of the area's oldest congregations. For example, Historic Pleasant Green Missionary Baptist Church, 540 W. Maxwell St., was founded in 1790 and is the fourth oldest African-American Baptist church in America. 254-7387. Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 205 E. Short St., traces its roots to the first Christian church in America, founded at nearby Cane Ridge. 233-1551. The Episcopal Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral, 166 Market St., congregation dates to 1795; a plaque marks Henry Clay's pew. 254-4497.
Other churches near Lexington Center include:
Calvary Baptist Church, 150 E. High St. 254-3491.
First Baptist Church, 548 W. Short St. (across from Lexington Center). 252-4808.
First Presbyterian Church, 171 Market St. 252-1919.
First United Methodist, 200 W. High St. 233-0545.
Historic St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, 251 N. Upper St. 255-7945.
St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, 501 W. Short St. 252-0738.
Barber shop - Ginger's Barber Shop, 212 W. Maxwell St. 254-4464.
Copies, digital photo printing, signs, banners- Fed Ex Office, 333 E. Main St. 253-1360.
Jewelry repair - Corbett-Frame Jeweler's at the Hilton, 254-1963.
Nail repair - Glamour Nails, 401 W Main St. 233-0099
Hair dresser - Atea, 301 E Vine St. 687-0630.
Mini-market - Mill Street Mini-Mart, 112 N Mill St.; 313-5037.
Post Office - 210 E High St., 254-6156.
Racing forms - Fayette Cigar Store, 137 E. Main St. 252-6267.
Taxi services - Yellow Cab and Wildcat Cab at 231-8294. (Cabs must be phoned to schedule pickup; you cannot hail them on the street. Uber and Lyft are also active in Lexington.
For more information contact the Lexington Visitors Center at (859) 233-7299 or (800) 845-3959 or the Downtown Lexington Corporation at (859) 425-2590.
By Teresa Day, a freelance travel writer based in Georgetown, KY
Updated June 2019