The Manchester Hotel is the perfect home base for exploring Kentucky’s horse and bourbon country.
Lexington, Kentucky is in the heart of the “Bluegrass Region,” named for the grass that gave the state its nickname — and it actually does look blue at certain times. The city claims the well-deserved title of the "Horse Capital of the World,” with 450 horse farms, Kentucky Horse Park, and Keeneland Racecourse. Then there’s bourbon — Lexington boasts more than 15 nearby distilleries and the evolving Distillery District — where The Manchester Hotel held its grand opening this summer.
"I’ve always had a personal connection with Lexington, but it was the right place, right time, and right location. Everything matched up with the kind of project we envisioned doing together," hotelier Nik Feldman said of developing the property with partner Hank Morris. "We knew how meaningful The Manchester would be for the community of Lexington.”
The hotel is set on the former grounds of central Kentucky’s first registered bourbon distillery, and its “Rickhouse Revival” facade features dramatic arches that echo throughout the property. “We were very intentional in rooting the hotel's design and programming in Lexington's wonderful history and landscape — and of course, the horses and bourbon-making that have made it famous — though we wanted to do so through a more subtle, contemporary, and globally inspired lens,” Morris told Travel + Leisure. “We wanted to use the physical architecture, interior treatments, and rich narrative behind our restaurant and bar concepts to provide our guests with an emotional connection to Kentucky.”
The Distillery District currently features restaurants, breweries, an ice cream shop, entertainment, and a vintage market, along with the historic James E. Pepper Distillery dating to 1780, once the largest whiskey distillery in the country. The 125-room Manchester anchors the entrance to the district, and its Art Deco rooftop drinking parlor, Lost Palm, “an instant favorite for both locals and hotel guests,” according to Morris, offers an expansive view of downtown Lexington. Granddam restaurant, named for a matriarchal racehorse, serves classic Appalachian dishes with global influence, created by husband and wife team Paula and Karl Lowe.
Make The Manchester your home while you drive along the winding roads of Lexington, marvel at the beauty of thoroughbreds at horse farms, or cheer one on at Keeneland. Here are some of the best things to do while you're in town.
Things to Do in Lexington, Kentucky
Open year-round, visitors can watch races during the meets, attend horse sales, or enjoy the beautifully landscaped grounds. The National Historic Landmark includes the Keeneland Library, shop, and a variety of tours.
Kentucky Horse Park
Located on 1,200 acres of bluegrass farmland, the Kentucky Horse Park offers museums, galleries, barn tours, guided horse and pony rides, and horse-drawn carriage tours. Equestrian events include steeplechase, cross country competitions, polo, and specialized breed shows.
Visit a Horse Farm
Tours of horse farms are exciting ways to learn about breeding and raising thoroughbreds. Visitors may have a chance to touch horses, feed them carrots, and see horses of various ages, including mares, foals, yearlings, and stallions while hearing about how they are cared for.
Tour Historic Homes and Buildings
The childhood home of Mary Todd Lincoln, built in 1803, is open for tours as is Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. Other historic sites include Waveland, the Lexington Opera House, and McConnell Springs, a 26-acre nature sanctuary where the city of Lexington was founded in 1779.
Tour a Distillery
Learn how bourbon is distilled at the James E. Pepper Distillery with a tour of the stills and fermenting process. Visit Bluegrass Distillers, Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., or explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Stop in for a taste at African American owned and produced Fresh Bourbon Distillery.
Hang in the Distillery District
Come to dine, drink, shop, play, listen to music, or meet up with friends and hang out at outdoor tables overlooking the creek. There’s doggy day care, axe throwing, an arcade, and more to come in the developing area.
Downtown Lexington Walking Tour
See modern and vintage buildings on a self-guided or organized tour. Have some fun and learn about the legend of the blue horse named Lexington on the Big Lex Scavenger Hunt. Pick up some Lexington history along with tasty foods on a Bites of the Bluegrass walking food tour.
Visit Lexington’s Museums
The Aviation Museum of Kentucky features a collection of modern and historic aircraft. There’s also the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, American Saddlebred Museum, Headley-Whitney Museum of Art, and Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum where you can take a scenic 11-mile train ride through horse and tobacco farms or view vintage railroad memorabilia. Explorium of Lexington is a children’s museum with exhibits on nature, the human heart, geography, and more. The International Museum of the Horse is the world’s largest museum to explore the relationship between horses and humans.
Hike, Bike, or Stroll along Lexington’s Legacy Trail
The Legacy Trail begins at the Isaac Murphy Memorial Garden and winds north to the Kentucky Horse Park for 12 miles of trails that include downtown Lexington, parks, and historic sites.
Sample Craft Brews on the Brewgrass Trail
Beer, cider, sake, and mead are more Kentucky creations along the Brewgrass Trail, where brewmasters are joining bourbon distillers in producing popular beverages. Check out the craft brewing scene and bring your pup along for the fun.
Enjoy the Beautiful Kentucky Outdoors
Image: MATT KISIDAY/COURTESY OF THE MANCHESTER