Family-Friendly and Budget-Friendly
70 No-Cost Ways to Have Fun in Lexington and the Bluegrass
Who says you have to spend big bucks to have a good time? Not in Lexington and Central Kentucky. Here are great ways to have fun—no admission required.
1. Watch an early morning workout at Keeneland Race Course or the Red Mile Harness Track, or take a self-guided track tour. Keeneland (859-254-3412 or 800-456-3412) The Red Mile (859-255-0752)
2. Explore the spirited Kentucky tradition of bourbon-making with free tours at Buffalo Trace Distillery, the world’s most award-winning distillery (502-696-5926 or 800-654-8471).
3. Snap a photo finish at Lexington's Thoroughbred Park, located at Main and Midland Streets. A herd of realistic, life-size bronze horse statues race and graze—perfect for photos.
4. Explore the 734-acre Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, where hiking trails wind through meadows, woodlands and along streams in the scenic Kentucky River Palisades area. (859-272-6105)
5. Admire the work of old masters, American and Kentucky masterpieces and some of the nation's best traveling art exhibits at the at The Art Museum at The University of Kentucky. (859-257-5716)
6. Take a quiet stroll through Lexington Cemetery, nationally recognized for its arboretum and gardens. This is the final resting place of statesman Henry Clay, basketball coach Adolph Rupp and other famous Lexingtonians. (859-255-5522)
7. Do some water-watching (and people-watching), day or night, in front of the cascading wall of fountains at downtown's Triangle Park, at the corner of Main and Broadway, or play in the unique fountains in front of the courthouses on North Limestone.
8. Explore the area at your own pace using the Lexington Walking Tour or Bluegrass Country Driving Tour, available at the Lexington Visitors Center in the restored historic courthouse at 215 West Main Street. (859-233-7299 or 800-845-3959)
9. Act like a kid again at one of Lexington's incredible Creative Playgrounds, located in Jacobson and Shillito parks. (859-288-2900)
10. Learn all about Big Blue traditions (both educational and athletic) with free guided tours of the University of Kentucky. Tours are given Monday through Friday, in the morning and in the afternoon. (859-257-3595)
11. Schedule a free tour and tasting at Boone Creek Creamery, one of the few urban artisan cheese facilities in the entire country, Visit the Hobbit Cave where the cheeses are aged, and become an honorary Cheese Minion by having your picture taken in a cheese making pot. (859-402-2364)
12. Explore the Lexington art scene at Loudoun House, 209 Castlewood Dr., the home of the Lexington Art League. The house, a Gothic villa built in 1852, is a work of art in its own right. (859-254-7024)
13. Stroll back in time in Gratz Park, Lexington's hottest neighborhood in the early 1800s. It’s still a scenic and charming place to live and explore—each home has its own story. (North Mill and Market streets between Second and Third.)
14. Go to the source of Lexington, McConnell Springs, where in 1775, frontier explorers got word of the first battle of the American Revolution at Lexington, Massachusetts, and decided to name their campsite in its honor. Clearly, the name stuck. On Rebman Lane, off Old Frankfort Pike.(859-225-4073)
15. While you’re in the area, drive or bike along the beautiful Old Frankfort Pike (KY 1681), officially designated one of America's Scenic Byways.
16. Stroll through Lexington's colorful Farmers' Market on a Saturday, spring through fall, at the Fifth Third Pavillion at Henry A. Tandy Centennial Park off Main Street, next to the old Fayette County Courthouse. (859-608-2655)
17. Take a "plant walk across Kentucky" and view plenty of other gardens and carefully-tended plants and trees at the Arboretum, Alumni Drive in Lexington. (859-257-6955)
18. Promenade through a formal English parterre garden, or stroll the grounds once walked by the Great Compromiser himself, Henry Clay, at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, 120 Sycamore Road in Lexington. (859-266-8581)
19. Jog or walk through Masterson Station Park, or follow the fitness trail at Shillito Park, both in Lexington. (859-288-2900)
20. Picnic where pioneer Daniel Boone once lived at Boone Station State Historic Site, Gentry Rd. (I-75 exit 104) near Athens.
21. Rub elbows with sheiks and movie stars at the horse sales at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton. (But be sure to not bid unless you know what you’re doing—it’s easy enough to spend millions before you know it.) Major sales in April, September, November and January. Keeneland (859-254-3412); Fasig Tipton (859-255-1555)
22. See a pioneer cabin, outstanding Greek Revival architecture and a collection of early medical instruments—plus learn about a legendary curse—on the campus of Transylvania University, first college west of the Alleghenies. By appointment only. 300 North Broadway in Lexington. (859-233-8300)
23. Cast your line in the lake at Lexington's Jacobson Park off Richmond Road. (No charge to fish, but state fishing license required for fishers over 16.) (859-288-2900)
24. Gawk at an honest-to-goodness turreted castle, on US 60 (Versailles Road) west of Lexington. Drive-by viewing is free, but if you really want a good look at it, make a reservation at the restaurant or stay overnight. It is now operated as The Kentucky Castle. (859-256-0322)
25. Do the Little Lex Scavenger. At the root of the legend of the blue horse is the famous mid-1800s racehorse named Lexington. (He’s now on our city flag.) The hunt takes you around downtown to discover some hidden sites of Lexington.
26. Ponder Lexington's Civil War-era history on the grounds of the restored Fayette County Courthouse, where you'll find Henry A. Tandy Centennial Park, site of one of the South's largest slave markets.
27. Enjoy one of Lexington's most interesting interior views: a five-story atrium with the world's largest ceiling clock at the Lexington Public Library, 140 East Main Street. The view of downtown out the upper floor windows isn't bad either. (859-231-5500)
28. Browse to your heart's content, ride the escalators, preview music or relax by the fireplace at Joseph-Beth, one of the region's largest bookstores—and one of Lexingtonians' favorite places to meet and mingle. The Mall at Lexington Green, Nicholasville Road. (859-273-2911)
29. Enjoy some of the best modern art in the world at 21c at 167 West Main Street. The galleries of this unique museum/hotel are free and open to the public 365 days a year. (859-899-6800)
30. Need some quiet time? Lose yourself in the outdoor labyrinth at the Old Episcopal Burying Ground, 3rd Street and Elm Tree Lane. Call Christ Church Cathedral. (859-223-2592)
31. Enjoy the fruits of a lesser known Kentucky tradition - wine making. Central Kentucky was the site of the very first commercial vineyard in the United States. Tour nearby Talon Winery (859-971-3214), Equus Run (859-846-9463), First Vineyard (859-885-9359) and more!
32. Walk or bike the 12 mile Legacy Trail, an interpretive trail and public art venue that runs from downtown Lexington to the Kentucky Horse Park. (859-288-2988) legacy trail bikers.
33. Tour Kentucky's 1810 Beaux Arts style Capitol and see murals of historic figures, a collection of dolls dressed in replicas of Kentucky First Lady inaugural gowns, and, if your timing's right, Kentucky legislators in action. 700 Capital Avenue, Frankfort. (502-564-3449)
34. Take in a panoramic view of Frankfort and the Capitol rotunda from the scenic overlook off US 60 west of downtown Frankfort.
35. Smell what time it is at one of the nation's most unusual gardens, the Floral Clock on the lawn of the Capitol grounds in Frankfort. (502-564-3449)
36. Tour Kentucky's Governor's Mansion, modeled after Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's summer villa. Located next to the Capitol in Frankfort. Call for tour dates and times. (502-564-3449)
37. Meet at Kentucky River View Park landing and take a pontoon boat down the Kentucky River for a unique perspective on Frankfort and its history. The boat seats 10. Call (502) 352-2028 May through October.
38. Visit the gravesites of Kentucky pioneers Daniel and Rebecca Boone and other notables overlooking the Kentucky River in Frankfort Cemetery. 215 East Main Street, Frankfort. (502-227-2403)
39. View military history in a more personal light at the Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a sundial memorial to Kentuckians killed in Vietnam. The point of the gnomon's shadow touches each veteran's name on the anniversary of his death. Vernon Cooper Drive, Frankfort.
40. Visit the Vest-Lindsey House, a 19th-century Federal-style house and boyhood home of dog's best friend, U.S. Senator George Graham Vest—you know, the guy who coined the phrase "dog is man's best friend." 401 Wapping Street, Frankfort. (502-564-6980)
41. Explore Berry Hill Mansion, with its elaborate music room featuring a massive cathedral organ and intricately carved wood ornamentation. 700 Louisville Road, Frankfort. (502-564-3000)
42. Visit the "birthplace of bourbon" and Kentucky's biggest spring at Royal Spring Park in downtown Georgetown. It's thought that Baptist minister Elijah Craig made the first batch of Kentucky bourbon here in 1789. (502-863-7865)
43. Discover bridges to the past: Drive across one of Kentucky's 12 remaining covered bridges, the Colville Covered Bridge, on KY 3118 northwest of Millersburg. In Fleming County, northeast of Lexington, you can admire three more of these endangered icons.
44. Yuko-En on the Elkhorn, the official Kentucky-Japan friendship garden, is open daily from dawn until dusk. Enjoy paths, waterfalls, Koi ponds, arched bridges, a raked stone garden and more. (502-316-4554)
45. Stop in at Mims Retirement Haven in Paris and visit with retired celebrity Thoroughbred broodmares. Meet great ladies of the industry and 1997 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Elmhurst. Call (859) 227-6304 for an appointment.
46-49. Sample local history and see all kinds of interesting stuff at the Georgetown & Scott County Museum (in the old Post Office on Main St., Georgetown, 502-863-6201); the Woodford County Historical Society Museum (121 Rose Hill, Versailles, 859-873-6786); the Cynthiana/Harrison County Museum (124 South Walnut Street, Cynthiana, 859-234-7179.) and the Old Presbyterian Meeting House (325 Main Street, Stanford, 606-365-1216).
50. See one of the world's largest private collections of locks: The Harry C. Miller Lock Collection at the Lockmasters Education Center, 2101 John C. Watts Drive, Nicholasville, includes locks going back to the 1300s. (859-887-9633)
51. Ale-8-One, Kentucky’s signature soft drink, has been bottled in Winchester since 1926. Tour the plant on any Thursday or Friday, just call in advance. (859-744-3484)
52. Make your own pilgrimage to Old Cane Ridge Meeting House in Bourbon County, site of the famous Cane Ridge revival of 1801, when 30,000 people assembled, leading to the birth of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Donations appreciated. (859-987-5350)
53. Visit a big backyard you're sure to envy: The Nannine Clay Wallis Arboretum, 616 Pleasant Street, Paris, is a four-acre display of landscaping and the headquarters of the Garden Club of Kentucky. Donations appreciated. (859-987-6158)
54. Wander through woods, wildflowers and wildlife at the 100-acre Jim Beam Nature Preserve, off US 27 south of Nicholasville. (859-259-9655)
55. Honor veterans of the Civil War and other wars at Camp Nelson National Cemetery and Civil War site, off US 27 south of Nicholasville. (859-885-5727)
56. Escape the same old grind with a country drive to Weisenberger Mill, off Leestown Pike near Midway. There are no tours, but the original 1862 grindstone is on display out front, and more grindstones across the road help create one of Central Kentucky's most unusual stone fences. (859-254-5282)
57. Stop by and visit for a while at America's oldest continuously operated country store, Penn's Store, on KY 243 near Gravel Switch in Boyle County. Call ahead to be sure they'll be open. (859-332-7715)
58. Zip down to Danville to see the first post office west of the Alleghenies, plus replicas of an early meetinghouse and jail at Constitution Square State Historic Site, 105 East Walnut Street. (859-236-7794)
59. Take a walking tour of Carlisle and be charmed by more than 350 National Register buildings packed into one of Kentucky's smallest county seats. (877-289-4212)
60. Visit the house that Jack built—Jack Jouett, that is. He was a Revolutionary War hero who rode all night to save Thomas Jefferson from the British. The Jack Jouett House is on Craig's Creek Road in Woodford County. Donations accepted. (859-873-7902)
61. Stroll down one of Kentucky's few intact 19th century commercial districts, along Main Street in Winchester. (859-744-0556)
62. Tour Berea College, founded in 1855 as the first school in the South dedicated to equal education for all races. Today, Berea is dedicated to educating under-served Kentuckians of all races, as well as keeping Kentucky’s artisan traditions alive. (859-985-3145)
63. Speaking of artisan traditions, visit the Kentucky Artisan Center just outside Berea for an overview of Kentucky's hand crafted heritage. (859-985-5448)
64 and 65. "Re-enact" a Civil War battle from your car. Pick up a driving tour map of the Battle of Richmond from the Richmond Visitor Center, 345 Lancaster Ave. (859-624-0013). A driving guide to the Battles of Cynthiana is available at 201 South Main Street in Cynthiana. (859-234-5236)
66. Take a 250-year-old shortcut. Follow Tates Creek Road out of Lexington and you'll end up on the banks of the Kentucky River. If you want to go any further, you'll have to take the Valley View Ferry. The schedule can be affected by weather, so call ahead to make sure it's running. (859-624-4748)
67. Lexington and Central Kentucky have hundreds of free special events throughout the year, ranging from arts fairs and parades to harvest festivals and Christmas singalongs. Contact the Lexington Visitors Center to find out what's going on while you're in town. (859-233-7299 or 800-845-3959.)