Lexington is similar to Louisville and a good choice for the same reasons. It’s just smaller and has more of a college town atmosphere, as it hosts both the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University. If you are interested in horses and horse racing, that probably tips it in for Lexington. Keeneland is a historic thoroughbred track and most of Kentucky’s horse farms are in the Lexington area. Some welcome visitors but just driving by and admiring them from the road is a popular pastime too. Many visitors love to marvel at the miles and miles of dry-stacked stone walls.
The Kentucky Horse Park is the easiest way to have a horsey experience. It includes a working horse farm. Nearby is Old Friends Farm, where thoroughbreds retire.
In Lexington, the Gratz Park Inn is a charming alternative to chain hotels. Distilled is their fine dining restaurant and bourbon bar. There are many other good dining and drinking choices in Lexington’s compact downtown. Dudley’s on Short is great for fine dining. Nearby, Table Three Ten is more casual and makes very good drinks. Belle’s Cocktail House is a lively bar that keeps odd hours.
If you’re looking for beer, the Village Idiot is the town’s top gastropub. Alltech is a Lexington-based animal nutrition company that also operates a brewery and distillery, both of which give tours. The distillery, called Town Branch, has two gleaming copper pot stills that make a great photo opportunity.
Kentucky’s bourbon country overlaps with Abraham Lincoln country. The Mary Todd Lincoln House, in Lexington, was the family home of the First Lady and is open to the public. There are other Lincoln-related attractions around Springfield and Elizabethtown.
Kentucky also has many Civil War sites. South of Lexington, at the far southern tip of Jessamine County, where spectacular limestone palisades tower up to 400 feet above the Kentucky River, you will find Camp Nelson.
In 1863, two years into the Civil War, the Union’s Army of the Ohio was organized under the command of Major General Ambrose Burnside. Burnside’s engineers chose this defensible plateau by a key river crossing for a massive fortified supply depot and encampment from which to launch a planned invasion of eastern Tennessee. They named it after Major General William ‘Bull’ Nelson, who founded the first Union recruitment camp in Kentucky.
There isn’t much there now, but the 525-acre Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park welcomes visitors.
Just across the main road (now U.S. 27) from the Camp Nelson National Cemetery there was once a huge whiskey distillery. All that remains are six large barrel warehouses full of aging Wild Turkey bourbon. Nearby is the Jim Beam Nature Preserve, a 115-acre park with hiking trails open to the public.
Town Branch Distillery 401 Cross St., Lexington, 859-225-8095,
Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park 6614 Danville Rd., Nicholasville, Ky., 859-881-5716, campnelson.org
Jim Beam Nature Preserve Payne Ln., Nicholasville, Ky., 859-259-9655
Keeneland 4201 Versailles Rd., Lexington, 859-254-3412, keeneland.com
Kentucky Horse Park 4089 Iron Works Pkwy, Lexington, 859-259-4200, kyhorsepark.com
Mary Todd Lincoln House 578 W. Main St., Lexington, 859-233-9999,
Old Friends Farm 1841 Paynes Depot Rd., Georgetown, Ky., 502-863-1775, oldfriendsequine.org
Where To Stay
Gratz Park Inn 120 W. 2nd St., Lexington, 859-231-1777, gratzparkinn
Where To Eat and Drink
Belle’s Cocktail House 156 Market St., Lexington [no phone, website]
Distilled at Gratz Park 120 W. 2nd St., Lexington, 859-255-0002, distilledatgratzpark.com
Dudley’s on Short 259 W. Short St., Lexington, 859-252-1010, dudleysrestaurant.com
Table Three Ten 310 W. Short St., Lexington, 859-309-3901
Village Idiot 311 W. Short St., Lexington, 859-252-0099, lexingtonvillageidiot.com