Memorial Day 2021: Escapes in Kentucky for Bourbon, Horses & History

Experience the flavors, sights, and traditions that define the Bluegrass State—bourbon, horses, and history

COVID fatigue and the cabin fever it has produced will surely boil over Memorial Day weekend. This year, 37 million Americans are expected to hit the road and travel 50 miles or more from home, according to AAA. That number is about 60 percent more people than traveled last year when only 23 million traveled, the lowest on record since AAA began recording in 2000.

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“As more destinations open and vaccines are administered we’re seeing an increase in consumers who are ready to get out and enjoy the unofficial start of the summer travel season,” says Bevi Powell, senior vice president, AAA East Central. “The pent-up demand for travel could also be a sign of things to come this summer as more people feel comfortable hitting the road.”  

If you’re looking to get out of town for a much-needed vacation, Kentucky has plenty to offer. Outdoor adventure, history, horse farms, mouthwatering eats, bourbon, culture, arts, and the sweet sounds of bluegrass music (all with some Southern hospitality!) make the Bluegrass State the perfect place for a Memorial Day weekend road trip.

From the world’s longest known cave system and thundering waterfalls to impressive sandstone arches and the “Grand Canyon of the South,” there’s a lot to discover across Kentucky.

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The tourism and hospitality industry plays a critical role in helping generate revenue for Kentucky’s economy,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear. “As our nation continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of safe vacations and travel has become critically important.  Kentucky is fortunate to have an immense landscape of outdoor recreation and beauty which has positioned our tourism industry at advantage to recover from these unprecedented times.”

With that in mind, here are a few places to visit in Kentucky as you plan your Memorial Day getaway starting with a short and picturesque drive to Lexington. 

Bluegrass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Horse Farms in Lexington

There are many reasons to make Lexington your warm-weather Memorial Day weekend getaway destination. The second-largest city in Kentucky, Lexington is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” For starters, the folks at visitLEX.com have created country/bluegrass, hip-hop/R&B, and rock playlists for you to listen to as you explore the city and beyond.

If you’ve never toured a horse farm, now is the weekend to do it and Lexington is the place. Explore Horse Country by touring the homes of champions, seeing new foals frolic in their pastures, and learning about the care of Kentucky’s signature athletes. There are more than 400 horse farms in the area with over 25 offer tours (by reservation). 

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or take the self-guided tour of Keeneland Racecourse’s historic grounds. A historic racecourse Keenland is the world’s largest and most prominent Thoroughbred auction house. Morning Work tours and Backstretch tours are also available by reservation. Because of concerns surrounding COVID, Keeneland continues to limit the number of guests in each tour.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trot over to the Kentucky Horse Park for an enjoyable, educational experience for horse fans of all ages and disciplines. Take in a show, wander the grounds to visit horses in the barns, and be sure to stop in at the International Museum of the Horse which catalogs the history of the Thoroughbred industry.

Just north of the crossroads of I-75 and I-64, the city of Georgetown is home to one of the most picturesque Victorian downtown areas in the state, retired racehorses, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, a Japanese friendship garden, and Ward Hall—one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the South.

Old Friends © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a little more than a decade Old Friends, the Thoroughbred Retirement Facility in Georgetown has put a new face on the concept of equine aftercare.  Founded in 2003 by former Boston Globe film critic Michael Blowen, the organization has grown from a leased paddock and one horse to a 236-acre farm with a herd of over 200 rescued and retired horses. A variety of tours are available; due to public health COVID guidelines reservations are required.

Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon Capital of the World

Bardstown, known as the Bourbon Capital of the World is one of the most beautiful small towns in the U.S. Bardstown offers small-town charm paired with delicious bourbon. Serving as an Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail the town is the perfect spot for a bourbon excursion. Consider starting at the Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distillery to learn about the story of bourbon in the area then continue the journey at Barton’s 1792 Distillery, the oldest fully operating distillery in town, as well as Willett Distillery.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Bardstown you’ll head 25 miles southeast to Lebanon and Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is quite possibly one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the world thanks to the six-generation Samuels family recipe and its distinctive wax seal on every bottle. On the tour, you’ll have the option of sealing your very own bottle in wax which is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Travel back in time at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, a 19th-century estate with costumed tour guides that was the inspiration for Stephen Collins Foster’s song which later became the state anthem. The three-story portion of Federal Hill was commissioned by the Rowan family in 1812 and completed in 1818. Visitors can tour the home and learn about the Rowan family history. The state park also offers 39 RV camping sites.

State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State Capitol + history + Bourbon + Bourbon Balls in Frankfort

Perfectly positioned on the shores of the Kentucky River between Louisville and Lexington, Frankfort is the capital city of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The State Capitol building rises above the city and overlooks the river as the waterway ambles to the north making a unique S shape through the historic downtown. The Capitol is on the National Register of Historic Places and is noted as one of the most impressive Capitols in the nation. Then, explore the grounds and find the Floral Clock located on the West Lawn of the Capitol Grounds. The face of the clock is 34 feet across and planted with thousands of plants that are changed out seasonally.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For more Kentucky history, go downtown and visit the Old State Capitol building and the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, a museum and educational complex operated by the Kentucky Historical Society. While downtown, take a tour at Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours & Museum honoring Ruth Hanly Booe, the “Mother of Bourbon Balls” then venture over to Buffalo Trace Distillery, the oldest continuously operating distillery in America that offers free tours.

Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for More Kentucky Getaways?

Looking for more getaway ideas for Memorial Day and beyond?  Right this way!

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone