If you love horses, or you love horse racing, you know that Central Kentucky in April or October is the place to be. But did you know that there’s more to Central Kentucky than yelling “Go, baby, go!” and betting the ponies?
Hey, even Queen Elizabeth comes to the area — but only with her horses in tow. From the trappings of royalty (in the horse farms and on the grounds of local attractions) to the glitter of the special baubles from area shops, Central Kentucky is a hidden gem to be treasured over a long weekend.
Central Kentucky’s rolling pastures, tobacco fields and old Kentucky homes are just part of the area’s charm. With a nod toward the pageantry and pleasantries of Kentucky horse racing, the area is filled with hidden treasures waiting to be uncovered.
Here are 15 things to do and see in the heart of the bluegrass state.
1. The Glitz
Located in the bottom floor of Irish Acres Antiques in Nonesuch, The Glitz is a one-of-a-kind tea room serving a luncheon by reservation only Wednesday through Saturday. For less than $25, the full-course lunch includes everything from appetizers to dessert and features the Glitz’s signature Apple Spritzer drink. The menu is locally grown with seasonal items that change frequently, and the atmosphere is truly to be seen in order to be believed. After some antique shopping upstairs, work your way to the basement for lunch. Tiny Christmas lights glitter off the stone walls and fine china sets the tone for a lunch unlike anything you’ve ever had before. And take home some of the apple spritzer drink with you, if you find you like it.
2. The Kentucky Castle
For years, the Castle along US 60 stood incomplete, a gift from a husband to his wife that didn’t quite last as long as the marriage did. But in 2016, the castle was purchased by new owners who came in and renovated the building to turn it into the not-so-hidden gem of the Bluegrass that it is today. Five-star dining in the restaurant is accompanied by world-class accommodations in the castle’s 16 hotel rooms. From locally-sourced produce to high quality linens, the Castle truly makes guests feel like royalty.
Throughout Woodford County, tobacco farms turned wineries are not only taking hold, but are a sight to behold.
At Prodigy Winery, along Frankfort Pike, the tasting room opens onto a bricked patio to allow for evening concerts during the summer, and intimate gatherings around the firepit during cooler weather. At Wildside Winery, the bourbon barrel decorated great room is the perfect spot for a large gathering. And at Equus Run Winery near Midway, the tasting room opens onto gardens to allow visitors to enjoy the tranquility of a rustic farm atmosphere.
Above all, the wines are perfect accompaniments to warm Kentucky summers, as well as cool Southern autumn nights.
4. Bourbon Tours
What’s a trip to Kentucky without a few stops along the Bourbon Trail? In Woodford County, Woodford Reserve proudly shows off its century-old heritage in the area with tours and tastings. And newly renovated Castle and Key Distillery offers tours and tastings as well, but features the state’s first female master distiller at the helm. Walk through the doors and be transported back to a simpler, more genteel time, when sipping whisky was a gentleman’s passion. Most tours provide samples of drinks, with some even providing bourbon candy as well!
5. Bed & Breakfasts
Several bed and breakfasts are open in the area and provide luxurious accommodations for the weekend visitors. From the Charred Oaks Inn with its fireplaces and four-poster beds and rolling Kentucky hills as a landscape, to the Woodford Inn with its 1878 styling and downstairs restaurant, the area’s bed and breakfasts are cozy and romantic getaways to enjoy while staying in the area. Montgomery Inn offers modern amenities like whirlpool tubs, while keeping old Southern traditions like relaxing on its wrap-around porch alive. And all serve a range of breakfasts from lite fare to gourmet breakfast entrees. Some even serve evening treats to pamper their guests.
6. Eckert’s Orchard
In the fall, this family owned orchard opens up its barn doors to bring crispy apple-y goodness to visitors. From fresh picked Gala apples, to apple cider and apple donuts, and all sorts of apple butters and apple treats, there’s no end to the treats waiting for you at Eckert’s. While the farm is open year-round, fall is an especially great time to visit for all of the harvested produce and activities. A petting zoo, pumpkin patch, and hayrides complete the trip. Make sure to pose for photographs while you pick your own apples and blackberries, or sip some hot apple cider while you shop.
7. Jack Jouett House
Known as the “Paul Revere of the South”, Jack Jouett’s ride to warn Thomas Jefferson of the coming British troops probably did more for the Revolutionary War than Paul Revere did. After saving Jefferson however, he relocated to Kentucky and was instrumental in the area becoming a commonwealth. His home, restored some 40 years ago, remains a tribute to the revolutionary war hero — and a wonderful way to see what life in Kentucky was like in the late 1700s.
8. The Amsden
Located on the corner of Court Street in downtown Versailles, The Amsden is home to The Amsden Coffee House, the General Merchantile, the Amsden Bourbon Bar featuring bourbons, high-end wines and specially crafted cocktails, on the ground floor, as well as the Yoga Room and Shop Twenty on the top floor. From one-of-a-kind artwork, to one-of-a-kind drinks to one-of-a-kind looks, you’re sure to find something to please you at the Amsden.
9. Falling Springs
Woodford County’s Recreation Center is not only a great place to work out, but also is a wonderful resource for the traveler. The Woodford Players perform here throughout the year with productions ranging from The Producers to Sister Act. And a newly installed professional level disc golf course provides visitors with a fun way to work off some of the home-cooking you’ll find throughout Central Kentucky
10. Versailles Brewing Company
Using locally grown produce, locally sourced meats, and their own brewery made beers, the Versailles Brewing Company not only serves up authentic Kentucky cuisine, but puts its own spin on micro-brewed beer. Try the pretzel and beer cheese, as well as the smoked chicken wings for appetizers, and the Kentucky Hot Brown for your entrée. With a complete wine list and full bar, you’ll have plenty of drinks to accompany your dinner. And a view to the brewing room will clue you in on how the Brewing Company makes its craft beers.
This quiet little town with a railroad is a hidden gem of the bluegrass. From gourmet restaurants by local restauranteur Ouita Michaels — like Holly Hill Inn, Wallace Station and the Midway Bakery — to antique and specialty stores, visiting Midway is half the fun. The drive there, over tree-covered roads bordered by horse farms, makes the trip just as much fun and being there. Once the home to Sam Shepherd, Midway is also home to Midway College. Its rustic charm makes it a great little place to hang out, relax, shop and enjoy a fall afternoon or a spring day.
12. Pisgah Presbyterian Church
The oldest church west of the Allegheny Mountains, Pisgah Presbyterian Church was founded in 1784 and has stood on the same spot ever since. For those who are Royal watchers, the church is where the Queen of England worships when she comes to visit on horse business. The graveyard is a beautiful walk back through time.
13. Horse Farm Tours
If you love horses, Central Kentucky is the place for you. Horse farm tours can not only get you up close and personal with how these amazing animals are cared for and trained, but also may bring you up close and personal with winners. Triple Crown winner and unbeaten racer Justify is part of the farm tour at WinStar farms, or hop on a tour bus and tour a farms that let you feed horses peppermints, or pet the foals of American Pharoah.
Go, baby, go! Twice a year, in April and October, Keeneland opens its doors to racing. No ordinary track, Keeneland is steeped in tradition and almost requires nice clothes and the occasional hat. On warm days, you can rent parasols to keep the sun off and on cool days, a shot of bourbon and some burgoo will warm you right up. Get there early and head to the track kitchen for a hearty breakfast, then hang out on the rail and watch the morning workouts. Nothing beats hearing hoof beats galloping toward you on the dirt track as the horses come through the fog. And if you listen closely to the track employees in the kitchen you might even pick up a few hot tips to place a wager on!
15. Bluegrass Scenic Railroad and Museum
Located at the Woodford County Park in Versailles, the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad Museum shows visitors what life was like traveling by train back in the day. From its historic exhibits, like stones from the original railroad that ran through the site in 1831, to its historic train rides, you’re sure to find something to fill you with a longing for a chug along the choo choo. Hop aboard the train to take an 11-mile round trip through the horse farms, and then stop to check out the museum where you’ll find the Stationmaster’s desk and other train memorabilia.
We hope this piece has given you ample reason to visit Central Kentuky. Giddeeup!