We visited Frankfort, Kentucky, because we collect state capitols. By the time we left, we had fallen in love with bourbon.
The city’s theme is “Kentucky Distilled.” To visit Frankfort is to touch the heart of Kentucky. Some of the state’s greatest are honored in Frankfort. Besides the seat of government, Frankfort also offers art, history, parks, and fantastic food.
Pro Tip: Since Kentucky is rightly famous for its bourbon, bourbon is the state’s official drink. Right? No. The official state beverage is (drumroll please) milk.
Things To Do In Frankfort
Kentucky River Tours
Take life easy on the Kentucky River. Learn about the river’s impact on the bourbon industry, take in Frankfort’s history, or enjoy sunsets on the river.
Pro Tip: Pay attention to the tours’ various durations, meeting places, and shuttle bus commute times. All are listed with the tour information. Reservations are required.
Kentucky State Capitol
Kentucky’s State Motto is “United we stand; divided we fall.” The motto is part of the state seal, which appears on the state capitol’s doors. Three of the five sculptures in the capitol’s rotunda illustrate the division’s consequences. Kentucky’s two presidents held the office at the same time, one opposing the other. President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were born eight months apart in birthplaces 100 miles apart. Henry Clay was Speaker of the House six times, but his greatest legacy was the three major compromises that delayed the Civil War. Paintings illustrate scenes from Kentucky’s history and her major industries. The designer lavished marble on the interior.
Pro Tip: On-site parking is available. Call ahead for large groups. Download walking tour maps for the building and grounds here.
The Floral Clock
Mark the passing of time and seasons with the Floral Clock on the Capitol Grounds. Thousands of plants decorate the 34-foot-wide clock. Gardeners change out the plants seasonally. Throw Lady Luck a coin into the fountain.
Thomas D. Clark Center For Kentucky History
The center’s “A Kentucky Journey” exhibit illustrates 12,000 years of Kentucky history. See the coat Governor William Goebel was wearing when he was assassinated in 1900. The museum also holds Lincoln’s pocket watch from 1860. Admire the handcrafted artistry of quilts and furniture made by ordinary Kentuckians.
Old State Capitol
Kentucky did everything possible to avoid the Civil War, but its neutrality didn’t last. The Confederacy invaded first. In response, Kentucky joined the Union. Not to be denied, the Confederates established their version of the Kentucky government. The Confederacy held Frankfort for a month in 1862. Frankfort was the only Union capital to be captured.
The Confederate troops installed a governor. However, Union troops pushed the would-be governor out of the capital city quickly.
Kentucky Military History Museum
The museum is appropriately housed in the state arsenal building, which looks like a castle complete with battlements. Artifacts from the Revolutionary War to the present are housed there. Startling fact: Kentucky suffered about 60 percent of the War of 1812’s casualties.
Pro Tip: Purchase tickets online or at the Kentucky History Center. Admission includes the Old Capitol and Military History Museum.
Leslie Morris Park
Walk to the park from downtown Frankfort. The trail begins across from River View Park. The trail is relatively unchanged from its role as a 19th-century military road. One trail in the park discusses history. Another showcases the hill’s natural features. Take the nature trail for Kentucky Valley views. Watch birds from the bird blind.
Pro Tip: The Sullivan House acts as the park’s interpretive center. It’s open from May to October.
Daniel Boone Monument
Daniel Boone was literally a trailblazer. He was part of the group that made the first attempt to settle Kentucky. Boone led a group that cut the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into present-day Kentucky. When he died in 1820, the Boones were in Missouri. Such an important Kentuckian couldn’t be left in Missouri, so in 1845, his and his wife Rebecca’s remains were moved to the Frankfort Cemetery. Their monument depicts scenes from their lives. However, Daniel’s remains may not be next to his wife (there’s ongoing controversy about whether his remains or someone else’s were disinterred).
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Mist filled the air the morning we toured Buffalo Trace. When I stepped out of the car, the aroma of bourbon saturated the air. I immediately thought, “Now I have died and gone to heaven.” That feeling persisted throughout our tour. We embraced The Trace Tour. We learned the science of bourbon, walked through the aging warehouses, watched the workers bottle bourbon, and loved the tasting at the end. We were sold: Buffalo Trace is our favorite bourbon brand.
Pro Tip: Book tours in advance. Allow about 75 minutes for the tour and tasting. Buffalo Cream is not for sale everywhere, and it is delicious. Buy some in the gift shop.
Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours And Museum
If “I Want Candy” is your theme song, you’ll enjoy Rebecca Ruth’s. Ruth Booe invented the delectable confection known as bourbon balls in the 1930s. It’s become a Kentucky classic. The main ingredients are bourbon, chocolate, and pecans. Tours tell about her life, the candy company’s long history, and include a candy sample. Marvel at the 12-foot-long carved marble slab named Edna’s Table. Edna served the company for 67 years.
Josephine Sculpture Park
Nearly 70 artworks are scattered through 30 acres of meadows and forests at Josephine Sculpture Park. The contemporary artworks rotate so the park is continually refreshed. Paths are mowed and kept as accessible as possible. If needed, reserve a golf cart ahead of time. Visually impaired guests may request touch tours. Enjoy one of the park’s numerous events.
Pro Tip: The park is dog-friendly, but keep your dog leashed and clean up after your pet.
Best Restaurants In Frankfort
Serafini is Frankfort’s top restaurant. Right across the street from the Old Capitol, it’s an easy walk from many Frankfort attractions.
We adored the restaurant. It features local ingredients and the menu is a combination of Southern cuisine and Italian cuisine. The bourbon list is astounding. We ate the bison meatloaf. Meatloaf in a top of the line restaurant? Oh, yeah. You have to try it. The cast-iron top sirloin was excellent. Our waiter was supremely knowledgeable about the food and bourbon.
Pro Tip: Reserve ahead of time.
Rick’s White Light Cajun Diner
Louisiana has taken residence in a 1943 diner. Chef Rick uses locally sourced ingredients to create excellent Cajun and Creole dishes. For breakfast, try Uncle Rick’s Magic Buckwheat Pancakes and Rick’s Famous Crawfish Pie. For lunch, try the Memphis-style pulled pork. Add Kentucky bourbon pie for dessert.
Pro Tip: To reach Rick’s, cross the Kentucky River on the Singing Bridge.
Franklin County Farmers Market
Enjoy the best of Franklin County’s farmers and crafters at the farmers market. If you enjoy fresh produce, baked goods, artisanal soap, canned goods, farm-fresh eggs, beer cheese, and other delectable goodies, come to River View Park. Hours vary seasonally.
River views and seafood — what could go together better? Everything at Jim’s is made from scratch using time-tested family recipes. Try the stuffed crab and the bourbon-glazed salmon.
Where To Shop In Frankfort
Downtown Frankfort features antiques, art galleries, and Kentucky-themed gifts.
Old Capitol Antiques
The owner specializes in vintage jewelry and clothing, especially cameos. I love cameos; they remind me of my grandmother. More vendors offer antiques and collectibles, including furniture.
Poor Richard’s Books
The store is stuffed with thousands of books, including an entire section of bourbon books. They also carry the letterpress books from Larkspur Press. If you’re a booklover, beware. You won’t want to leave.
Over 650 top Kentucky artisans sell their hand-crafted works in the shop. Gift wrapping is always free.
Silo Ridge Makers Market
Creative, quirky, and fun mark the products at Silo Ridge. Buy hand-crafted, small-batch gifts and souvenirs from the vendors.
Homegrown potters make and display their wares at the downtown store. Play with clay yourself during one of their classes.
Best Places To Stay In Frankfort
Pro Tip: Frankfort is busiest when the Kentucky Legislature is in session, from January through March or April. Reserve rooms well in advance during the session.
We recommend touring eight more Kentucky bourbon distilleries.