Affectionately referred to as the Bluegrass State due to the perennial Kentucky bluegrass species introduced by the European settlers, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, located in the American Southeast, is known for its rolling hills, verdant forests, navigable waterways, artificial lakes, and fascinating historical landmarks. This mid-sized US State is renowned for its Southern culture, which includes bluegrass music, bourbon whiskey, the Kentucky Derby horse race, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Dotting the Bluegrass State are multiple small towns, each with its attractive charm. Having scenic natural landscapes, rich history, classy restaurants, vibrant festivals, ample outdoor activities, and friendly locals, these small towns, ranked among US favorites, offer visitors a well-rounded experience.
Named after New Jersey’s Somerset County, this fascinating town rests on the Pennyroyal Plateau’s eastern end in Kentucky’s Pulaski County. Home to around 11,924 inhabitants, Somerset is known for its proximity to Lake Cumberland, a 65,530-acre reservoir created by the construction of the Wolf Creek Dam on the Cumberland River. Offering a variety of water-based recreation activities like fishing, kayaking, boating, and swimming, Lake Cumberland draws thousands of visitors every year and serves as a significant source of tourism and an economic engine for the entire south-central portion of the state. In addition, tourists can visit the nearby Cumberland Falls and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and spend quality time amidst spectacular natural scenery.
Often called the "Bourbon Capital of the World," Bardstown, the county seat of Nelson County, is in central Kentucky’s outer Bluegrass region, about 40 miles southeast of Louisville. Named in honor of the pioneering Bard brothers: David Bard and William Bard, Bardstown is one of the state’s oldest cities that was initially settled by European Americans in 1780. Being the first stop on the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Bardstown draws visitors from all over with its three operating distilleries, including Barton 1792, Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc., and Lux Row Distilleries.
Other interesting sites in and around Bardstown include the Old Talbott Tavern, St. Joseph’s Proto-Cathedral, Wickland Mansion, Civil War Museum, Bardstown Historical Museum, Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey, Bardstown Historic District, My Old Kentucky Home State Park, and the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.
Nicknamed "The Folk Arts And Crafts Capital Of Kentucky," Berea is a favorite town that sits on the boundary of the rugged Cumberland Plateau, along Interstate 75 highway in Madison County, approximately 40 miles south of Lexington and 15 miles south of Richmond. As one of Kentucky’s fastest-growing towns, Berea is well-known for its historic buildings, restaurants, art festivals, and being home to Berea College, a renowned private liberal arts work institution.
Located at the heart of the town on College Square is the historic Boone Tavern Hotel & Restaurant, a popular destination reputed for its solid cherry wood furniture made by Berea College Student Crafts and lip-smacking regional cuisines. Besides the various annual crafts festivals, Berea also hosts the Spoonbread Festival in mid-September and the Berea College Celebration of Traditional Music in mid-October. Outdoor enthusiasts must not miss the several miles of spectacular hiking trails in the Berea Pinnacles.
Named after the Scottish hometown of the United States Senator William Logan’s family, Glasgow is a popular town at the center of Barren County and is the principal city of the Glasgow Micropolitan Statistical Area. The town has many well-preserved historic houses on South Green Street that date back to the early 1800s and have different architectural styles. Tourists must stop by the Historic Plaza Theatre, Museum of the Barrens, Fort Williams, and the Veterans Wall of Honor to imagine life in these small towns during the American Civil War. From Glasgow, outdoor lovers can head to some of the state’s noteworthy natural landmarks, including the Mammoth Cave National Park, Brigadoon State Nature Reserve, Barren River Lake, and Diamond Caverns.
Initially settled in 1799 on an estate donated by William Campbell and named after the Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene, Greenville is nestled in the hilly western portion of the state at the center of Muhlenberg County. Tourists must tour the historic downtown square lined by boutiques, restaurants, and entertainment spaces anchored at the center by a 100-year-old courthouse. Visit the Muhlenberg County Veterans Mall and Plaza, Thistle Cottage, Muhlenberg County Rail Trail, the 12-acre forest at Brizendine Brothers Nature Park, Lake Malone State Park, and the Summerhouse, a one-of-a-kind gazebo ideal for picnics. Greenville hosts many annual festivals like the Saturdays on the Square, Twilight Antique Car Show, Squash & Gobble Arts Bazaar and Fall Festival.
Affectionately referred to as the "Kindness Capital of Kentucky," La Grange is a small town located in Oldham County, about 25 miles northeast of Louisville. A unique attraction of La Grange is the CSX Transportation street-running mainline track, which runs directly through the town's Main Street. Visitors from all over the world are drawn to La Grange to closely watch about 25 freight trains that move each day through the town. Tourists can explore the La Grange Railroad Museum, Oldham County History Center, and La Grange Springs Park or browse the numerous specialty shops, art galleries, and cozy eateries that line the La Grange Historic District. The town also hosts a Farmers’ and Artisan Market from mid-May to late October, where locally-made products are sold.
A part of the Bowling Green Metropolitan Statistical Area, Brownsville, the county seat of Edmonson County, is in the Green River valley in the state’s central portion. A certified Kentucky Trail Town, Brownsville is home to around 900 residents. Tourists visiting Brownsville must not miss the Nolin Lake State Park to enjoy various outdoor recreational activities. Other nearby attractions include the Mammoth Cave National Park, Double J Stables & Horseman’s Campground, National Corvette Museum, and the 1.3-mile moderately trafficked Slanty Hollow Lake Trail. Brownsville also hosts an annual 5-day festival where residents and visitors are entertained with live musical performances.
Founded as Harrod’s Town on June 16, 1774, by a band of pioneers led by James Harrod, Harrodsburg is the oldest permanent American settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. Being the administrative center of Mercer County, Harrodsburg is steeped in history, with various notable attractions like the Old Fort Harrod State Park, Morgan Row Houses, Old Mud Meeting House of the Dutch Reformed Church, and the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. Outdoor lovers can enjoy a cruise through the nearby Kentucky River Palisades or explore the different trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.
The county seat of Laurel County, London, forms a part of the London, Kentucky Micropolitan Area in the state’s southeastern portion. This small town caters to residents and tourists alike and serves as an ideal base to explore the adjacent natural attractions such as the Levi Jackson State Park, Daniel Boone National Forest, Rockcastle River, Laurel Lake, and many more. Hikers can trek through the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, while cyclists can use the many London-Laurel County cycling routes.
History enthusiasts can visit the Camp Wildcat Battlefield to learn more about the site of the Battle of Camp Wildcat, one of the primary battles of the American Civil War. An annual event named "World Chicken Festival" is held in downtown London on the last weekend in September that celebrates the life of Colonel Sanders, a reputed American businessman and founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Named after Robert Hodgen, a Pennsylvania native, Hodgenville is a favorite locale in the valley of the North Fork of the Nolin River at the heart of the state’s LaRue County. Renowned as the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, this small town transports one back in time and is a must-visit for American history buffs. To learn more about Lincoln’s heritage, explore the lush forest trails in Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park that houses the First Lincoln Memorial and a Visitor Center and preserves two separate farm sites where Abraham Lincoln was born and resided during his formative years. You can also visit the Lincoln Museum and take a snap with President Lincoln’s bronze statue at Hodgenville’s scenic Town Square.
Nicknamed “American Saddlebred Capital of the World,” Shelbyville is located along US Route 60 highway and north of Interstate 64 highway, close to the heart of Shelby County. The town is known for breeding regal American Saddlebred horses and hosts an annual Shelbyville Horse Show, as well as the Shelbyville Dogwood Festival. In addition, the tourists must explore the Shelby County Historical Society Museum, pick fruits at the Mulberry Orchard, browse antiques at the Reclaimed on Main store and Wakefield-Scearce Galleries.
Situated on an isthmus between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, Grand Rivers forms a part of the Paducah, KY-IL Micropolitan Statistical Area in the state’s Livingston County. This spectacular waterfront town is a popular summertime destination that perfectly blends southern charm with unparalleled natural beauty. Tourists can enjoy theatrical and live musical performances at the Badgett Playhouse, hike the Grand Rivers Walking Trail & Jetty, enjoy water-based recreational activities at the Kentucky Dam Marina and Lake Barkley, and a wide variety of outdoor activities at the Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area.
The famed equestrian sporting events, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and bluegrass music first come to mind when one thinks of visiting the 37th largest and 26th most populous US State. However, the beautiful small towns prove that Kentucky is more than that. So, whether you wish to shop at the local boutiques, explore exciting sites associated with American history, listen to live musical performances, take a leisurely hike in the surrounding natural locales, or enjoy a great variety of drinks and traditional cuisines, do not forget to include these small towns that were ranked among US favorites in your itineraries on your next visit to the Bluegrass State.