Bourbon capital of the world sign and downtown view of Bardstown, Kentucky. Image credit University of College via Shutterstock.

6 Delightful Towns to Visit in Kentucky

Kentucky’s unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty makes it a compelling destination for travelers. Established in 1792, the “Bluegrass State” has a fascinating story to tell, from its early Native American history to its pivotal roles in both the Civil War and the westward expansion of the United States.

Tourism is a vital industry in Kentucky, which is why towns (big and small!) make a point of rolling out the red carpet and showing off that famed Southern hospitality for their visitors. From historic Bardstown, the heart of the bourbon industry, to the vibrant cultural scenes in places like Berea and Paducah, these six delightful towns to visit in Kentucky each offer a fascinating glimpse into the state’s diverse attractions and deep-rooted traditions.


Welcome Center in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Welcome Center in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Ask any Kentuckian where to go for a truly authentic taste of the Bluegrass State, and I’d put money on them pointing you toward Bardstown. Just 40 miles south of Louisville, the state’s largest city, Bardstown was founded in 1780 and has earned the nickname of the "Bourbon Capital of the World” for the many distilleries located in and around town. Among the 11 distilleries that call this delightful town home are world-famous brands, including Maker's Mark, Bardstown Bourbon, and Heaven Hill, each of them participants in the Kentucky Bourbon Festival held every September with its tastings, distillery tours, and live entertainment.

Bardstown's historic downtown is a treasure trove of 18th and 19th-century architecture, housing charming B&Bs and inns, boutique shops, and great restaurants (and sometimes even a mix of all three!). Book a meal (and a room) at the famous Old Talbott Tavern and pick up some Bardstown souvenirs relating to what is the oldest continuously operating tavern in the United States. Opened in 1779, it’s known to have been frequented by the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Boone, and Jesse James, who even left a few bullet holes as reminders of his stay. Be sure to also visit My Old Kentucky Home State Park for a tour of the Federal Hill mansion and inspiration for the state song, My Old Kentucky Home.

Bowling Green

Urban downtown street in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Editorial credit: Jantira Namwong /
Urban downtown street in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Editorial credit: Jantira Namwong /

Bowling Green, located in south-central Kentucky, was founded in 1798 and was named after the square in New York City, where patriots famously pulled down a statue of King George III to make bullets for use against the British (true story!). A star attraction here is the National Corvette Museum, which celebrates America's most iconic sports cars through exhibits, displays, and the chance to see the Corvette assembly plant. Visiting this summer? Every August, the museum hosts the Anniversary Celebration, which in 2024 marks the 30th successive year the event’s been held.

Other fun things to do in Bowling Green include touring the Historic Railpark and Train Museum, featuring restored train cars and exhibits relating to the history of rail transportation in the region, and the Lost River Cave, which features guided underground boat tours through a network of subterranean rivers. Another event worth coming to town for is the Bowling Green International Festival. Held each September, it celebrates the town’s cultural diversity through music, dance, food, and crafts from around the world.


Berea Crafts Festival in Berea, Kentucky. Image credit: Stephen Nwaloziri via Shutterstock.
Berea Crafts Festival in Berea, Kentucky. Image credit: Stephen Nwaloziri via Shutterstock.

Berea is definitely the place to go to sample Kentucky’s arts and crafts scene. Founded in 1853, this pretty small town has a rich history rooted in education and social justice, with Berea College playing a central role in the town's development. Established in 1855, this forward-thinking educational establishment was the first interracial and coeducational college in the South and continues to be a hub of cultural and academic activity with a presence that can be seen everywhere across town, from its large student population to its trendy food and drink emporiums.

A Berea travel itinerary must include the Kentucky Artisan Center, a great art gallery showcasing the work of local artists and craftspeople, including unique handmade items for sale. Berea’s setting in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains is another plus, with stunning scenery like that of the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center at the Pinnacles, a 9,000-acre property boasting some of the state’s best hiking.


Architecture of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Image credit Sabrina Janelle Gordon via Shutterstock.
Architecture of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Image credit Sabrina Janelle Gordon via Shutterstock.

Affectionately known by locals as "E-town," Elizabethtown is a delightful historic community to explore. Located in north-central Kentucky and founded in 1797, it played a significant role in the state’s early Native American heritage and the Civil War, all revealed in the Hardin County History Museum. The Lincoln Heritage House and One-Room Schoolhouse are also worth visiting and can be enjoyed at Freeman Lake Park, a spot popular for fishing, boating, and picnics.

Slightly more recent history can be enjoyed at Swope's Cars of Yesteryear Museum, an impressive private collection of antique and classic automobiles from the early 1900s to the late 1960s open to the public. Popular events worth including on a Kentucky travel itinerary include the Heartland Harvest Festival in August, a family-friendly event featuring live music, carnival rides, and craft vendors, and the Cruisin' the Heartland car show in July with its vintage vehicles and live entertainment.


Fourth Street, Danville, Kentucky. Image credit: Warren LeMay via
Fourth Street, Danville, Kentucky. Image credit: Warren LeMay via

Danville is known as the "City of Firsts" due to its many historical milestones. Founded in 1787, it was the original capital of Kentucky, is home to the state's first courthouse, and is also where the world’s first successful surgical operation under anesthesia was performed in 1846. Exploring this delightful small town should start at the Constitution Square Historic Site, where Kentucky's statehood began. Among the many restored 18th-century buildings in Danville is the McDowell House Museum, which offers a glimpse into the life of Dr. Ephraim McDowell, a pioneer in abdominal surgery (guided tours are available).

Danville also hosts several major annual events worth attending, including the Great American Brass Band Festival in June, which features parades, picnics, and fireworks, and the Kentucky State BBQ Festival in September, which features mouthwatering cooking demonstrations.


Historic buildings in the downtown district of Paducah, Kentucky. Image credit Angela N Perryman via Shutterstock
Historic buildings in the downtown district of Paducah, Kentucky. Image credit Angela N Perryman via Shutterstock

Tucked away on the Ohio River in western Kentucky near the borders with Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee, Paducah was founded in 1827 by William Clark of Lewis and Clark fame and has a long history as a trade and transportation hub. Paducah's historic downtown is where to begin a visit. In addition to its art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants housed in beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings, it’s only a short stroll from here to the Historic Riverfront area. Highlights include the impressive Wall to Wall Murals, a series of large-scale paintings depicting the city's history and heritage along the floodwall. The Riverfront’s network of paths also boasts great views over the Ohio River.

Another fun thing to do in Paducah is visit the National Quilt Museum, which has a large collection of contemporary quilts and fiber art. It’s also the scene of the American Quilter's Society QuiltWeek every April. The River’s Edge International Film Festival in August is another good excuse to visit Paducah, as is the Lower Town Arts & Music Festival in May.

Of the 50 US states, few can boast the rich history, cultural diversity, and natural beauty that’s everywhere on display in Kentucky. And there’s nowhere better to enjoy an authentic Kentucky experience than by visiting some of the Bluegrass State’s smaller communities. From Bardstown's bourbon heritage, Berea's artistic vibrancy, and Danville's historical significance, these six delightful towns to visit in Kentucky are guaranteed to please.

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