The Kentucky River meanders along framing the downtown urban core of Frankfort KY.

9 Best Small Towns To Visit In Kentucky

Known for its rich culture, from horse racing to delicious bourbon, Kentucky is an amazing state to visit. Nestled within the Southeastern United States, visitors flock to the iconic state to enjoy the natural sights and amazing cities. You'll often find tourists enjoying the lively vibe and stunning surroundings of Louisville, Kentucky's largest city. Many visitors overlook the vast array of small towns throughout the state, each with its own beautiful offerings. These towns are ideal destinations, rich in charm and authenticity, and can make for a truly memorable vacation in the state!


PADUCAH, KENTUCKY, USA - CIRCA OCTOBER 2018: Row of colorful, historic buildings on the main street in the downtown area.
PADUCAH, KENTUCKY, USA - CIRCA OCTOBER 2018: Row of colorful, historic buildings on the main street in the downtown area. Editorial Credit: Angela N Perryman via Shutterstock.

Aptly nicknamed “The Quilt City,” Paducah is a cultural abode synonymous with stunning quilt-making. The county seat of McCracken County, this town is a UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art testament to its deep-rooted history of quilt making. So, you can learn about the art and appreciate stunning quilts all over. The National Quilt Museum is a great example showcasing thousands of stunning fiber artworks, sculptures, and a true insight into the town’s vibrant culture. If you’re interested in buying a quilt, plan your visit during QuiltWeek Paducah, the largest quilt show in North America. Seeping through to the rest of town, Paducah is also filled with other cultural attractions within its Historic district. For example, the Portraits of Our Past Floodwall Mural rests along the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, showcasing stunning historical artwork.

Speaking of picturesque, Paducah features plenty of outdoor areas to enjoy. If you want to stay near town, Bob Noble Park is a quaint family destination with great coastal sights. Spend the day here fishing, walking, or swimming for a fun evening. For a more immersive experience, the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is a must-visit. Boasting 170,000 acres of stunning land, this area has everything from verdant forests to crystal-clear lakes. So, set up camp, and you can spend a few days engulfed by Kentucky’s outdoor allure and beautiful wildlife. Put it all together, and Paducah is an amazing mix of culture and nature that anyone can appreciate.


Old Murray Paris Road in Calloway County, Kentucky.
Old Murray Paris Road in Calloway County, Kentucky.

A short drive south of Paducah, Murray is a lively college town in Calloway County, Kentucky. Filled with college students, tourists, and hospitable locals, the town is often among America’s friendliest. So, no matter where you go, you’ll find smiling faces and open arms. Take in the positive vibe by checking out the stores, eateries, and cafes that line the streets of Murray. For example, you can grab a souvenir at the New Life Christian Bookstore, which sells books, gifts, and more. Or, if you’re feeling hungry, head over to Mugsy’s Hideout to relish some of the best deep-dish pizza and hot dogs in town.

While the fun never ends in town, Murray also hides an intriguing history and timeline. Founded in 1822, you can indulge in the two-century-long past by visiting the Historic Downtown Murray. With dozens of buildings, this four-block area is a blast to the past that history lovers are sure to enjoy. Be sure to check out the old National Hotel building and Iris Theater for some interesting stories. Before you leave Murray, take a step back into the present and end your day at Kentucky Lake. This massive body of water offers an endless shoreline, a golf course, boat ramps, and resorts for a complete outdoor experience. So, no matter what you’re into, there is something for everyone at Murray.


Looking south on Main Street (Kentucky Route 1247) from the intersection with Mount Vernon Street (Kentucky Route 80) on the public square in Somerset, Kentucky, United States. This block is part of the South Courthouse Square Historic District, a historic district that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Looking south on Main Street (Kentucky Route 1247) from the intersection with Mount Vernon Street (Kentucky Route 80) on the public square in Somerset, Kentucky, United States.

Somerset, a quaint small town in Pulaski County, is a wellspring of outdoor allure. From waterfalls to forests, visitors can enjoy a range of natural sights and activities both in and around town. If you’re looking for a waterside outing, the majestic Lake Cumberland should be at the top of your list. With crystal clear waters encircled by verdant forests, this lake is ideal for fishing, camping, boating, and hiking. Once you’ve dried yourself off, another great option is the two million-acre Daniel Boone National Forest. Home to forests, mountains, lakes, rivers, and everything you can imagine, this expanse of nature is a delight for travelers. Apart from the endless trails and camping opportunities, be sure to check out some of the forest's unique sights, such as the 96-foot-high Cumberland waterfalls.

After taking in the great outdoors, visitors can learn about the town's history at the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument. This site commemorates the 1826 battle featuring guided tours and memorabilia for a great learning experience. On the other hand, for a unique take on the past, Somerset is also home to the International Paranormal Museum. Famous to tourists, this spooky museum showcases items related to ghosts, aliens, cryptids, and more. So, you can witness some creepy sights or grab an inimitable souvenir to surprise your friends and family back home!


Former Shelby County courthouse in Shelbyville Kentucky.
Former Shelby County courthouse in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

Instilled with deep roots, Shelbyville is an abode of cultural value in Shelby County. Once a rest stop between the major cities of Louisville and Frankfort, the town has been popular with tourists for hundreds of years. With so many people coming and going, horse shows, and bourbon became two popular industries that entertained people. As of today, Shelbyville is nicknamed the “Saddlebred Capital of the World,” hosting an annual Shelbyville Horse Show wherein majestic Saddlebred horses compete for awards. This is the perfect time to visit the town as you can meet famous attendees, enjoy the events, and participate in the festivities. If you can’t make it for the Horse Show, the Shelbyville Dogwood Festival is another festival full of life. Drawing in people with amazing arts, crafts, and food, there is never a dull moment in Shelbyville.

After enjoying the lively aura and exciting environment, what’s the best way to spend an evening in Shelbyville? There’s one clear answer: enjoying a local bourbon at one of the famous distilleries in town. Offering a complete retreat, the Bulleit Distillery is set on a 300-acre area with tours detailing the distilling process. Learn all about how bourbon is made and then enjoy some of the exquisite drinks such as Bulleit Rye Whiskey and Bulleit Bourbon. Visitors who want to have a quick drink can opt for the Jeptha Creed Distillery instead. Nestled on a family farm, there is a bar and cafe to enjoy some booze and have fun conversations with the locals. That being said, if you’re here with family, drinking might not be on your list of things to do. In that case, Shelbyville has you covered with Red Orchard Park, where kids can have a blast on the playground or disc golf course.


The 100 block of North Main Street in Greenville, Kentucky. It is part of the North Main Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 100 block of North Main Street in Greenville, Kentucky. It is part of the North Main Street Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

While Shelbyville may be known for its Saddlebreds, Greenville is deeply intertwined with the coal and dark tobacco industry. Nicknamed “the unofficial capital of the Black Belt,” this town in Muhlenberg County was once a major coal producer in the state. While the industry has dwindled, you can learn all about it at the Thistle Cottage. Constructed in 1912, this quaint cottage tells the town’s story using artifacts, exhibits, and memorabilia from the region. However, Greenville’s caring community has gone beyond local history with the iconic 9/11 memorial in town. Displaying a replica of the two towers and a bronze American flag above them, it is a meaningful memorial. So, take a moment to remember the victims and events that took place on the fateful day.

On a lighter note, Greenville is not only about culture and history. Engulfing the town is a retreat of natural attractions which can get you back into high spirits. Experience a sense of tranquility in the Brizendine Brothers Nature Park. A peaceful 12-acre woodland retreat, there are wonderful trails and lush greenery open to explore. If you enjoyed this hike, head over to the Rails to Trails route, which offers miles of encompassing treeline and paved trail. If you’re lucky, you might spot a bear or coyote who occasionally wanders out to the trail.


Midway, Kentucky, October 16, 2016: Main street of Midway - a small town in Central Kentucky famous of its boutique shops and restaurants.
Midway, Kentucky, October 16, 2016: Main street of Midway - a small town in Central Kentucky famous of its boutique shops and restaurants. Editorial Credit: Alexey Stiop via Shutterstock.

Midway is a refuge for small-town vibes blossoming with hospitable locals and a rich past. The town was established as a railroad settlement at the midpoint of Lexington and Frankfurt, named Midway. This brought in loads of people and attention, which bolstered the growth of downtown Midway. Today, travelers can explore the downtown area to find eateries, galleries, wineries, and more. A fan favorite is the Damselfly Gallery which sells interesting arts and crafts perfect for a fun souvenir. After grabbing a souvenir, grab a seat at Red State BBQ for a delicious stake and amazing service. Even if you plan on window shopping, the historic buildings and simple architecture can keep you entranced for hours on end. After a tiring day out and about, cool off with a glass of wine at the Equus Run Vineyard & Winery. This peaceful town is a great retreat in Kentucky from history to entertainment.


Scenic aerial view of Central Kentucky countryside near Berea.
Scenic aerial view of Central Kentucky countryside near Berea.

After your trip to Midway, drive an hour south to reach the lovely town of Berea. Nestled within Madison County, this town is brimming with artistic creativity and amazing craftsmanship. Prevalent through the art festivals, historic establishments, and stunning cultural attractions, visitors can indulge in a thriving arts scene rarely found elsewhere. Walk down Old Artisan Town Village for a jam-packed street lined with studios, galleries, restaurants, and more. Whether you want to admire handmade glasswork at the Weston Glass Studio or buy some fabrics from Old Town Fabric, you’ll need a few hours to take in the outstanding art on display. Whatever you decide on doing, be sure to stop by the Kentucky Artisan Center, which sells oil paintings, sculptures, textiles, and more for the perfect souvenir!

While most people find themselves lost in the colorful alleys of Berea, beyond the town’s limits lies a wellspring of mother nature’s beauty. The Anglin Falls is a tourist hotspot where you can hike through 1.5 miles of thick foliage to admire the 75-foot waterfall. Similarly, the Berea Pinaccles is another amazing reprieve boasting 9,000 acres of cliffs, trees, wildlife, and serenity. Spend the day hiking up the peaks, basking in the neverending expanse of Kentucky’s rolling hills.


Colorful history and architecture can be found in Newport Kentucky.
Colorful history and architecture can be found in Newport, Kentucky.

Set along the Ohio River and Licking River’s confluence, Newport is a picture-perfect small town in Kentucky. Whether it is coastal sights, historical buildings, or even major businesses, this town is a multi-faceted destination. To this end, visitors flock to Newport to enjoy the best of both worlds, whether it is the bustling urban feel or small-town hospitality. If you are here for the stunning waters, Purple People Bridge has to be your first destination. This 2,500+ footbridge connects the town to Cincinnati in Ohio and provides a rustic view of the Ohio River below. If having water below you isn’t enough, the Newport Aquarium should be next on your list. With acrylic tunnels, you can surround yourself with water and amazing animals like the American alligator, black Arowana, king penguin, and leopard shark.

With so much to see, you’re bound to get tired of roaming through the streets of town. Well, this is the perfect time to indulge in Newport’s amazing food and drink scene. Filled with a range of interesting and delicious eateries, you’ll always await the next meal. For fans of Italian food, Sotto is the place to be with scrumptious branzino and great service. Steak enthusiasts can find themselves at home in the lovely Blinker’s Tavern steakhouse and bar. Save some room for drinks at the Hofbräuhaus German bar; you’ll be content for weeks. Put it all together, and Newport’s food is a whole vacation in itself.


Bardstwon, Kentucky; USA; Sept. 26, 2020. The Old Talbott Tavern was built in 1779 which is one of the oldest and most popular resting spots because of its central location.
Bardstown, Kentucky; USA; Sept. 26, 2020. The Old Talbott Tavern was built in 1779 and is one of the oldest and most popular resting spots because of its central location. Editorial Credit: Ryan_hoel via Shutterstock.

While it may not have an abundant coastline, Bardstown boasts another type of alluring liquid. Nicknamed the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” the small town is home to a prominent bourbon industry with some of the finest whiskeys on offer. Visitors mostly opt to enjoy their evenings in one of the town’s many distilleries indulging in this fine drink. One can visit Heaven Hill Distilleries, the second-largest bourbon whiskey holder in the world. From learning about the distilling process to buying some bottles to take back home, Bardstown is a wellspring of bourbon whiskey. However, these drinks are not all the town has to offer. A short stroll to the historic downtown area will make you feel like you’ve returned in time. With brick buildings and rustic architecture abound, it is a great place to take in the past and get a few interesting photos. If you want to dive deeply into Bardstown’s past, the Old Courthouse and Old Talbott Tavern are two of the most iconic establishments in town.

Discovering the Charm of Small-Town Kentucky

The appeal to tourists becomes abundantly clear while exploring these charming small towns in Kentucky. With their unique attractions and welcoming, homey atmosphere, visitors can enjoy a relaxing getaway without the crowds and stress often associated with bustling urban centers. Furthermore, the affordability of these quaint locales adds to their allure, allowing travelers to indulge in an enjoyable vacation experience without straining their budget. Whether it's the allure of hidden gems or the promise of a more budget-friendly journey, Kentucky's small towns offer a delightful escape that's sure to enchant.

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