The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky. Image credit Ryan_hoel via Shutterstock

9 of the Most Charming Towns in Kentucky

Known as the Bluegrass state, Kentucky is a place of natural beauty with picturesque mountains, river towns, and hills that inspired the musical genre of the same name. It also has a worldwide reputation for horse breeding, reflected in the Kentucky Derby held on the first Saturday in May each year. While all these things are true about Kentucky, it is also a great place to visit if you love charming small towns with lots of unique sites to see.


Historic buildings in downtown Paducah, Kentucky, US.
Historic buildings in downtown Paducah, Kentucky. Image credit Angela N Perryman via

This small town on the Ohio River was named as a creative city by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization for its dedication to the arts and more. Paducah is especially famous as a quilting town, which is on display at The National Quilt Museum, which gathers the best work from quilters around the world. There are also many galleries and theatres in town, including the Market House Theatre, Clemens Fine Arts Center, and The Carson Center.

For walkers and hikers, visit Bob Noble Park and Carson Park or take a drive to the Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge. Lastly, depending on your interests, you can participate in many tours throughout the town, like the African American Heritage Driving Tour, Historical Churches of Paducah Tour, and Historic Paducah Audio Tour.


Downtown Cadiz, Kentucky.
Downtown Cadiz, Kentucky. Image credit Dcoetzee at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Cadiz is a charming town located near two lakes, Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake. The Lake Barkley State Resort Park is an idyllic place for a getaway since there is a lodge, restaurant, beach, fitness center, and pool, along with boating and fishing right on the shores of the lake. In addition, The Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is a 170,000-acre park with nature centers, a buffalo-elk range, and 500 miles of trails to explore. This natural beauty sees more than one million visitors annually.

In addition to these parks, Cadiz has a good deal of antique shops in its downtown area, including the Cadiz Antique Mall, Purple Pig Antiques and Artisans, and Cherokee Antique Mall. Before you leave town, stop by the Janice Mason Art Museum and Southern Kentucky Independent Theatre.


Outside historic Four Roses Bourbon Distillery on Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Outside historic Four Roses Bourbon Distillery on Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Image credit karenfoleyphotography via Shutterstock

Located within the Bluegrass Region, Lawrenceburg is a hospitable small Kentucky town with a lot of history that is easy to discover and explore. At the free Anderson County History Museum, housed in a historic building from 1908, you can see many historical artifacts, including portraits. There are plenty of thrills in town as well, such as the Vertigo Bungee off of Young's High Bridge. This 240-foot bungee jump is one of the highest platform bridge jumps in North America.

For other charming spots in town to explore, try out the Anderson County Farmers Market, Marianne Brown Pottery, Four Roses Distillery, and Wild Turkey Distillery.


The first Lincoln Memorial building (1911) at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, Kentucky.
The first Lincoln Memorial building (1911) at Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park in Hodgenville, Kentucky.

Hodgenville is a must-see locale for lovers of history as it was the birthplace of the 16th US President Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Museum provides dioramas, artifacts, and Civil War memorabilia, along with the art of the president. You can also visit his boyhood home at Knob Creek, which features an Old Cabin. It was at this location that a young Lincoln first saw slaves behind transported south to be sold in markets.

You can also go for a hike at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park's trails, which include the Big Sink Trail and the Boundary Oak Trail. Lastly, Hodgenville keeps Kentucky's quilting custom alive with the LaRue County Quilt Trail, where you can see beautiful quilts on barns and other structures.


Boyle County Courthouse in Danville, Kentucky.
Boyle County Courthouse in Danville, Kentucky.

Danville is one of the most important historic towns in Kentucky, as it was where settlers met to make Kentucky the 15th state in the Union on June 1, 1792. At the Constitution Square Historic Site, you can see the site where the founders signed the state's constitution, along with a frontier jail, meetinghouse, log cabins, and post office.

This charming town is also a center for dollhouses, and the Great American Dollhouse Museum features more than 200 miniature buildings. For a fun shopping experience, try out the Historic Merchants' Rows, a series of buildings from the 1800s that house restaurants, shops, and museums. Lastly, before you leave town, sample wine at the Communio Café at Wine Seller, the best wine shop in Danville.


The historic buildings in the townscape of Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
The historic buildings in the townscape of Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Image credit Sabrina Janelle Gordon via Shutterstock

This small town is so charming that it inspired a namesake 2005 film starring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst. Known locally as Etown, there are many places to explore, including the Elizabethtown Nature Park, with 104 acres of former pasture land and access to Freeman Lake or the Summit One-Room Schoolhouse, built in 1892 and named as the "finest school in the country."

Go searching for a bargain at the Elizabethtown Peddlers Mall or see a play at the Hardin County Playhouse. If historic houses are your cup of tea, go for a walk around Historic Downtown Elizabethtown to see buildings such as the Historic State Theater, the Hardin County History Museum, and more.


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

No list of the best Kentucky small towns would be complete without mentioning Bardstown, the birthplace of the world-famous drink bourbon whisky. Bardstown has been the Bourbon Capital of the World since 1780, which you can experience firsthand at one of its many distilleries in town, including Lux Row Distillers, Preservation Distillery, Log Still Distillery, Bardstown Bourbon Company, and more.

There is more to discover in town than just bourbon, including the Bardstown Nelson County African-American Heritage Museum, the Women's Civil War Museum, and the nearby Kentucky Railway Museum. For places to go for a hike, you can't beat the charming Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, home of forest trolls made of recycled materials.


Overlooking the countryside around Berea, Kentucky.
Overlooking the countryside around Berea, Kentucky.

This gorgeous small town has a lot to offer, from beautiful views to unique shops. Berea is known as the Folks Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky due to its several folk art shops, including the Log House Craft Gallery, Kentucky Artisan Center, and PeaceCraft. Due to its position in the Appalachian Mountains, Berea's art has a distinct mountain flair, which is no surprise given the beautiful trails in town, such as The Pinnacles, voted the best hike in Kentucky.

Berea College in town manages more than 9,000 acres of forest land, which also includes Brushy Fork and Anglin Falls. The College Square in town hosts many small shops, including the Berea College Student Crafts, College Farm Store, and more.


Mill Creek Lake, part of Daniel Boone National Forest in Slade, Kentucky.
Mill Creek Lake, part of Daniel Boone National Forest in Slade, Kentucky.

Slade is a hidden gem in Kentucky located within the wider Red River Gorge Geological Area. Although the gorge is well known, Slade contains one of its greatest sites: the Natural Bridge within the Natural Bridge State Resort Park. This sandstone arch is 65 feet high and 78 feet long and offers gorgeous views of the surrounding forest. You can get to the arch on foot or by taking the Sky Lift.

There are many other trails in the park and a zipline course with Red River Gorge Ziplines. Slade also hosts a one-of-a-kind zoo, the Kentucky Reptile Zoo and captive-born venom lab. If you want to see the trails from a different point of view, consider going to Fonda's Mountain Horse Trail Rides.

Kentucky is a state with a lot of character that keeps its adventurous and artistic spirit alive in both its large cities and its small towns. By visiting its many quilting and artisanal towns, you can always discover something new to bring back home. For hikers, Kentucky is also a hidden gem due to its many picturesque forests, parks, and natural landscapes. The next time you visit the Bluegrass State, add these nine charming towns to your travel plans.

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