Actually Cool Things to Do in Louisville This Fall

Make the most of it.

Frazier Kentucky History Museum
Waterfront Park in Louisville, Kentucky | Frazier Kentucky History Museum
Waterfront Park in Louisville, Kentucky | Frazier Kentucky History Museum

As we wrestle free from summer’s sweaty embrace and step into fall’s crisp and breezy expanse, Louisvillians the city over are primed and ready to emerge from their air-conditioned hovels and once again discover all the amazing riches our beloved region has to offer. And what better way to usher in the autumnal turn than by tackling a whole list of thought-provoking and buzz-inducing activities like drinking your way down the Bourbon Trail, expanding your horizons at a world-class museum, living it up before a Cardinal’s kick-off, or simply posting up at an outdoor patio and downing beers like it’s your job. Here’s everything fun to do in Louisville this fall.

Bourbon Distillery
Photo by Marty Pearl

Explore the Bourbon Trail without leaving town…

Between the onslaught of ambitious young microdistilleries rolling onto the scene and the growing number of rural powerhouses debuting fancy new downtown tasting rooms, Louisville’s urban core has never been boozier. Now you can spend a day (or three) strolling from outpost to outpost and sampling all the whiskey you can handle, no designated driver needed. Start at Peerless, a gorgeous family-run operation peddling some of the tastiest rye in town from their riverfront perch, before dropping by Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, just a stone’s throw away on Main Street. Other walkable standouts include Angel’s Envy, with their port wine barrel-finished delights, Rabbit Hole’s strikingly modern NuLu headquarters, the iconic Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Old Forester’s rustic storefront, and, to change things up, Copper & Kings, a brandy emporium showcasing a breezy rooftop bar and restaurant.

Maker's Mark
Maker's Mark

… or drink your way through the countryside

Snazzy downtown setups are nice and all, but to truly experience Bourbon Country, you’re going to have to trek out to those bluegrass-covered fields and green rolling hills. And even if you’re born-and-bred Kentuckian, a crisp fall day spent traversing the massive and historic distillery grounds dotting the pastoral exurbs of Louisville is never a bad idea. Hitch a full service ride with Mint Julep Tours or grab a GPS and a DD and chart your own course—either way, must-stops include Maker’s Mark with their majestic Dale Chihuly glass sculptures and legendary wax-dipping demos, Heaven Hill and Bardstown Bourbon Company in idyllic Bardstown, Clermont’s pioneering Jim Beam American Stillhouse, plus Four Roses, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve farther east.

Louisville is home to one of America’s largest collections of Victorian homes. The neighborhood, established in the late 1800s, remains a vibrant residential setting, and it’s worth a couple of hours to simply walk around and admire the architecture, saying things like "Are you sure this isn't Gothic Revivalist?" Stroll down the pedestrian-only side streets and stop by the Old Louisville Information Center to secure a guided walking tour (haunted tours are available, too), if you're into that. When you’re done, walk a few blocks more to Old Louisville Brewery for a well-deserved beer.

Muhammad Ali Center

Hop on the back to school train and learn yourself something new at one of Louisville’s premiere cultural institutions. History buffs make a beeline to the Frazier History Museum on Museum Row (AKA Main Street) and the genre-defying Roots 101 African American Museum, architecture enthusiasts gravitate toward pristine estates like the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum in Old Louisville, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and the Muhammad Ali Center knock it out of the park for sports fans, and science geeks need look no further than the colossal Kentucky Science Center downtown. As for aesthetic curiosities, the innovative 21c Louisville Museum always has something to say, the world-class Speed Art Museum is bound to spur thoughtful conversation, the Carnegie Center for Art and History provides ample context, and the National Corvette Museum in nearby Bowling Green will get your engines going (because cars this pretty definitely qualify as art).

Speaking of pumpkins, what’s more fun than loading the kiddos up in the car and heading out to a local pumpkin patch? While you’re there, you may as well pick up a bottle of wine and a cheese plate and enjoy them both on the huge outdoor patio because, hey, adults matter, too.

Omni Louisville Hotel
Courtesy of Omni Louisville Hotel

Beat the end-of-summer blues with a luxe vacation in your own hometown. Standout accommodations comes in all shapes and sizes here, from the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville’s unbeatable triple threat (award-winning bar and restaurant, incredible onsite gallery, and cozy contemporary guest rooms), and the sleek Omni Louisville Hotel with its skyhigh pool, to stately classics like the Brown Hotel and and the Seelbach Hilton. Elsewhere, boutique newcomers like the Moxy, Hotel Distil, and the Grady offer a handsome respite from the buzzy scene below.

Hell or High Water Bar  Bourbon, Quinquina, egg white, honey, lemon, & sage
Hell or High Water Bar

Descend into a sexy speakeasy

A rash of intriguing new covert drinking dens has been steadily amassing throughout the city and it’s high time you strap on your best suspenders and see what all the fuss is about. Reserve a table at Hell or High Water to enjoy top shelf tipples inside their polished, library-like subterranean escape, slip inside the unmarked doors of North of Bourbon in Germantown for vintage vibes and a stellar bourbon collection, post up at venerable NuLu haunts Taj and Gertie's Whiskey Bar, or snag a dimly lit lane at Pin + Proof, a rowdy throwback bowling alley and bar beneath the Omni Hotel.

Louisville Cardinals tailgate
Louisville Cardinals

College football season is back in action, which means tailgating has once again taken over your Saturdays from now until that very last kick-off. And after a shaky 2020, UofL is granting us a brand new place to party by way of The Alley, a giant public courtyard on the corner of Boxley and South Floyd. With room for up to 2,000 Cards die-hards, the space features turf greens for reenacting your favorite plays, live entertainment, food and drink vendors, and more, and is free to enter (though you can always ball out by scooping up a VIP membership pass).

Louisville has public park facilities that could rival most cities, and the Parklands of Floyds Fork might be the cream of the crop. Comprised of five different parks with varying amenities, you and your pals can paddle, hike, fish, enjoy playgrounds and spray parks (especially if kids are involved), bike, garden, play sports, and even bring your dog(s) along for the ride.

La Bodeguita De Mima cigar lounge
La Bodeguita De Mima

Channel your inner Hemmingway at NuLu’s show-stopping La Bodeguita de Mima, a banana yellow landmark building bursting with the spirit of 1950s Cuba. After you’ve cleaned your plate of blockbuster standards like Arroz con Pollo a la Chorerra, Shrimp Ceviche, and overstuffed Cuban Sandwiches, head upstairs and retire to the sultry lounge for a glass of finely aged rum and a hand-rolled selection from the humidor. You deserve it.

Racing Louisville FC stadium
Racing Louisville FC

Lynn Family Stadium, home of your own Racing Louisville NWSL team, is open and play is under way through October 16. The 15,000-capacity facility is one of the league’s top venues—and its newest—so you come out sporting your best lavender mask, fill up on signature drinks and eats from multiple local vendors, and cheer on international superstars like Yuki Nagasato, Freja Olofsson, Ebony Salmon, and Nadia Nadim.

Take a stroll in the woods without too much worry (assuming there are no bears around), and get up close and personal with, yes, some giant creatures at Bernheim Forest. Walk a two-mile loop to marvel at this fascinating sculpture exhibit, on loan for a limited time.

Boo at the Zoo has been Louisville Zoo’s signature fall event for more than 40 years, but as one might guess, trick-or-treating amid an ongoing pandemic can be, well, extra tricky. Just like last year, the event is going down with safety procedures in place. Special tickets are required for all guests aged three and up, and entry gets you a full evening of fun by way of character meet-and-greets, trick-or-treating for kids 11 and under, live music, free onsite parking, and reduced nightly capacity to lessen traffic delays.

The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular is a Louisville tradition like no other, with more than 5,000 illuminated pumpkins carved in festive fashion. This year, the party’s back in full force, inviting spectators to cruise the glowing walking path at Iroquois Park throughout the entire month of October. Lace up, mask up, and grab your tickets here.

Cave Hill Cemetery & Arboretum
Cave Hill Cemetery & Arboretum

It’s Halloween season, and what makes for a better fall outing than spending some quality time in an eerie boneyard? Not only is Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery the final resting place for notable Kentuckians like Muhammad Ali, Colonel Harland Sanders, and Pappy Van Winkle, it also doubles as a rolling, gorgeous, green space, complete with lush cremation gardens perfect for pondering the afterlife.

Just across the Ohio River lies the Falls of the Ohio State Park, spread across the site of a 386-million-year-old Devonian fossil bed. Explore an interactive museum detailing the area’s history, the aquatic life that called it home eons ago, the importance of the Falls in the settlement of Louisville, and much more. When you’re finished, head directly to the beds (assuming the river isn’t up) to study them for yourself.

Thank goodness we still have the Big Four Bridge, a breathtaking attraction we can enjoy any damn time we please. The former eyesore is now one of the coolest places in town, where you can make your way across the roughly one-mile span to Indiana to enjoy the quaint downtown vibe of Jeffersonville, rife with places to dine, shop, and drink. Parlour Pizza is a preferred stop at the foot of the bridge, while Pearl Street Taphouse, just a block or so away, is a fine outpost for craft beer and excellent burgers.

The Hub Louisville
The Hub Louisville

Crush beers or take down a meal under the stars

Enjoying al fresco food and drink is fun anytime (weather permitting), but fall’s temperate evenings only heighten the experience. Thankfully, Louisville has loads of outdoor patios where one can do just that. A few standout options include The Irish Rover, Falls City Brewing Company, Chik’n & Mi, Garage Bar, Con Huevos, the Silver Dollar, La Bodeguita De Mima, Agave & Rye, The Hub, Everyday Kitchen, and Mussel & Burger Bar, among so many others.

Frankfort Avenue corridor is a two-lane road through the Clifton and Crescent Hill neighborhoods where one can stumble upon any number of historic homes, restaurants, bars, shopping, and other enticements leading right into the buzzy St. Matthews district. But it’s in the areas between Mellwood and Stilz Avenues where you'll find upscale bourbon bars, regular-scale bookstores, and solid restaurants like the Irish Rover, El Mundo, Con Huevos, Volare, and Blue Dog Bakery.

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Meredith Heil is a Senior Cities Editor at Thrillist.
Kevin Gibson is a Louisville, Kentucky-based author who writes about everything from food to beer to the great city he calls home. He is author of Unique Eats of Louisville, Secret Louisville, Louisville Beer, and others. He currently lives in the Clifton neighborhood with his dog, Atticus.