(CNN) — For about two minutes on Saturday, millions of eyes will focus on Louisville, home of Kentucky’s most feted affair, that blissfully short sporting event that comes with its own cocktail.
Horses, hats and barrels of booze star in that show, and while the Kentucky Derby experience is not to be missed, Churchill Downs’ hometown is worth lingering over.
Whether you’re headed to the races or thinking about a future visit, enhance your trip with these Louisville experiences:
A touch of art
The 21c Museum Hotel houses 21st-century work by established and emerging artists, as well as 90 guest rooms complete with original art. A huge revitalization success, 21c Louisville was created by transforming downtown tobacco and bourbon warehouses and has been voted among the top hotels in the world by Condé Nast Traveler readers.
Get your contemporary art fix for free 24 hours a day in the museum. Video art fans, you’ll have to keep slightly more sensible hours. Video installations by artists that have included Bill Viola and Tony Oursler run from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Visitors to 21c will be greeted outside by Turkish artist Serkan Ozkaya’s 30-foot golden replica of Michelangelo’s David.
A sip of bourbon
Top off the museum experience with a cocktail, or perhaps a bourbon flight, at the adjoining Proof Bar or a meal at Proof on Main, where chef Levon Wallace showcases Ohio River Valley ingredients. The bar stocks more than 50 Kentucky bourbons for your sipping pleasure.
You’re in the right state for sampling the dark liquor as most of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail hits seven distilleries, or just continue along the Urban Bourbon Trail.
A bit of sport
Just down the street from 21c, the history of the “Official Bat of Major League Baseball” is chronicled at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory. You can’t miss the building. The world’s biggest baseball bat, which is 120 feet long, rests against its side. The bat makers, Hillerich & Bradsby Co., have been turning out baseball bats for more than a century, and the facility features exhibits and tours of the plant where bats for today’s pros are made.
A hefty snack
Louisville’s elegant Brown Hotel, built in 1923, is home to the hot brown, a hearty post-revelry snack. The open-faced turkey sandwich, topped with bacon and Mornay sauce was created in the 1920s to satiate hungry dinner dance guests in the wee hours. It still satisfies.
A spot of history
Derby attendee or no, you probably don’t want to miss one of the city’s most popular attractions, the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs. It’s closed this Friday and Saturday for the weekend’s festivities, but general admission is available on Sunday (Note that it’s the museum’s busiest day of the year).
At Churchill Downs, Early Times Kentucky whiskey will provide the kick for nearly 120,000 mint juleps expected to cross race-goers’ lips during the Kentucky Oaks and Derby races this weekend. (The Oaks race, held the day before Derby, is more affordable and popular with locals.)
A taste of nature
A breath of fresh air is never a bad idea when you’re mixing tourism and bourbon. Stroll along the 2.4 mile loop at Cherokee Park, which is part of an extensive system of Louisville parks designed by renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (of Central Park fame).
Another bite or two
Louisville has earned the distinction of being one of the top five “Foodiest” small cities in America by Bon Appétit magazine. Restaurant openings are eagerly anticipated, and the city’s 2,500 eateries provide plenty of options for every palate.
For some of the freshest choices head to NuLu along East Market Street, where trendy new businesses and loft developments are fueling a rebirth. NuLu = “New Louisville.” Last year’s hot newcomer Decca is still generating buzz with original cocktails, a cellar lounge and local, seasonal fare.
One last sip of bourbon
At a real risk of overindulging, make a pilgrimage to The Oakroom at the historic Seelbach Hotel where you can sample the hotel’s namesake cocktail, which dates back to 1917. It’s a blend of bourbon, triple sec, Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters and Champagne.
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