Lexington is a small city that packs a big punch. It’s full of history, and the horse racing and breeding culture is its most notable feature. Who knows, maybe Lexington was the original #horsegirl?
Small cities like this one make awesome travel destinations because they’re almost never too crowded and you have plenty of options for getting out into nature, sometimes without having to leave town.
If you’ve never thought about visiting Lexington, you’re not alone. I hadn’t really thought about it either, but this place surprised me! Check out these cool things to do, restaurants to try, and sweet accommodations to consider:
Things to Do in Lexington
Horse Farm Tour & Keeneland Race Track Visit
Dive into Kentucky’s unique equine history with this Horse Farm Tour, which will take you to local horse farms as well as the historic Keeneland Race Track. There’s no better way to discover why Lexington is “the Horse Capital of the World” than on this unforgettable three-hour tour.
You’ll learn about the lush lifestyle of thoroughbred horses, see the beauties up close, and even visit the filming locations of some of Hollywood’s most well-known horse movies, like Seabiscuit. Even if you’re not a horse aficionado, anyone who is curious about the area’s history and culture will thoroughly enjoy this tour.
Big Blue Pedaler
Hop on the Big Blue Pedaler for a tour on one of the most unique vehicles you’ll see driving down the street in Lexington. This tour company takes visitors along on its “party bike” for an unforgettable experience, no matter the tour. Choose between distillery tours, history tours, and mural tours, among others.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour
By now you’ve probably already read all about Kentucky bourbon in our Louisville guide, but I’ve got great news: the fun doesn’t stop there. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail operates tours of bourbon country; itineraries are divided among four regions of the state, with many distilleries located in Lexington.
This is the ultimate experience for bourbon lovers. You can start planning your trip here.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
This landmark destination includes 3,000 acres of incredibly well-preserved Shaker history. The Shakers are a religious community that was active in Pleasant Hill from 1805 to 1910. Nowadays, thanks to the efforts of nonprofit organization Shaker Village, visitors can enjoy taking a step back into history by checking out the 34 historic structures, nature preserve, and conserved farmland on the site.
As one of the Lexington area’s largest tourist attractions, Shaker Village has plenty of amenities for any length of stay. You can even rent a room, suite, or private cottage on-site if you want to get fully immersed.
The largest Abe Lincoln mural in the world
Downtown Lexington is home to the largest mural of Kentucky-born President Abraham Lincoln in the world. At a whopping 60 feet tall, the massive work of art is hard to miss. You’ll find it on the backside of the Kentucky Theater. Of all the cool spots in Lexington to snap a photo, this one is probably the most Insta-worthy.
Ashland: Henry Clay Estate
This 18-room mansion was once the home of one of Kentucky’s most famous statesmen, Henry Clay. The mansion features an Italianate style and is immaculately preserved with artifacts from Clay’s life. Beyond telling his story, the mansion-turned-museum serves up a close look into American history during the early-to-mid-1800s.
The Henry Clay Memorial Foundation has an interesting way of telling the stories of people who lived, worked, and were enslaved at the Ashland estate. This guided tour is a great way to visit the estate, as it offers various options depending on what you’d like to learn more about.
Boone Creek Gorge zip-lining
Just a quick drive outside Lexington is beautiful and historic Boone Creek Gorge, a favorite hiking spot for locals featuring fresh forests and streams, with neat rock formations and canyons to explore. One of the most exciting ways to visit the gorge is to do a fully guided zip-line canopy tour, which is an adrenaline-filled route for experiencing the area and learning about its history.
The Aviation Museum of Kentucky
Housed at Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, the Aviation Museum of Kentucky is a must-stop for history buffs and aviation enthusiasts alike. The museum features displays ranging from the Wright brothers’ first flight to present-day aircraft. You’ll see a T-38 Talon from the US Air Force’s Thunderbirds, an A-4 Skyhawk from the US Navy’s Blue Angels, and much more. Besides the aircraft, the museum also displays artifacts, such as memorabilia and training equipment.
Get your tickets to the Aviation Museum of Kentucky here.
Kentucky Horse Park
Another precious equine treasure in Lexington, the Kentucky Horse Park is the place for horse enthusiasts. It’s home to the Smithsonian International Museum of the Horse, which takes guests on a journey through horse rearing in society and how the animals have coexisted with humans since the beginning of history.
Beyond the museum, the Kentucky Horse Park is a fully operational horse farm that exists to educate visitors and locals alike about the rich horse-related history of Kentucky and beyond.
Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
With over 10 miles of hiking trails across 734 acres of pristinely preserved land, Raven Run Nature Sanctuary is the perfect place to spend a sunny day. You’ll find quiet woods, trickling streams, and soft meadows, all bustling with local wildlife. There are over 600 species of plants and 200 species of birds throughout the year, a stunning display of Kentucky’s biodiversity.
Start your visit by signing in at the Raven Run Nature Center and embark on your hike, following one of the park’s trails.
Located in east Lexington, Jacobson Park is more than a typical city park: it spans 216 acres along a reservoir, which you can explore via paddle boat or kayak. You’ll find rolling green hills, trails, volleyball courts, a disc golf course, and more.
This is a great place to hang out during the day. Bring a picnic, your favorite sports equipment, or even your furry friend for a sweet day at the park.
This museum is truly the pinnacle of the Lexington art scene and a must-see for creative minds. Lexington locals Barbara Whitney and George Headley created it in 1968 to showcase their crafts: Barbara’s sister Marylou was a crafter who specialized in dollhouses and miniatures, while George was a jewelry and bibelot designer.
Nowadays, the museum features work from not only this artistic power couple but also other designers, artists, and craftspeople. It’s truly one of a kind and worth a visit while you’re in Lexington.
The largest ceiling clock in the Western Hemisphere
Have you ever wondered where one of the world’s largest ceiling clocks are? Well, I hadn’t either until now. Apparently it’s at the Lexington’s Central Library! The clock was the brainchild of Lucille Caudill Little, a Lexington philanthropist. She dreamt of the massive clock, and local artist Adalin Wichman designed it.
It is truly a work of art. In true Lexington fashion, the clock features a series of 60 horses, which light up in succession to give the illusion of movement. Pretty neat!
This place will make you question everything you thought you knew about the South. Institute 193 is a contemporary art gallery that showcases the work of modern artists, writers, and musicians. As a relatively new establishment that opened in 2009, it serves as Lexington’s only contemporary art space and dedicates itself to supporting local artists.
Visit Institute 193 and immerse yourself in the unique perspective of artists whose work will surely give you a fresh look at culture and artistry in the South.
Restaurants & More in Lexington
Being a vegetarian is a pretty foreign concept for meat-loving Lexington locals, who are accustomed to the world-class BBQ of their hometown. If you’re all about the barbecue life, County Club is the place to go. This beloved smokehouse is one of the best places to get it and uses only responsibly raised “Kentucky cows, hogs, sheep, goats, and chickens.”
Not only do customers flock there for the meat selection, but the sides are also bursting with flavor and tradition. You won’t want to miss a meal at County Club while visiting Lexington.
Blue Door Smokehouse
That’s right, there are not one but two barbecue joints on the list. Why? Well, I couldn’t choose only one — and Lexington locals also have a hard time doing so. Eating at Blue Door Smokehouse is a rite of passage when visiting the city. This uber-popular smokehouse is only open four hours a day most of the week (nine hours on Friday and Saturday, and closed on Sundays), sometimes less because they often sell out completely.
Because of its popularity, plan ahead, and try to get there right when it opens at 11am if you can!
James E. Pepper Distilling Co.
If you want to get a taste of bourbon from a brand that started producing liquor during the American Revolution, James E. Pepper Distilling Co. is the place to do so. This distillery is full of history and definitely worth taking a look around even if you don’t drink. James E. Pepper even has a “Henry Clay” whiskey… remember that guy?! Everything eventually comes around full circle.
Third Street Stuff & Coffee
This wacky coffee shop is proof that Lexington is more than just bourbon, bluegrass, and horses. Overflowing with hippie and psychedelic art on nearly every inch of the walls, Third Street Stuff & Coffee captures the essence of an era that visitors will be delighted to step into for a moment.
The coffee shop prides itself for its commitment to serving locally roasted fair-trade certified-organic coffee along with locally baked goods. That’s a purchase you can feel good about, for sure!
Best Places to Stay in & around Lexington
Paris Livery Historic Home & Tour
Housed inside a circa 1863 brick building that has been fully renovated, the Paris Livery Home is one of the most unique lodgings that you’ll find in all of Lexington. Not only will you be able to stay in the historic building, but the Airbnb offers a three-day tour of the state’s last 12 remaining covered bridges.
This one-bedroom place starts at $195 per night, with a two-night minimum.
Game of Thrones House
Ready to take your GoT fandom to the next level? This Airbnb describes itself as a “palatial chamber” and is completely decked out with Game of Thrones decor, complete with dungeon trappings and an iron throne. Oh yes, it’s the real deal, folks.
A night at this medieval kingdom costs around $206 (plus some fees). The place comes with two complimentary bikes and is located right in the heart of downtown Lexington.
Cabin with a private waterfall
Come again? Was that “a private waterfall” you read? Yes, sis! This beautifully remodeled cabin in the Kentucky wilderness sits on two acres of forest with a private waterfall. It’s about an hour from Lexington, but the distance is totally worth it to stay in this quiet escape.
There are three bedrooms in this remote paradise, making it an awesome place to share with friends. There’s a hot tub, too! A night here is about $450; there’s a two-night minimum.
The Pete Treehouse
If you’ve been dying to stay in a treehouse after watching Kristin’s treehouse adventure, this will get you even more excited. This treehouse is completely off the grid and was part of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters. The mastermind behind this incredible place is treehouse master Pete Nelson.
The house is surrounded by nature and features a fire pit and balcony perfect for watching the sunset. It’s full of thoughtful touches and has an overall homey feel. It’s about a 1.5-hour drive from Lexington but definitely worth the drive for the peace and quiet.
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Whether you’re a Kentucky native or Lexington first-timer, I hope this list provides you with plenty of inspiration to get you well on your way to planning your trip.
Don’t forget to check out our Louisville guide if you’re planning on stopping there as well!