Quality of Life in Kentucky: Cultural Life and Attractions
Kentucky has long been known for two cultural highlights: bourbon and horses. And it’s true the commonwealth has both of these in abundance. But did you know the Bluegrass State has also gained renown for its lush natural beauty, its wide variety of entertainment options, its arts scene and its status as the home of the Friendliest Small Town in America? Kentucky has all this and more to offer those who visit, whether for just a few days or for a lifetime.
Kentucky Boasts Bountiful Natural Wonders
Kentucky offers some of the most diverse and beautiful nature in the United States. In the Bluegrass State, you’re never far from the great outdoors, and hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, climbing, camping and other outdoor recreation opportunities abound. In Western Kentucky, the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area encompasses over 170,000 acres of forests, wetlands and open lands on a peninsula between Kentucky and Barkley lakes and offers one of the largest blocks of undeveloped forest in the eastern United States. (While you’re there, stop by the nearby town of Murray, recognized for five consecutive years as the “Friendliest Small Town in America”).
Moving east, you’ll find Mammoth Cave National Park, home of the country’s longest cave system, with more than 400 miles explored so far. Kentucky’s Southern Shorelines region is a must for any water-lover and boasts more miles of shoreline than the entire state of Florida. In Eastern Kentucky, you’ll find the foothills of the Appalachians, abundant hiking and climbing in the Daniel Boone National Forest and the “Niagara of the South” at Cumberland Falls. And don’t forget the Red River Gorge, an awe-inspiring destination that offers hiking, camping and climbing and is known for its sandstone rock bridge called the Natural Bridge. If nature is your thing, then Kentucky is the place to be.
Kentucky Has a Growing Arts Scene
Kentucky’s wealth of artistic offerings will please both your eyes and your ears. Berea, the Crafts and Folk Arts Capital of Kentucky, was recently named among the Nation’s Top 25 Arts Destinations by American Style magazine. Kentucky’s six Creative Districts—Bardstown, Berea, Covington, Danville, Maysville and Paducah—showcase a varied collection of nationally recognized arts and cultural traditions. These are just some of the many towns and regions throughout Kentucky lauded for their folk-art traditions.
Music is also a vital part of Kentucky’s cultural heritage. The Bluegrass State lends its name to the famed musical genre that has its roots in the area. On any given weekend, towns all over Kentucky feature live music from both locally and internationally acclaimed artists, including music festivals both large and small highlighting everything from traditional bluegrass to modern country music and so much more.
A Great Destination for Sports
Kentucky has a long and storied tradition in many fields of sport—not just horse racing! Both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville have acclaimed basketball programs, with 11 NCAA titles between them. In recent years, Louisville has also earned success on the gridiron, achieving multiple top-25 rankings in the football polls and boasting as an alumnus 2016 Heisman Trophy winner and 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. The commonwealth is also home to four minor league baseball teams. And if you’re interested in the intersection of sports and history, Louisville is the birthplace of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali and hosts the Muhammad Ali Center, a multicultural center with an award-winning museum dedicated to Ali’s life and legacy.
If you’re into cars, you’re in luck. The Kentucky Speedway in Sparta hosts annual races in the NASCAR cup series, and Bowling Green is home to the world-famous Corvette and the National Corvette Museum. You can tour the GM Corvette Assembly Plant, where every Corvette in the world is made, and try your own high-performance driving skills at the NCM Motorsports Park, which includes a new Corvette Cave-In exhibit that highlights the sinkhole that swallowed eight Corvettes in 2014.
And Yes: Bourbon and Horses Too
Of course, no story about the cultural life of Kentucky would be complete without mentioning two of Kentucky’s most famous cultural icons.
Kentucky is the native home of bourbon, which settlers began producing in the territory that would become the commonwealth of Kentucky in the late 1700s. Today, 95% of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky, and the state boasts distilleries in 32 counties that produce tens of thousands of barrels per year. In 1999, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) established the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a road trip–style experience for bourbon lovers to visit the Bluegrass State’s 18 signature distilleries, and in 2012, the KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour to showcase the state’s 19 craft distilleries. The tour is a must for any bourbon lover and is one of the crown jewels of any Kentucky cultural experience.
As for horses, Kentucky is the nation’s leading producer of horses and the number one producer of Thoroughbreds. The commonwealth hosts two of the most famous tracks in horse racing: Keeneland and Churchill Downs. The latter is the longtime home of the Kentucky Derby—“the most exciting two minutes in sports”—which has been run annually since 1875. And in Kentucky’s second largest city, Lexington, also known as the “Horse Capital of the World” you will find the 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park, which attracts almost a million visitors each year. Without question, Kentucky remains the ultimate destination for lovers of horses and horse racing.
Kentucky is home to all these attractions and many more. To learn more about the many cultural wonders Kentucky has waiting for you—and for details on the sights, experiences and landmarks discussed in this article—visit KentuckyTourism.com. There’s never been a better time to explore the lifetime of experiences Kentucky has waiting for you.