The Kentucky Derby is more than just “the most exciting two minutes of sports” — it’s a festival celebrated in the weeks leading up to it. If you’re planning on attending the “Run for the Roses” in 2016, you’ll want to check out everything that Louisville, KY has to offer.
Taste bourbon on a distillery tour
From small, micro-distilleries to the world’s largest producers, Kentucky is home to over 20 bourbon distilleries. While in town for the Derby, why not titillate your taste-buds while learning a bit about your favorite bourbon’s history and process? Start at the Maker’s Mark distillery for an in-depth tour on the bourbon-making process. If you’re looking for the full bourbon experience, consider following the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a program designed by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association that shares the rich history of bourbon in America.
See the fireworks at Thunder Over Louisville
This spectacular event symbolizes the annual kickoff for the Kentucky Derby Festival in Louisville. Beginning with an air show and complete with food choices for everyone, Thunder Over Louisville is a free event that is not to be missed. As the largest fireworks show in North America, thousands of people attend to watch this incredible pyrotechnics display. “Thunder”, as the locals call it, takes place the weekend before the Kentucky Derby. We recommend coming for the whole week to catch both iconic events. You’ll find that the local hoteliers often appreciate your week-long stay and provide better rates than you would normally get for Derby weekend.
Watch the Great Steamboat Race
As one of the oldest Kentucky Derby festival traditions, this is an event that the whole family can enjoy! On the first Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby, watch as two historic vessels, the Belle of Cincinnati and the Belle of Louisville, go head-to-head in a riverboat race on the Ohio River. Whether you’re cheering from the sidelines or you board one of the boats, you’re destined for a good time.
Check out the Pegasus Parade
The Pegasus Parade is the oldest Kentucky Derby Festival event, so it’s easy to see why the event attracts thousands of spectators. Held annually on the first Thursday before the Kentucky Derby, the Pegasus Parade features colorful floats, dancers, marching bands, giant character balloons, and equestrians. The parade lasts for about 2 hours, so be sure to snag a good seat!
Party at Downs After Dark
Come dressed to impress and mingle with other Derby-fans at Downs After Dark. This is your opportunity to experience Churchill Downs as you haven’t seen it before — where nightlife meets night racing. As the kickoff event of Spring Meet, this outdoor event is ideal for sipping cocktails and listening to live music with friends.