Known as the “The most exciting two minutes in sports,” the Kentucky Derby thrills viewers worldwide each year. For a lucky fraction of that audience (usually around 160,000 people), the Kentucky Derby happens in real time, before their eyes at the Churchill Downs.
If you are headed to Louisville for the big race (you can get tickets here), we have compiled the following list of everything you should know — where to stay, where to eat, what to do — before you go.
First on your list should be booking your own private charter flight. Not only is it the ultimate way to arrive in style, but flying charter also allows you to bypass the hassle and delays of commercial flights, which are sure to be packed leading up to the race.
Call our sales team today to schedule a private flight for you and your friends. Then, check out this list of the best things to see and do in Louisville, Kentucky.
Customers flying on one of our private charter airplanes will arrive at Louisville International Airport’s Standiford Field. Besides the thrill of arriving in a sleek jet for one of the most prestigious events of the year, charter clients will also bypass airport security, luggage delays and more.
And we’ll help you get to your hotel, too.
Have special requests while you fly? We are happy to oblige. When you fly charter, getting there really is part of the fun.
Where to Stay
Located 4 miles from Churchill Downs.
Since 1905, the Seelbach has been wowing visitors with its opulence and Beaux-Arts Baroque architecture. The lobby marble alone is impressive, having come from Switzerland, Vermont and Italy. Frequent visitor F. Scott Fitzgerald, as well as some infamous gangsters, made the Seelbach notable in the Roaring Twenties, and, in fact, Fitzgerald refers to the hotel’s Grand Ballroom during Tom and Daisy’s wedding in The Great Gatsby. More recently, the Seelbach has been visited by Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt.
Today, the Seelbach has been fully modernized and updated while still retaining its historical features. Several specialty suites — the Seelbach Suite, Fitzgerald Suite, Gatsby Suite and Presidential Suite — are available for a truly memorable stay. Executive Rooms on an controlled-access floor are available with upgraded amenities and more spacious accommodations.
Located 3.4 miles from Churchill Downs.
The Brown Hotel is Georgian-Revival elegance meets Southern charm. When the hotel first opened in 1923, the first person to sign its guest register was David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain. The Brown Hotel has been host to many prominent people — Elizabeth Taylor, Gene Autry, Muhammad Ali, Barack Obama — ever since. In 2015, it was listed among Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Hotels,” and that same year, it won Conde Naste Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Award for being one of the “Top 30 Hotels in the South.” The Brown Hotel even was the backdrop for the movie Elizabethtown featuring Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst.
All guest rooms at the Brown Hotel have pillow-top beds, an executive desk and luxury toiletries. Luxury Suites have 1,000 square-feet of space, including a living room, dining space, wet bar, separate bedroom and bath. The Muhammad Ali Suite, which was dedicated by its namesake in 2001, features memorabilia, including boxing gloves, signed by Ali.
Located 4.2 miles from Churchill Downs.
Sleep in a contemporary art museum!
21c is comprised of five 19th-century warehouses (more than 9,00 square feet) whose lower levels are the backdrop for award-winning exhibitions and curated installations, all focused on 21st-century contemporary art.
The hotel portion of 21c is an upscale, fully renovated space offering modern accommodations with an artistic flair.
All guest rooms include original artwork, luxury bedding, custom designed furniture, 42′ flat screen TV and free Wi-Fi. Some rooms feature exposed brick and other historic features of the 19th-century warehouses. In the Cyclone Room, guests can sleep in a fully-immersive art experience. Designed by Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, a full-room colorful sculpture envelopes the king-sized bed and other amenities. There is a record player, artist-designed linens and blankets, and other artifacts chosen by Freeman and Lowe.
Located 2.5 miles from Churchill Downs.
This mansion dates back to 1879, when it was built for the DuPonts of Delaware. Located in the Old Louisville Historical District, the Italianate-Renaissance Revival building was home to two DuPont brothers who were manufacturers and dealers of paper and gun powder. The Historic District itself was developed after the Civil War due to population booms in the area. The mansion has been a bed and breakfast since 2001.
For the most room and luxury, select the Alfred I. DuPont Suite. It includes a king bed, fireplace, flat screen TV, full-size bathroom (with its own fireplace and whirlpool tub), and a crystal chandelier. Views from the windows include Fourth Street and Central Park.
Located 2.3 miles from Churchill Downs.
This stone mansion, built in 1884, faces Central Park in the Old Louisville Historical District. It was originally the home of Vernon Price, president of the Saturday Evening Post and a vinegar manufacturer.
Louisville’s Central Park was designed by the same designer who created New York’s famous Central Park. Today, it is a 17-acre grassy area that contains playgrounds, picnic tables, an arbor and amphitheater, tennis and volleyball courts.
For extra space and privacy, choose The Rose Garden room on the third floor. It is a two-room suite with a king size bed and an extra twin-size daybed (with a trundle). In the sitting room, there is a fireplace, and the windows overlook Central Park. All furnishings are Victorian.
Where to Eat
Inside 21c Museum Hotel (see above).
Esquire Magazine called Proof on Main one of the “Best New Restaurants,” and locals agree. Surrounded by contemporary art, the restaurant and bar are a hot spot for locals and tourists, not in the least for the bar’s more than 120 Kentucky Bourbons.
Favorite menu items include: Charred Octopus, Smoked Kentucky Catfish, Whipped Ricotta, Spaghetti Squash Ragout, Day Boat Skate, Freedom Run Lamb, Woodland Farm Pork Chops, and Proof Bison Burgers.
For a classic Kentucky dessert, check out the Bourbon Pecan Pie!
1007 Bardstown Rd, Lousiville
Jack Fry’s original owners, Jack and Flossie, opened their restaurant in 1933…and often conducted their bootlegging out of the back rooms. Jack Fry’s quickly became a popular hangout for sportsmen, and with its close proximity (about 14 miles) to Churchill Downs, that tradition continues today.
Popular menu items include: Rabbit Tortelloni, Escargots, Scallops, Salmon, Ruby Red Trout, Lamb Chops, and ‘Jack’s Burger.
3113 S 4th Street, Louisville (Right across the street from Churchill Downs!)
Since 1922, when Wagner’s was simply a casual place for sports writers to relax after a day at the races, this restaurant has been part of Churchill Downs’ history. In the 20s, Leo Wagner used to allow horsemen to buy cigarettes and other food on credit, building a friendship with the racing community that instilled Wagner and his Pharmacy in the heart of the Kentucky Derby.
Eventually, the hole-in-the-wall spot was discovered by the masses, too, and now it is a popular destination for tourists during Derby Week.
Favorite menu items include: The Derby Sandwich (honey glazed ham, melted swiss and mayo), the Club Sandwich, Patty Melt, Hamburger, and Egg Salad Sandwich.
1153 Logan Street, Louisville
You can’t go to Kentucky and not have barbecue, and this joint has been rated as one of the best in Louisville. Housed in an old Civil War-era building built in 1862 for grocery and seed, Smokehouse USA is conveniently located in the heart of Old Louisville. The decor is whimsical, with yard sale finds scattered about, but the BBQ is serious, and that’s why locals have made it a favorite.
Popular menu items include: Ribs, Pulled Pork, Smoked Chicken, Cuban and Rueben Sanwiches. Side items include: Tex Mex Pintos, Mac & Cheese, Spanish Rice, Potato Salad, Baked Beans and Soul Greens.
Things to See & Do
526 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont, Kentucky (27 miles south of Churchill Downs)
Jim Beam® is an American classic, so this distillery tour is a must-see while you’re in Louisville. For 90 minutes, your guided tour will take you through the entire process of making bourbon. It begins at the natural limestone well and ends with bottling.
For a truly in depth, behind-the-scenes experience, choose the Behind the Beam tour, offered on limited dates and lasts from 10 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.). On this exclusive tour, you will meet Master Distiller and Great-Grandson of Jim Beam, Fred Noe. You’ll also have a private tour of the distillery, lunch and a guided tasting with Noe.
Reservations have to be made at least two days before your preferred tour date. Check-in begins 15 minutes before start time. Tickets can be purchased on the website.
Regular tours are offered Monday-Saturday on the half hour from 9:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. (exceptions: there are no tours at 11:30 and 12:30). On Sunday, tours are offered from 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. The gift shop is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
704 Central Avenue, Louisville
Celebrating the rich history and tradition of the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Derby Museum, which opened in 1985 and is adjacent to Churchill Downs, remains one of the top-rated attractions in the Louisville area.
The family-friendly and interactive museum includes two floors of Derby history and artifacts. Visitors also learn about each point in a Thoroughbred’s life, from birth to race day. Museum collections, dating all the way back to 1875, include items from trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Bill Shoemaker, as well as photographs, artwork, trophies, oral histories and personal mementos from legends who have made the Derby what it is today.
The museum is open Monday – Saturday from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
1841 Taylor Ave, Louisville
This popular attraction was created by more than 40 years of mining in a limestone quarry in the heart of Louisville. In total, there is more than 4,000,000 square-feet of underground space, making it the largest “building” in the state. The caverns include storage space and office buildings, but for thrill seekers, there is Mega Cavern, a one-of-a-kind, totally underground adventure park.
Attractions include zip lining, a tram (which takes you on a historical tour), extreme bike riding, aerial ropes course, and electric bike tours.
To make a reservation, call 1-877-614-6342 or visit the Attractions page.
800 West Main St., Louisville
Your experience at the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory (declared “one of the greatest sports museums in the world” by Forbes.com) begins with the building itself. Outside, there is a 120-foot exact replica of Babe Ruth’s Louisville Slugger bat.
Inside the museum, visitors can choose to tour the factory, and walk right through the production line, or explore the famous artifacts in the museum (items include Babe Ruth’s notched bat, Joe DiMaggio’s 1941 record-setting bat, Hank Aaron’s 700th Home Run bat). There’s also a signature wall with thousands of famous players who have used Louisville Sluggers.
Factory tours are available Monday-Saturday from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Contact us today and let us help you plan a trip to the Kentucky Derby. We operate our own fleet and can source any size aircraft from an extensive domestic and international user network, which gives you total flexibility.