No, this isn’t where the Kentucky Derby takes place. Smaller than its neighbor Louisville (the home of Churchill Downs) Lexington is less often discussed. The location of the University of Kentucky and the official “Horse Capital of the World,” this low-lying southern city is home to a handful of up-and-coming neighborhoods with thriving food and drink scenes, and is surrounded by miles of farmland, where the majority of the world’s champion racehorses are born and bred.
Among these rolling pastures, there’s a lot of green. Locals recall seeing Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai touch down at quaint little Blue Grass Airport in an unmarked private jet from time to time (he owns horse farms in the area), and stallions like California Chrome—a horse that raked in $14,452,650 in winnings over the course of his racing career—reside here to be used for breeding.
For horse fanatics, the presence of racing royalty is enough of a draw, but for the rest of us, this city does have more to offer. Here’s our guide to a delicious, relaxing weekend in Lexington.
Friday: Upon arrival, time seems to slow down. Never before have I been able to hear birds chirping while waiting in line for a taxi from the airport. The best thing to do is embrace the slow stillness of it all and leisurely make your way to one of two very different, but equally luxurious (and quirky) hotels.
For a city feel, check into 21c. This trendy downtown hotel is housed in a historic bank building, but inside, there’s a contemporary art museum with rotating installations perfect for perusing as you adapt to the slowed-down vibe. If modern art isn’t your thing, Castle Post is a bed and breakfast that skews the opposite way: medieval. Ironically located just outside the city in the town of Versailles (pronounced ver-sales) this estate was originally built as a home in the late 1960’s by a wealthy Kentucky couple who fell in love with the castles they saw on vacation in Europe.
Saturday morning: Even if horses aren’t your thing, no trip to Lexington would be complete without getting up close and personal with these majestic animals. If you’re really interested in learning about the ins and outs of horse breeding, you can book a tour of one of the city’s many horse farms like Taylor Made, where California Chrome resides. If you’re looking for a less technical overview, consider checking out the Kentucky Horse Park, where you can visit the International Museum of the Horse, watch a daily horse show or take a riding lesson.
Saturday afternoon: Before you get into the bourbon, consider warming up with beer on Lexington’s “Brewgrass Trail.” This growing collection of trendy craft breweries are all vying to create the most offbeat, delicious beer possible. Some of my favorites included a mimosa-inspired shandy at Mirror Twin Brewing and a blackberry-flavored sour at West Sixth Brewing.
Saturday night: Make sure to end your day of drinking at Ethereal Brewing, located at the Pepper Campus, a cluster of bars and restaurants with adorable outdoor spaces located in the newly revitalized Distillery District. That way, you can stumble next door to Middle Fork Kitchen & Bar to eat a family-style meal that will be a contender for the best meal of your life. Don’t leave without sampling the shiitake bowl and the lamb.
Sunday morning: Head to brunch at County Club, a stylishly refurbished garage paying homage to classic Southern cooking with a trendy menu of delectable smoked meats. Filling up on comfort food is necessary before embarking on a day dedicated to Kentucky’s number one export: bourbon.
Sunday afternoon: While the infamous Kentucky Bourbon Trail spans the entire Bluegrass state, there are more than enough distilleries for you to tour right in Lexington. Buffalo Trace is technically not on the official trail, but it is worth visiting for both the bourbon-obsessed and the bourbon-averse. You’ll be taken inside the facility’s bright red buildings, where you’ll see each step of the bourbon making process, taking in a variety of sweet smells along the way. End the day with a tasting session led by an expert, and it would be shocking if you didn’t leave as a fan of the brown stuff.