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Hands-on Louisville, Ky.

Courtesy Greater Louisville CVB

For a city without a big-league franchise, Louisville, Ky., boasts a surprising sports heritage.

In fact, the city is or was home to some of the biggest names in sports, including Muhammad Ali, Louisville Slugger and the legendary Kentucky Derby. Today, a number of museums throughout the city outline the history of these sports institutions and their local roots, and Louisville’s youth appeal goes beyond sports, as well, to include a first-rate science center and a fascinating underground tour.

Churchill Downs
Home of the famous Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs makes a great place to visit any time of year.

On a morning tour of the facility, you’ll go trackside and see horses and trainers during their daily workouts. Guides also take groups to the stables and paddock, pointing out touches throughout the grounds that pay tribute to previous Derby winners.

While at Churchill Downs, groups can also visit the Kentucky Derby Museum to learn about the history and traditions of the famous race. The museum includes Derby memorabilia, such as garlands won by former champions and various jockey silks that represent the owner’s colors.

Visitors can try their hands — or legs — at Riders Up, a simulator that allows them to experience the feeling of riding a thoroughbred in the Derby.

Muhammad Ali Center
Young travelers with energy to burn can get their fill of action at the Muhammad Ali Center, where they will also learn about important principles that shaped the Louisville native in and out of the ring.

There’s plenty of boxing memorabilia throughout the museum, including Ali’s gloves, trophies and medals.

One section of the museum is a re-creation of Ali’s training gym. Visitors can place their hands on a punching bag to feel the simulated force of one of Ali’s blows, or they can shadowbox the champ in another simulator.

The museum makes the most of modern technology, with many hours of interactive displays and multimedia presentations available to visitors. The most impressive is the orientation film, a five-screen video that introduces Ali’s boxing accomplishments, as well as his stances on the Vietnam War and other social issues.

Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory
When you see the 120-foot baseball bat leaning against the side of the building, you know you’ve reached a Louisville landmark. The Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory is a monument to the iconic Louisville Slugger bat that has been a fixture of the major leagues for more than 100 years.

Inside the museum, displays re-create a professional locker room, a dugout and a small-scale baseball field. In the pitching cage, visitors can pick up a bat and go head to head with a machine that simulates pitches thrown by some of the game’s most famous players.

After touring the museum, groups can visit the factory, where they see bats being produced. The factory turns out about a million bats per year, and visitors can watch as they are carved from 3-inch solid wooden cylinders and then glazed and finished with the famous Louisville Slugger firebrand.

Louisville Science Center
The Louisville Science Center features 150 interactive exhibits and activity stations, teaching laboratories and a four-story IMAX theater.

The museum is broken into three main exhibits. In “The World We Create,” more than 40 activity stations introduce visitors to the fields of chemistry, physics, engineering and telecommunications. The staff gives daily presentations in the “Tech Forum” and “Chemistry Kitchen” areas of the exhibit.

“The World Within Us” focuses on health and life sciences with interactivity stations that teach about the body’s systems and how to make smart health choices. The third section of the museum, “The World Around Us,” explores the science of the earth and teaches about ecology and environmental responsibility.

Mega Caverns

When you drive on the freeways surrounding Louisville, you’re also driving over a large man-made cavern underneath the city. Over 42 years, the caverns were blasted and mined by quarrymen extracting limestone; today, These caverns are open as an educational attraction for tourists.

Groups can ride through the caverns on a tram pulled by an SUV. The tram covers some of the 17 miles of roads constructed underground, and guides point out many of the natural and historical points of interest.

Visitors learn about the fallout bunker located in the cavern during the Cuban missile crisis, see storage facilities used to preserve items such as props from “The Wizard of Oz” and even take a spin through a worm recycling facility.