Kentucky is rich in so much more than just bourbon — it’s brimming with a culture encompassing faith, classic American cars, legendary figures and longstanding traditions. On a trip through rolling hills of the central and western regions, faith-based groups will find an eclectic collection of crowd-pleasing museums covering topics from the Bluegrass State’s humble roots to its booming industries.
This five-day itinerary takes groups to some of the state’s most iconic museums, beginning in Williamstown, in northern Kentucky, before taking them south to Lexington, in the heart of the Bluegrass. Then, groups can head west and make stops in Louisville, Bowling Green and Paducah.
It’s not difficult to see why the Ark Encounter is one of Kentucky’s most popular group attractions — at 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high, this massive wooden structure is built to the specifications listed in the Bible, making it one of the most architecturally impressive and distinct landmarks in the commonwealth. It’s also a museum dedicated to retelling the story of Noah’s Ark with three floors of interactive exhibits. But there’s more for groups to discover; the ark is just the centerpiece of a large theme park dedicated to exploring the Genesis story.
The Ark Encounter is a crowd-pleaser thanks to its arsenal of entertaining experiences available with ticket price, such as entry to the park’s zoo, or as add-ons that include zip-lining and camel riding. Groups might catch an educational lecture or a concert while at the Ark Encounter. They have plenty of dining choices in the park, from the buffet at Emzara’s Kitchen to light fare and snacks at the Olive Leaf Cafe.
While you’re there: In addition to Williamstown’s quaint downtown, the bustling region of Northern Kentucky is just a short drive from the ark. There, groups can tour New Riff Distillery, visit Newport Aquarium, dine on BB Riverboats or take a historic walking tour of Newport. The Creation Museum, a sister museum to the Ark Encounter, is less than 45 minutes from the park.
Kentucky Horse Park
Opened alongside the Kentucky Horse Park in 1978, the International Museum of the Horse is a Smithsonian-affiliated museum with 64,000 square feet of exhibits detailing man’s relationship with horses across history. From the beginnings of their domestication to the billion-dollar horse racing industry of today, each connection between man and beast is explored. The museum has over 16,000 artifacts, from photographs to artwork, for guests to see. Exhibits focus on a variety of topics, from the impact of Black jockeys in the racing industry to the origins and development of various breeds of horses.
Groups can peruse the galleries of exhibits and even catch an educational demonstration hosted by the museum. The museum is at the Kentucky Horse Park, which offers a variety of programs and shows for groups, from tours around the farm to horse shows. Visitors to the park can dine at the Iron Works Café, which can arrange group meals upon request.
While you’re there: Groups can take van tours of other horse farms and visit Keeneland racetrack. For an urban experience, they can head into the city’s revitalized Distillery District and tour the James E. Pepper Distillery. They can also enjoy a slice of Goodfella’s Pizza, several breweries and cideries, and craft ice cream in the buzzing district.
Muhammad Ali Center
Muhammad Ali was one of the greatest boxing legends in history, and he was born in Louisville. In 2005, the Muhammad Ali Center opened between the city’s historic Main Street and the Ohio River with the goal of educating and inspiring visitors. The center is both a museum and a tribute to Ali’s career and legacy, including his activism and philanthropic efforts.
Groups have several options for getting acquainted with the Ali Center, including self-guided tours of the museum’s two floors of exhibits and two floors of art; a guided two-hour tour; a tour including access to the museum’s archives; and Ali’s Louisville Trolley Tour, which takes groups from the center to important spots throughout Louisville that played a part in Ali’s life. The museum also features a store and a theater, as well as its own parking garage.
While you’re there: Louisville has no shortage of museums, including the Louisville Slugger Museum, which is easily identifiable thanks to the 120-foot-tall baseball bat leaning against its entrance. There’s also Churchill Downs, home to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Derby Museum; the Frazier History Museum; and plenty of historic architecture for groups to explore.
One of the most recognizable and coveted sports cars is the Corvette. These sleek and speedy automobiles, first manufactured by General Motors in 1953, are synonymous with the American Dream and have cultivated a culture all their own. The Corvette Museum is visible from Interstate 65 thanks to the 130-foot high, yellow and conical Skydome. The museum’s unique design, Skydome and all, is reminiscent of the car’s design.
Groups can take guided tours of the 115,000-square-foot museum to enjoy exhibits detailing the car’s history. Topics range from vintage Corvettes to the design and engineering behind the iconic cars. To delve even deeper into these legendary automobiles, groups can tour the nearby General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant. Here, they’ll enjoy the rare opportunity to learn how these cars are manufactured at every step. To round out their visits, groups can enjoy lunch at the museum’s Stingray Grill, which serves a variety of sandwiches, burgers and salads.
While you’re there: Bowling Green is also home to another transportation museum, the Historic Railpark and Train Museum, where groups can take self-guided tours and learn about the history of railroads in western Kentucky. To get more acquainted with the city, they can charter the Bowling Green Trolley for a narrated tour or peruse the shops and restaurants in the historic and picturesque town square. They can also enjoy one of the many restaurants that have earned Bowling Green a reputation as a foodie-friendly city.
National Quilt Museum
Quilting is an art form that’s both functional and aesthetic, and it can be traced back to at least medieval times. Today, it remains a prominent art form and a celebrated hobby for many. To see a beautiful and expansive display of contemporary quilts, groups should head to Paducah’s National Quilt Museum, which features a collection of over 650 quilts by different artists. From brightly colored abstract images to intricate portraits, these quilts depict a variety of styles, colors and aesthetics for visitors to enjoy. The museum features rotating exhibits highlighting the work of some of the world’s best quilters.
Opened in 1991, this museum has drawn in nearly 1 million visitors and earned Paducah the designation of Quilt City. It features free on-site parking, as well as a gift shop. Groups can peruse the galleries of quilts and learn about the quilters behind these works of art. The museum also offers quilting classes and workshops.
While you’re there: Paducah is a designated UNESCO Creative City, but it’s also known for its charming downtown and its waterways. Groups can experience creative ventures with a variety of classes covering topics such as painting and ceramics.