Kentucky is a southern state of the United States; its state capital is Frankfort. Attractions include horse racing and beautiful lakes. Kentucky is also culturally part of the American South. It is home to famous food (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hot Brown, and Burgoo), drink (bourbon whiskey) and music (bluegrass) traditions.
|Bluegrass Region |
Horses and bourbon sum up this region; the gently rolling hills are the heart of the thoroughbred industry and many distilleries can be found along its streams.
|Caves and Lakes |
A karst region containing the largest cave system in the world; its hub is Bowling Green
|Daniel Boone Country |
This rugged landscape is dominated by the Daniel Boone National Forest and it was here that the Wilderness Road was cut enabling the first wave of settlers to enter the state through the Cumberland Gap.
|Kentucky Appalachians |
A rugged and rural portion of the state.
|Kentucky Derby Region |
This region, centered around Kentucky's largest city, Louisville is also world-famous for its bourbon distilleries
|Northern Ohio River Region |
An emerging economic power in Kentucky: the cities of Covington, Florence, Independence, and Newport are among the fastest growing in the state
|Southern Lakes |
Containing many man-made lakes, this rural region offers many opportunities for recreation
|Western Coal Fields |
This area of alternating ridges and valleys was mined extensively in the years after World War II, but many of the mined lands were turned into wildlife management areas and the region has become a draw for sportsmen; Owensboro is its largest city
|Western Waterlands |
A mostly flat area of the state that lies within the floodplains of four major rivers, this region contains the state's largest agricultural operations and the recreational areas around Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley
For the most part, these regions are used only by the state for tourism promotion—they do not necessarily reflect the regions recognized by Kentuckians themselves. The state tourism regions map to locally recognized regions as follows:
- Bluegrass Region — Although there is a locally recognized region called "The Bluegrass", that region covers a considerably larger area than the state tourism region. Especially in the Lexington area, the term Central Kentucky is widely used.
- Caves and Lakes — Traditionally considered part of the Pennyrile (more properly the Pennyroyal Plateau). Nowadays, it is also seen as part of South Central Kentucky.
- Daniel Boone Country and Kentucky Appalachians — Together, they largely coincide with the area locally known as Eastern Kentucky or the Eastern Coalfield. (Ironically, Eastern Kentucky University is not in locally defined Eastern Kentucky; it is instead in the Bluegrass.)
- Kentucky Derby Region — Metropolitan Louisville is generally seen as its own region, locally called Metro Louisville ("Louisville Metro" refers specifically to Louisville and Jefferson County, which have a merged government), just "Louisville", or Kentuckiana. Western portions of the region are seen as part of the Pennyrile, and eastern portions as part of the (Outer) Bluegrass.
- Northern Ohio River Region — The counties that are part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area are more often called Northern Kentucky. The rest of the region is seen as part of the Bluegrass, or sometimes called the Outer Bluegrass.
- Southern Lakes — Most of the region has been traditionally considered part of the Pennyrile, with its eastern fringes overlapping with locally defined Eastern Kentucky. It is also increasingly seen today as part of South Central Kentucky.
- Western Coal Fields — This is the only region that corresponds in both area and naming to local usage.
- Western Waterlands — The region west of the Tennessee River is universally known as the Jackson Purchase, often shortened to just The Purchase. The rest of the region is considered part of the Pennyrile.
- In addition, the locally defined Bluegrass is surrounded by a chain of conical hills known as The Knobs, which also run through the state-recognized Kentucky Derby Region.
- 1 Frankfort – state capital
- 2 Bowling Green – home of Western Kentucky University and home of the Corvette
- 3 Cave City – gateway to Mammoth Cave Nat'l Park.
- 4 Covington – south side of Cincinnati
- 5 Fort Knox – home of gold and armor
- 6 Lexington – horse capital of the world and home of the University of Kentucky
- 7 Louisville – the Kentucky Derby city and Home of the University of Louisville
- 8 Paducah – quilt city
- 9 Richmond – home of Eastern Kentucky University
- 1 Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area
- 2 Cumberland Gap National Historical Park
- 3 Daniel Boone National Forest
- Kentucky Bourbon Trail
- 4 Kentucky Lake
- 5 Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area
- 6 Lake Barkley
- 7 Mammoth Cave National Park
Between about 500-300 million years ago much of what is now Kentucky was covered by shallow seas. The fauna of those seas is the source of the vast limestone deposits that lie under much of the state, containing its extensive cave systems, as well as its unusually rich fossil beds. The peat bogs that succeeded the seas eventually petrified into coal, and thus coal mining remains an important economic activity in Kentucky.
Kentucky is the 15th state to join the United States of America, having been carved out of Virginia and allowed to join the Union in 1792. Prior to European settlement, the area that now comprises the state of Kentucky was subject to long periods of contention between various tribes, although it's usually agreed that by the time Europeans arrived it was mainly split between the Shawnee and Cherokee.
Abraham Lincoln was born in Kentucky, although his family relocated to Indiana when he was fairly young, due to a land ownership dispute. Jefferson Davis, the leader of the Confederacy, was also a Kentuckian, and the state has a complicated history during the US Civil War - despite being a slave state, it never officially seceded from the Union, and thousands of Kentuckians fought on both sides of the conflict.
As early as the 18th century, settlers took advantage of the warm, humid summers to grow large quantities of corn, as had the Native American tribes before them. Lacking means to get the corn to market in bulk, they distilled it into whiskey. Any available casks and barrels then had their interiors singed to sterilize them, and then were filled with whiskey, loaded onto barges, and sent on a slow journey down the Ohio and the Mississippi to New Orleans. The buyers in New Orleans found that aging in oak barrels dramatically improved the flavor of raw corn liquor, and, because many of the barrels were stamped "Bourbon County, Kentucky," Bourbon became the name of Kentucky's most famous export.
Kentucky's calcium-rich water and abundant forage contributed to its other famous industry, raising thoroughbred racehorses. Kentucky's bluegrass area still contains numerous impressive and prosperous horse farms, and Churchill Downs in Louisville hosts the Kentucky Derby, one of the world's most long-running and famous horse races.
Today, Kentucky has a diverse economy that features traditional industries as well as modern manufacturing and high tech. Between its scenic beauty and its Southern hospitality, it has a lot to offer to a visitor.
Kentucky's major urban areas are the Louisville Metro, the Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati, and to a lesser extent, the city of Lexington. The majority of the state is fairly rural, though. Visitors from more urbanized areas sometimes find it striking how quickly you're "out in the country" when driving outside of a major city. Eastern Kentucky is part of the Appalachians, including the beautiful and very sparsely populated Daniel Boone National Forest.
Kentucky is accessible by five Interstates:
- I-71 and I-75 both enter the state from the north at Cincinnati. The two roads split in the Kentucky suburbs, with I-71 going to its southern end in Louisville and I-75 to Lexington, continuing past Richmond, Berea, and London.
- I-64 runs from Ashland in the east to Louisville in the west, passing by Lexington and Frankfort on the way.
- I-65 enters the state from Indiana and runs from Louisville to Bowling Green, continuing to the Tennessee state line.
- I-24 from Paducah to Hopkinsville and the Fort Campbell area.
A sixth interstate, I-69, has segments in Kentucky, but is not yet connected with an interstate-standard highway to any other state. The Kentucky segment starts at Henderson, across the Ohio River from Evansville, taking an indirect southwest course through the state as it follows older parkways (see below). The signed route passes by Madisonville and Princeton before reaching Calvert City, at which point I-69 follows the Purchase Parkway to Fulton (the latter road is now signed as I-69 to Mayfield, and "Future I-69" from Mayfield to Fulton). A spur from I-69 running to Hopkinsville, also routed along part of a previously existing parkway, is now numbered as I-169. Kentucky's I-69 is a relatively small part of a major extension of that highway, which originally ran only from Indianapolis to the Canadian border at Port Huron, Michigan, but in the coming years will stretch all the way to the Mexican border in Texas.
Kentucky is connected to many U.S. Highways:
- US 27 runs from Covington south to Somerset.
- US 119 begins near Pineville; from there, it runs generally northeast through far eastern Kentucky until entering West Virginia to the northeast of Pikeville.
- US 127, also from Covington, runs through Frankfort, Danville and the Lake Cumberland area.
- US 150 offers a connection between Louisville and I-75 between Lexington and Tennessee.
- US 23 (Country Music Highway) connects Ashland with Virginia south of Pikeville.
- US 41 runs from Henderson south to Fort Campbell; it largely parallels I-69 and I-169 (the former Pennyrile Parkway).
- US 421 runs from Milton, at the fringes of the Louisville metropolitan area, through Frankfort, Lexington, and Richmond before continuing southeast through eastern Kentucky, eventually exiting to Virginia.
- US 45 runs through the Purchase area from Paducah to Mayfield, and then parallels the Purchase Parkway/I-69 to Fulton.
- US 60 bisects the state from the Mississippi River to Ashland, passing through Paducah, Henderson, Owensboro and Louisville before following I-64 the rest of its route.
- US 68 begins just east of Paducah, running as largely an east-west route through Hopkinsville, Bowling Green and Glasgow. A short distance past Glasgow, the road takes a sharp turn to the northeast toward Campbellsville, Harrodsburg, Lexington and Maysville.
There are three large airports in the state. Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport is served by several major airlines, including Southwest, Frontier, Delta/Delta Connection, United Express, American Airlines/American Eagle, and Midwest Connect. Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport, which is off of I-275 near Hebron, is a major hub for Delta, and is also served by American Eagle, United Express, Comair, Delta Connection, and USA 3000. Lexington's Blue Grass Field offers direct flights from fourteen cities in the midwestern, southern and eastern parts of the country via American Eagle, US Express, United Express, and Delta Connection. The two smaller commercial airports in Kentucky are Barkley Regional (serving Paducah), served by Delta Connection, and Owensboro-Daviess County Airport, served by Great Lakes Aviation. The Ashland area is served by Tri-State Airport near Huntington, West Virginia. There are many other smaller, general aviation airports throughout the state.
Greyhound offers intercity bus service.
Kentucky maintains 9 parkways to supplement the Interstate and U.S. Highways. These roads were all built as toll roads but have since become freeways. Nine roads make up the parkway system; two of these are now fully incorporated into the Interstate Highway System, with others either partially incorporated or to be incorporated.
- The Audubon Parkway, the shortest road in the system, connects Henderson and Owensboro. It is now signed as a "Future I-69 Spur", and will likely receive "I-69 Spur" as its permanent designation when improvements are completed.
- The Martha Layne Collins Bluegrass Parkway runs from I-65 on the north side of Elizabethtown to Versailles, just west of Lexington.
- The Louie B. Nunn Cumberland Parkway runs through South Central Kentucky from I-65 east of Bowling Green to Somerset, near the Lake Cumberland resort region.
- The Hal Rogers Parkway (often called "the Rogers"; formerly the Daniel Boone Parkway), mainly a two-lane road with frequent passing lanes for heavy trucks, connects London with Hazard in the eastern third of the state.
- The Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway connects I-64 in Winchester to Salyersville in eastern Kentucky. The eastern half of this road, past Campton, is two lanes. Long-term plans call for the reinstatement of tolls to fund expansion of the eastern section to four lanes, plus an extension of about 15 miles to Prestonsburg.
- The William H. Natcher Parkway (often called "the Natcher"; formerly the Green River Parkway) connects Owensboro with Bowling Green. This road has now been fully upgraded to Interstate Highway standards, and is signed exclusively as I-165 between Owensboro and the I-65 interchange in Bowling Green. A short segment of the former Natcher Parkway between I-65 and US 231 in Bowling Green, despite meeting Interstate standards, was excluded from that system and is now signed as Kentucky Route 9007.
- The Edward T. Breathitt Pennyrile Parkway runs from Henderson to Hopkinsville. The section from Henderson to the Western Kentucky Parkway is now signed exclusively as I-69; the southern section from the WK to Hopkinsville is now signed as I-169.
- The Julian M. Carroll Purchase Parkway runs diagonally through the Jackson Purchase (the region west of the Tennessee River), starting at the Tennessee state line in Fulton and ending at I-24 at Calvert City near Kentucky Lake. The entire parkway will become part of I-69, and the northern segment from Mayfield to Calvert City is already signed as such.
- The Wendell Ford Western Kentucky Parkway (also known as "the WK", from its former signs), is unofficially the longest road in the system, though no longer officially so. The western segment from Eddyville to the former Pennyrile Parkway is now signed exclusively as I-69. The segment between I-169 and I-165 is set to be redesignated as I-569 once upgrades are completed.
Kentucky also has more than 9000 numbered state routes; most are just a dozen miles long or so. Notable ones for traversing the state include:
- KY 9, more often known as the AA Highway (from its originally planned route of Ashland to Alexandria), crosses the northeastern tier of the state, starting just north of I-64 in Grayson and running roughly parallel to the Ohio River, though inland, to I-275 (the Cincinnati bypass) in Northern Kentucky. The only town of any real size along the route, apart from some suburbs at the Northern Kentucky end, is Maysville.
- KY 80 crosses the southern part of the state, linking Mayfield, Hopkinsville, Bowling Green, Somerset, London, Hazard and Pikeville.
- KY 70 runs west to east across the central part of the state. Begins in Smithland, on the Ohio River, and ends at US 150 near Mount Vernon. The section between Morgantown and Cave City is very scenic and passes through Mammoth Cave National Park.
- Kentucky Horse Park: in Lexington off I-75. The only park of its kind and host of the 2010 World Equestrian Games. 1,200 acres of exhibits, pastures, barns, museums and an art gallery. Open year round.
- General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant: in Bowling Green off of I-65 exit 28 at Louisville Rd. and Corvette Dr. Bowling Green is the only production site for the classic American sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette and the two-seat Cadillac XLR. Every Corvette produced since 1982 was manufactured at the Bowling Green plant. The plant offers a 1-hour guided walking tour of portions of the assembly area.
- National Corvette Museum: in Bowling Green off of I-65 exit 28 across from the GM Assembly Plant. The museum houses more than 75 Corvettes including one of the original 1953 Corvettes, the only 1983 Corvette in existence, the millionth Corvette produced and many other rare 'Vettes. Also displayed are photographs, advertisements, television commercials, and Corvette memorabilia.
- Lost River Cave & Valley: in Bowling Green at jct. US 31W and Dishman Ln. The Lost River Cave & Valley offers a 45-minute underground boat and walking tour of a cave discovered by Indians 10,000 years ago. The cave, which is a constant 56 F, was a shelter for Indians, the site of a 19th-century water-powered mill, a campsite used by both sides during the Civil War, a hiding place for the outlaw Jesse James, and a popular 1930s night club. During the summer a butterfly exhibit can be viewed.
- Crystal Onyx Cave: in Cave City, off of I-65 exit 53 then 2 mi east on SR 90 to 363 Prewitts Knob Rd. This cave contains rare onyx formations, a lake and cave dwelling wildlife. An Indian burial site dated back to 680 BC may also be viewed. Guided 1 hour tours are conducted daily.
- Mammoth Cave National Park: northeast of Bowling Green, Northwest of Park City, and 10 miles west of Cave City. Mammoth Cave National Park occupies 52,830 acres. Within the park is Mammoth Cave, which is the worlds longest known cave system. It contains 365 miles of underground passages charted on five levels. Guided tours that range from 1.25 to 6 hours and vary in degree of difficulty are conducted daily.
- Swope's Cars of Yesteryear Museum: in Elizabethtown at 1100 N. Dixie Ave. Among the restored vintage automobiles displayed in the museum are such luxury cars from the 1920s and 1930s as Packards, Pierce Arrows, Hupmobiles and a 1939 Rolls Royce. Cars on display from later decades include several 1960s Chevrolet Impalas, a 1956 Ford Thunderbird, and a 1961 Metropolitan. Also this museum is free.
- Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor: on Fort Knox army base the museum is named for World War II General George Patton. include German and Japanese war artifacts, an extensive collection of US and foreign tanks and weapons, and mementos of Patton's military career, including his wartime caravan truck and the sedan in which he was fatally injured in 1945.
- US Bullion Depository: the 1937 treasure house, whose visible structure is a square about 100 feet on each side, is bombproof; its walls and roof are faced with huge granite blocks. At different times the vault has also held one of the copies of the Magna Carta, the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The depository is closed to the public but can be viewed when driving on US 31W.
- Maker's Mark Distillery: in Loretto off of SR 52. The distillery began operations in 1805. The former master distiller's home, built in the 1840s, is now the visitor center and the starting point for the 50-minute guided tour. Highlights of the tour include the still house, the fermenting room, warehouses, and the bottling house.
- Jim Beam's American Outpost: in Clermont about 2 miles east of I-65 on SR 245. A film about the burbon making process is shown in the tourist center, a replica of an old tobacco barn. The historic Beam family home and rickhouses where the bourbon is aged in oak barrels also can be seen.
- Churchill Downs: in Louisville on 700 Central Ave., is the historic racetrack where the Kentucky Derby is run. Racing seasons are late April through early July and late October to November. A 30-minute guided tour is available through the Kentucky Derby Museum.
- Kentucky Derby Museum: adjacent to Gate 1 of Churchill Downs. The museum showcases the Thoroughbred industry and the Kentucky Derby. Two floors of racing artifacts, interactive exhibits, and fine art relate the tradition of Derby Day. Five Derby winners are buried at the museum, and a sixth (2006 winner Barbaro) is buried just outside Gate 1.
- Louisville Slugger Museum: in downtown Louisville on the corner of 8th and Main Sts. The entrance to the museum is distinguished by the 120-foot, 68,000-pound steel baseball bat. Visitors can view collections of baseball memorabilia before moving on to the guided tour of the manufacturing facility where you can see the bats being made.
Wherever you travel in Kentucky, you are never far from one of 52 Kentucky State Parks. Each park has its own unique attributes, from shorelines to majestic mountains, from winding caves to enchanting woodlands.
State resort parks
Kentucky offers 17 state resort parks, more than any other state. Each park features a full-service lodge and dining room.
- Barren River Lake
- Blue Licks Battlefield
- Buckhorm Lake
- Carter Caves State Resort Park
- Cumberland Falls State Resort Park
- Dale Hollow Lake
- General Butler
- Greenbo State Resort Park
- Jenny Wiley
- Kenlake - on the mid-west shore of Kentucky Lake
- Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park
- Lake Barkley - rests on the shores of one of the world’s largest man-made lakes and provides for an array of outdoor activity
- Lake Cumberland State Resort Park
- Natural Bridge State Park
- Pennyrile Forest
- Pine Mountain State Resort Park
- Rough River
- Breaks Interstate Park
State recreation parks
The Kentucky State Parks operate 22 recreation parks that offer a variety of activities for visitors, including camping, fishing, golf, boating, hiking, picnicking, tennis, mini-golf, horseback riding, and historic sites.
- Big Bone Lick
- Carr Creek
- Columbus-Belmont - often called the "Gibraltar of the West" by the Confederates, was considered by them the key to their defense of the upper Mississippi River valley.
- E.P. Tom Sawyer, 3000 Freys Hill Rd. Louisville, KY 40241, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. A 562-acre oasis on the outskirts of Louisville, the rolling ﬁelds that were once farmland are now the site of some of the ﬁnest indoor and outdoor recreation facilities in Kentucky. The park is named in honor of Erbon Powers “Tom” Sawyer, a Louisville leader and visionary (and also the father of retired ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer).
- Fish Trap Lake
- General Burnside Island State Park
- Grayson Lake
- Green River Lake
- John James Audubon
- Kincaid Lake
- Kingdom Come
- Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park
- Lake Malone
- My Old Kentucky Home - it is believed that Stephen Foster wrote "My Old Kentucky Home" here while visiting in 1852.
- Nolin Lake
- Paintsville Lake
- Taylorsville Lake
- Yatesville Lake
Kentucky State Parks offer a great variety of species and settings for fishing. Anglers have a choice of largemouth and smallmouth bass, striped bass, trout, bluegill, crappie, catfish and many more kinds of fish at state parks. And for beginners, many parks have fishing equipment to loan to guests. See the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources for required licenses, regulations, and suggestions on where to fish. An additional license is required for trout fishing, and while you may keep brown trout, rainbow trout are catch and release only. Kentucky does have some wonderful trout fishing rivers, and fly fishing is popular.
Kentucky is famed for bluegrass, bourbon, beautiful mountains and thoroughbreds. Golf is a large part of Kentucky's recreational reputation, with 19 State Park golf courses.
There are several indoor and outdoor firing ranges at which arms and ammunition may be rented, along with some time at a firing lane. Shotgun enthusiasts will find a large number of clubs offering trap, skeet, and sporting clays, as well as several preserves offering pheasant or dove hunts.
Deer, dove, and turkey are all commonly hunted in Kentucky. In addition, Kentucky has the largest number of elk found east of the Mississippi. See the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources for seasons and license fees.
The parks operate more than two dozen swimming pools and 11 beaches at lakes. And during the winter, there are indoor pools at Lake Cumberland and Lake Barkley resort parks.
2,600 improved sites. Reservations are now available for the campgrounds. You can enjoy campground activities such as entertainment, arts and crafts, mini golf, cook outs and nature programs.
The state parks oversee 15 marinas that offer pontoon and fishing boat rentals. The marinas also provide a variety of services including fuel, fishing licenses, ice and slip rentals. And many parks have canoes and paddle boats as well.
Kentucky State Parks offer nearly 300 miles (480 km) of trails suitable for all levels of enjoyment. From the remote 45 miles (70 km) on the Pine Mountain Trail to the .5-mile self-guided interpretive trail through the Civil War redoubts at Columbus-Belmont State Park, there is an outdoor experience that will satisfy everyone! Along with the state parks, many hiking opportunities can be found on federal lands in the state. The Daniel Boone National forest boasts over 600 miles of trails including the 290-mile Sheltowee Trace. The 58-mile North-South Trail is in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area and the Pine Mountain Trail will be integrated into the 1600-mile (2550 km) Great Eastern Trail.
Looking to explore some new surroundings with your favorite equine companion? Visit one of the scenic Kentucky State Parks horse trails and escape for the day. Or, spend the weekend at a “horse campground” for some cowboy time under the stars. You will find several parks are equipped with seasonal riding stables for the whole family to enjoy. Horse back riding is also an option at many private stables, and at the Kentucky Horse Park seasonally.
Most medium to large whiskey distilleries offer guided tours and/or tastings, and this is a popular tourist activity. Many distilleries are in fairly scenic parts of Kentucky, with a large number (but by no means all) being clustered around Bardstown. Several companies offer group bus tours that hit multiple distilleries in one day.
- During hunting season, wear brightly-colored clothing if you go into the woods.
- If you are backpacking, biking or any off-road adventure, register with the Park Office. Make sure you call or visit on the way out. It only makes sense, you may get lost, or break something. Cell phones may not work in these areas.
- Kentucky is generally very safe, however certain parts of Downtown Louisville can be dangerous. For example, when traveling to the west end of Louisville, be sure to use common sense.
Kentucky has a wide variety of shopping malls, such as Mall St. Matthews, Oxmoor Center, and Jefferson Mall in Louisville; Fayette Mall in Lexington; Florence Mall in Northern Kentucky; Greenwood Mall in Bowling Green; and Kentucky Oaks Mall in Paducah. There are also a wide variety of shops with different assortments, and there are unique amenities to buy when you get out of the cities.
Bourbon is of course widely sold throughout the world, but some distilleries have unique whiskeys available only at the distillery; these can be a fun souvenir. Many distilleries offer tours and tastings, and these are a popular tourist activity. Not all Kentucky whiskey is bourbon - many distilleries also produce large amounts of excellent rye whiskey (bourbon is legally required to be distilled from a mash containing at least 51% corn). Rye whiskeys tend to have a subtly different flavor from bourbon; less sweet and more earthy. A few distilleries have experimented with malt whisky, but the hot Kentucky summers are not ideal for aging malts, and "Kentucky Scotch" is generally seen as more of a novelty than something most people would want to drink on a regular basis.
Kentucky's cuisine is similar to traditional southern cooking, although in some areas of the state it can blend Southern and Midwestern.
Kentucky has invented several dishes; most notably the Kentucky Hot Brown and beer cheese. The Hot Brown was developed at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. The dish is usually layered in this order: toasted bread, turkey, bacon, tomatoes and topped with mornay sauce. Beer cheese is a cheese spread that originated in Central Kentucky near Winchester. While there are conflicting stories on where beer cheese originated, Johnny Allman's, a restaurant on the Kentucky River (present-day site of Hall's on the River) is generally credited with inventing the dip. Colonel Harland Sanders began Kentucky Fried Chicken in Corbin. Today, visitors can see where the restaurant got its start.
Barbecue is popular throughout Kentucky, but unlike some other parts of the country, Kentucky doesn't lay claim to any particular style. Kentucky BBQ is historically derived from North Carolina styles, though it uses many more varieties of meat than traditional Carolina BBQ, and influences from Kansas City, Texas, and Tennessee can be seen. Barbecue in the area around Owensboro and Henderson is especially distinctive for its emphasis on mutton. As is typical in the South, barbecue refers to slow cooked and/or smoked meat; cooking outside on a grill is instead a "cookout" or "grilling out."
Burgoo is a type of stew that you'll often run into. There is no generally agreed way to make it, as it originated with people bringing random ingredients to social gatherings and throwing everything together in a pot. It's typically, but not always, somewhat spicy, and usually includes one or more types of meat, often smoked, plus corn and/or okra, other vegetables, and sometimes beans. It's more fun if you don't ask what's in it and just order it and see what you get.
Vegetarians may find it tough going in smaller towns; even things like greens are often cooked with bacon or salt pork. Pizza may be your best bet. Restaurants in larger cities and college towns will typically make more accommodation to vegetarians, and Louisville at least has several very good Indian, Ethiopian, and Middle Eastern places which naturally have numerous vegetarian and vegan options.
- Ale-8-One, known colloquially as Ale-8, is a regional fruity/ginger-flavored, caffeinated soft drink. It is bottled in the Central Kentucky city of Winchester and distributed only within the state and neighboring portions of Indiana and Ohio.
- Bourbon, America's native spirit, is produced in by far the greatest quantities in the state of Kentucky. Many major distilleries are clustered in Central Kentucky in picturesque settings near a natural source of water. The larger distilleries in Kentucky market themselves collectively as the Bourbon Trail with a little "passport" book that each distillery will stamp for you to show you've visited it.
Alcohol laws in Kentucky are (pun not intended) a mixed bag. As you travel through the state, you can find yourself in a "wet", "dry", or "moist" city or county. A guide to these terms:
- Wet – This means that an area allows full retail sales of alcoholic beverages, either packaged for off-premises consumption or by the drink (as in bars or restaurants). All cities in the state with a population of 20,000 or more now allow off-premises sales.
- Dry – An area that does not allow sales of alcoholic beverages at all. Some otherwise dry areas do allow for sales at wineries (about 25 around the state), golf courses (also about 25) and certain historic sites (one).
- Moist – This is the most confusing designation, with two different meanings.
- The state officially uses "moist" strictly to describe otherwise dry counties in which at least one city has approved full retail sales. Examples of "moist" counties in this sense include Warren County, in which Bowling Green is wet, and Hardin County, where three cities, including Elizabethtown, are wet.
- In popular usage, "moist" more often refers to a location that does not allow package sales but has allowed sales by the drink in larger restaurants. Depending on state and/or local law, establishments with licenses to sell by the drink may or may not have dedicated bars—but all must derive at least 70% of their revenues from food and non-alcoholic drinks.
The laws governing package sales in wet areas also have their own quirks. Supermarkets are allowed to sell beer, but not wine or distilled spirits—at least not in the main grocery section. A supermarket can hold a license to sell wine and spirits, but must do so out of a separate facility with its own entrances, checkout counters, and staffing; if the wine and spirits shop is inside the supermarket, it must be walled off from the grocery section. Supermarkets that have such licenses usually (but not always) place the entrance to the wine and spirits shop either inside the main entrance of the grocery or next door to it. Pharmacies can sell all types of alcoholic beverages if they hold the required licenses, as can dedicated liquor stores.
Kentucky is bordered by seven other states.
- Missouri - To the west of Kentucky, Missouri can boast of having St Louis, home of the Gateway Arch and Union Station.
- Illinois - To the northwest of Kentucky, Illinois is also the home of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield.
- Indiana - Kentucky's northern neighbor, Indiana has several caves to visit and is rich in covered bridges.
- Ohio - Another northern neighbor, an easy day-trip from Kentucky is the city of Cincinnati, home of Kings Island and the Bengals (NFL) and Reds (MLB).
- West Virginia - East of Kentucky, West Virginia has the New River Gorge Bridge, one of the highest in the eastern US.
- Virginia - To the east of Kentucky (and south of West Virginia), Virginia has the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah National Park.
- Tennessee - Tennessee shares Kentucky's southern border. Here you'll find the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the music city of Nashville and Elvis' home in Memphis.