Mostly known for its moonshine, bourbon, bluegrass music, and acres and acres of gorgeous farmland, Kentucky is a state with both character and soul. It’s not always a major destination for tourists but that’s a shame, as those who don’t visit are seriously missing out. The state where both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born is home to scenic countryside, limestone hills unspoiled parks, and forests, and roads seemingly made for extraordinary road trips. Here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Kentucky…
1. Cumberland Falls – a gorgeous beauty spot sometimes called Little Niagara
Known as the Niagara of the South, these falls include a 125-foot-wide area of water that is nothing short of spectacular. Located in the southeastern part of the state, Cumberland Falls is not only gorgeous but also has one other distinction – it is one of only two places on the planet that experiences moonbows.
Moonbows are rainbows that occur from the moon’s light, and the other place is in Zambia on the continent of Africa. If you want to take full advantage of the falls, rent a raft and visit it when there is a full moon outside.
2. Bourbon Distilleries – one of the best and most popular places to visit in Kentucky
Kentucky is a state known for its bourbon and is home to nearly 70 different distilleries around the state. This includes Buffalo Trace, where you can enjoy a tour of the entire process, from cooking to distilling; Maker’s Mark, where they let you hand-dip your own bottle with their famous red wax; and the Bardstown Bourbon Company, where you can taste bourbon straight from the barrel.
If you love bourbon or you’re just curious how they make this amazing drink, Kentucky allows you tons of opportunities to learn more about it every day of the week.
3. Appalachian Mountains – one of the most stunning areas to explore in Kentucky
If you love the mountains, you can head out to the Eastern part of the state and take a look at the Appalachian Mountains. You can hike, visit overlooks, and see some of the most beautiful scenery you’ve likely seen in a very long time.
You can also stop to go hiking or boating, and you can even hike on the beautiful forest trails, which are nothing short of amazing. The Appalachian Mountains cover a very large section of Eastern Kentucky, and it is one sight you should plan on seeing on your next visit.
4. Louisville – Kentucky’s largest city home to some great bars, restaurants, and attractions
This is the largest and busiest cities in Kentucky and one of the most underrated cities in the USA. It’s an easy-on-the-eye place with an impressive skyline, a booming arts scene, and a long-established bluegrass music scene. Throw in some excellent restaurants, lively bars, and a good handful of distilleries and you have a seriously cool city.
Highlights include the 21C Museum Hotel, the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, the Muhammad Ali Center, the Louisville Mega Cavern, and the Kentucky Science Center.
5. Kentucky Lake – a popular and gorgeous vacation spot in Kentucky
Located in the southwestern part of the state, Kentucky Lake covers 184 miles and has more than 2,000 miles of shoreline. But this lake doesn’t just offer your usual boating and fishing opportunities.
It also offers poker runs, open regattas, drag boat races, and cabins you can rent if you want a relaxing and fun-filled vacation. You can also ski, swim, and take your favorite ski jet out on the water so that you can enjoy a safe, family-friendly outing every time.
6. Frankfort – an attractive and charming city to explore in Kentucky
A charming town beautifully located on the Kentucky River, this is a place that seems to embody everything that is great about Kentucky, just in a compact form!
It’s known for having one of the most beautiful Capitol buildings in the country, but other highlights include its bourbon distilleries, its wine, and its new and old governor mansions.
7. Dixie Belle Paddle Wheels – definitely one of the best things to do in Kentucky
If you’re curious about the old-fashioned Southern paddlewheel boats, try heading out to the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill and cruise through the Kentucky River Palisades on one of these boats.
After you’re done cruising, come back ashore and visit the village itself, where you can experience nature preserves, organic gardens, and more than 40 miles of trails to enjoy. This is an original Shaker village that still has 34 of its original buildings. Whether you’re on the site enjoying everything it has to offer or on a paddlewheel boat cruise, this is one experience you’ll never regret.
8. Red River Gorge and Natural Bridge – easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in the US state
With a 65-foot-high natural bridge made mostly out of sandstone, the beautiful Red River Gorge is spectacular in every way. Nearby, you can rent some really cute cabins for the night, go camping at one of the many campgrounds in the area, hike some great scenic nature trails, go zip lining if you feel extra adventurous, and even go rock-climbing when the desire hits you.
You can relax and enjoy some of the beautiful views and fulfill your dream of being an explorer in the 1800s with this amazing tourist spot.
9. Daniel Boone National Forest – a beautiful national forest to explore in Kentucky
Easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in Kentucky, this stunning area has been a national park since 1937. It sprawls across a huge 708,000 acres in the most rugged area west of the Appalachian Mountains and is home to forested slopes, sandstone cliffs, and narrow ravines.
This is a nature lover’s dream and here you can hike, camp, picnic, rock climb, go boating or just relax and take in the wonderful Kentucky scenery.
10. Dale Hollow Lake – a tranquil and beautiful place to visit in Kentucky
Beautiful Dale Hollow Lake offers not just hiking and boating activities, but also bird-watching opportunities, mountain bike trails, and a lot more.
It is located in south-central Kentucky and consists of more than 27,000 acres of land. Erected in 1943, Dale Hollow Lake is a great place to visit if you love being on the water or you merely enjoy standing on the sidelines and enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever find. Because of its beauty, this is definitely a must-see location whenever you’re visiting the Bluegrass State.
11. John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge – an iconic and beautiful landmark in Kentucky
This is an old bridge that was completed in the 1860s, and it sits on the Ohio River between the Ohio city of Cincinnati and the Kentucky city of Covington. It is a spectacular site indeed with its majestic-looking spires and its almost Art Deco look.
If you see the bridge and think you’ve seen it before, you don’t have to get spooked because this bridge was the inspiration behind the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. If you live in northern Kentucky and you’re interested in attending a sporting event in Cincinnati, this is one of the best ways to get there. This bridge is definitely considered one of the most beautiful spots to explore in Kentucky.
12. Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area – part of America’s great outdoors since 1963
Consisting of more than 170,000 acres, the Land Between the Lakes Recreational Area is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that is run by the Forest Service. Highlights include the fascinating wildlife, plenty of history for the history buff in all of us, and of course, lots of wide-open spaces to revel in and to enjoy.
You also get to enjoy more than 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline that is nothing short of spectacular, and through it all, you get to enjoy animals such as bison, elk, buffalo, and wild turkeys.
13. Bardstown – often known as “The Most Beautiful Small Town in America”
Perfectly positioned on Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this charming and attractive town offers a Napa Valley-style experience but just swap the wine with the whiskey!
It’s a very easy on the eye place which USA Today even called the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” and its also been named as having America’s Most Beautiful Town Square. Definitely one of the best places to visit in Kentucky!
14. Mammoth Cave National Park – one of the best places to visit in Kentucky
A natural setting with more than 400 miles of passageways, Mammoth Cave is absolutely spectacular and has some of the longest known caves in the entire world. These subterranean passageways are home to stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, and travertine dams, which you can view up close without any problems.
You can explore the cave on your own or go on one of the ranger-led tours so that nothing important is overlooked. Located in central Kentucky, if you love the ultimate beauty that can only be supplied by Mother Nature, this national park is where you need to be.
15. Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and Museum – a must-see attraction in Kentucky for music fans
Located in Owensboro, the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame is located just a few miles from the birthplace of the man known as the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Included are interactive exhibits, jam sessions, concerts, lessons, and all sorts of special events, including the three-day ROMP Fest, which usually takes place in June each year.
The Hall of Fame currently has 60 inductees and also houses the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. If you love bluegrass music, this place should be on your to-do list when looking for places to visit in Kentucky.
16. Western Kentucky Botanical Garden – home to several themed beautiful gardens and a large collection of daylilies
Located in Owensboro, the Western Kentucky Botanical Garden is the perfect place to visit if you love it when nature decides to show off a bit. Some of its attractions include not only lots of flowers and plants to enjoy, but they specialize in events that do everything from teaching you everything you need to know about your favorite flower to new ways for you to enjoy everything growing both indoors and outdoors in this spectacular garden.
They offer special activities for kids, events for special holidays such as Christmas, and much more.
17. National Quilt Museum – an informative family attraction in Kentucky
Located in Western Kentucky in the town of Paducah, the National Quilt Museum has over 600 exhibits to enjoy. There are two main sections of the museum – one that stays the same all year around, and one that changes periodically to provide you with something different every now and then.
This is the largest collection of quilts and fiber arts in the country and whether you like the contemporary look or something a little more old-fashioned, this museum will offer something you love. They also offer lots of classes and special events, so you’ll never run out of things to do there.