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Kentucky Travel Guide

Kentucky — Festivals and Events

From bluegrass music and barbecue to horse racing and crafts fairs, Kentucky has a lot to show off. The festival season kicks off every year in April with the huge three-week run-up to the Kentucky Derby in Louisville. After that, the fairs seem to come on a weekly basis, featuring live music and incredible food. Planning a trip around any of the state’s events is an excellent idea.

Kentucky Derby Festival

The world’s biggest horse race is held on the first Saturday of May in Louisville, but there is lots of fun happening in the city beforehand. Besides music, food, and games, there are several other quirky contests to enjoy. The Great Steamboat Race on the river, the Great Balloon Race over Louisville, and the Pegasus Parade are just a few of the 70 events planned over the three-week period. Some 1.5 million people attend the Kentucky Derby each year.

Thunder over Louisville

Another reason to visit in late April is America’s largest fireworks show in Louisville in the run-up to the Kentucky Derby. During the day, the Thunder Air Show features 100 planes streaking overhead doing aerobatics, formations, and amazing sky-diving stunts. After dark, the real highlight begins as eight barges anchor on the river and shoot 60 tons of fireworks into the night sky. The pyrotechnics show lasts for a solid 30 minutes and the best spot to watch is near the Second Street Bridge.

Great Steamboat Race

One of the coolest events in the three-week period preceding May’s Kentucky Derby is this special race on the Ohio River. There are only six authentic river steamboats left running in the US, and they all come to Louisville each April to challenge each other’s speeds. The race lasts for 14 miles down the river as spectators line the banks and cheer. The real fun is to go all out for a ticket to ride on one of the boats and be a part of the action.

International Barbecue Festival

Kentucky is famous for is its barbecue pit roasted slowly over hickory wood. Each May, the town of Owensboro tempts the world’s appetite by bringing some of the state’s top grill masters to compete for the title. Besides gorging on dozens of different foods, the festival has carnival rides, fun competitions, and a huge area of local arts and crafts stalls.

Blues-n-Jazz Bar BQ Festival

In Kentucky, you just can’t get enough legendary barbecue or music. Every July, Louisville’s Water Tower, a historic landmark on the banks of the Ohio River, plays host to one of the city’s most popular family festivals. Live jazz fills the air and tasty barbecue fills the stomaches for three days along the bank. Spread a blanket on the grass and enjoy this top-flight free event.

Kentucky Arts and Crafts Fall Fair

This massive festival celebrates the incredible range of talent its residents possess. Each October, Berea’s Indian Fort Theater has hundreds of local artisans set up stalls to showoff and sell their wares. There are workshops, demonstrations, storytelling, and a whole section of the fair dedicated to the artistry of Kentucky’s local food. Add a backdrop of beautiful fall weather and you’ve got one seriously special weekend.

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