There are so many charming US cities to spend a long weekend in that don’t get enough attention, but Lexington, Kentucky, is one of the most underrated. Located in the heart of bourbon country, Lexington is a perfect place to stay if you want to explore the Bourbon Trail (or the off-bourbon trail) for a few days. But even if you’re not much into whiskey, this charming city has plenty to offer. From horseback riding to eating genuine Kentucky fried chicken, this is how to spend a perfect long weekend in Lexington.
What to do in Lexington
For the whiskey curious: Buffalo Trace Distillery
If you’re going to visit one bourbon distillery near Lexington, make it Buffalo Trace. It’s located in Frankfort, about a 45-minute drive from Lexington. In 1792, Commodore Richard Taylor built a one-story stone house on the property, and it still stands there today. So many legendary brands are housed here, including Pappy Van Winkle, Sazerac Rye, Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, and the namesake Buffalo Trace. Free tours of the distillery are offered seven days a week, and the hour journey includes a small history lesson, a walk through the aging warehouses and a trip to the Blanton’s Bottling Hall. You’ll also get to sample Buffalo Trace’s best whiskeys. Walk-ins are welcome.
For equestrian lovers: Kentucky Horse Park
Lexington is known for two things: bourbon and horses. Once you’ve crossed the former off your list, it’s time to get acquainted with the latter. Kentucky Horse Park is like a one-stop shop for all your equestrian needs. Here, you can embark on a horse-drawn trolley tour or saddle up for a guided 35-minute trail ride that even beginners can enjoy. If you’re more comfortable with two feet on the ground, visit the Smithsonian International Museum of the Horse, check out one of the many daily horse shows, or take a walk through the stables to meet interesting breeds face to face.
For letting off a little steam: Battle Axes
Located in the energetic Distillery District inside an old bourbon rickhouse, Battle Axes is a great place to gather with friends and blow off some steam. There, you can throw hatchets at a wooden target and compete against the person next to you in games that last either 30 or 60 minutes. If all that axe throwing makes you thirsty, Battle Axes has more than 70 canned beers and ciders from which to choose. Make a reservation in advance; there are plenty of places to eat, drink, and explore in the area if you have to wait.
For kids and the young at heart: Malibu Jack’s
If you’re hit with a rainy day or simply want to break for some wholesome fun, Malibu Jack’s is a super place to spend an afternoon. The massive indoor theme park has something for everyone, including a big arcade, laser tag, mini golf, go karts, virtual reality games, and a bowling alley where you can enjoy snacks and adult beverages. Time spent here is sure to make you feel like a kid again.
Where to Eat and Drink
For breakfast: Sunrise Bakery
When we asked our hotel valet where we should get breakfast, he immediately pointed us to Sunrise Bakery. This quaint cafe bakes all of its breads and pastries in house, and also offers sandwiches and a full coffee bar. Don’t leave without trying a cinnamon roll and pecan bar, and grab a loaf of bread to bring home with you.
For actual Kentucky fried chicken: Gus’s Fried Chicken
A trip to Kentucky isn’t complete without some fried chicken, and Gus’s is the best place to get your fix in Lexington. Each piece of chicken is cooked to order, so expect to relish in a leisurely meal when you step inside. The fried chicken is nearly perfect — tender and juicy on the inside with a crisp, crackling skin that’s downright irresistible. The sides are stars here too. Order coleslaw, greens, and baked beans to go with your Kentucky fried chicken. If you really want to splurge, buy a bottle of Champagne to wash it all down.
For live music, bourbon, beers, and burgers: Parlay Social
Parlay Social is a great place to pull up and spend an evening in Lexington. The food here is delicious, and it has one of the best bourbon selections in the country, which you can enjoy in a flight. If you’re in the mood for a cocktail, the Smoked Manhattan is a winner. Parlay Social offers live music throughout the week, so keep an eye out for special events and get there early to snag a table.
For vegan and vegetarian fare: Alfalfa
Constant eating out when traveling can weigh you down, so fit a vegetarian restaurant into your schedule. Alfalfa has been a Lexington staple since 1973, and it has a healthy meal for everyone, whether you’re a bona fide carnivore or prefer to eat vegan now and again. The service is laid-back and friendly, and the food is made fresh to order. Local egg omelets are filled with everything from Kentucky sausage to a garden of veggies. The house-made black bean quinoa burger is a winner, as is the peanut vegetable wrap.
For inventive cocktails and distillery-made bread: The Elkhorn Tavern
Barrel House Distilling Co. opened this casual restaurant and bar as a way to showcase its spirits in tasting flights and inventive cocktails. Stop into The Elkhorn Tavern for a tangy, pepper-infused Bloody Mary, which is made by steeping chiles in the brand’s Pure Blue Vodka. Elkhorn Tavern also offers excellent snacks, as well as sandwiches served on bread made from spent grains leftover from distilling RockCastle Bourbon.
For an afternoon coffee pick-me-up: Manchester Coffee Co.
This sunny cafe is a great place for an afternoon pick-me-up if you’re exploring Lexington’s Distillery District. Stop into Manchester Coffee Co. for a hand poured coffee, espresso, or selection of fine, globally sourced teas. It also has pastries (including vegan and gluten-free) from Bluegrass Baking Co. if you need a small snack.
For local farm-to-table ingredients: Lockbox
You can’t visit Lexington without eating at Lockbox, helmed by executive chef Cody DeRosett. The menu highlights local purveyors and Kentucky-grown ingredients, and it changes frequently to reflect what’s in season. Stop in for a morning meal to indulge in one of their delicious biscuit breakfast sandwiches to fuel up for a day of sightseeing and bourbon drinking. At dinner, expect to find modern Southern dishes like Key West shrimp with Anson Mills Carolina Gold rice, homemade jars of pimento cheese and chicken liver mousse, rabbit and dumplings, and okra with sweet corn, house hot sauce, and benne seeds. The cocktail menu is full of outstanding signature drinks, many of which feature bourbon from the area.
Where to Stay
For the trendy traveler: 21c Museum Hotel Lexington
If you’ve never stayed at a 21c Museum Hotel, you’re missing out on one of the coolest hotel experiences in the US right now. The 21c Museum Hotel Lexington is one of the best places to stay in the state thanks to spacious rooms, beautiful artwork, and a fun and helpful staff. Housed inside the historic Fayette National Bank Building, the boutique property features 88 light-filled rooms with comfy beds, plush bathrobes, and Malin+Goetz bath products.
Every 21c Museum Hotel features a gallery that’s open to the public, which hosts a rotating roster of contemporary artists. A well-equipped gym and handy business center will help keep you on track while you’re out of town, and the on-site Lockbox restaurant offers some of the best food and cocktails in the city. But perhaps the best part of the hotel is the big blue plastic penguins that are spread throughout the property. The staff encourages guests to move them around as desired, so you might find them in elevators, peeking out from behind a curtain, or even sitting next to you at dinner. Lexington is all about having a good time, and this hotel fits right in with the fun.
For the budget-conscious traveler: Hyatt Place Lexington
The rooms at Hyatt Place Lexington start at around $90, and its spacious, modern accommodations make it an excellent option if you want to spend less on a hotel. Whether you choose a room with two queens or a king bed, each is outfitted with a sleeper sofa, which is perfect for accommodating larger groups. There are plenty of places to grab a bite, including a well-stocked daily hot breakfast, a coffee and cocktail bar with light bites, and a 24-hour grab-and-go market for things like salads and sandwiches. Business services and a gym are also available, which, if you actually use after a weekend drinking bourbon non-stop, more power to you.