The Top 10 Things to Do
Kentucky Derby Festival
Louisville comes alive during Kentucky Derby season. This year, the 143rd “Run for the Roses” will be held on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs here in Louisville, Kentucky. The most famous horse race in the world is a one day event to most sports fans. But, here in our home town of Louisville, “the most exciting two minutes in sports” is a holiday and the climax of a month long event: The Kentucky Derby Festival.
There are over 70 official Kentucky Derby Festival events and many other private functions. Activities fill each day in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby. Make sure to catch these Top 10 Things to Do During the Kentucky Derby Festival. .
Honorable Mention – Sample Kentucky Bourbon and Wine
- April 13: Bourbonville – Kentucky is the home of Bourbon and this ticketed event celebrates what the region has to offer.
- May 2 – 3: Kentucky Proud Wine Fest – Kentucky is home to 66 wineries and Indiana has 30. Wine Fest allows you to explore and sample the region’s wine.
10. Enter the Ken-Ducky Derby
- April 29: Ken-Ducky Derby is a race of rubber duckies down the Ohio River with proceeds going to charity. Enter your own ducky and maybe you will win.
9. Compete in a Sporting Event
- April 17: Kentucky Derby Festival Pro-Am Golf Tournament
- April 20 – 29: $1 Million Dollar Hole in One Golf Challenge
- April 22 – 30: Derby Volleyball Classic, the largest outdoor Volleyball competition in the world with over 500 teams.
- April 30: Tour de Lou is a bicycle ride hosted by the Louisville Cycling Club. Choose between a 20 mile, 35 mile, or 62 mile (100 km) routes through the city and the surrounding countryside.
8. Attend the Kentucky Derby Basketball Classic
- April 15: Kentucky Derby Classic is a basketball game, 3 point shooting contest, and dunk contest featuring many of the nations top high school basketball players including University of Louisville, University of Kentucky, and Indiana University recruits.
7. Watch the Pegasus Parade
- May 4: What is a festival without a parade? Marching bands, horse related floats, and inflatables make up the train. Past grand-marshals have included Mohammad Ali, John Wayne, William Shatner, Colonel Sanders (Kentucky Fried Chicken fame), Diane Sawyer, and Norman Schwarzkopf.
6. Catch a Concert at Waterfront Jam
- April 28 – May 5: Waterfront Jam hosts nightly concerts at Waterfront Park featuring national groups of various styles. * 4/28 Daya (pop), 4/29 Hunter Hays (country), 4/30 Sidewalk Prophets (contemporary Christian), 5/2 Sugarhill Gang with Curtis Blow (rap), 5/3 Drive-By Truckers (Southern Rock), 5/4 Jimmy Eat World (Rock), 5/5 Derby Eve Jam with DJ GRYFFIN.
5. Eat at a Chow Wagon at the Fest-a-Ville
- April 27 – May 5: Chow Wagons are Louisville slang for food trucks. For as long as anyone can remember, chow wagons have parked near the river in downtown Louisville for the days preceding the Derby. Now, there is also a stage with local artists performing all day. Some local favorites are The Monarchs, a Doo-Wop group from the early 1960s, and Velcro Pygmies, a hair-metal band.
4. Run the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon or Mini-Marathon
- April 29: Join nearly 3000 marathoners and 12000 half marathon runners as you race through the streets of Louisville. The highlight is a lap through Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. Link.
3. Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon Race
- April 27: Hot Air Balloon Glimmer – Multitudes of hot air balloons light up and inflate making for a beautiful sight. Wander among the balloons for an up-close view.
- April 29: Great Balloon Race – dozens of hot air balloons fill the sky over Louisville in a test of both speed and accuracy.
2. Take in the Great Steamboat Race
- May 3: For 54 years, the Belle of Louisville, the oldest American steamboat continuously in use, has raced another steamboat down the Ohio River on the Wednesday prior to the Derby. The Belle’s traditional foe, the Delta Queen from Memphis retired in 2009. Since then, The Belle of Cincinnati has become the challenger.
1. Thunder over Louisville!
- April 22: Thunder Over Louisville is the largest annual fireworks display in North America. It marks the official start of the Kentucky Derby Festival. An average of over 625,000 people line the Ohio River. An air show takes place in the afternoon. In the evening, the sky comes alive with colors and explosions over the river and lighting the Second Street Bridge. Bring a chair and a blanket, stake out your place on the Great Lawn, and enjoy the spectacle.
And of course, don’t miss out on the racing at Churchill Downs. Kentucky Derby Day, on the first Saturday in May, is the biggie. It is not your only option, though.
- May 4: Thurby – The Kentucky Derby has long been too expensive for most locals. Now, the Kentucky Oaks is also very crowded and expensive. Thurby is a day at the tracks on the Thursday prior to the Kentucky Derby that is filled mainly with locals wanting to experience Churchill Downs on Derby week. Not as many people dress up at Thurby.
- May 5: Kentucky Oaks is the premiere race of 3 year old fillies. Oaks Day has become a day filled with fancy dresses and gaudy hats, just like Derby day.
As you can see, there is a lot going on during the Kentucky Derby Festival. This list is not exhaustive, though. As mentioned before, there are over 70 official Kentucky Derby Festival events and many more private functions. KDF link Come join us the first Saturday in May for the Kentucky Derby, but make sure to come early to experience the festivities. Don’t miss out on what else Louisville offers, too.