The City of Louisville (pronounced Loo-ee-ville) is Jefferson Riverport's home. This beautiful community on the Ohio River is the 16th biggest city in the United States. It offers world-class parks, a lively downtown, a vibrant arts scene, and the world-famous Kentucky Derby. Southern culture meets Midwestern attitudes in Louisville. The Highlands shopping district offers a "bohemian" community of art galleries, coffeehouses, restaurants, and bars. Small enough to travel by foot, the Highlands shopping district is especially busy on warm sunny weekends.
Louisville has a humid subtropical climate with four distinct seasons and some severe weather that can include tornadoes. While there is occasional snow and ice, winter more likely brings a mix of rain, sleet, and snow. With almost 90 days per year of temperatures that fall below freezing, Louisville summers are ironically hot, humid, and hazy. Rain is fairly evenly distributed through the year, but spring and summer are slightly wetter than the rest of the year. The Ohio River Valley traps air pollution at Louisville, especially during the summer. The US EPA has ranked Louisville 38th of American cities for air quality, and the city frequently experiences the heat island effect. Temperatures in Louisville range from an average high of 30°C (87°F) in July to an average low of -4°C (25°F) in January.
Held every year at Louisville's Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby is the first (followed by the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes) of the US Triple Crown challenge. A horse must win all three races to receive the Triple Crown. The last horse to earn the coveted award was Affirmed in 1978. Of course, the world-famous Secretariat won the Triple Crown in an astounding victory in 1973 when he took the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. Originally known as the Dueling Grounds Race Course, the Sandford Duncan Farm was the site of many duels in the 19th Century. Sam Houston participated in a duel there. Dueling ended in 1827. Louisville's Churchill Downs opened in 1875, hosting the first Kentucky Derby that year. The two-kilometer (1.25-mile) track is home to what is called the most exciting or the fastest two minutes in sports.
For two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, the city of Louisville celebrates with several civic events. The largest of these include Thunder Over Louisville, The Great Balloon Race, The Derby Festival Marathon and MiniMarathon, The Great Steamboat Race, and the Pegasus Parade.
Attracting over 800 thousand people, Thunder Over Louisville may be the world's biggest fireworks display and air show. The Great Balloon Race takes place on the Saturday or Sunday (depending on the weather) before the Derby. On the Friday night before the race, people are enchanted by the nighttime Balloon Glow.
On the Saturday morning a week before the race, the Derby Festival Marathon and MiniMarathon start and end in downtown Louisville. The Marathon goes through Old Louisville, the University of Louisville, Churchill Downs where they circle the track, and then back to downtown.
The Great Steamboat Race, held the Wednesday before the Derby, involves a race between the Belle of Louisville against the Delta Queen on the Ohio River. The winner receives the Gilded Antlers until the following year. Flooding in Louisville forced the race to be postponed until June in 2011.
Running for several blocks on Broadway at the south end of Louisville's downtown, the Pegasus Parade features floats, celebrities, marching bands, and many other participants who celebrate on the Thursday before the Derby.
Louisville is proud of its park system which was designed by the "Father of American Landscape Architecture," Frederick Law Olmstead. The three flagship parks in the Louisville system are Cherokee Park, Iroquois Park, and Shawnee Park. The newer Waterfront Park stretches for 1.6 kilometers (over a mile) along the Ohio River in downtown Louisville and includes beautiful landscaping, open lawns, fountains, and playgrounds as well as breathtaking views of Louisville's skyline and the Ohio. Waterfront Park hosts many concerts and festivals during the year.
Cherokee Park's key element is its 3.9-kilometer (2.4-mile) Scenic Loop. With separate one-way lanes for vehicles and recreational users, this Louisville park designed by Olmsted boasts rolling hills, woodlands, and open meadows. The 389-acre park contains a wide range of amenities that include Louisville's 9-hole Cherokee Golf Course, Christensen and Hogan's Fountains, Baringer Spring and Baringer Hill, an archery range, Big Rock, and Nettleroth Bird Sanctuary.
In addition to these highlights, Louisville's Cherokee Park offers a fenced off-leash dog run; a fishing lake; horseback, hiking, and mountain bike trails; three walking paths; a spray pool; and two horseshoe pits. Sports fields abound. Louisville 's Cherokee Park has a ball field, three basketball courts, a soccer field, and two tennis courts. The Park also has picnic tables and grills, playgrounds, restrooms, and two picnic shelters.
Olmsted designed Louisville's Iroquois Park as a scenic reservation of 726 acres featuring wonderful views and forested hillsides. The WPA-era open-air Iroquois Amphitheater seats over 2400 people. The road to the top of the park is open for cyclists and pedestrians every day of the year and to motorists from 10am until 8pm from April through October on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. Offering many of the same amenities as Cherokee Park, Iroquois Park also has scenic Louisville overlooks, and almost 8 kilometers (4.8 miles) of walking paths, a disc golf course, four tennis courts, two basketball courts, and a catch-and-release fishing lake.
Shawnee Park in Louisville was Olmsted's vision of a great public space for the city where people could gather for sports, picnics, parades, and public gatherings. Shawnee Park has access to the RiverWalk, a state-of-the-art outdoor athletic complex, and Louisville's 18-hole Shawnee Golf Course. The 285-acre park contains five ball fields, five basketball courts, and five tennis courts. Large open areas are available for soccer and football, and Louisville's Shawnee Park has a lodge that can be reserved. The Park offers a road for biking and a two-kilometer (1.3 mile) multi-use recreation lane. With river frontage, Louisville 's Shawnee Park has picnic shelters, picnic tables, grills, a playground, a pond, and restrooms that are open seasonally.
Visitors to Louisville will want to visit the National Historic Landmark Belle of Lewisville steamer and the Spirit of Jefferson riverboat. Moored in Louisville's downtown Waterfront Park, the Belle has seen almost a century pass since she was built. In the old days, she carried goods and passengers between Louisville and other river ports along the Ohio. She's the world's oldest operating Mississippi steamboat. Both vessels are available for charters for events like weddings, proms, reunions, and corporate events.
Although it was built in 1914, the Belle of Louisville has an air-conditioned and heated ballroom deck, a concession stand, a bar, a dance floor, and both outdoor and indoor seating. The Spirit of Jefferson was built in 1963 and also offers heat and air, a concession stand, a bar, a dance floor, and both outdoor and indoor seating. Requiring reservations, both vessels offer lunch and dinner cruises for the public with live entertainment or story-telling by the riverboat captain. Louisville visitors can buy sightseeing tickets as they walk on-board or in advance.
For more information about the many things to see and do in Louisville, please visit the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau website.