5 Reasons To Fall In Love With Bardstown, Kentucky
We rarely spend more than a week in any destination, but the small town of Bardstown Kentucky had us feeling like two weeks wasn’t enough.
Sounds crazy right? How could a town with a population around 12,000 keep us entertained for so long?
With history dating back to the late 1700’s you’d think visitors like Jesse James, Abraham Lincoln, Daniel Boone, Stephen Foster and even Pope Pius VII would have made this place famous…sure all these people left their mark in Bardstown history but it’s the more familiar names that really make this place famous: Jim Beam, Haven Hill, Barton, Willett and Maker’s Mark. Not bad lineup for such a small town!
To be perfectly honest we came for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and only planned to spend a week, but after just three days of exploring, here are our top 5 reasons we decided to extend our stay:
- Beautiful Downtown – First settled in 1780 Bardstown is the second oldest town in Kentucky and the entire downtown is on the National Historic registry. So its chalk full of charm and the cute shops are hard to stay away from. Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace – The first spot we hit (on day one) is dedicated to all things Bourbon, so we cut our teeth on a custom Bourbon tasting and finished our visit off with a classic Mint Julep. We felt like a Bourbon novice when we came in but the owners took the time to walk us through every question, and taste, so we felt a lot more knowledgeable before walking into our first Bourbon tour. The Talbot Tavern – is located on the round-a-bout and it’s full of history considering it was built in 1779! This was the last spot we hit (on the last day of our visit) so it was pretty cool to have a better understanding of Bourbon and walk up to the historic bar and order with Jesse James like confidence. Did we mention it’s also been named the Most Beautiful Town in America by USA Today?
- My Old Kentucky Home State Park comes in second on our list because it isn’t your average state park. This beautiful park is less than 2 miles from downtown so it’s incredibly convenient which is why we stayed here…that’s right they have a wonderful RV friendly full-hookup campground right inside the park. There’s a golf course, the historic Federal Hill mansion, a loaded gift shop with everything KY related (even the best Bourbon Barrel Cake) and discounted tickets to tour the mansion. Where else can you camp in the woods and still be so close to the history and downtown? We figure if this property was grand enough for Stephen Foster to write the Kentucky State Song My Old Kentucky Home we think it’s the perfect place to park it while exploring Bardstown.
- The Bourbon Capitol of the World – Even if you’re not a bourbon drinker, Bardstown is the Bourbon Capitol of the world and Bourbon is THE American Spirit. Start your Bourbon adventure at the Oscar Getz Museum for some history then head downstairs to the basement where there’s a unique restaurant and lounge called the Rickhouse. As I mentioned above we came for the Bourbon and we had the opportunity to tour these distilleries in Bardstown: Willett, Barton and Heaven Hill. We took a few short day trips to nearby Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Woodford, Town Branch and Four Roses. As Nikki likes to say “You haven’t really been to Kentucky until you’ve been on a Bourbon tour!” and trust us we’ve been to Kentucky!
- Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest – So much more than a typical arboretum, this destination is a front runner of all things green, sustainable and educational. The Edible Garden is leading the Nation in sustainability by creating this new feature to the strict policies of the Living Building Challenge. If you know what LEED is and you’re interested in sustainable practices, then you gotta check this garden and LBC certification (I could geek out for hours writing about the things we learned while touring the property, but I’ll spare you). It’s not all about being “green” the purpose of this forest is to invite people to enjoy nature! From art instillations that decompose back into the earth, to trails of all kinds, and vistas that extend for miles, there is something here for everyone of every size. If you come hungry Isaac’s Café makes a mean veggie burger and everything on the menu is local, seasonal, organic and all those other important things that make for great tasting food. The coolest part is the park is free during the week, and on the weekend its only $5 for cars and $10 for RVs and passenger Vans.
- My Old Kentucky Dinner Train – This destination made our list because no matter how old or young, there’s just something about trains that you’ve gotta love. This length of railroad is rich in history and so is the depot which was originally constructed in 1860. The train travels through the Bernheim Forest, the Jim Beam Distillery ending in Limestone Springs before returning. I can’t say it was the most scenic trip we’ve ever taken but crossing the trestle bridge with our heads out the window was worth the price of admission! The food was surprisingly good considering they have to prepare it in advance and best of all it’s a great excuse to dress up all fancy (there is a dress code so make sure you read the website before you arrive).
- Spirits of Wickland – This one didn’t make the video because we had no idea how to film it or what to expect! As a general rule of thumb we’re not into ghost tours or spirit walks because they can be very cheesy. Everyone told us this experience was nothing like your average group ghost walk so we bent to peer pressure and decided to go. I like to think of myself as open-minded but talking to ghosts seems a little extraordinary and highly unlikely. The setting is the historic Home of Three Governors. The home is Georgian-style and was built circa 1825-1828 and believe me when you arrive as the sun is setting the house has a very haunted feel. The tour is more of a conversation with the ghosts through a Medium which we found fascinating and highly entertaining. If you’re visiting the area you should definitely add this to your list. The fee goes to support the Friends of Wickland which is a non-profit organization that helps maintain the historic home.
We could go on-and-on about everything we did in Bardstown but we have to leave a little undiscovered for your visit! We came for the Bourbon but we left with a world of unexpected experiences, for us Bardstown is the small town with way too much to experience. I truly hope our travels bring us back through.
Stay tuned, we have more videos, written words and photos all about our Bourbon adventures coming soon!
Did we leave something big out? Maybe we missed something nearby? If you’ve been to Bardstown, KY or on a distillery tour, share your experience in the comments below.
A big, big thanks to the town of Bardstown, Kentucky for the invitation, all the help, hospitality and grand adventures!