Greetings From Louisville: The 2013 Top Travel Destination

Staff Writer
The Voice-Tribune

“I’m a Louisvillian. I wasn’t born here, but I was raised here. I’m very proud of Louisville, and when my career was over, obviously I talked my wife (into coming back) and we moved back here. So I love Louisville. … It’s home!”
Dan Neal, former offensive lineman for the Baltimore Colts and the Chicago Bears

“My wife and I made this our home a number of years ago, have never given any consideration to leaving even though I retired from riding, but love the community, love the people … love the sporting events here in Louisville, and it’s just a privilege and a pleasure to be a part of this wonderful community.”
Pat Day, Hall of Fame jockey

As a Louisvillian, you may long for a weeklong getaway to Manhattan or Miami. But, if you’re looking to experience the top travel destination of 2013, all you need do is step outside your front door.

Lonely Planet, the world’s leading travel publisher, recently selected Louisville as the number one place to visit in the U.S. in the coming year, touting the Derby City as “a lively, offbeat cultural mecca on the Ohio River.”

“This is a super recognition of the energy and progress in our city and of the growing economic impact of Louisville as the gateway to the Bourbon industry and tourism,” said Mayor Greg Fischer in a press release. “Lonely Planet has a loyal following and a strong reputation for being an independent voice in the travel industry, so being its top pick carries a lot of weight.”

Each year, Lonely Planet shines a light on 10 places in the U.S. every traveler should add to his or her wish list. According to the publication, “Bourbon reigns in Louisville. This is the traditional jump-off for the Bourbon Trail; with bourbon’s current wave of popularity, new upstart micro-distilleries, including some in and around Louisville like the small-batch Angel’s Envy, are giving the old names in bourbon a run for their money.”

Fischer said the ranking is further evidence that the city’s strategy to grow the food and beverage sector – and, in particular, Bourbon – is paying off both economically and in the tourism industry.

“The recognition of Louisville as the top destination city in the country is a testament to the hard work of all the men and women of our hospitality industry and their efforts to transform our city from being a place where people go on the first Saturday in May into a destination city 365 days out of the year,” said Councilman David Tandy. “Hosting tourist or convention attendees is one of our most effective ways to introduce Louisville to the world and to stimulate greater economic growth.”

Lonely Planet also attributed hip, emerging areas of the city, including NuLu, as reason behind the No. 1 ranking. The publication described the city as the “new Portland,” alluding to the growing “hipster” identity, high-energy scene found along Bardstown Road and the fast rise of the NuLu area along East Market Street. Lonely Planet praised the culture of converted warehouses used as local breweries, antique boutiques and unique restaurants found in NuLu, as well as 21c Museum Hotel, dubbed “the coolest hotel in town.”

“I think it’s a testament to what’s going on here, from the standpoint of what the mayor’s doing, what the business leaders are doing and what downtown’s doing, KFC Yum! Center, all the activity,” William E. Summers V, senior vice president of Central Bank, said of the honor. “It’s just a great city, and more people are agreeing with that now.”

Lonely Planet advises, as would be expected, that people time their visit to “catch the Kentucky Derby, the greatest two minutes in sports.” But, that’s not the only time to check out the city, with all that’s emerged around town in the last few years.

“I think we have something to offer all year round,” said Eileen Pickett, executive vice president for community and economic development at Greater Louisville Inc. “We’ve got the Derby Festival in the spring and (in) the fall the IdeaFestival and St. James. But it seems to me we’ve got something for people to enjoy and come year round. And bourbon is not a seasonal thing – is it,” she quipped.

Echoing the same sentiment, President and CEO of the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau Jim Wood said he’s noticed a growing trend in tourism outside the first Saturday in May: “We’re seeing more and more people just come for Bourbon weekends, coming into the city doing the Urban Bourbon Trail,” Wood stated. “We see guys coming in for guy weekends, because they come in for baseball, bourbon, boxing … Last year, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Bat Factory drew almost 240,000 visitors. And think about that, when museums are struggling nationally, especially sports museums, several of ours continue to draw very, very strongly, year round. We have those iconic attractions in our community that no one else has. … And I think people are now finally saying Louisville is really a cool city.”

With receiving more than 12 million visitors to its website each month and the “Top U.S. Destinations” list among its most-read articles each year, the boom in tourism is only expected to rise. It may be difficult to appreciate, at times, as an insider to the town, but the city has much more to offer than the traditional horse racing and bourbon. Truly becoming a Possibility City, the Gateway to the South is ever expanding, and the future’s that much brighter now that the rest of the country is taking notice of its success.

“When folks come to the city, they instantly fall in love with it,” Wood said. “And that’s what we see, and that’s why we’ve worked so hard over the years in promoting the destination.”

For more information on Louisville’s No. 1 ranking by Lonely Planet, visit

Contact writer Ashley Anderson at, 502.498.2051.