Explore Louisville, Lonely Planet's top tourist destination of 2013, start with Museum Row on Main

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Explore Louisville, Lonely Planet's top tourist destination of 2013, start with

A new year brings the opportunity to check off items on your "Louisville Bucket List," whether you're new to town, a native, or a frequent visitor. Officially, the Louisville Hometown Tourist Celebration begins in May, but I always like to visit local museums and exhibits during the winter months. It's 32 degrees outside; you're going to stay indoors anyway, so why not get out and experience the Derby City instead of playing another round of Just Dance in your basement. After all, you do reside in The Lonely Planet's #1 US travel destination for 2013.

The Lonely Planet top ten list mentions the famed 21c Museum Hotel (as does about every article you'll read about Louisville) which is part of a selection of nine cultural hotspots downtown on Main Street that have been bundled and marketed as Museum Row on Main. Whether you have friends visiting from out of town or you're just setting off on your tourist-in-your-own-hometown adventure, Museum Row is the place to start. And keep your receipts; simply showing a receipt from one attraction knocks $1 off your admission at another.

KentuckyShow! at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts is a thirty-two minute movie (narrated by Kentuckian Ashley Judd) that plays every hour (Tuesday-Saturday, 11:00-4:00 and Sunday from 1:00-4:00). For only $7, this may be your best introduction to the Bluegrass State and, located smack dab in the middle of Museum Row, will conveniently deposit you in walking distance to your next destination.

The Muhammad Ali Center always attracts attention from the outside (just try driving east or west on I-64 without someone in the car pointing out, "Look, you can see him boxing!" or "There he is! That's his face!"), but don't forget to go inside to visit Ali: The Greatest (through March 17) or the family-friendly Global Shoes exhibit (through June 2013).

Next, walking west, you'll come to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft. Check the website to learn about their Second Sunday Makerspace workshops, where children and families are invited to make connections between featured artwork and hands-on activities. Also, KMAC hosts artistic, educational camps during Spring and Summer breaks.

The Kentucky Science Center, formerly Louisville Science Center, will catch the eye of any passerby with its trademark giant parabolic mirror located just outside the entrance on Main Street. Kids love to make funny faces and take pictures of the thousands of versions of themselves, but inside there's a KidZone for younger tots and a new exhibit coming January 20: Body Worlds Vital.

The Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is always a hit (pardon the pun). Obviously, baseball enthusiasts will be enthralled at the inner workings of the Hillerich & Bradsby Co., and kids will love the interactive play areas and the souvenir mini bats. Bring some cash; admission prices are reasonable at $11 for adults, $6 for kids ages 6-12, and free for tots under 5, but it's difficult to get out of the gift shop without splurging on Louisville Slugger clothing or personalized bats.

Don’t forget about Glassworks around the corner on Market Street. This glass studio and gallery (and host of the summertime Rooftop Concert Series) allows visitors to create their own beautiful glass pieces in about an hour in the Walk-In Workshop. No reservations are required, and you can pick up your work of art in about two weeks.

Last but not least, walking west on Main is the Frazier History Museum, a treasure trove for educational learning. Besides the permanent exhibits featuring knights, warriors, pioneers, and soldiers and the roaming costumed historians who will bring history to life for your children, Frazier also offers camps when school is out. 

Another fun way to experience Museum Row is on the free First Friday Trolley Hop, which runs up and down Market and Main on the first Friday of each month from 5:00-11:00 pm. With a bit of planning, your family could enjoy a Louisville museum (like the Kentucky Science Center, which offers the great deal of $5 admission after 5:00 pm), a free ride, and a night full of memories.

So no more excuses. You live in the top tourist destination in the U.S.--go out and explore it! Start this winter on Museum Row on Main (map here). Have you been to all nine destinations yet?

Photos: courtesy of Frazier History Museum and Museum Row on Main

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About Anna Frye
After living in Chicago, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Colorado, my husband and I made our (hopefully? probably?) final move back to Louisville, where I was born and raised. Ahhh...it's nice to be home. Now I'm busy making sure my three little ones learn to love the quirks and traditions of their new hometown: Kentucky Derby Festival, no school on Oaks Day, grits and hot browns (not necessarily together), monograms, parks, festivals, and even our seasonal allergies.
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