Horse culture dominates Lexington and the Bluegrass Region, but a lot more awaits tour groups trotting off to Central Kentucky.
What’s your first thought when Lexington, Kentucky is mentioned? It’s certainly not a surprise if those magnificent animals in the “Horse Capital of the World” and their beautiful Bluegrass Region farms come to mind. From horse racing enthusiasts to those who simply appreciate the strength and beauty of these thoroughbreds, it’s what has drawn groups to Lexington for decades.
Lexington does not come by its signature the “Horse Capital of the World” casually. In 2010 Lexington was the first non-European city to host the prestigious World Equestrian Games. The area has more than 400 horse farms in the region with 150 located in Lexington/Fayette County.
None are more important tourism-wise, though, than the 1,200-acre Kentucky Horse Park. This working farm features museums, the Hall Of Champions, the Rein of Nobility film and the parade of breeds, “Horses of the World.” A popular itinerary option is the park’s “Old Kentucky Evening.” A park tour, hayride and movie, along with a Southern buffet dinner and square dancing, make for a memorable evening.
There are a dozen Lexington area guides to take your group on a three- to four-hour tour of the region’s magnificent farm estates and barns. Learn a little about breeding and racing history and possibly get close to some Kentucky Derby winners. Log on to the Lexington Convention & Visitors website (visitlex.com) for all the details and contact information.
It’s appropriate that the “Horse Capital of the World” would also be home to a premier racing venue. Since 1936 Keeneland has been a fixture in the racing community. Keeneland features both a spring (April) and fall racing meet. The latter begins October 3 and continues through October 25, 2014. Group dining reservations for 24 or more are now being accepted. Keeneland will host the Breeders’ Cup October 30-31, 2015.
Keeneland is open year around and guided tours of the grounds are quite popular. An insightful and enjoyable option is breakfast at the Keeneland Track Kitchen while watching thoroughbreds workout. Another option and a fitting conclusion to any Lexington visit is an evening event at one of Keeneland’s dozen grandstand rooms. There’s seating capacity for groups from 60 to 275. Turf Catering has a variety of menu options from brunch to formal dinners.
One of Lexington’s outstanding photo ops is Thoroughbred Park. Adjacent to downtown, the 2.5-acre park contains life-size bronze race horses headed to the finish line. Sidewalks go through the park where 42 plaques are dedicated to contributors in the industry.
You can certainly fill a day or two exploring the horse culture of the Bluegrass Region. However, we suggest you pack for a few extra days and nights. There’s much more to see and do in Lexington.
For the history buff there is a number of significant homes in the area. Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate is a testament to one of America’s greatest U.S. senators. A great orator and compromiser, Clay found peace from a turbulent world on his beloved farm, now a National Historic Landmark. Visitors today experience tranquility and history in the landscape and main house. Groups of 10 or more are welcome and different tour options are available.
Abraham Lincoln had considerable respect for Henry Clay and his principles. It’s interesting that the Mary Todd Lincoln House is also in Lexington. She was the fourth of 16 children from two marriages of a prominent businessman and political figure. A leading figure visiting often during Mary’s youth was Henry Clay, a three-time unsuccessful presidential candidate. Mary’s road to the White House was more successful. Located downtown, the Mary Todd Lincoln House was the first site that was restored to honor a former First Lady.
Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill invites groups to explore this restored historic site through a variety of group experiences. Guided tours introduce the religious beliefs, agricultural practices and crafts of the Shakers, a celibate communal society. The Dixie Belle riverboat operates seasonal rides. There’s a full calendar of special events and festivals happening year around. Hospitality at The Inn at Shaker Village and the Trustees’ Office Dining Room reflect the Shakers’ welcoming beliefs.
The Lexington area has five bourbon distilleries that offer tours. The Woodland Reserve sits on the site where Elijah Peppers set up his distillery in 1812. Tours are available Monday through Saturday and specialty tours are held mid-week. A gourmet lunch is part of the latter. A tour of the Wild Turkey Distillery combines a look at history blended with modern production techniques. The 90-minute tours begin and end at the visitor’s center and gift shop. Buffalo Trace tours are complimentary. “Trace Tours” are given weekdays and Saturdays. The “Post Prohibition Tour” tells the distillery’s story from 1930-1950. Four Roses Distilling Company tours feature a close look at the fermentation and distilling process. Bottling takes place at another facility and tours can be arranged. Town Branch Distillery is located on the campus of Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company. Tours of the Distillery include a look at the brewery producing Kentucky Ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. The latter is part of the growing craft beer movement in the Bluegrass Region. The Brewgrass Trail is the place to begin your planning.
It’s been said before and worth repeating, “Groups are like an army. They move on their stomachs.” Lexington’s culinary scene is just the vehicle for a diverse dining occurrence. There’s an extensive list of independent restaurants. That translates to a delightful combination of locally grown ingredients blended with a flair that produces delectable offerings.
Operating from Lexington, the R. J. Corman Dinner Train combines the experience of a bygone era, scenic Kentucky countryside and a gourmet meal with attentive service. Your group’s three-course lunches and four-course dinners are served in a finely restored dining car complete with appropriate place settings. Plan for a two-hour excursion.
From history and horses to bourbon and brew. Lexington abounds with group-friendly experiences. Begin planning today at visitlex.com. You’ll find everything there is to see and do, including suggested itineraries.