Often referred to as the Horse Capital of the World, Lexington, Kentucky, lures in visitors for its horses, yes, but also for the incomparable surrounding landscape and the adventures that await within. The city itself is historic – it was founded in 1775 when it was still a part of the state of Virginia. Lexington was booming and cosmopolitan by 1820, and it impresses to this day.
With gentle hills and the surrounding Bluegrass Region, much of Lexington stands erect on limestone, which births the famous poa pratensis grass, more commonly known as bluegrass, and helps to carve the world-renowned caves of Kentucky below. Travelers in Lexington enjoy the Kentucky River, a thriving landscape cushioning the city, abounding horse farms and enough bourbon for everyone. Since Lexington was named the fourth best city for “Businesses and Careers” by Forbes in 2011 and sixth in “Best Value Cities” in 2011 by Kiplinger, the city is expanding with the adventure community in tow. Before it gets too big, visit Lexington with a certainty that you’ll experience the charming downtown area and the unscathed natural beauty that made the city grand.
Gratz Park Inn: Centrally located and more charming than your run-of-the-mill corporate chain, Gratz Park Inn gives you easy access to vibrant Lexington and just a short drive from the countryside. In true bed-and-breakfast style, the rooms and suites are all decorated tastefully but differently, yielding a unique experience for each guest. One of the packages at Gratz Park Inn includes a picnic in the park, which you can follow up with a bike ride through the trails of Lexington. From $179.
gratzparkinn.com 120 West 2nd Street
Essence of The Bluegrass: This elegant bed-and-breakfast hides within a large brick house in the country outside of Lexington’s center. A double-grand staircase hovers over a grand player piano – the whole place is grand. Just minutes away are some of the best bourbon distilleries and the Kentucky Horse Park, where you can spend the day riding. From $149.
essenceofthebluegrass.com 343 Mt Horeb Pike
Three Tress Campground: If you’re looking for an accommodations adventure and would rather sleep beneath the stars than a ceiling, check out the Three Trees Campground. Just 16 miles southeast of Lexington, this campground is just across the road from Fort Boonesborough State Park. Three Trees offers canoeing and kayaking, primitive sites, water and showers. The campground is beautifully situated along the Kentucky River. From $28.
threetreeskayak.com 300 Athens Boonsboro Road
Eat and Drink
Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine: For a Mediterranean food adventure, check out the lauded Sahara Mediterranean Cuisine, where well-executed staples are served at an affordable price. Grab stuffed grape leaves, falafel or Tabooli to start and finish off with lamb, beef or chicken sandwiches ($5) or dinner plates ($11). Whatever you get from Sahara will be good, but be sure you can get it when you want by checking the restaurant’s hours before you go (they’re closed on Sundays and open 11 a.m. – 7 p.m. all other days while hours in December vary). Stop in on your way south out of town toward the deepest lake in Kentucky, Herrington Lake.
sahara-lex.com 3061 Fieldstone Way, Suite #1200
Ramsey’s Diner: If you want southern food done right during your stay in Lexington, make sure to visit Ramsey’s Diner. The unsuspecting white building on the corner serves up dishes on mismatched plates in a room that will make you feel like you’re grabbing a bite to eat in your uncle’s house – the uncle who hangs American flags indoors. Whether you want the Catfish Sandwich, BBQ, Country Fried Pork Chops or one of the most decent selections of vegetarian options you could ask for at a comfort food joint, this is the place for you. Have a meal before or after spending the morning or afternoon at Jacobson Park fishing or kayaking.
ramseysdiners.com 500 East High Street
Bourbon n’ Toulouse: You can’t visit Lexington without exploring the area’s bourbon culture. Make a plan to have a meal at Bourbon n’ Toulouse and indulge in some great Creole/Cajon food while you’re sipping your whiskey. Jambalaya, gumbo, crawfish and other southern favorites help complete a menu here that also offers gluten-free and vegetarian options. Since the restaurant is located near downtown, dine before you dash off beyond the city center for fun.
bntlexington.com 829 East Euclid Avenue
Red River Gorge: Just about an hour outside of Lexington is the Daniel Boone National Forest, which features infinite opportunities for adventure. Red River Gorge, which lies within the park, is a canyon system known for its phenomenal climbs. The area offers sandstone cliffs, natural bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls, ranging in difficulties from the casual to the professional. Zip-lining and hiking are also available within the RRG. Meanwhile, the forest offers hiking, camping, boating and various water activities. redrivergorge.com
Herrington Lake: Whether you’re looking for a place to fish, wakeboard, waterski, tube or boat, Herrington Lake is a perfect day trip. Herrington Lake is the deepest lake in the state of Kentucky, and it’s also just 25 miles outside of Lexington. If you like to golf, try the Peninsula Golf Resort or if you just want to play in and near the water, there are several marinas near the Peninsula Golf Resort for entry. kentuckytourism.com/lakes_rivers/herrington-lake/12/
McConnell Springs Park: Home of the county’s only known sinking springs, McConnell Springs Park is a 26-acre lush and well-preserved natural area within Lexington. Spend the day exploring the trails that run through the park or participating in one of the many educational and community-centric events that take place at McConnell. mcconnellsprings.org 416 Rebmann Lane
Fly into the Blue Grass Airport and get into Lexington’s downtown area by renting a car, taking a taxi or hopping on a LexTran bus, which offers express transportation from the airport to downtown. There’s a curbside designated pickup waiting area for the bus right outside of the Blue Grass Airport – follow the signs. You can also utilize the LexTran buses while navigating your way around town, and Google transit integrates well with the network. A $3 day pass will give you unlimited rides for the day. You can also rent a bike from Scheller’s Fitness & Cycles downtown for as low as $29 per day.
There are great biking trails running through Lexington and the county, but Legacy Trail is one of the most notable. The 12-mile trail runs from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park. Other than crossing the busy Newtown Pike, you don’t have to worry about traffic while on this trail, but make sure you take note of this intersection before you begin your journey.
[Photo credit: J.M. Giordano]