Kentucky is known for its horse racing and bluegrass music, fried chicken, and moonshine. It’s also known for its beauty and Southern hospitality, so staying at a Kentucky vacation rental during your Thanksgiving vacation adds a cozy feeling away from home. For a few days, slow your pace to a relaxing amble, and enjoy all that Kentucky has to offer. Here are some of the best locations in Kentucky to stay during Thanksgiving.
Louisville offers the best of the South with horse racing, historical sites, and plenty of good cooking (especially if you don’t want to do any of your own). Churchill Downs, the legendary horse-racing track of Kentucky Derby fame, has its second busiest day on Thanksgiving. Watch a horse race live and in person. Plus, the track serves turkey to the spectators, so you don’t have to forego your traditional favorites. If horse racing isn’t for you, opt for a river cruise aboard the Spirit of Jefferson or the Belle of Louisville, and take a water tour down the Ohio River as you enjoy your Thanksgiving feast. While in the spirit of celebrating the early colonists, visit the Historic Locust Grove, an old homestead dating back to the 1700s, and walk historic Main Street. Afterwards, help usher in Christmas with a performance of The Nutcracker or A Christmas Carol at the Louisville Ballet or Actors Theatre respectively.
Lexington celebrates Kentucky’s love for horses in a unique way with the Thoroughbred Classic 5K on Thanksgiving morning. However, instead of horses, humans run the race and raise money for local charities. Take the entire family for this pre-Thanksgiving feast exercise, and work up your appetite. Lexington combines the best of horses and bluegrass at the Bluegrass Rockin’ Rodeo just before Thanksgiving. Cheer on your favorite cowboys and girl while enjoying live music and shopping (you can never start too early for Christmas). Speaking of Christmas Shopping, go to the Holly Day Market, which opens just after Thanksgiving and offers all sorts of gift possibilities from books and toys to clothes and jewelry. While in town, visit some historical sites like the Marry Todd Lincoln House.
Ashland is a major vacation destination during the holiday season due to its 52-acre Central Park that takes on a rosy hue with 800,000 lights, 50 displays, and a train ride. The Winter Wonderland of Lights is about community togetherness, seen in a local Thanksgiving tradition that been taking place for nearly 100 years: feeding the hungry. The Ashland Elks Lodge gets together with local volunteers to feed hundreds of people with dozens of turkeys. Take the kids to help out and learn the true meaning of the season before enjoying your own feast.
Newport, just on the other side of the Ohio River from Cincinnati, also does Thanksgiving Day cruises. Start a new tradition where you don’t have to worry about cooking and just enjoy yourself while admiring the Cincinnati skyline. Eat onboard with a personalized Thanksgiving menu. Afterwards, join locals and visitors in Lighting Up the Levee with 1.2 million lights, synchronized music and light displays, a 30-foot Christmas tree, and other decorations. While there, enjoy the Dickens carolers, and go ice skating.
The capital city of Frankfort may be small in terms of Louisville and Lexington, but it’s big in holiday tradition. Start out with a WALK (or run) of Awareness on Thanksgiving Day to benefit the hungry, and then go to the Lighting of the Trace. The Buffalo Trace is a historic distillery — moonshine is another thing for which Kentucky is known — built in the 1800s. After Thanksgiving, displays are lit up, there’s a candlelight tour, and visitors sing carols. There’s also live music and a visit from Santa.
Prior to Thanksgiving, Lawrenceburg lights up, a festival with hot cider and cocoa to combat the chill, a live nativity and music, light displays, and a Santa visit. Then, right after Thanksgiving, the Christmas Parade kicks off the season with floats, fun, food, and shopping. Plus, Lawrenceburg is only 40 minutes from the Kentucky Horse Park where you can learn all about the animals and pet them. The park puts on the Southern Lights Stroll, a Thanksgiving 5k that raises money for animal charities.
Bardstown is a scenic little city with rolling hills and trees, rivers and lakes, making a Thanksgiving Turkey Fun Run and Family Stroll 5K there a pleasure. It’s also not far from the Rough River Dam State Resort Park that offers fishing, hiking, and a Thanksgiving dinner. The meal includes all the traditional trimmings in a beautiful location and, bonus, you don’t have to cook it. Afterwards, help light up the town for Christmas with the official tree-lighting ceremony, music, reindeer, and shopping.
As long as you’re looking back on the year and U.S. Thanksgiving history, you might as well tour the Blackfish Bison Ranch in Winchester, a species that was here before the English colonists were. Hand feed the animals, learn about why the native Americans, especially the Shawnee, revere them and let your kids try their hands at lassoing. Visit the Civil War Fort at Boonesboro and Bluegrass Heritage Museum to complete your knowledge of the local history. On Thanksgiving Day, sign up for the Turkey Trot 5K to help benefit families in need.
Harrodsburg is home to Old Fort Harrod State Park, which houses a full-size replica of the fort that once stood there as well as the oldest cemetery in the Alleghenies Mountains, the Lincoln Marriage Temple, and the Mansion Museum. After exploring the local history, enjoy the annual lighting of the Fort and Santa’s appearance. It’s also the location of the C Trade Fair, the perfect place to pick up some gifts. End your visit with a Holiday Homes Tour of all the historical buildings in Harrodsburg.
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