Old and new combine in exciting ways in Louisville’s downtown offering something for everyone from long-established attractions to more recent additions such as the Muhammad Ali Center.
Downtown is also the hub of the performing arts scene. There’s the nationally recognized professional theatre for young audiences, Stage One: Louisville’s Family Theater, and the Tony Award-winning Actors Theatre of Louisville or the elegance of the Louisville Ballet, Louisville Orchestra and Louisville Opera.
You’ll want to explore downtown’s central business district as well as the surrounding historic districts of West Main Street, Fourth Avenue, Butchertown and East Market Street.
Historic West Main Street
Quickly becoming known as “Museum Row,” downtown’s West Main Street is home to seven museums all in a six-block historic neighborhood, located a block south of the Ohio River. You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find Louisville’s Museum Row is housed in America’s second largest collection of cast-iron facades. (See for yourself by placing a magnet on one of the buildings.) Only New York City’s SoHo district has more 19th century cast-iron storefronts.
Louisville’s West Main Street, with its extraordinary collection of Victorian cast-iron historic facades combined with striking contemporary architecture, has experienced a dramatic renaissance over the past decade, and has become one of the most creative arts-inspired cultural districts in the nation. With its unique streetscape program and a collection of museums and cultural institutions celebrating such icons as Muhammad Ali and the Louisville Slugger, West Main Street has become a true destination, and both residents and visitors are enjoying its vitality and creative energy, from its 120 foot bat to the red penguins roaming its rooftops. Check out the West Main Street video below:
Once the residential address of prominent merchants, Fourth Street became downtown’s primary retail, corporate and entertainment corridor throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Stretching from the Ohio River, south to Broadway, these seven blocks have seen a dramatic, transition through the years – from pastoral to residential use, followed by rapid commercial growth, urban decay and now sweeping revitalization. Just south of Broadway you’ll discover one of the city’s nine Carnegie Libraries. Built between 1906 and 1908 the Louisville Free Public Library Main Branch’s grounds were also designed by famed landscape architect Olmsted.
Known as Fourth Street until 1981, Fourth Avenue has again become the place for generations of diners, shoppers, theater-goers and urbanites to see and be seen. The avenue houses the city’s two grand, historic hotels – the Brown and the Seelbach – each famous in their own right. At the Ohio River is the city’s only riverfront hotel, and one of the southeast’s largest with 600 spacious suites and 700 guest rooms – the Galt House Hotel & Suites.
Check out a show at the historic Louisville Palace. Opened in 1928, the theatre is a lavish Spanish Baroque Revival style with fountains, statues and tapestries. In the foyer, the “Ceiling of Celebrities” contains 141 medallion faces of famous men, including the Palace’s architect John Eberson.
Enjoy the tried-and-true traditions at one of the many established downtown restaurants, like Cunningham’s, known for its fish sandwiches or enjoy one of the new eateries at Fourth Street Live! The $70-million entertainment district has revitalized downtown, adding a variety of restaurants and entertainment venues, and reconnecting the city’s riverfront to its main east/west thoroughfare, Broadway.
East Market District (NuLu
The East Market District, also referred to as NuLu (a portmanteau of “New” and “Louisville”), is an unofficial district of Louisville, Kentucky, situated along Market Street between downtown to the west and the Highland’s neighborhoods to the east. A growing, hip district, the area comprises parts of two of Louisville’s oldest neighborhoods, Butchertown and Phoenix Hill. The district is home to schools, churches, large and small businesses and some of the city’s oldest homes and businesses. A destination street since Louisville’s founding, Market Street has played host to a variety of businesses throughout the city’s history that have drawn Louisvillians for generations to its addresses.
Butchertown is a neighborhood located just east of downtown from I-65 east to Mellwood Avenue and stretching from the Ohio River to Main Street. Established in 1796 when Henry Fait established one of Jefferson County’s first gristmills, Butchertown’s zoning today is both residential and industrial. Here you’ll find the city’s outdoor 24-hour, 7-day-a-week Extreme Park for bike, board and blade enthusiasts (helmets are required). And you’ll also find The Thomas Edison House. Edison’s home while he was employed at Western Union, this 1850’s shotgun house now exhibits many of his inventions.
Nestled between the downtown central business district and Butchertown is the award-winning Louisville Waterfront Park. Designed by Michael Hargreaves the park sits along the Ohio River and includes a 14-acre Great Lawn, miles of walking and biking paths, a children’s play area, picnic areas and two restaurants. The entire 85-acre park is a hotspot for free wireless Internet. Throughout the year you’ll find a variety of activities in the park from free concerts to guided Segway tours and food festivals to bicycle surreys built for four!