Even if Kentucky didn’t have its bourbon industry it would be among the coolest places on the planet to visit. Its natural beauty, affluent horse farms, quaint and pretty towns, rich and dynamic history and the wonderful city of Louisville all contribute to a diverse and exciting state populated by friendly and welcoming people.
But what really lifts Kentucky above many other American states is that it’s independent and untamed, and scratch beneath the surface and it’s pretty weird, as well.
So here are a few alternative tourist destinations or places to visit when you might consider when visiting the State’s distilleries, plus one from neighbouring state, Tennessee.
Mclean House or The Jailer’s InnBardstown
If you’re interested in ghosts, then these two places in bourbon’s whisky capital are for you. There are so many ghosts here that they have spilled out and taken up residence in the Talbott Tavern next door.
McLean House is now a bed and breakfast but is said to be haunted by a number of ghosts who died during the Civil War. The Jailer’s Inn has an oppressive air about it even in the middle of the day, but the owner will happily show you around and regale you with a few tales. Some think Jesse James haunted The Talbott Tavern and he certainly drank there, though why he would haunt it is not clear.
But you can see the bullet holes he left after he started firing at the walls because he said they started moving.
The Wildwood InnFlorence
This may well be the ultimate fantasy hotel, with 31 different fantasy suites. Some are predictable – the Cupid Room has a big red heart above the bed, a red couch and a red jacuzzi. But the Arctic Cove lets you feel like you’re sleeping in a block of ice, and you can even bathe in a warm glacial waterfall; in the Speedway Suite you sleep in a bed in the middle of a number of racing cars; you can sleep in Central Park, in a cave, on a pirate ship, in a tree house or in a cave. Bizarre.
Lynn’s Paradise CafeLouisville
It has an eight foot tall coffee pot outside and it’s the ultimate eating destination if you’re in to glitzy, chintsy, tacky, gaudy garish and loud. It has a cement zoo which you and your children are encouraged to climb on, there are toys on the tables for the children to play with, and the whole venue is littered with lamps – former participants in the World’s Ugliest Lamp contest which Lynn sponsors. Oh, and there’s a corncob wall, too. Don’t ask.
Claudia Sanders Dinner HouseShelbyville
Colonel Sanders sold his name and image with his business in 1964, but that didn’t stop him rolling out a new restaurant in his wife Claudia’s name.
They say that the chicken here, complete with seven secret herbs and spices, tastes how Kentucky fried chicken used to taste like back in the 1950s.
Vent Haven Ventriloquism MuseumFort Mitchell
If you read Magic or have an inverse fear of ventriloquists’ dummies, this isn’t for you – three buildings filled with them. And if you’re in to this sort of thing, some of the world’s most famous dummies are here – as are some of the scariest.
Bible Themed Mini GolfLexington Ice Center & Sports Complex
There’s a lot of religion in Kentucky and it pops up in the strangest of places. This mini golf course, though, might take the biscuit. The first seven holes represent the seven days of creation, but the really hard holes are based around the miracles of Jesus. You even get to play one hole in Jesus’ tomb. But people who know about this sort of thing say it’s a brilliant course.
The Ghosts of Mammoth Cave
Mammoth Cave is a system of caverns running for hundreds of miles, many of which have not been explored. But there has always been something sinister about them – native Americans would not use the area for settlement. Several people died in the caves while mining for saltpeter and their mummified corpses created a bizarre tourist business. The most famous ghost though is that of Floyd Collins, who got his foot crushed by a giant boulder and was trapped for days. A rescue party reached him but could not free him and although they offered a reward for anyone who could think of a way of rescuing him he remained trapped and after some days in agony, he died. After his death his body was put on display, moved several times and he even had his left leg stolen. His story is the subject of a song on Kentucky heavy rock band Black Stone Cherry’s last album.
Moon Pie FestivalBell Buckle, Tennessee
A moon pie is two biscuits filled with marshmallow and covered in chocolate and during this festival they distribute the world’s biggest moon pie to visitors. You can also eat southern barbecued food and listen to the very best of the State’s bluegrass and country bands.
*With special thanks to Jeffrey Scott Holland and his excellent book Weird Kentucky