The capital of Kentucky, Frankfort, is not usually the first place you think of when planning a family trip to the South. However, it’s certainly not a city that you should ignore!
Located right along the Kentucky River, you’ll find many things to do in Frankfort KY, from museums to parks and memorials to distilleries.
In short, no matter what your interests are, you’ll surely be able to find lots to do and explore in the heart of Kentucky.
Read on to find out what our top picks are for a memorable trip to Frankfort (and be sure to leave your suggestions in the comments)! Thanks!
Best Things to Do in Frankfort KY
Capital City Museum
Capital City Museum is located in downtown Frankfort. A scale replica of the Capitol Building and an extensive collection of political artifacts are among the exhibits that illustrate Franklin County and Frankfort’s history.
The museum features products that have been manufactured in Frankfort over the past two centuries. Visitors can also see items linked with the area’s bourbon distilling heritage.
The Famed Kentucky Fishing Reel is also featured, where visitors will see the work of the Meek and Milam families who transformed metals into precise and handmade baitcasting reels.
They also designed a new exhibit where visitors will be able to go back in time to Frankfort’s famed restaurants such as Mucci’s, Scotty’s Pink Pig, and the Cave in their 1950s kitchen.
Film enthusiasts will enjoy the Frankfort and Film exhibit, which leads visitors through the illustrious history of Frankfort’s involvement in Hollywood and Broadway.
Cove Springs Park
Located in the northern part of Frankfort, visitors should certainly not miss the 240 acres of Cove Springs Park with its wetlands, streams, waterfalls, and other natural, historic features.
Visitors will be able to admire stunning views since the Kentucky River runs through the park.
Waterfalls are also one of the park’s many features. The preserve’s rock formations offer magnificent falls and several photo opportunities. The main waterfall is Hurst Falls, which also has a wooden deck and platform for viewing.
Hikers can enjoy 3 miles of hiking trails that provide natural beauty and historical features worthy of learning and exploring. There are also trails in the park suitable for those with disabilities.
In addition, there are covered picnic shelters in the area, children’s memorials, and restrooms. The park also has an archery range which is open seasonally, and they offer static targets and a 3D range.
Visiting the park is free of charge and can be accessed from 8 am until dusk.
Old State Capitol
The Old State Capitol is a national historic landmark and was Kentucky’s seat of government from 1831 till 1910. Now, it has been reconstructed to look as it did in the early 1850s and includes highlighted pieces original to that time.
The Greek Revival building was designed by Gideon Shryock and was the third one that served as Kentucky’s seat of government.
In 1920, Old State Capitol was converted into a museum and is registered on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours are available for those who want to have an inside look at the 19th-century building.
The tours are guided and begin at the Thomas D. Clark Center. During the tour, you’ll see where Henry Clay and other legendary people rallied their colleagues, learn more about the violence surrounding the 1900 gubernatorial election, and enjoy the architecture.
Tickets cost $8 for adults and $6 for kids and veterans.
Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Overlooking the state capital, Kentucky Vietnam Veterans Memorial, constructed in 1988, is named after the 1,103 Kentuckians killed during the Vietnam War.
Each veteran’s name is perfectly etched on the blue-gray granite so that on the anniversary of their death, the shadow of the sundial pointer falls on their name.
The names of those missing in action or prisoners of war are located in front of the gnomon, where the shadow never falls. As a result, each person receives a unique tribute.
Those who want to honor and remember the fallen can visit the memorial every day for 24 hours. They hold special ceremonies on holidays such as Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day, and the 4th of July.
Josephine Sculpture Park
The Josephine Sculpture Park opened in 2009 and was founded by Melanie VanHouten, who grew up on the farm.
She was inspired by the farm and always made art there, which led her into opening the park and naming it after her grandmother, who supported her.
Visitors can explore more than 40 works of art as they take a stroll through the park. Some of the works are permanent displays, and some are temporary because it’s consistently changing with the seasons and the resident artists in the park.
People can enjoy exhibitions from artists of all ages and styles. Some works invite visitors to “touch with respect,” whereas others might ask you to climb and explore the exhibit.
Visitors can bring graffiti paint with them since the park features a graffiti wall. At Graffiti Hill, people can paint on the walls. There are also picnic spots throughout the park.
You can visit the 30 acres of native meadows every day from dawn until dusk for free.
The Floral Clock
Located behind the Kentucky State Capitol is the Floral Clock, established in 1961 by Governor Bert T. Combs. It was a joint project between the state government and the Garden Club of Kentucky.
The Kentucky Floral Clock is suspended above a pool of water in a 100-ton concrete holder. The hour hand is 15 feet long, and the minute hand is 20 feet long, spinning in time over the 34-foot diameter flower face. The clock has 10,000 flowers in it.
The Capitol grounds workers come up with new designs for the clock each year. When creating the designs, the workers start planting about eight months before the planting season.
It has been a well-known tourist attraction for Capitol visitors over the years. People like to drive by it or stop and take pictures with it while appreciating the plants and the hard work that has been put into the attraction.
Switzer Covered Bridge
Located off Rocky Brand Road over North Elkhorn Creek, the Switzer Covered Bridge was constructed by George Hockersmith around 1855 and, in 1974, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is 60 feet long, 11 feet wide, and features the Howe truss design. In 1953, the bridge was almost destroyed, but it was saved. The historic Kentucky covered bridge has been restored three times throughout its 100+ year history.
The last restoration was in 1998 when it was knocked from its foundation by high water.
It runs over Elkhorn Creek and leads to an excellent spot for picnic lovers.
The Grand Theater
The Grand Theater was initially established in 1911 as a 135-seat Vaudeville house. It was used as a movie theater and first had silent movies, after which it developed to what it is today- a concert house and a movie theater.
The Grand Theater turned into a then-modern movie theater in 1941, and it had 680 seats. After which, in 2009, it turned into The Grand Theater, a 428-seat performing, and visual arts theater.
Numerous events are held throughout the year, such as live concerts, theatrical events, movies, art exhibits, and children’s theater events. The Grand will probably serve as a hub for social interaction as well as civic engagement and education for many years to come.
Tickets for the events can be bought online or in person.
River View Park
River View Park is located on the banks of the picturesque Kentucky River. The park offers a picnic area that overlooks the river, historic sites, monuments of the three original Kentucky counties, a refurbished 1800’s bridge, and hiking trails.
Since it is located on both sides of the river, it offers scenic views from different angles. Visitors can also rent or bring their own kayak or canoe to the water during the summertime.
Sixteen historic sites are featured with information about prehistoric, Native American, and early settlers of the area. The park also has a boat dock from which visitors can tour a portion of the Kentucky River on the tour boat “Nancy Wilkinson.”
The park is famous for its Farmer’s Market Pavilion, where visitors can purchase local vegetables, fruits, meat, flowers, and other products. A fishing pier is also available for anglers.
If the weather permits, guided tours are also available.
The Vest-Lindsey House
Located in downtown’s Corner of Celebrities neighborhood, the Vest-Lindsey House is known as one of Frankfort’s oldest homes, dating from 1800 to 1829. Originally the house had Victorian features, as did many, but the owners made many changes to it.
However, after the Commonwealth of Kentucky obtained the house in 1965, two significant renovations took place, turning it back to its original appearance.
The house had many owners, but the most notable ones include Senator George Graham Vest of Kentucky and Daniel Weisiger Lindsey, the Union Army forces inspector general.
Robert Wilson Burns and John Fox, Jr. are only two of the famous authors and artists that have visited the house.
The house was threatened with destruction in the 1960s, but preservationists and community leaders saved it.
The house is now used as a state meeting house once more.
New Capitol Building
Kentucky’s Capitol is the state’s fourth permanent structure since its founding in 1792. It was built to replace the previous 1830 Capitol, which is still standing in downtown Frankfort but had grown too small to handle the state’s increasing administration.
In 1910, the Beaux-Arts style of today’s Kentucky Capitol was completed. Frank Mills Andrews was the designer of the elegant building. White Georgia marble, dark green Italian marble, and Tennessee marble make up the interior.
The State Reception Room, which is used for ceremonies and has hand-painted walls with murals and scagliola intended to seem like Gobelin tapestries, is located in the Capitol.
There is a lot of art on exhibit around the building as well. The Lincoln Monument in the rotunda is one of the most popular Frankfort attractions.
A fascinating collection of dolls that belonged to various First Ladies is also on display.
Clyde E. Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary
Located along the Kentucky River, Clyde E. Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary consists of 374 acres. The property was going to be used by Emma Buckley in 1967 as a memorial for her beloved husband, and the Kentucky Audubon Society now manages it.
The refuge was established to safeguard and promote eastern Kentucky’s native plants and wildlife. Two ponds, fifty acres of fields, and limestone and mineral deposits are all part of the property.
Visitors can also enjoy birdwatching, and book-guided bird walks through the area. Thousands of students, tourists, instructors, and families attend presentations or enjoy a leisurely stroll through the picturesque countryside every year.
The property also has marked hiking trails and sheltered picnic areas.
Leslie Morris Park at Fort Hill
The peninsula of Fort Hill overlooks downtown Frankfort, Kentucky. Two earthwork forts from the American Civil War are located here.
Fort Hill is currently a public park that opened in 1999 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Leslie W. Morris Park offers a historic area around the forts that houses two Civil War forts and many wilderness forests.
The visitor center is a log cottage built in 1810 that houses exhibits as well as history programs.
From there, visitors can stroll around the park’s historical area, where they’ll find flyers and wayside panels explaining the story of the place.
Guides to the trails can be found at each trailhead or The Capital City Museum. There is also another trail system where visitors can see a cave and picturesque views of the Kentucky River valley. The park also offers a picnic pavilion.
Thomas D. Clark Center (Kentucky History)
The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History, which houses the state museum and a research library, hosts educational programs, special events, and rotating museum exhibits.
It opened its doors to the public on April 15, 1999, and has hosted many visitors and researchers since. The Kentucky Historical Society operates the museum and educational complex.
History buffs will be able to track Kentucky’s 12,000-year history through more than 3,000 items in the signature exhibition, “A Kentucky Journey.”
Visitors will be experiencing wartime and peace, meeting free and enslaved people, seeing objects that tell stories about Kentucky’s most famous locals, and exploring Kentuckian culture at the museum.
Guests will have the chance to visit the Kentucky Hall of Governors, where they’ll find portraits to get behind the rumors and myths about the governors and the highest-elected officials. The property also offers rental facilities where you can host events.
A museum gift shop is also located in Thomas D. Clark Center where you can take something memorable home and support educational programs and exhibitions.
Castle and Key Distillery
Located in Millville, Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor built a new kind of distillery in 1887. The property featured a European-style castle, a classical springhouse, and a sunken garden.
In 1920 the distillery was closed, after which it changed numerous owners and eventually was abandoned. In 2014, the Old Taylor Distillery was purchased by two people who shared a vision and restored it together.
Now, Castle and Key Distillery operate out of the castle that holds a century of distilling history.
Visitors can book a tour where they’ll learn about the history of Castle and Key Distillery. They can also view the outside of the Castle, stop in the sunken garden and have a taste of Rye Whiskey along with a cocktail. The tour lasts an hour and costs $20.
Visitors can also enjoy a stroll in the property free of charge and visit the Castle grounds on their own schedule.
People also have access to the 1/4 mile Botanical Trail, Springhouse, Taylorton Station, walk-up bar, and Boiler Room.
Liberty Hall Historic Site
Located west of downtown Frankfort overlooking the Kentucky River, Liberty Hall is a two-story brick house that was built in 1796-1800 by John Brown.
The Historic Site consists of two historic houses Liberty Hall and the Orlando Brown House, surrounded by four acres of lawns and gardens.
During the tours, visitors will learn about life from 1801-1838. The guide will introduce the rooms and work areas of the 19th century. Visitors will learn about the elegant life that John Brown and his family led.
They’ll also learn about enslaved people who worked for them. Visitors will also see John Brown’s library and archives and the bedroom where the famous ghost stories relating to the property started. Guests are free to wander about the exhibit and bedroom at their leisure.
Following their tour of Liberty Hall, visitors are free to explore the garden on their own. Tour prices are $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $4 for kids.
Running through several counties in central Kentucky, Elkhorn Creek is an 18.3-mile long stream. The creek is famous as one of the best smallmouth bass streams in Kentucky.
Fishing is so popular that there are many yearly kayak fishing tournaments held here. It is also one of the best-known streams for paddling. The stream is made up of two forks that come together east of Frankfort.
It is also a hotspot for kayaking and canoeing. You can enjoy 17 miles of river from the Forks at Elkhorn in Frankfort to the Kentucky River with various difficulties and various access spots.
Elkhorn Creek is known for its class II, III, and IV rapids that require skill and attention. On its banks, there are various campers. Canoe Kentucky rents boats and provides shuttle services.
Juniper Hill Golf Course
Juniper Hill Golf course features 6,147 yards of golf areas and a standard 18-hole course. It was developed by the City of Frankfort and opened on May 1, 1957. It is suitable for all age groups and skill levels.
The well-trimmed fairways and greens make Juniper Hill Golf Course challenging, but at the same time promise a fun time. The staff at the golf course also offers helpful tips and tricks for players who need it.
Juniper Hill Golf also has clubs such as the Juniper Hill Golf Association and Juniper Hill Ladies’ Golf Club, two of the most prestigious clubs. Fundraisers also use the course as a golf event to help raise revenue for many local charities.
Golf activities at Juniper Hill raise more than a quarter of a million dollars per year.
Kentucky Military History Museum
In this fortress-like structure overlooking downtown Frankfort, visitors can learn about the commonwealth’s military history.
It was constructed in 1850 and had an extensive collection of Kentucky, Union, and Confederate memorabilia such as uniforms, flags, guns, and other objects.
During the war, the arsenal served as a Union army cartridge factory as well as a regional supply depot for Northern troops from the Midwest.
Visitors of the Kentucky Military History Museum will learn about the rich military history that Kentucky has.
This Gothic Revival style building, which once housed the State Arsenal and a Civil War-era munitions factory, now holds the exhibits “Kentucky Military Treasures” and “George M. Chinn: Sights Set on Innovation,” as well as 19th-century war records.
Prices for tours for adults are $8, and $6 for children.
Capitol Education Center
The Capitol Education Center, nestled on the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort premises, is a learning refuge for both children and adults.
This developing media collection contains civic resources as well as information about Kentucky’s Capitol Building and the history of the Old Capitol in Frankfort.
The center was previously used as equipment storage but has been renovated into a modern learning center. Visitors will be able to learn about Kentucky’s geography and the city’s sustainability, as well as the government and the local environment. T
The learning materials were developed by KET and are part of a more extensive collection of digital interactive media.
Located at the East Lawn of the Capitol, the historic Governor’s Mansion was built in 1912-1914, and in 1972, it was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places.
It has a Beaux-Arts design, which was inspired by Marie Antoinette’s summer home, the Petit Trianon at Versailles.
The interior of the mansion has a French neoclassical theme. The estate serves as the governor’s private home and an official public building.
It serves as the social, political, and ceremonial hub for the governor. The mansion is open for public tours and is one of the rare American executive residences that permit it.
The tours take place once a month and are guided by professionals in the fields of history, architecture, furniture, and fine arts.
Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours and Museum
Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours and Museum is a fourth-generation family-owned business that has been handcrafting gourmet chocolates since 1919. Kentuckians call Ruth Hanly Booe the “Mother of Bourbon Balls.”
Bourbon caramels, chocolate-wrapped cherries, peanut brittle, vanilla crèmes, Kentucky Irish coffee bonbons, and pulled cream sweets may tantalize visitors but it’s the Bourbon Ball, a pecan-topped chocolate ball with a punch of Bourbon in the middle, that has sealed this small candy factory’s place in Kentucky’s history.
The factory offers tours for $6 per person, where guests will see antique and modern candy-making equipment. Visitors will learn about their candy-making process and 100-year-old story.
After the tour finishes, guests are welcomed to shop from the wide variety of candy available.
Old Governor’s Mansion
Old Governor’s Mansion is the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Kentucky. It is claimed to be the oldest official executive residence still in use in the United States.
The mansion was constructed in 1798, is full of history, and acts as a reminder of the state’s growth. From 1798 until 1914, 35 governors called the mansion their home, with James McCreary as the last governor to reside in it.
Throughout the years, the house has barely escaped fires and neglect. It has experienced multiple style modifications, but in 1858, it went through a significant renovation that brought the mansion up to date with the then-popular Greek Revival style.
Nowadays, visitors interested can book tours to see and learn more about the mansion.
Visitors can also check out the furniture and decorative arts in the estate. Tickets to the Old Governor’s Mansion range from $8-$10.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Buffalo Trace Distillery claims that it is the oldest continuously-operating distillery in the USA. According to records, Hancock Lee and his brother Willis Lee, who died in 1776, began distilling on the location that is now the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
The first distillery was built in 1812, and nowadays, it is owned by the Sazerac Company, which purchased it in 1992. The distillery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.
Buffalo Trace Distillery has been dedicated to one craft for nearly 200 years: bourbon whiskey.
Visitors can participate in many activities while visiting the site, such as going on The Trace tour, during which they will learn about the history and science of bourbon.
They will stroll through the rolling bourbon barrels and be captivated by the smell and atmosphere. Another tour that takes place during the summertime is the Expansion Tour.
It is a limited-run tour where visitors will explore the backside of the distillery and the areas they are expanding as they grow their whiskey production.
Where to Stay in Frankfort, KY
There are plenty of places to stay in Frankfort for those visiting the city! Here are some of our top picks for lodging in Frankfort, KY.
- Holiday Inn Hotel Express & Suites
- Hampton Inn Frankfort
- Home2 Suites by Hilton Frankfort
- Capital Plaza Hotel
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