20 Cities in Kentucky

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Kentucky is a Southern state drenched in history, culture and the great outdoors that borders some of the most interesting cities and scenic state parks in the United States.
The state is famous worldwide thanks to a certain colonel who invented his famous fried chicken recipe here in 1930, however, there’s plenty more to the Commonwealth of Kentucky than just greasy food and Southern hospitality.

Kentucky’s storied cities and charming towns are interesting destinations, with each one offering travellers something new and unique to do and experience. From the streets of Louisville, where boxing’s all-time great grew up to the underground passageways in Maysville, where thousands of slaves escaped to freedom, there is no other state quite like Kentucky.

Cities in Kentucky

Top Tours

kentucky horse tour
One of the cities in Kentucky you can take a day trip to a horse farm is Lexington.

20 Kentucky Cities For Your Bucket List

1- Louisville

Louisville city skyline at night reflected in the water
If you’re looking for cities in Kentucky with lots to do at night, check out Louisville.

In the state’s north on the banks of the Ohio River, Louisville is the largest city in Kentucky and one of the South’s most iconic destinations.

Louisville has a population of more than 1.4 million people and was named after King Louis XVI, the last French monarch to rule before the French Revolution.

The city is best known to sports fans as the birthplace of the late great Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) and the Kentucky Derby host city, a horse racing spectacle in North America.

Louisville might not be Kentucky’s official capital city, but it is undoubtedly the Bluegrass State’s cultural, economic and entertainment hub, placing Louisville right at the top of must-see destinations in Kentucky.

Whenever you find yourself near Louisville, check out the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Churchill Downs, the Speed Art Museum and the Muhammad Ali Center for the ultimate Louisville experience.

Recommended tours:

2- Lexington

view of houses and high rise in lexington
One of the cities in Kentucky you may have heard of is Lexington.

The second-largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the unofficial “Horse Capital of the World”, Lexington is as colourful and interesting a city as you’re ever likely to come across in the South.

Lexington earned its nickname due to the many equine businesses outside the downtown area and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, whose headquarters are in the city centre.

The city is roughly 77 miles (124 km) from Louisville and forms part of the state’s famous Bluegrass region and Bourbon Trail, making Lexington a popular tourist destination in the state.

Lexington’s Henry Clay Estate, Mary Todd Lincoln House, Kentucky Horse Park and Waveland State Historic Site are fantastic places to stop by, making Lexington the perfect horse-lovers vacation destination in Kentucky.

Recommended tours:

3- Frankfort

historic building in frankfort
One of the historic cities in Kentucky to tick off your to-visit list is Frankfort.

Despite not being the largest or most well-known city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Frankfort is the Bluegrass State’s official capital and an influential destination that’s more than worthy of checking out, especially if you’re a history buff.

Frankfort’s name is derived from Frank’s Fort, named after frontiersman Stephen Frank who perished during an altercation between the colonists and a band of Native Americans.

The city has cultural institutions and other attractions, including the Lexington Opera House, the Kentucky State Capitol, and the Clyde E. Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary.

Recommended tours:

4- Berea

With its assortment of historic buildings, art festivals and trendy restaurants, Berea is among the most popular cities to live in Kentucky. 

Berea is known as the “Folk Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky” and its population is roughly 15,500 people, many of whom are talented artists and artisans perfecting and showcasing their works throughout Berea’s many art galleries. 

The city is 40 miles (64 km) south of downtown Lexington and borders the scenic Daniel Boone National Forest, which offers avid hikers and outdoor enthusiasts plenty of outdoor recreational activities.

Berea’s list of places to visit includes the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center, the Kentucky Artisan Center, the Berea Craft Festival and Battlefield Park, making the city a top-tier tourist attraction in the Bluegrass State. 

5- Bowling Green

aerial view of bowling green
A lovely Kentucky city with plenty of greenery lives up to its name of Bowling Green.

Situated in the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s south, roughly 64 miles (103 km) north of Nashville, Bowling Green was the former provincial capital of Confederate Kentucky during the American Civil War.

Bowling Green was officially settled in 1798 and was either named after Bowling Green, New York, or Bowling Green, Virginia, depending on who you ask, with the exact origins of the city’s name a hotly debated subject. 

The city has a population of around 72,000, enough to secure Bowling Green the title of Kentucky’s third-largest city behind Louisville and Lexington.

There’s no shortage of entertaining attractions throughout the city, ranging from the one-of-a-kind National Corvette Museum to the underground boat tours at the Lost River Cave.

Skip the line and book your tickets to the National Corvette Museum here.

6- Elizabethtown

Elizabethtown is a charming mid-sized city in Kentucky’s north-central region.

It is a popular place to visit because it’s affordable and easy to access, a two-hour drive from Nashville, Cincinnati, Louisville and Lexington. 

The city was established in 1797 by local land owner Andrew Hynes and named in honour of Hynes’ wife, Elizabeth Warford Hynes.

It was the first home of newlyweds Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the parents of President Abraham Lincoln. 

Today, Elizabethtown is rife with historical and cultural landmarks, including the Brown-Pusey House, the Elizabethtown Nature Park and the Swope’s Cars of Yesteryear Museum, making Elizabethtown a fantastic addition to any Kentucky itinerary.

7- Owensboro

The self-described “Barbecue Capital of the World”, Owensboro in western Kentucky is the fourth-largest city in the Bluegrass State and very much western Kentucky’s cultural, economic and entertainment hub.

Owensboro is 37 miles (59 km) from Evansville, Indiana, and 134 miles (216 km) from Nashville, Tennessee, making this centrally-located city an excellent city to visit if you plan to see the sights beyond Kentucky.

There’s plenty to explore throughout this down-to-earth city on the banks of the Ohio River, such as the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art.

8- Newport

best cities in kentucky map
Looking for the best cities in Kentucky? Here’s a map of some popular cities.

Newport is a beautiful and richly historic city on the banks of the Ohio River within a stone’s throw from downtown Cincinnati’s world-class entertainment venues, restaurants, bars and attractions.

The city is home to the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s second-largest historical area, the world’s largest swimming bell, and numerous other one-of-a-kind venues to take in, making it a popular attraction in the state.

Newport is a popular alternative for travellers wishing to experience Cincinnati without staying in Cincy.

Stop by the Newport Aquarium, the Purple People Bridge, the World Peace Bell and the East Row neighbourhood for an all-encompassing Newport experience. 

Recommended tours:

9- Richmond

The fourth-largest city in Kentucky’s Bluegrass region and the seventh-largest in the state, Richmond is a youthful city with a deeply historic past and an excellent destination in east-central Kentucky.

Richmond was settled in 1798 by British-American Colonel John Miller, who promptly named his city after his hometown of Richmond, Virginia.

The city is 27 miles (43 km) from downtown Lexington and offers access to attractions such as the Battle of Richmond Visitor Center and the EKU Center for the Arts.

Steeped in tales of the American Civil War and featuring the lively campus of the University of Eastern Kentucky, Richmond is a splendid city in Kentucky to visit.

10- London

Playing host to the annual World Chicken Festival during the last weekend of September, London is a quirky tourist destination in southeast Kentucky that’s beloved for its unique attractions and stunning natural beauty.

The city dates back to 1826, named after the more famous English capital and is the second-largest city in the United States named ‘London’.

London is nestled right along the foothills of the scenic Daniel Boone National Forest, which treats travellers to 708,000 acres (286,517 ha) of unblemished nature to enjoy.

If you’re done eating fried chicken from the world’s largest skillet and hiking through one of Kentucky’s most picturesque forests, stop by the Laurel County History Museum and the Camp Wildcat Battlefield to cap off your visit.

11- Maysville

Stretching along the Ohio River in northeast Kentucky, roughly 62 miles (100 km) from Cincinnati, Maysville was once a significant point along the infamous Underground Railroad that slaves used to escape to freedom in the North.

Maysville has a population of about 8,800 people and was officially established in 1886 by Simon Kenton, a frontiersman who fought in the western battles of the American Revolution.

This Kentucky city is a great place to catch a live concert or performance at the Washington Opera House and the Russell Theatre.

Maysville also features intriguing attractions such as the National Underground Railroad Museum, the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center and the EAT Gallery, making it a worthy addition to any Kentucky itinerary.

12- Florence

Famous throughout Kentucky for its unmissable “Florence Y’all” water tower, Florence is regularly ranked among the fastest-growing cities in the state and an up-and-coming tourist destination with plenty to offer travellers.

Florence is in northern Kentucky and forms part of the Greater Cincinnati Metro Area, making it a great alternative when visiting Cincy and southwest Ohio.

There’s plenty to see, do and experience in and around this fascinating Southern city, including Thomas More Stadium, the Big Bone Lick State Historic Site and Turfway Park, making for an exciting trip to Maysville.

13- Williamstown

Situated in northern Kentucky and conveniently located within an hour’s drive from either Lexington or Cincinnati, Williamstown is a charming and low-key destination home to unique attractions you won’t find anywhere else.

Williamstown is best known for being the home of a life-size replica of the biblical Noah’s Ark, which measures a staggering 510 feet long (155 m), 85 feet wide (26 m) and 51 feet tall (16 m).

Known as the Ark Encounter, the Ark is as much an iconic landmark as a fully-fledged tourist attraction; it’s a theme park with zip lines, a restaurant and a petting zoo to entertain visitors.

There’s more to Williamstown than just the Ark Encounter, though, with places such as the William Arnold Log Home, the Old Friends Farm and the Salato Wildlife Education Center.

14- Corbin

With a population of about 7,800 people, Corbin is the birthplace of the global fast food giant Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), as it was in Corbin where Colonel Harland Sanders opened his first restaurant in 1930.

The seemingly inconspicuous city has certainly cashed in on the success of its world-famous former resident, with several attractions in Corbin dedicated to the beloved colonel and his famous fried chicken recipe.

There’s a Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, the Cumberland Falls State Resort Park and the Pinball Museum of Corbin, so be sure to check out this colourful city in southeast Kentucky.

15- Winchester

Home to various festivals, restaurants and art galleries, Winchester is a low-key city with a big personality situated just 18 miles (29 km) east of downtown Lexington.

Winchester has a population of more than 20,000 people and is a relatively large economic and cultural hub in the central region, making it one of the state’s top day-trip destinations for city slickers from Lexington and Louisville.

Stop by the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, the Leeds Theatre and the Fort Boonesboro State Park to get the most out of your trip to this delightful central Kentucky city.

16- Danville

One of only six recognised Kentucky Cultural Districts, Danville is a historical city in the Bluegrass State’s central region with bucket loads of Southern charm and hospitality.

The nearest post office west of the Allegheny Mountains was built in Danville’s Constitution Square.

This city in Kentucky was also where pioneering 19th-century surgeon Ephraim McDowell performed the first successful laparotomy in 1809.

Danville’s Main Street is littered with several excellent restaurants and shops.

It has been awarded the “Great American Main Street Award” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, cementing its reputation as one of Kentucky’s must-visit cities.

17- Henderson

Situated just across the Ohio River from Evansville, Indiana, Henderson is a quaint and picturesque city that has been inhabited by the Mississippian people, Shawnee, Yuchi and Cherokee Native American tribes in the past.

Henderson was officially established in 1797 and was named after pioneer and landowner Richard Henderson, best remembered for his failed efforts to create the Transylvania Colony in modern-day Kentucky during the 1770s.

The city is a popular destination in western Kentucky for history buffs, as it has a range of interesting sites to visit, such as the John James Audubon State Park, the Preston Arts Center and the Henderson Riverwalk.

18- Bardstown

Boasting a population of about 13,500 people and often touted as one of Kentucky’s most picturesque cities, the self-described “Bourbon Capital of the World” that is Bardstown is one of central Kentucky’s most serene tourist destinations to visit.

Bardstown was named after the Bard brothers, who established the city in 1780, making it one of the oldest cities in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Attractions include My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Wickland Mansion and the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History.

19- Paducah

Featuring a 20-block downtown area listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Paducah is an incredibly charming small city completely designed by one of early America’s greatest adventurers.

The city was settled in 1821 and was planned by William Clark, the second member of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition westward.

Paducah treats travellers to a thriving music and arts scene and a collection of impressive landmarks and attractions to stop by, such as the National Quilt Museum, the William Clark Market House Museum and the Floodwall Murals.

20- Harrodsburg

The mid-sized city of Harrodsburg is among the oldest cities in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and is right in the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass region.

Harrodsburg was founded in 1774 and was recognised by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the oldest permanent settlement in America west of the Appalachian Mountains.

The city has a population of roughly 9,000 people.

It features many places to visit and sights to behold, such as the Old Fort Harrod State Park, the Beaumont Inn and the Harrodsburg Historical Society. 

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Jessica Shaw is a storyteller who has lived in four U.S. states - Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois - and has visited many others. She loves history and nature and is a big fan of road tripping.