What Is Kentucky Known For?

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Renowned for its world-class thoroughbred horseracing scene, flavourful Southern-inspired culinary scene and famous former residents, Kentucky is arguably the finest destination in the American South, and one of the most storied too. Not technically considered to be a state, the Commonwealth of Kentucky is one of only four commonwealths in the United States and has produced a US President, a legendary heavyweight boxing champion and one of the brightest stars in Hollywood.

Kentucky’s famous features and aspects include its Colonel Sanders-perfected “Kentucky Fried Chicken” sold the world over, its Bourbon Whiskeys, its unique folk music genre and its legendary baseball bat manufacturer, not to mention the mystique of the mighty Appalachian Mountains which provides the commonwealth with its unique soul and essence. The Commonwealth of Kentucky is an American destination where visitors can come across several one-of-a-kind’s, including the longest cave system in the world and the impenetrable venue where the United States Treasury guards the nation’s vast gold bullion reserves.

What Is Kentucky Known For?

1- The Kentucky Derby

Horse Racing
Horse racing is what Kentucky is known for.

Hosted annually at the Churchill Downs racecourse in Louisville since 1875, the Kentucky Derby is the biggest and grandest thoroughbred racing spectacle in the Western Hemisphere and perhaps one of the best worldwide.

This horse racing meetup is nicknamed “The Run for the Roses”, derived from the blanket of roses which the victorious thoroughbred competitor is draped in, and forms part of what is known throughout US thoroughbred horse racing circles as the “Triple Crown”.

Unlike the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes, the two other members of the prestigious Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby has never missed its annual rendition and even survived the years of World War II and the COVID-19 pandemic without being cancelled.

Dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”, the Kentucky Derby is preceded by a two-week-long festival and is the most-watched horse racing event in the United States, as well as one of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s biggest claims to fame.

2- Kentucky Fried Chicken

Crispy Kentucky Fried Chicken
Fried chicken is a world-famous food Kentucky is known for.

No other state in the United States is as defined and well-known around the world by a single culinary dish as Kentucky and its popular “Kentucky Fried Chicken”, a unique take on regular fried chicken recipes served throughout the American South.


While Kentucky is not the first or only place where fried chicken was perfected, it was the first state to place this Southern delicacy firmly on the world stage when in 1930 Colonel Harland Sanders began serving his very own fried chicken recipe from his roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky.

Sanders named his recipe “Kentucky Fried Chicken” and it immediately became a nationwide hit during the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s before becoming one of the first American fast food chains to open stores outside the United States, expanding into Canada, the United Kingdom, Jamaica and Mexico by the 1960s.

Traditionally served with a side of biscuits, mashed potato, coleslaw, gravy or macaroni and cheese, “Kentucky Fried Chicken” is the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s most popular export and is best enjoyed in the state where it originated.

3- Birthplace of Muhammad Ali

The Kentucky State Flag
What is Kentucky famous for?

Kentucky has produced some of the biggest names in American politics, Hollywood and sports, including none other than Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time and an influential activist during the mid-to-late 20th century.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. in Louisville on January 17, 1942, Ali spent his formative years growing up in Kentucky’s largest city before turning to amateur boxing at the age of 12, winning a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games at just 18 years of age.

Ali turned professional soon after and won the world heavyweight championship for the first time in 1964 when he defeated Sonny Liston in upset fashion, before officially changing his name later that year.

Refusing to be drafted into the military during the Vietnam War, Ali became one of the largest icons of the counterculture movement in the United States during the 1960s as well as an inspirational figure during the civil rights movement.

4- Louisville Slugger Baseball Bats

Louisville Slugger baseball bats have been a staple of the MLB and the sport of baseball as a whole since 17-year-old John Andrew “Bud” Hillerich crafted the very first “Louisville Slugger” for pro baseball player Pete Browning in 1884.

Bud’s father, J. Frederick Hillerich, arrived in Louisville after emigrating from Germany in 1856 and started his woodworking shop, which was manufacturing everything from steamboat interiors to shutters and spindles by 1864 before Bud started experimenting with baseball bats.

Fast-forward to the present-day and the Louisville Slugger brand is world-renowned for its excellent craftsmanship, impeccable quality and superior competitive advantage, and has been used by legends of the game such as Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Lou Gehrig.

Still headquartered in downtown Louisville, the Louisville Slugger brand has become a pivotal part of Kentucky’s pop culture and is best experienced at the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, where this iconic piece of baseball history is crafted and exhibited for baseball fans to soak up.

5- Bluegrass Music

Bluegrass music is a unique American music genre which can trace its roots to the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky where it began taking shape during the 1940s.

The genre developed from old-time string music and features traces of Irish, Scottish and English folk music, as well as jazz and blues.

Bluegrass music got its name from “Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys”, a band led by the father of Bluegrass music William Smith Monroe, who played a pivotal role in establishing the music genre’s popularity alongside musicians such as Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

Today, Bluegrass music remains most popular throughout Kentucky and Tennessee and makes use of string instruments such as banjos, guitars, mandolins and violins to convey a story through folk music.

6- Bourbon Whiskey

Two Glasses Of Whiskey On A Wooden Table
Bourbon is another thing Kentucky is best known for.

Made primarily from corn, Bourbon is a unique whiskey blend that’s rooted in the American South and is immensely popular throughout Tennessee and Kentucky, where most of the world’s authentic Bourbon is distilled.

Although Bourbon can be distilled anywhere in the United States, it has to meet certain strict requirements to be legally declared and considered Bourbon, as per the Federal Standards of Identity for Distilled Spirits.

For Bourbon to be declared Bourbon, it needs to be distilled from a grain mixture of at least 51% corn, be aged in charred oak barrels, feature a bottled alcohol-by-volume content of less than 40%, and be produced in the continental United States or its territories.

Bourbon has developed into one of the United States’ most popular spirits and continues to be among the largest exported products from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, with dozens of Bourbon distilleries dotted throughout the Commonwealth.

7- Louisville

The largest city in Kentucky in terms of population and the birthplace of Louisville Slugger and Muhammad Ali, Louisville is a fascinating Southern City and the cultural heartbeat of modern Kentucky.

Founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark, Louisville is among the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains and was named in honour of French King Louis XVI.

Despite not serving as the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s official state capital, Louisville remains the state’s unequivocal premier city, boasting attractions such as Churchill Downs, the Muhammad Ali Center and the Speed Art Museum, making it an unrivalled destination in Kentucky.

8- Appalachian Mountains

East Pinnacle Lookout
The stunning Appalachian Mountains is what is Kentucky famous for among nature lovers.

Stretching from Newfoundland Island in Canada to central Alabama in the Southern United States, the Appalachian Mountains are a fascinating collection of peaks and valleys that are home to cultures, customs and traditions entirely their own.

The mountain range spans roughly 2,050 miles (3,300 km) and crosses the French-controlled Saint Pierre and Miquelon archipelago, meaning the Appalachians technically spill over into 3 different countries.

Older than the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachians are a popular tourist destination in Kentucky due to the Appalachian Trail, a 2,175-mile-long (3,500 km) hiking trail which follows the entire length of the mountain range.

Renowned for its cultural diversity, natural beauty and role in shaping the modern-day United States, the Appalachian Mountains are credited with influencing iconic Kentucky sounds and flavours such as Bluegrass music, fried chicken and Bourbon whiskey.

9- College Basketball

Despite being known for its world-class thoroughbred horseracing and training scene, it’s the sport of basketball, specifically collegiate basketball, that the Commonwealth of Kentucky has been most successful in historically.

Situated in Lexington, the University of Kentucky is home to the Wildcats men’s basketball team, one of the winningest NCAA Division I basketball programs of all time with 8 National Championships to their name, more than any other program in the United States.

Plying their trade in the Southeastern Conference, or SEC for short, the Wildcats have produced over 100 NBA draft picks, including current top performers such as Devin Booker, Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Tyler Herro.

Seemingly perennial contenders in the annual March Madness Final Fours, the Wildcats have made appearances in 60 different NCAA tournaments and can be seen in the Rupp Arena in Lexington between November and March every season.

10- Coal

Coal Mining
Coal mining is another thing Kentucky is known for.

No single resource has had a more profound impact on Kentucky and its people than coal, first discovered in the region now known as the Commonwealth of Kentucky by Thomas Walker in 1750.

Divided into two distinct regions, the Eastern Coalfield and the Western Coalfield, Kentucky’s first commercial coal mine popped up in 1820 in the latter of the two coalfields and by 1879 the Western Coalfield had produced more than one million tons of coal.

It wasn’t until 1900 that the first coal mine appeared in the Eastern Coalfield, and by 2006, Kentucky had produced a total of 126 million tons of coal, with the Commonwealth responsible for about 11% of the United States’ annual coal supply.

Thousands of Kentuckians are either directly or indirectly employed in the coal industry in Kentucky, with coal responsible for the state’s hard-working edge which has influenced so many of the state’s traditions, people and flavours.

11- Birthplace of Abraham Lincoln

Macro Of Abraham Lincoln On Five USA Dollar Banknote
Abraham Lincoln is one of the famous people from Kentucky.

Even though he cut his teeth in politics in the state of Illinois, Abraham Lincoln was a Kentuckian long before being sworn in as the 16th President of the United States.

Born to Thomas and Nancy Hanks Lincoln near Hodgenville, Kentucky on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln and his family resided in Kentucky until 1816 when the Lincolns moved to Indiana.

Now a national monument that’s known as the “Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park”, Lincoln’s birthplace remains a popular place to visit in Kentucky and is a fitting setting for arguably the most influential Kentuckian of all time.

12- Kentucky’s Tobacco Production

In The Tobacco Fields
Tobacco is what Kentucky known for.

Credited with producing more than 70% of the United States’ annual total tobacco yields, Kentucky has been churning out burley tobacco in large quantities since the 1880s.

The burley tobacco variant was first cultivated in the United States by Joseph Fore and George Webb, who began producing white burley tobacco on a farm near Higginsport, Ohio, around 1864.

Despite the rapid decline of tobacco farming in Kentucky since the 1990s, it’s still a crop that’s synonymous with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, with Kentucky’s annual burley tobacco output the largest of any state in the nation.

13- Fort Knox

Steeped in myth and legend, Fort Knox near Louisville is a Civil War-era military installation which has served under several official and unofficial roles since it first entered service in 1861.

Renowned for its impenetrable reputation, the fort was used to safeguard the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address and the Constitution of the United States following the attack on Pearl Harbor and has served as the headquarters of the United States Army Human Resources Command since 2009.

Despite its role during the American Civil War and its role in safeguarding the United States’ most important documents, Fort Knox is internationally known as the depository for the US Treasury’s gold bullion reserves, which has seen the fort make countless appearances in pop culture, films and TV series.

14- The Birthplace of George Clooney

Known primarily for thoroughbred horses and coal mining, Kentucky also shares a special connection with Hollywood as the birthplace of actor George Clooney, who was born in Lexington on May 6, 1961.

Clooney spent most of his childhood growing up around Kentucky and attended Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, with Clooney working doing door-to-door sales, construction, stocking shelves and cutting tobacco before landing his first major role on the silver screen.

The recipient of two Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globe Awards and a BAFTA Award, Clooney has developed into one of the best actors, directors, producers and screenwriters in Hollywood history and continues to excel in front of the camera and behind the screens with his activism projects.

15- Mammoth Cave

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky
Mammoth Cave National Park is another natural phenomenon Kentucky is known for.

Situated within the Mammoth Cave National Park, the Mammoth Cave is the longest-known cave system in the world with over 426 miles (686 km) of subterranean passageways discovered.

The cave system was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981 and was first discovered by Stephen Bishop, who mapped several of Mammoth Cave’s passageways using an oil lamp before passing away and being buried in the Old Guide’s Cemetery near the cave’s entrance.

Renowned for its dark, eerie and peculiar aura, the cave system attracts well over 400,000 visitors every year and remains one of the grandest and most quintessential outdoor landmarks in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

Map Of United States With Kentucky Highlight

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Jessica Shaw
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.