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Louisville: A River City Renaissance

From an unexpected subterranean tour to a new, sought-after bourbon, Louisville, Kentucky, boasts many trending and new attractions for groups.

Group travel planners have begun to notice these destinations in recent years. Louisville Mega Caverns opened in 2009 and continues to attract more and more group tours. It is climbing in popularity alongside Segway tours at the Big Four Bridge and the city’s thriving distilling scene. And although it opened in 2004, Yew Dell Botanical Gardens has recently seen a surge in popularity with groups.

Louisville’s Distillery Scene

Kentucky and bourbon have long complemented one another. The distilling tradition has taken root in the city at three recently opened Louisville sites.

First of the sites is the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which opened in 2013. The distillery and museum walks guests through the history of Evan Williams bourbon using videos and replicated sets such as the re-created Whiskey Row that once stood in Louisville’s downtown.

Branching away from bourbon, Copper and Kings began creating brandy in 2014.

“They give you a tour where they talk about how they make brandy,” said Saundra Robertson, tourism sales manager for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They take you up three floors. On the top floor, half of the room is made of glass, so you can see the city.”

Tours move groups through a lovely courtyard, an art gallery and a behind-the-scenes area where workers produce the brandy. Copper and Kings experiments in grape varietals from across America and from Kentucky, such as the Copper and Kings Un-Aged Apple Brandy from an apple-based wine.

The newest distillery player opened in June near Museum Row. Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company welcomed its first tours before even cracking open the first whiskey barrel, since the bourbon has to age a few years before it’s ready for consumption.

“You get the full experience,” said Robertson. “They make the bourbon, package the bourbon and bottle it there. You can see their first barrel of bourbon, which was signed by the mayor.”

Even though the bourbon needs a few years to age, the distillery offers moonshine tastings at the end of the tour. The gift shop adds to the experience with local Louisville items alongside the moonshine offerings.

Louisville Mega Caverns

Entering the Louisville Mega Cavern’s foggy and vast interior momentarily blinds most guests. The seemingly endless underground lair has become a favorite Kentucky attraction with many groups.

Miners blasted out the 100-acre cavern over 42 years in the mid-20th century. Today, it serves as a high-security storage facility and attraction with a tram tour, a zip line and a ropes course called Mega Quest.

“I love the tram tour,” said Robertson. “They talk about the history of the cave. It’s fascinating that they store Warner Brothers’ original movie prints there for security. You could spend a half-day there to have the whole experience of the zip line, ropes course and tram tour.”

During the tour, guides also tell participants about how the state officials planned to use the caverns as a bomb shelter for 50,000 people in the 1960s. Cots, cooking fires and latrines help visitors picture the potential of life in the creepy fallout shelter as they ride around the giant cave.

Passengers ride past other items stored in the cavern, since it also serves as an underground office and a warehouse park with a constant temperature of 58 degrees.

The attraction recently opened an underground bike course that rents bikes out to groups. During the holiday season, Mega Caverns hosts an underground holiday light show with more than 2 million lights.