I stayed only one night in Bardstown on my way to Lexington, Kentucky. I only had time to visit one sight, and making that choice was very difficult from the long list of offerings. The town seemed like a great place to get a feel for Kentucky as a whole like the lavish gowns and parties, civil war history, the railroad and the bourbon. There is really something for everyone here—you are bound to find something that interests you.
You can visit My Old Kentucky Home State Park, which honors the home symbolizing that great tune played at the Kentucky Derby. Tours are available for the home, which hosted frequent lavish parties. Old Bardstown Village contains a collection of original log cabins reflecting the way they looked during the town’s first settlement. The Civil War Museum contains an enormous collection of artifacts and memorabilia. There is the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral, the first Catholic cathedral built west of the Alleghenies. The Abbey of Gethsemani was founded 150 years ago and is home to Trappist Monks. There, they produce cheese, fruit cakes, and bourbon-chocolate fudge that are sold around the country. Nearby, in New Haven, is the Kentucky Railway Museum, where you can ride an authentic steam locomotive or visit the museum, which contains artifacts and model train displays.
For a more romantic outing, take a carriage ride through Bardstown. Or enjoy fine dining and gracious service on the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. Better yet, experience a showing of Stephen Foster-The Musical. This outdoor drama held during the summer features his famous song with beautiful period costumes.
This being bourbon country, there is no excuse for leaving without knowing something about the history or process of making bourbon. Begin with the annual Bourbon Festival in September or the sampler festival in April. If these times don’t work for you, you can enjoy the Kentucky Bourbon Trail any time of the year. You can tour all seven distilleries or just one of them. A convenient map will give you directions to all of them, including Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill and more. Not all are located in Bardstown; you can visit each of these while traveling from Bardstown to Frankfort. All tours are free and are open most days. Tours are usually given at set times or by appointment, so check in advance. No sales of bourbon allowed on Sundays.
For more bourbon experiences, visit The Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center. They have a video and interactive displays of the early days. Or visit Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, where they showcase the history of bourbon with artifacts like antique bottles, barrels, and art.
The town is also home to bed-and-breakfasts, charming shops, and golf courses. They have special events featured throughout the year like a Bluegrass Music Festival, the Arts, Antiques, and Crafts Fair, and Ghost Treks. For more information, visit the Bardstown website.