No visit to Louisville, Kentucky would be complete without a visit to Churchill Downs & The Kentucky Derby Museum. While I love the pageantry of the Kentucky Derby, I have no desire to fight the crowd at one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Plan a tour of Churchill Downs with your family during the ‘off season' (basically anytime other than the first week in May!)
Depending on the time of year you visit, there are lots of tours available at the Kentucky Derby Museum. Choose from Barn and Backside tours, Behind the Scenes Walking Tour, Twilight Tours and several others. When planning your visit, be sure to check the race schedule. Tour access can be limited on race days. We chose the General Admission ticket which included a walking tour.
Parking at Churchill Downs is plentiful. If you visit outside of that Kentucky Derby window, you should have no trouble finding a space. If you brave the crowds during the “Run for the Roses” week, well…maybe take an Uber 🙂 Once you purchase your tickets, you will be given a time for your tour. While waiting, explore the museum. There is lots to see and do!
The museum includes many family friendly activities and exhibits. If you have a fashion diva in your group, good luck tearing them away from the photos and exhibits of costumes and hats! You can even design your own jersey. There are play horses that kids (and adults!) can ride in a race and a station where you can all a race and then hear your recording. The Kentucky Derby Museum is very proud of their Triple Crown winners and you can find tributes to them throughout the space. If you've always wanted to take a selfie with Secretariat or American Pharoah (and honestly, who doesn't?) keep your camera handy.
One of our favorite parts of the museum was “The Greatest Race”. The museum has a 360 degree media experience. It's a huge oval room where you sit on stools (so you can swivel!) and watch an 18 minute presentation on the screen that circles the room. Here's the thing. I'm not even a fan of horse racing and I was crying at the end of this presentation. Very young kids might not be able to sit still for the video but most kids will probably love it as much as mine did.
If you get hungry during your visit, the Derby Cafe Express is available. There is also a full bar featuring 50 varieties of bourbon. (I'm not saying this is family friendly. I'm just giving you the information!) The Gift Shop contains all the items you might expect. In addition, the shop carries a large selection of Derby hats. I visited with 5 teen girls. I thought I'd never get them out of there!
During our walking tour, we learned some history and fun trivia about Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. Once again, we were lucky to get a tour guide that was passionate about his subject! We saw a few horses in their barns and walked the property from the paddocks to the grandstand. Our guide told us lots of stories about the hijinks that occur during Derby week. The tour takes about 30 minutes and was definitely the highlight of our visit!
Now that we have been to Churchill Downs, watching the Kentucky Derby is a lot more fun. Never underestimate the power of saying “I've been there!” to enhance an experience. Make plans to visit during your next trip to Louisville. And if you choose to go during Derby week, pack your patience, your big hat and your mint julep appetite!
Family Fun Facts
Open 7 days a week (Excluding Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day)
Summer Hours – March 15 – November 30
Monday – Saturday 8AM – 5PM
Sunday 11AM – 5PM
Monday – Saturday 9AM – 5PM
Sunday 11AM – 5PM
Admission : $15 Adults $8 Children 5-14 Free for children 5 & under
Specialty tours are not included.