Kentucky

The Bluegrass State


Kentucky is located at the intersection of the South and Midwest regions of the U.S., giving the state a diverse culture that includes its industrial cities to the north and rural regions in the south and west. Its small, charming cities like Lexington and Louisville are popular destinations, along with natural attractions like the world’s longest cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park, the Red River Gorge and the Appalachian Mountains. Other popular attractions include Kentucky historical sites, which tell the story of major events like the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and the rise of the coal industry. Kentucky is also the home of bluegrass music, a genre of music that was created from a mix of the traditional Appalachian music of English and Ulster-Scot immigrants and jazz elements from African-Americans. Browse our cultural state guide below to learn more about the Bluegrass State, including its historical sites, arts and cultural scene, outdoor activities and more, or visit www.kentuckytourism.com.


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Jump to: Historical Sites & Tourist Attractions | Arts & Culture | Sports & Recreation | Outdoor Activities | Food | Local Festivals | Housing Resources | Transportation | Health & Safety | Help Your Community

Historical Sites & Tourist Attractions

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site. Photo via National Park Service.

Add some local history to your cultural exchange experience by visiting a nearby historical site or tourist attraction when living and working in the U.S.

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park has many historical sites and exhibits related to the early life of President Abraham Lincoln, including his boyhood home. The park is located about 60 miles south of Louisville.

The Frazier Museum in Louisville looks back at the past 1,000 years of history with exhibits on weapons, armor and other artifacts from American history.

The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington is a working horse farm that houses over 100 horses during peak seasons. Visitors can also see the International Museum of the Horse and American Saddlebred Museum, and enjoy horseback riding, pony rides, horse-drawn trolley rides or farm tours.

Muhammad Ali Center is a cultural center featuring exhibits, interactive artifacts, art galleries and information on the life of famous boxer Muhammad Ali, who was born in Louisville.

The National Underground Railroad Museum in Maysville focuses on the anti-slavery movement in the 19th century and the “underground railroad," a network of safe houses and routes used to bring escaped slaves to the North and Canada. Visitors can see the Bierbower House, which was used as a safe house on the Underground Railroad. The museum is closed during the winter.

The Perryville Battlefield is the site of the bloodiest Civil War battle in Kentucky, in which 7,600 men were killed, injured or went missing. A park museum displays artifacts and exhibits about the battle and visitors can take a self-guided tour of the area.

Tour Companies

Tourism Websites

Arts & Culture

The United States offers a wide variety of cultural learning opportunities through the arts. Dance, music, theater, opera, art museums and festivals are just some of the options available to international visitors who wish to experience the U.S. and its culture.

Art & Cultural Museums

Performing Arts

Sports & Recreation

University of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington

University of Kentucky's Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Photo by JGlover.

The United States is home to a variety of landscapes and climates to suit all types of outdoor activities. The courageous traveler can find extreme sports and outdoor adventure tours, while others may want to keep both feet on the ground in a national park or forest. Whatever your interests, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available during your time in the United States.

College Sports

College basketball is a very popular sport in Kentucky, but there are many athletic programs at the colleges and universities of Kentucky:

The Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats are also well known for their intense sports rivalry. An annual men’s basketball game between the two schools is called the Battle for the Bluegrass, and other sports teams also play each other throughout the year.

Minor League Sports

Horse Racing

Kentucky is known for its horse racing, including the famous Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs. Many other horse tracks also host races, like Keeneland in Lexington.

Outdoor Activities

Black Mountain

Black Mountain. Photo by Matt Wasson.

The United States is home to a variety of landscapes and climates to suit all types of outdoor activities. The courageous traveler can find extreme sports and outdoor adventure tours, while others may want to keep both feet on the ground in a national park or forest. Whatever your interests, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available during your time in the United States.

The Bad Branch Falls State Nature Preserve includes the Bad Branch Gorge, a 60-foot waterfall, nature trails and many rare species of animals and plants.

Black Mountain is the tallest point in Kentucky and there are many outdoor activities in the area, including zip lining, horseback riding, hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking and off-road driving.

The Cumberland Gap National Historical Park was once the first gateway to the west for American pioneers; today, visitors can take guided walks, go hiking, fishing, camping, see wildlife and explore historical sites.

Cumberland Falls State Resort Park is home to the Cumberland Falls, also called the Niagara of the South, where visitors can see a “moonbow” during a full moon. The park also has 17 miles of hiking trails, horseback riding, fishing, rafting, swimming, camping and tennis courts.

Mammoth Cave National Park, the world’s longest cave system, has 390 miles of explored trails and can be seen on a number of different cave tours. Visitors can also try canoeing, kayaking, rafting, hiking, horseback riding and biking within the park.

Find more information on Kentucky state parks and the many outdoor activities available throughout the state.

Food

One of the best ways to experience cultural exchange is through food and cooking. Visitors will enjoy exploring the regional specialties and local cuisine during their time in the United States.

Cuisine in Kentucky has been influenced by its ethnic heritage, including German, Irish, English, and African American groups, along with its location at the intersection of the Midwest and South. Traditional southern dishes, like hushpuppies, catfish, fried chicken, country fried steak, okra, grits and fried green tomatoes are common dishes in the state. Kentucky also has it’s own style of barbecue, and visitors can find local specialties like a Hot Brown or Ale-8-One soft drink.

Farmers’ Markets

Find one of the 147 farmers’ markets in Kentucky to shop for fresh fruit and vegetables and locally made items from Kentucky vendors. Check out Slow Food Bluegrass for information on the local food movement in Kentucky.

Food Festivals

Local Festivals

Horse racing at Churchill Downs

Horse racing at Churchill Downs. Photo by Jim from Clemson.

For a unique and local perspective on American cultural, be sure to check out festivals and events near your cultural exchange program location. These events are a fun and interesting way to interact with locals and to learn more about American culture by experiencing it firsthand.

The Bluegrass State hosts many festivals to celebrate the music that got its start in Kentucky, including the Jerusalem Ridge Bluegrass Festival in October in Rosine, Bluegrass in the Park in August in Henderson, and Lexington’s Festival of the Bluegrass in June.

The Kentucky Derby Festival is held during the two weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby, which is on the first Saturday in May. The festival is made up of several events, including a parade, marathon and the Thunder Over Louisville, a large fireworks show that starts the festival.

The Kentucky State Fair is an annual event with carnival rides, livestock shows, food vendors, competitions, live entertainment, exhibits, performances and much more. The fair is held at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville in August.

Hillbilly Days is an April festival in Pikeville supports a group called the Shriners and their non-profit hospitals for children. The event features carnival rides, music, a parade, fireworks, food, arts and crafts, and many fun activities for kids and adults.

Lexington’s annual Roots & Heritage Festival in September celebrates the African American cultural in the region with art, entertainment, educational programs and cultural events.

The Louisville International Film Festival shows feature films, documentaries, short films and animated films from independent filmmakers each October. Seminars, workshops and special events are also held throughout the festival.

Housing Resources

Employers may be able to assist with housing during your time in the United States, but this is not always possible for all participants. When looking for housing during your cultural exchange program, consider the cost of the accommodation, the distance to your work place and the amount of time you will be in the United States.

It's also important to avoid fraudulent housing. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the U.S. Never give your financial information to a stranger over the Internet. Browse the Housing Information guides for InterExchange participants below for more tips and advice.

General Housing Information

Kentucky Housing Resources

Some examples of housing and accommodation resources for Kentucky participants include:

Transportation

Public transportation options can be hit or miss, depending on your location in the United States. Buses are a common transportation option for short and long-term travel in the U.S., while some areas will also have trains, subways and other options.

Public Transit Systems

Visit the American Public Transportation Association website for a complete list of public transportation options in Kentucky communities, including:

Bus

Several companies operate bus routes in Kentucky and surrounding areas, including:

Train

Amtrak trains travel to Ashland, Fulton, Maysville and South Portsmouth-South Shore on the City of New Orleans (to Fulton) and Cardinal lines. Many stops also connect to Greyhound buses for transportation to other locations.

Health & Safety

Participants in Kentucky can use the following resources in case of an emergency or extreme weather event in their area:

Emergency Management Agencies

FEMA

Weather Information

Help Your Community

Interact with others and expand your skill set by volunteering in your local community. Volunteer organizations are often looking for short-term volunteers or for individuals to help with a single event, making it a great option for InterExchange participants who wish to add to their cultural exchange experience during their time in the United States.

Volunteermatch.org, Idealist.org and Serve.gov are three general volunteer websites that match local organizations with volunteers in their communities.

The Nature Conservancy accepts volunteers of all ages and skill levels for designated work days or to help at events. Contact the organization for more information.

Volunteers of America Kentucky offers many social service programs in Kentucky and surrounding regions, and they offer several volunteer opportunities at their Family Emergency Shelter in Louisville and at other locations.

Kentucky Habitat for Humanity helps build low-cost housing for families in need. No experience is required to help build a house with Habitat for Humanity and both individuals and groups are welcome. Find a local affiliate in Kentucky for more information.

Volunteer at a local Kentucky food bank and help feed hungry families and individuals across the state. Food banks are located in many areas of Kentucky and often welcome both individual and group volunteers.

Help at the Kentucky Derby Festival, which runs for two weeks in late April leading up to the Kentucky Derby, and join a group of 4,000 volunteers that work at the festival each year.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation