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  • A fabric artist begins work on a quilting project at the National Quilt Museum
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    Paducah: International Arts and Crafts Hub

  • A blue grass band entertains the crowd at ROMP Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky
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    Owensboro: Museums Galore

  • Visitors shop for artisanal pottery at Tater Knob Pottery & Farm near Berea, Kentucky
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    Berea and Renfro Valley: Small-town Charm

  • The Centre Family Dwelling at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, a National Historic Landmark
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    Danville and Harrodsburg: Rich Local History

The Paducah Floodwall Murals make an ideal photo opportunity
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Kentucky Traditions: Touring Artistic and Cultural Sites

By Idoia Gkikas

  • Route distance:
    610.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    4 days

Beginning with the earliest days of English settlement, through its rich arts and crafts tradition and the birth of bluegrass music, the state of Kentucky embraces a cultural heritage all its own.

History is very much alive here, but Kentucky isn’t stuck in the past. The arts are on the cutting edge in small towns like Berea; a century-old Shaker community in Harrodsburg simultaneously retains its roots and reinvents its appeal; Paducah tells its history through a series of modern murals. Take a drive through this famously friendly state to discover its unique historical sites, arts scene and musical roots.

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A fabric artist begins work on a quilting project at the National Quilt Museum
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Paducah: International Arts and Crafts Hub

Start your Kentucky road trip by flying into Nashville International Airport in Tennessee. On the 2.5-hour drive from Nashville, you’ll pass through rural communities and farmland into Paducah, Kentucky. Though small in size (population just under 25,000), Paducah’s arts scene is big; it’s the world’s seventh City of Crafts and Folk Art in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network. Inspiration is ubiquitous, from its artist relocation program to the Wall to Wall murals project featuring 50 life-sized paintings depicting Paducah’s past. Explore the Lower Town Arts District and adjacent historic downtown, lined with art galleries and shops. Stop in for a local history lesson at the William Clark Market House Museum (open April through December). Paducah’s main claim to fame is the National Quilt Museum, the world’s largest museum of its kind. The frequently changing collection is truly astounding in detail and creativity. On your way out of Paducah, stop at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area; the waterside views on the Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive are worth the detour.

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206 km
2.25 hours by car
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A blue grass band entertains the crowd at ROMP Festival in Owensboro, Kentucky
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Owensboro: Museums Galore

Situated on the Ohio River, Owensboro is part country, part city. Bluegrass music originated in this region, and many famous names, including Johnny Depp, were born here. Owensboro is museum central, and there’s plenty of culture to fill your itinerary. The International Bluegrass Music Museum houses artifacts and exhibits on some of the big names of the genre, particularly Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass. Explore the collection of sculptures, paintings, stained glass and local art at the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, where admission is donation based. Catch a stage performance at the Owensboro RiverPark Center, a performing arts and civic center on the river. The center hosts a popular Friday After 5 summer music series, outdoor movies and other family-friendly events. If you’re traveling with kids, the Owensboro Museum of Science and History is hands-on, educational and affordable. Before heading out, be sure to check the city’s events calendar, too; Owensboro hosts more than 20 festivals throughout the year.

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354 km
3.33 hours by car
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Visitors shop for artisanal pottery at Tater Knob Pottery & Farm near Berea, Kentucky
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Berea and Renfro Valley: Small-town Charm

Traveling on I-64 to your next destination, you’ll pass through the big cities of Louisville and Lexington. If you have half a day to spare in either city, you’ll have your pick of fun attractions and great dining options. Berea, the next stop on your itinerary, is just 64 kilometers south of Lexington. This small town is known as the Folk Arts & Crafts Capital of Kentucky. Anchored by the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, Berea College, the city has a history of innovative and traditional arts ranging from jewelers to instrument makers. Meander through the historic artisan village and look for the “Studio Artists at Berea” signs to watch artists working at their crafts. View an imaginative collection of locally produced arts and crafts at the Kentucky Artisan Center. Stop for a bite to eat at the café and pick up a one-of-a-kind memento while you’re there. Catch a live country music show (April through December) in Renfro Valley, Kentucky’s Country Music Capital, just 20 minutes from Berea. Stay overnight at the Boone Tavern Hotel, which dates back to 1909 and features furnishings made by college students (and some of the tastiest food around).

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50 km
0.75 hours by car
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The Centre Family Dwelling at the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, a National Historic Landmark
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Danville and Harrodsburg: Rich Local History

Grab a hearty Southern breakfast at the Boone Tavern Restaurant, then drive the rural country roads directly to Main Street in Danville, the Birthplace of Kentucky. The state’s constitution was drafted here in 1792, and you can tour historic buildings at Constitution Square to learn about the history. Nearby Harrodsburg is Kentucky’s oldest town and the oldest settlement west of the Appalachian Mountains. Explore the re-created 1774 fort at Old Fort Harrod State Park and check out the Lincoln Marriage Temple, where Abraham Lincoln’s parents were married in 1806. Don’t miss a visit to the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. For more than a century, it was home to the third-largest Shaker community in the USA. Check out the 34 original structures and historical center, go for a nature hike, visit the barn animals, take a riverboat tour and even stay overnight at The Inn – it was named a Top Hidden US Travel Destination by the BBC. Say goodbye to the famous bluegrass countryside on your drive to Louisville International Airport.

Official Kentucky Travel Site

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