Frankfort travel guide

Frankfort Tourism | Frankfort Guide

You're Going to Love Frankfort

With its red wooden homes and cluster of impressive neoclassical state buildings, Kentucky's capital is immediately appealing. From the moment you arrive, you feel embraced by this small town.

Part of the appeal lies in Frankfort's time capsule nature. The historic core is largely intact after 200 years, and is full of interesting sights, including the grave of pioneer Daniel Boone and the Old Governor's Mansion, which hosted seven US presidents.

But Frankfort is modern too. For a town of just 25,000, it has plenty of craft breweries and hip distilleries, art galleries, museums, and downtown shopping opportunities. It's also a great base to visit the Kentucky Derby in nearby Louisville, or to explore dynamic Lexington, a few miles to the southeast.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Frankfort

1. It's Kentucky's Political Hub

The Bluegrass State has exerted a huge influence throughout US history, sandwiched in between the North and South in the Civil War and before that, a key frontier territory. Nowadays, you can visit the Old State Capitol and Governor's Mansion and find out everything you need to know at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History.

2. There's a Thriving Artistic Community

Frankfort's compact downtown area is packed with galleries, workshops, and craft stores, and the town has a huge proportion of creative professionals. Check out the ceramics at Broadway Clay, pick up some artisan greeting cards at DeSpain Studio and Gallery, or something gorgeous for the garden at Simply Garden.

3. You Can Easily Get to Louisville and Lexington

Frankfort is situated in between Louisville (hometown of the Kentucky Derby and Muhammad Ali) and Lexington ("the horse capital of the world" and with a beautiful historic core). With a rental car you can get to either in around an hour, and be back in a Frankfort hotel to relax by early evening.

4. Frankfort Is Simply Beautiful

Frankfort's main appeal is its humble size and stunning appearance. This is very much a "small town", nestled in a bend in the Kentucky River, with tree-lined streets, 19th-century architecture, and no sprawling suburbs, and this creates an intimate, calming, and family-friendly atmosphere.

5. Fine Distilleries and Fantastic Food

Kentucky is famous for its Bourbon, and there are few better places to try a drop than Frankfort's Buffalo Trace Distillery. Then, why not complement the sour mash taste with a plate of Kentucky BBQ from Staxx BBQ, where the retro furnishings and home-cooked meals conjure up another age entirely.

What to do in Frankfort

1. Southern Beaux-Arts Architecture

Dedicated in 1910, the Kentucky State Capitol was designed in the Beaux-Arts style. The building's State Reception Room is adorned with hand carved Circassian walnut furniture and hand painted murals. The building makes use of white Georgia, gray Tennessee and dark green Italian marble, as well as Vermont granite and art glass, which is featured in the skylights. It showcases oil paintings by T. Gilbert White, depicting Daniel Boone frontier scenes. The front portico, designed by Charles Niehaus and carved by sculptor Peter Rossack, features several female figures, representing the state, progress, law, art, history, plenty, and labor.

2. Gorgeous Landscaped Gardens

Home to 26 of the state's governors, Kentucky Governor's Mansion was designed in 1912. The mansion, constructed in native limestone, is designed in the Beaux-Arts style and pays tribute to the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's summer home at Versailles. Guests can visit the state dining room, ballroom, reception area and formal salon, which have been decorated with valuable works of art and antique furniture. The magnificent gardens, a tour highlight, have been named the most beautifully landscaped mansion grounds in the country by several noted publications.

3. Where The Buffalo Roam

Featuring 3.66 miles of hiking trails and various indoor and outdoor exhibits, as well as numerous wildlife and fish species, the Salato Wildlife Center is ideal for families. Set on lush mountains, rolling prairies and lowland marshes, the zoo offers keen insight into the region's ecosystems. Inside the Eastern Forest Diorama, visitors can view a collection of snakes, giant turtles and native fish. Along the trails, guests will see eagles, bison and bears in their natural habitat. The center also includes two fully-stocked fishing lakes and provides hunting licenses for those looking for adventure.

4. Two Centuries Of History

Founded in 2004, the Capital City Museum, housed at the former site of the Capital Hotel, showcases 200 years of the city's political and cultural life. The gallery's spectacular collection of fishing reels, dating back to the 19th century, includes gears cast in German silver, blue steel and ivory, previously owned by illustrious fishing enthusiasts, such as presidents William Howard Taft, William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. Carefully crafted with precision technology by silversmiths like Jonathan Meek, the reels went on to win international first prizes at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and other events.

5. Historic Home Of Bourbon

Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest working bourbon distillery, the Buffalo Trace Distillery, dating from 1805, is located on an ancient buffalo crossing on the banks of the Kentucky River. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2013, the distillery offers various tours for guests, including a visit to the warehouse, the E.H. Taylor, Jr. Microstill, Blanton's Bottling Hall and a tasting area. The Firehouse Sandwich Stop, located near the distillery, features genuine fire coats and boots worn by distillery workers in the 1950s and 60s.

1. Southern Beaux-Arts Architecture

Dedicated in 1910, the Kentucky State Capitol was designed in the Beaux-Arts style. The building's State Reception Room is adorned with hand carved Circassian walnut furniture and hand painted murals. The building makes use of white Georgia, gray Tennessee and dark green Italian marble, as well as Vermont granite and art glass, which is featured in the skylights. It showcases oil paintings by T. Gilbert White, depicting Daniel Boone frontier scenes. The front portico, designed by Charles Niehaus and carved by sculptor Peter Rossack, features several female figures, representing the state, progress, law, art, history, plenty, and labor.

2. Gorgeous Landscaped Gardens

Home to 26 of the state's governors, Kentucky Governor's Mansion was designed in 1912. The mansion, constructed in native limestone, is designed in the Beaux-Arts style and pays tribute to the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's summer home at Versailles. Guests can visit the state dining room, ballroom, reception area and formal salon, which have been decorated with valuable works of art and antique furniture. The magnificent gardens, a tour highlight, have been named the most beautifully landscaped mansion grounds in the country by several noted publications.

3. Where The Buffalo Roam

Featuring 3.66 miles of hiking trails and various indoor and outdoor exhibits, as well as numerous wildlife and fish species, the Salato Wildlife Center is ideal for families. Set on lush mountains, rolling prairies and lowland marshes, the zoo offers keen insight into the region's ecosystems. Inside the Eastern Forest Diorama, visitors can view a collection of snakes, giant turtles and native fish. Along the trails, guests will see eagles, bison and bears in their natural habitat. The center also includes two fully-stocked fishing lakes and provides hunting licenses for those looking for adventure.

4. Two Centuries Of History

Founded in 2004, the Capital City Museum, housed at the former site of the Capital Hotel, showcases 200 years of the city's political and cultural life. The gallery's spectacular collection of fishing reels, dating back to the 19th century, includes gears cast in German silver, blue steel and ivory, previously owned by illustrious fishing enthusiasts, such as presidents William Howard Taft, William McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt. Carefully crafted with precision technology by silversmiths like Jonathan Meek, the reels went on to win international first prizes at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago and other events.

5. Historic Home Of Bourbon

Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest working bourbon distillery, the Buffalo Trace Distillery, dating from 1805, is located on an ancient buffalo crossing on the banks of the Kentucky River. Designated a National Historic Landmark in 2013, the distillery offers various tours for guests, including a visit to the warehouse, the E.H. Taylor, Jr. Microstill, Blanton's Bottling Hall and a tasting area. The Firehouse Sandwich Stop, located near the distillery, features genuine fire coats and boots worn by distillery workers in the 1950s and 60s.

Where to Eat in Frankfort

Frankfort has plenty of wonderful eateries, with an emphasis on home-cooked BBQ. Staxx BBQ is a great place to start your culinary adventure, while Cliffside Diner offers great views (and a tasty signature "Frankforter"), Rick's White Light Diner has a cajun focus, while Serafini blends Italian and traditional American cooking in fine style. Prices for entrees range from $10 to $25, but in general, prices will be very affordable.

When to visit Frankfort

Frankfort in July
Estimated hotel price
$156
1 night at 3-star hotel
Frankfort in July
Estimated hotel price
$156
1 night at 3-star hotel

If you intend to venture out into Bluegrass country during your stay, springtime is easily the best time to go. From April through June, Kentucky's countryside bursts into bloom (as do the gardens of Frankfort), and the Derby takes place in May. Summer can be a little sweltering, but fall is pleasant, and winter vacations can even make the most of the stunning scenery.

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How to Get to Frankfort

Plane

If you want to fly to Frankfort, you'll have to fly into either Louisville's International Airport or Lexington's Blue Grass Airport. Blue Grass is slightly closer, at around 25 miles, so the taxi won't take longer than 40 minutes and should cost around $40-50. You can also rent a car at the airport from branches of Alamo, Avis, Hertz, and Enterprise.

Train

Train travelers can't alight at Frankfort itself, but you can travel to Maysville, which is around 50 miles to the northeast. Maysville is on Amtrak's Cardinal route, with connections to New York and Chicago, and shouldn't be more than an hour away from Frankfort by taxi.

Car

Driving is probably the most popular and easiest way to reach Frankfort, which lies on the east-west I-64 route. If you are coming from the east, you can take I-64 all the way from Richmond, or use I-68 and meet I-64 at Charleston, West Virginia. I-75 is the road to take if you are driving from the north or south, with connections to Knoxville, Atlanta, and Florida, along with Cincinnati and Detroit.

Bus

Frankfort is on the national Greyhound bus network, with a stop at the out-of-town Walmart Supercenter at 301 Leonardwood Dr. If you are traveling intercity with Greyhound, you'll probably have to connect with regional services at Lexington or Louisville before proceeding to Frankfort.

Airlines serving Frankfort

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Brussels Airlines
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Where to stay in Frankfort

Downtown Frankfort - located on a bend in the Kentucky River Frankfort's downtown is its most atmospheric and historic neighborhood (and home to the state's old political institutions). The areas around W Broadway and Main are a beautifully maintained collection of historic homes, businesses, and museums like the Kentucky Historical Society, and it's the starting point for any exploration of the city.

Popular Neighborhoods in Frankfort

South Frankfort - in the early 20th century, Kentucky moved its political center across the Kentucky River, a mile or two south. If you want to see the modern political machine in action, southern Frankfort is the place to visit the State Capitol and the Governor's Mansion, along with other gorgeous historic properties like Berry Hill Mansion.

Kentucky State University - located in eastern Frankfort, KSU is a neighborhood all on its own. With plenty of cheaper lodgings and cafes in the area, it's a nice neighborhood for relaxing, but there are plenty of things to see here too - not least the grave of American hero Daniel Boone in Frankfort Cemetery.

Where to stay in popular areas of Frankfort

How to Get Around Frankfort

Public Transportation

Frankfort Transit runs a basic bus service across the central part of town, which can be a useful route between the tourist areas. It's also very cheap, at just $0.25 for a single ticket, but with limited coverage and short hours, don't rely on buses to get you around.

Taxi

Taxis are a better choice for traveling between north and south Frankfort, and rates should be fairly reasonable at $2.50 for the meter drop, then $2.50 per mile after that. Uber is even cheaper, charging around $1 for the meter drop, then $0.80 per mile.

Car

The best option for getting around Frankfort is to rent your own car. It will open up Bluegrass Country and place Lexington and Louisville easily with reach. Companies in downtown Frankfort include Enterprise and Hertz, and you should be able to find a package charging as little as $20 per day.

The Cost of Living in Frankfort

Shopping Streets

Downtown Frankfort is a vibrant craft and art shopping center. Start at W Broadway, where stores like Broadway Clay sell homemade ceramics and Completely Kentucky showcases local artists. Then head to St Clair St, where you'll discover artisan jewelers like M.A. Selberts and the beautifully made furniture at Three Elements Designs. Finally, check out Nitro of Frankfort on W Main, probably the city's best apparel boutique.

Groceries and Other

Grocery shopping in Frankfort shouldn't be any trouble at all. Just outside town, you'll find large Kroger and Walmart outlets, while Save-A-Lot and Bryant's Pic-Pac Supermarket offer more central alternatives. Prices should be reasonable, at around $3 for a gallon of milk and $1.80 for a pound of apples.

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