SoutheastBudgetTop Nature Vacations

How To Do The Kentucky Derby On A Budget

By , April 20th, 2015

Get your hats and fresh mint ready because it’s Kentucky Derby season again! This grandiose affair, which always takes place on the first Saturday in May brings the party to Louisville. The whole debacle, including hotel prices (which rise significantly for this weekend) and horse bets can make for a pricey 72 hours but we’ve got the inside scoop on where to stay for cheap and how to catch the 1 and a quarter mile race in style at the Churchill Downs racetrack. And you’re off to doing the Kentucky Derby on a budget!

And they’re off!

The Kentucky Derby on a Budget
Photo by Ryan Bjorkquist CC BY

Let’s face it- unless you’ve been planning your Derby experience for over a year, you’ll likely be slumming it in the infield rather than staying cool as a cucumber in the grandstand. But as locals know, that’s where all the fun is! Infield tickets are available right up until moments before the race and start around $64. You can also purchase them ahead of time here.

The infield at the Kentucky Derby
Photo by Kentucky National Guard CC BY

If you’re looking to drink and get rowdy, head to the Third Turn Party and join the college kids and Derby veterans alike for one crazy party. But beware, you might not catch much of the race! If you’re bringing the kids, stay by Turn One for a more docile, picnic-like setting where you won’t have to worry so much about someone spilling their entire mint julep on you.

Photo by Emily Carlin CC BY

Come prepared however for either full sun or full rain. Bring everything from suncreen to rain gear depending on the weather since there is virtually no shelter in the infield. Bring a picnic to save on money and to avoid the long concession lines: you can bring food with you in clear plastic bags, sealed plastic bottles as well as blankets, tarpaulins and chairs to the infield but leave the coolers, cans, grills, alcoholic beverages and umbrellas at home. In recent news, leave the selfie sticks at home as well since they won’t be welcomed by Derby officials.

Fancy hats at the the Derby
Photo by Jaguar MENA CC BY

If you do decide to slpurge on grandstand tickets or the coveted “Millionaire’s Row” box seats, keep in mind that this is a dressy affair with tickets running all the way up to $5000. If you’ve forgotten your big hats and summer dresses, stop by the Nitty Gritty in Louisville to pick up some beautiful 1940’s-1960’s party dresses, hats and shoes that will serve perfectly for the run of the roses. Another great option for those strapped on cash but still wishing to see the Kentucky Derby on a budget, but in style, is to buy a package deal for the event, which includes everything from food, drinks and the best seating options for your buck.

Where To Eat

A Hot Brown from the Brown Hotel, Louisville
Photo by Jessica Dillree CC BY

Wagner’s Pharmacy is an institution at Churchill Downs — just like Thoroughbreds and Kentucky go hand in hand, breakfast at Wagner’s at some point during your visit is a necessity. This is where you’ll meet all the trainers, track workers and big betters. The breakfast plates are cheap and huge — have the sausage & eggs with biscuits and potatoes with a black coffee (with free refills!) if you want to fit in.

brown hotel
Photo courtesy of the Brown Hotel Facebook 

Can’t leave Louisville without sampling the best Hot Brown. While The Brown Hotel might be all booked up for the Derby, you can still swing by for the eponymous Hot Brown sandwich: open-faced turkey and bacon covered in Mornay sauce. The sandwich was created at the Brown Hotel back in 1926 serving (basically) as drunk food for the dancing patrons of the hotel dinner dance. It’s just as delicious today!

What to Drink

Classic Mint Julep
Photo by  Jazz Guy CC BY

The Kentucky Derby is all about the Mint Julep and has been for the past century. The bourbon-based cocktail is traditionally served in a sterling silver julep cup which are available as commemorative souvenirs for the running of the Derby every year. The drink is a mix of shaved ice, Kentucky bourbon, sugar, water and fresh mint. Over 120,000 Mint Juleps are served to Derby-goers every single year and you can grab one, or four, at most drink stands at Churchill Downs.

Where To Stay

Rolling Bluegrass hills of Kentucky
Photo by Anthony CC BY

Louisville might be home to some pretty unique and spectacular hotels, including the 21c Museum Hotel, which includes an art museum and restaurant Proof on Main — but prices soar during the Derby. Good luck finding an available room anywhere in Louisville!

Photo by Nick Oliver CC BY

Our suggestion? Head to Lexington, KY, 70-miles away with a beautiful drive over acres of the famous Kentucky Bluegrass and hundreds of horses frolicking over rolling hills. Check out the Springhill Suites Lexington Downtown at the Red Mile to get everything you need for a good night of sleep.

Feature photo courtesy of

More from trivago magazine: