Southeast

6 Coolest Hotels in Louisville: Bourbon Bars, Foodie Fun, and Spectacular Sunsets

Looking for a hotel that features the best the city has to offer in fine-dining, cocktails, and design? Local Lia Garcia has you covered with this list of the coolest hotels in Louisville.

Louisville is a city with a fascinating past and flourishing present. Founded in 1778 and named for a French King as thanks for his troops’ assistance in the Revolutionary War, Louisville’s rule-breaking history is firmly rooted in our country’s origins. The city refused to join with its southern neighbors during the Civil War and instead served as a terminus on the Underground Railroad; and during the Prohibition era, it produced 80 percent of the country’s whiskey — an oaky, vanilla-scented elixir you know as Bourbon.

Today it’s a city of pulled pork and Derby Pie, intertwining the best of Southern and Midwestern influences. It’s the home of the Kentucky Derby, the most exciting two minutes in sports; it’s where Muhammad ‘sting like a bee’ Ali threw his first jab; and it’s where Louisville Slugger turns the trunk of a tree into the weapon of choice for legendary baseball players past and present.

Above all, Louisville is a city of surprises. A city that identifies as both Midwestern and Southern, depending on who you ask. It’s a blue island in a red state, Kentucky’s only city with a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s municipal equality index. It’s an LGBTQ-friendly city with two separate Pride festivals and an unofficial sanctuary city with a substantial population of refugees; a city where you’re just as likely to hear a Mexican exclaim “muy padre!” next to Vietnamese conversation on your way to catch a show at the Humana Festival of New Plays — one of the most renowned playwriting festivals in the country.

But take the time to explore and you’ll sense Louisville’s history as you stand on the banks, watching the century-old Belle of Louisville’s bright red paddle churn through the heavy, slow waters of the Ohio River. You’ll taste Louisville’s identity as you sip sweet bourbon in a smoky speakeasy lounge, and you’ll feel the spirit of the city at Churchill Downs, sipping an ice-cold Mint Julep as thundering hooves race past oversized hats and seersucker suits.

Modern Louisville Luxury

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Looming over Louisville’s downtown skyline, the Omni Louisville is modern Louisville luxury writ large. The lobby alone is worth a visit, with its vaulted ceilings, polished floor, and stunning modern artwork. Peer down either end of the high-arched hallways and you’ll feel a bit like you’ve stepped into a modern bourbon distillery, with one wall decorated in floor-to-ceiling bourbon barrel lids and barrel-inspired chandeliers twinkling overhead.

Sample the best of Louisville at the Omni Hotel’s Falls City Market, where you shop for locally-made food and gifts, and try a brew from beloved local coffee roaster, Heine Bros. During the spring and summer, head up to the rooftop pool for a refreshing swim and a view of the city’s pitched church steeples and glass-walled towers. As dusk sets, sip on a bourbon cocktail in front of a flickering fire pit while admiring Louisville sunset, consistently bright pink, peach, and orange year-round. (Without exaggeration, the best this writer has ever seen.)

Round out your day of drinking bourbon at the Omni’s Library Bar, whose floor-to-ceiling bookshelves conjure up images of the collection the Beast used in his castle to impress Belle. Sink into one of their sofas, surrounded by Louisville-themed decor of equestrian art and a dominating mural of the Belle of Louisville floating down an amber bourbon river and settle in, Victorian style.

Feeling Victorian?

Welcome to Louisville

Louisville is home to the third largest collection of Victorian homes in the United States.

Omni Louisville

Louisville, 3.5 miles to Churchill Downs
8.5 Excellent (1348 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.1 / 10
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Stopping on the Urban Bourbon Trail

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Step outside the doors to the Hilton Garden Inn and look up. Floating above your head, you’ll see the words ‘HANG UP’ in bright neon green. Welcome to 8UP, one of the hippest bars in the city and Louisville’s only indoor-outdoor rooftop bar. The bar is a can’t-miss stop on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail. Its bartenders are bourbon experts who skillfully craft drinks showcasing Louisville’s favorite spirit. Spend at least one night during your trip enjoying a cocktail above downtown Louisville and taking in one of those aforementioned spectacular sunsets.

The hotel is conveniently located in the middle of downtown, within walking distance of the glitzy nightlife at Fourth Street Live and the vintage glam of the Palace Theatre. Plus with the free airport shuttle, you won’t even need a car. You can ride with the Transit Authority of River City (TARC), Lyft, or hop on a Louvelo bike if you don’t feel like walking.

Kentucky Pride

When to Visit

A TAG-approved LGBT-friendly hotel, schedule your stay with the Hilton Garden during one of Louisville’s two Pride festivals in June and September.

Hilton Garden Inn Louisville Downtown, KY

Top rated
Louisville, 3.2 miles to Churchill Downs
9.2 Excellent (1641 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9 / 10
Hotel CTA

Become A Resident Artist

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One of the most iconic fixtures in the Louisville skyline is the Galt House. Actually, two of them: the red and white hotel is split between twin buildings, connected by a skyway, and its classical style matches the historic Belle of Louisville steamboat parked in the river out front.

The Galt House is located right on the Ohio River waterfront. You’ll take in views of the chevron-peaked, identical steel bridges and scalloped, blackened historic walking bridge criss-crossing the Ohio River as you relax by the pool or workout at the gym (Keep an eye out for the Belle of Louisville.) If you’re feeling romantic, make a reservation at the hotel’s Rivue Restaurant and Lounge and enjoy an intimate meal as you slowly rotate high over the Ohio River and appreciate one of Louisville’s truly epic sunsets glinting off of the domed Providian tower and sparkling across the waves of the Ohio River.

With its Artist Residence program, the Galt House has embraced Louisville’s rich and varied arts scene. The hotel is also walking distance from some of the best cultural institutions in Louisville, including Museum Row, the Kentucky Center for the Arts, and Actor’s Theatre. Take a long bike ride down the waterfront and across the Big Four Bridge before heading back to your hotel to freshen up for a night at the theater.

The Galt House is the Official Host Hotel of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby, and is currently undergoing a renovation that will embrace its Derby heritage. If you plan to book a stay here for The Kentucky Derby, be sure to do it early: hotel rooms in Louisville are known to sell out a full year in advance.

Galt House Hotel

Louisville, 3.9 miles to Churchill Downs
8.2 Very good (12298 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.1 / 10
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F. Scott Fitzgerald's Favorite

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The Seelbach Hilton is the grandest hotel in Louisville, founded at the turn of the 20th century. The Seelbach is the very definition of decadence. Every inch of the Beaux Arts Baroque-style hotel is draped in exquisite luxury, all the way down to its Bavarian-style Rathskeller. Step into its opulent foyer, with its gilded staircases and marble everything, and you might develop a Mid-Atlantic accent and start using the word “divine” unironically.

Its opulence made quite an impact on society. A young F. Scott Fitzgerald’s favorite local bar was here at the Seelbach (the affection was not mutual. He was thrown out three times in four weeks) and his most famous novel, The Great Gatsby, is said to be inspired by the glamorous parties he attended here. It’s no wonder that his most famous leading lady, Daisy Buchanan, hails from Louisville, Kentucky — and marries her husband Tom in the grand ballroom of the Seelbach. You can catch glimpses of the real-life hotel in the 2013 film.

The hotel’s famous Oak Room was originally an illicit billiard room, hidden behind an oil painting sliced in half to open and shut silently. Al Capone himself installed a mirror in his private card room here — the better for peeking at his opponent’s cards. If the fuzz showed up, the front desk clerk quietly hit a button to activate spring-loaded doors, alerting the room full of cigar-smoking gamblers to pretend to be enjoying polite conversation over dinner. Today, the Oak Room is undergoing renovations but will soon be back in business serving up the best holiday brunches in Louisville with multiple courses of rich Southern entrees and bite-sized desserts.

The Seelbach Hilton Louisville

Louisville, 3.4 miles to Churchill Downs
8.3 Very good (1533 reviews)
Excellent Location 9.2 / 10
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A Louisville Icon

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An instant Louisville icon since its opening in 1923 and a protected historic site, the Brown Hotel put Louisville’s foodie scene on the map. Just three years after opening its doors, the Brown Hotel created the Hot Brown — a delicious, open-faced turkey, tomato, and bacon sandwich smothered in hot Mornay sauce and browned to bubbly perfection. It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted, and the Hot Brown has since become one of Louisville’s most famous hallmarks. The best place to get the real deal is right here in the Brown Hotel at the elegant English Grill.

The embodiment of luxury and opulence, the Brown Hotel is located at the edge of downtown Louisville on Broadway along the route of the Derby Parade and next to the Brown Theatre and the old-world glam Palace Theatre. You might also recognize the Brown Hotel from its scene-stealing appearances in the movie Elizabethtown.

The Brown Hotel

Top rated
Louisville, 3.1 miles to Churchill Downs
9.0 Excellent (2205 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.3 / 10
Hotel CTA

Brunch with a Bit of Art

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Few places in the world are more eclectic than the 21c Museum Hotel Louisville, with its bright red penguin statues on the roof peering down onto a giant gold statue of David and pink bedazzled limo. A wonderful melting pot of boutique hotel, contemporary art museum, excellent dining, and performance art, 21c is in its own class of cool. Since its Louisville debut in 2006, 21c has raised the bar for boutique hotels everywhere. Today, you’ll find 21cs in emerging artistic hubs all over the country, but the location here in Louisville is the original.

Spend at least a couple of hours wandering through the hotel’s provocative and ever-changing contemporary galleries. There are over 9,000 square feet of exhibition space — all free of charge to visit. Even Proof on Main, the restaurant located inside of 21c, doubles as an art gallery with its own curated installations. Where else can you casually enjoy brunch on the floor of an art gallery?

Once you tire of contemporary art, step out the front door and onto Louisville’s Museum Row. In the four blocks neighboring 21C, you can learn about the history of two Louisville sports icons (Louisville Slugger and Muhammed Ali), the history of weapons and warfare, or contemporary art and crafts movements. Searching for more culture? Just a couple of blocks further and you’ll be in the center of Louisville’s performing arts scene, where you can attend an opera at the Kentucky Center for the Arts or a play at Actor’s Theatre.

21c Museum Hotel Louisville - MGallery

Top rated
Louisville, 3.8 miles to Churchill Downs
9.2 Excellent (1048 reviews)
Excellent Cleanliness 9.6 / 10
Hotel CTA

Feature image courtesy of 21c Museum Louisville