Drive to Lexington, Kentucky for the Horses, Stay for the Bourbon and History

Hundreds of horse farms, countless distilleries, and so much more.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Welcome toTwo Days Away, our series featuring weekend-long itineraries within a five-hour drive of your city-because sometimes we all just need a little adventure fix.When you think of Kentucky you might go straight to fried chicken or college sports-which, hey, aren’t bad things to associate with a state-but the Bluegrass State has so much more. And to see the very best it has to offer, you can take a trip to the heart of the state where the green grass has a blue-ish tint and locals know racehorses by name like they’re celebrities. We’re talking Lexington, Kentucky.

A trip to Lexington, Kentucky is just a three-hour scenic drive from Nashville and a little over an hour drive from Louisville. The city is dripping with Southern charm, packed with horse farms that are home to some of the most notable horse racing in the world, and brimming award-winning whiskey distilleries. It’s time to plan your weekend trip to Lexington Kentucky.

Travel time:
3 1/2 hours from Nashville.
1 hour from Louisville.

Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you don’t do anything else: Hit the races… the horse races

Lexington, Kentucky is known as the horse capital of the world. Each year, thousands of people from all over the globe flock to the Bluegrass City to check out the more than 450 horse farms Kentucky is home to. Among those hundreds of horse farms, one reigns supreme with a name that is almost synonymous with Lexington: Keeneland.

Open and operating since 1936, Keeneland is the world’s largest thoroughbred auction house. It also hosts world-class racing twice a year in April and October. If you happen to be planning your Lexington trip during the spring or fall, snagging a ticket to one of Keeneland’s iconic races is fairly inexpensive and can serve as a fun opportunity to dress up in your best equestrian-chic gear.

If your trip to Lexington doesn’t fall during horse racing season, fear not. You can still visit and tour one of Lexington’s many renowned horse farms. From Claiborne Farms, which is one of the most iconic thoroughbred horse farms in the world, to Megson Farms, which specializes in the unique breeding of rare white and multi-colored thoroughbreds, each establishment offers something a little different. If tethering yourself to just one farm feels too limiting, local tour groups like Horse Farm Tours Inc. and Central Kentucky Tours can help you navigate the hundreds of horse farm tour options.

James E. Pepper Distillery
James E. Pepper Distillery
James E. Pepper Distillery

Fill your days

Bourbon distilleries in Lexington, KY

Besides horses, Kentucky is known for its bourbon, so this is the perfect time to try some of the best whiskey in the country. Lexington is home to award-winning and historic distilleries. Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., James E. Pepper, and Barrel House Distilling Co. are all pretty close to Lexington’s city center and are easy to set up distillery tours with. If you’re looking for a bigger name establishment, Wild Turkey Distillery is about a 30 minute drive outside of the city.

Food tours in Lexington, KY

For the history-lover or foodie in your travel group, booking a tour with Bites of the Bluegrass will be an essential part of your time in Lexington. The Bluegrass tours offer a fun and unique way to see the city through what’s essentially an afternoon dinner party. Bites of the Bluegrass offers food and history walking tours of downtown Lexington, Distillery District food and history tours, and so much more.

Things to do outdoors in Lexington, KY

If you’re looking to round out your Lexington trip of horses, history, and Bourbon with just one more quintessentially Kentucky activity, we’d suggest visiting one of the many farms within the Lexington city limits. The best of Lexington’s food culture focuses on farm-to-table, locally grown ingredients. The historic Coleman Crest Farm uses both conventional farming and hydroponic freight container farming. The farm grows its produce with natural groundwater from a large prehistoric aquifer located on the farm, so its produce is fully natural, with no chemical additives or preservatives.

If you’re looking to get a little boozy with your farm tour, Silver Springs Farm is a farm winery that sits on 20 acres of land smack dab in the middle of horse country. Originally operated from 1867 until Prohibition of 1918, the farm used to run as Silver Springs Distillery. Today, the property is named Silver Springs Farm Eqwine and Vineyard after its historic springs, the racehorses they breed, and the wine from the grapes they grow. Doing a tasting and trying some of their award-winning wines is non-negotiable.

Greyline Station
Greyline Station
Greyline Station

Eat, drink, and sleep

Where to eat and drink in Lexington, KY

Eat your way through local restaurants at Greyline Station, a revitalized Greyhound station that now serves as a public marketplace. If you get to the station early enough, stop by North Lime Coffee & Donuts for your morning cup. If lunch is your priority, head to spots like Rise Up Pizza, Wing Kyng, and Old North Bar & Kitchen. And vegans and vegetarians can find plenty to chow down on at The Social Vegan.

If you’re really looking to go all out for dinner, head to the newly opened boutique hotel The Manchester for fine Appalachian-inspired dishes at their restaurant Granddam. Located on the ground floor of the hotel, just off the lobby, Granddam gives dark leather mixed with bluegrass vibes and offers a menu packed with home-grown produce.

Luckily, traveling very far for after-dinner drinks won’t be necessary. Just take the elevator up to Lost Palm, the hotel’s 1960s South Florida-inspired rooftop bar where you can grab a flamboyant tiki cocktail.

Where to stay in Lexington, KY

If you’re looking for convenience, 21c Museum Hotel is centrally located in Lexington’s downtown area. The boutique hotel is also home to a contemporary art museum, a cultural center, and the restaurant Lockbox. Stays like The Elwood and Origin Hotel are also in easy locations, so getting to the university, airport, or one of Kentucky’s many Horse farms won’t be too much of a hassle.

For bourbon lovers and history buffs alike, try the aforementioned Manchester Hotel. Although it’s a new boutique hotel, it sits in Lexington’s historic Distillery District with easy access to award winning distilleries like Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. And although it’s not in the heart of Lexington’s downtown area it’s still only a ten minute walk away from Lexington’s downtown city center.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Janae Price is a producer at Thrillist.


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.


Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.