Free Things to Do in Louisville, Kentucky

Waterfront Louisville, Kentucky


A Free Guide to Louisville

Louisville is so much more than the Kentucky Derby, bourbon and big hats. It's bursting with festivals, music and parks, and it has an arts community second to none. On top of all that, Louisville is one of the friendliest cities you will ever visit.

What's Happening on the Waterfront

Louisville's northern border is formed by the Ohio River, and the waterfront offers many opportunities for free entertainment. For example, free concerts are held once a month on certain Wednesdays (typically the last Wednesday of the month) from April through September at Waterfront Park next to the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge (1147 River Rd., Louisville, KY). From local fan favorites such as rap artist James Lindsey to rock legends like Robyn Hitchcock, multiple artists are always featured and there is something for everyone to enjoy.

Everyone is welcome to bang a drum at the Community Drum Circle held under the Big Four Bridge (1147 River Rd., Louisville, KY) near the grove of native trees known as Kentucky Grove and Red Parking Lot. The communal event is free, and there are a limited number of drums distributed to participants—or you can bring your own. This stress-relieving, family-friendly get-together is usually held from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on the 2nd Thursday of the summer months, but it's best to check ahead at the DrumSmart LLC Facebook page.

For several years, the Via Colori Street Painting Festival was held in Elizabethtown south of Louisville, but it became so popular that it outgrew this location and has now moved to River City itself. The heart of this festival is the immediacy of art being created right on the sidewalks of Waterfront Park by about 100 artists equipped with nothing but their creative vision and colored "sidewalk" chalk. Each artist is assigned a square space in which to create, and passersby can watch the process from start to finish.

In addition, musicians perform on three stages, and there are arts and crafts vendors, designated areas for children to create and display their own "street art" and roving performers. It takes place at the Big Four Bridge Lawn, adjacent to the Big Four Bridge in the heart of Waterfront Park, just east of the Lincoln Memorial and Swing Garden and west of the Adventure Playground. Since its relocation to Louisville, the Via Colori Festival has been scheduled in October, but check the website to get the correct date.

Free and Fun Festivals

Louisville seems to always be in a festive mood. One of the biggest and best of its festivals is WorldFest (located at the corner of 5th Street and and Main Street), held over Labor Day weekend. Louisville takes pride in its cultural diversity and large immigrant population; in fact, 35 percent of the city's population growth in the past 15 years is due to immigrants moving to Louisville from 150 countries. WorldFest is the city's way of celebrating this diversity and, at the same time, displaying Louisville's capacity to welcome newcomers with open arms.

Part of this festival is a naturalization ceremony held at the Muhammad Ali Center where hundreds of newcomers take the Oath of Citizenship. But mostly, this festival is colorful and fun. The weekend is packed with parades, poetry, international music and dance. There are three stages, activities for the children and a Global Village where visitors can interact with representatives of many countries. And there is no charge for admission here—everyone is welcome!

Another highly anticipated event is the Garvin Gate Blues Festival, held every October at the corner of Oak Street and Garvin Place in the neighborhood of Old Louisville. The festival takes place over two days, with a large and varied roster of musicians performing on two stages to an audience of all ages. There are also arts and crafts vendors exhibiting their work, so you can peruse the art and dance to the music at the same time. Yet the question remains: How can you have the blues when you get two days of blues for free?

Shakespeare in Central Park, Louisville Style

The Kentucky Shakespeare Festival is a tradition in Louisville. Every summer a selection of Shakespeare's plays are given stellar productions at the C. Douglas Ramey Amphitheater (1340 S. 4th St., Louisville, KY) in Central Park, a few short steps from the corner of 4th Street and Magnolia. Bleacher-type seating is available for about 1,000 enthusiastic theater-goers. They're here to have a good time, and they always walk away smiling after the performance is over. The sets are ingenious, the direction is inspired, and the performers (some of them nationally known) display skill and passion.

In close proximity to the amphitheater is a visitor's center. Go there before the play and pick up some brochures about the historic district that surrounds Central Park, known as Old Louisville. If you get a chance, stroll around to see impressive examples of Victorian architecture in the neighborhood. In fact, this area is home to the largest stretch of adjacent Victorian mansions in the United States.

Art for the People

Louisville has a world-class community of artists, and you will see art everywhere you go: murals, street art, art in galleries or art in museums. Of course, the outdoor art is free for all. For example, an ongoing project sponsored by the Louisville Downtown Partnership is "Alley Gallery" in which artists liven up the old metal doors behind downtown buildings. You can find a link to the locations of all the doors that have so far been installed on the LDP website.

The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft (715 W. Main St., Louisville, KY) was established in 1981 as a repository for folk art and craft of the region. Its mission is to educate and inspire an appreciation of the intersection of art and craft, and besides its large permanent collection, it holds special exhibitions and programs. Both you and your kids just might feel the desire to create something yourselves after experiencing this authentic art—it's free and open every day but Monday.

Window Shopping in the Highlands

If you like quirky shops and independent artists, you have a real treat in store. The Highlands area of Louisville provides plenty of free entertainment for window-shoppers and art-lovers alike. The neighborhood begins just east of downtown and stretches along Baxter Avenue in a south-easterly direction, continuing on Bardstown Road. If you follow this route you'll discover shops featuring museum-quality work by local artists, glassworkers and designers, such as Edenside Gallery (1422 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY); cleverly curated collections of 1970s-era apparel at Vintage Banana (1507 Bardstown Rd. B, Louisville, KY); vintage clothing and other bits and bobs at Acorn Apparel (1602 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY) and used furniture in nice condition, as well as work by local craftspeople, at Wood & Wear (2110 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY). These are just a few of the locally-owned, independent shops and galleries in and around the Highlands neighborhood. At most of the art-oriented boutiques you'll be able to pick up a brochure detailing locations and specialties of more Louisville galleries, most of them just a few minutes away. Remember, window-shopping doesn't cost a dime.