Shelbyville, KY, home to Saddlebred horses, the Bourbon Trail and more
Between Louisville and Lexington, visitors will find the Bourbon Trail, antique shopping and a perfect respite
Get a peaceful, easy feeling visiting Shelby County, KY — Photo courtesy of J. Aumon and Cerulean Farm
In Kentucky, Shelby County is located just 30 minutes southeast of Louisville and about an hour northwest of Lexington. It’s home to the town of Shelbyville, known as the American Saddlebred Capital of the World because of the more than 100 Saddlebred horse farms there. However, there’s so much more to this picturesque county. It’s a sweet respite from urban life, featuring lovely stretches of rolling countryside, antiquing, a thrilling foodie scene, the famous Bourbon Trail — and some of the best fried chicken in the country.
Here’s a list of top things to do and where to stay to help you plan your visit.
Visit the Shelby County Historical Society Museum in Shelbyville
Main Street Shelbyville is home to many fun shops and cafes — Photo courtesy of ShelbyKY Tourism
Shelby County, Kentucky, which includes Shelbyville, Simpsonville and Shelby, is steeped in history from its genesis as a pioneer settlement.
This region played a notable role in the Civil War, as the county was a hub for Union forces. The Battle of Perryville, one of the largest battles in Kentucky, took shape just a few miles from the county border. Visit the Shelby County Historical Society Museum to learn about the area’s heritage, or simply stroll around downtown Shelbyville to take in the well-preserved 19th century buildings — from regal Victorian mansions to endearing bungalows.
Peruse antique shops and the Shelby County Farmers’ Market
Pick up a mint julep cup featuring decorative hand-beading — Photo courtesy of Wakefield-Scearce Galleries
Art, design and history enthusiasts will gush over a vast assortment of English antiques, fine art and collectibles, including furniture, paintings, sculpture, antique silver and glassware at the historic Wakefield-Scearce Galleries. Galleries are housed in a stately mid-19th century mansion, which was once a private girls’ boarding school. The international collection spans several centuries.
If you’re in town on a Wednesday or Saturday, stop by the Shelby County Farmers’ Market to shop for an array of local favorites. At this market, you can browse around for so many wonderful items, such as fruit and vegetables, farm fresh artisan breads, regional honey, authentic Southern sweets and locally roasted coffee. You’ll also find an impressive variety of crafts for sale, created by neighborhood artisans, and plenty of live Bluegrass music.
Nearby, visit the lovely Little Mount Lavender that specializes in lavender-based goods made from over 1,000 fragrant plants on site. It’s also a cute cafe, so you can take a break from shopping. Order a lavender old-fashioned cocktail and a charcuterie platter. Don’t miss the dessert case for a fresh pastry.
Sip Kentucky Bourbon at Jeptha Creed in Shelbyville
The Jeptha Creed distillery celebrates the heritage of Kentucky and Scotland — Photo courtesy of Jeptha Creed
According to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, the state crafts 95% of the world’s Bourbon. Many spirits experts agree that traditional, high-quality ingredients, like limestone-rich water, along with perfected techniques make it one of world’s top distilled beverages.
If you’re a fan of old fashioneds, be sure to sip a few here and see if you can distinguish distinct yet subtle flavors of pecan, honey, vanilla or oak. Visit Shelbyville’s Jeptha Creed, which is owned and operated by mother-daughter duo, Joyce and Autumn Nethery. The craft distillery uses special “Bloody Butcher” corn that’s grown on the family farmlands. This type of corn lends a nutty sweetness to its product. Book a tasting at the farm’s barrel barns or a mixology class. Here, you can enjoy a sip of honey vodka, 4-Grain Bourbon and lemonade moonshine, among others.
Another popular stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is Bulleit Distilling Company, where you take a tour, or do a tasting and sample the bold and spicy character of rye, as well as 10-year-old and barrel-strength Bourbon.
There’s no need for reservations for a tasting at Talon Winery where you savor some vintages while enjoying free live music on weekends. Additionally, coffee lovers will be impressed by the ShelbyKY Coffee Trail, comprised of four quirky coffee houses that use locally roasted beans. They brew and pour a multitude of delectable flavors, such as protein javas, honey lattes and blackberry lavender white mochas.
Experience Shelby County’s foodie scene
Wear elastic the day you visit Claudia Sanders Dinner House — Photo courtesy of ShelbyKY Tourism
There are plenty of local specialties to devour on your visit, as this area is home to an incredible food scene. In addition to dynamite desserts, like coconut cream pie and praline cheesecake, The Bell House Restaurant , built in 1902, serves an impressive Kentucky Hot Brown. This classic Southern-baked comfort dish features smoked turkey, open-faced on toast, enveloped in Mornay sauce and then capped with smoked bacon and a tomato slice.
Head to Claudia Sanders Dinner House for platters of country cooking, including country ham and biscuits, bread pudding drenched in Kentucky Bourbon sauce, catfish dishes and chicken ‘n’ dumpling soup. Of course, you can also order delectable fried chicken, with mashed spuds and milk gravy on the side. Fun fact: Colonel Sanders (yes, the same Colonel Sanders of KFC fame) and his wife, Claudia, opened this restaurant in the 1960s.
The Bell House’s Kentucky Hot Brown is a hearty choice — Photo courtesy of ShelbyKY Tourism
Locally owned McKinley’s Cafe is a good bet for overstuffed sandwiches, such as the pimento cheese or Kentucky Benedictine, two local specialties that are guaranteed to hit the spot.
A few doors down, Spotz Gelato serves small batch gelato and sorbet made with local ingredients. Go for Kentucky Bourbon gelato with pecans, Fluffernutter or apple crumble crunch, among many other refreshing and unique flavors.
A selection of handmade gelato on a hot Kentucky day — Photo courtesy of Muse Marketing
If you’re seeking a super-casual option, B&N Food Market is a grocery store serving generous portions of smoked brisket, ribs, mac ‘n’ cheese and homemade desserts. Many gas stations in the South serve tasty, inexpensive regional food — some based on old family recipes.
Huck’s Gas Station in Simpsonville is certainly one where you can “fill ‘er up” on the petroleum product, as well as Huck’s World Famous Fried Chicken, a proprietary, hand-breaded recipe that’s been exiting the fryer for more than 50 years!
Go horseback riding in Kentucky Bluegrass Country
Visitors can ride or just get to know Saddlebred horses — Photo courtesy of ShelbyKY Tourism
You needn’t be a Kentucky Derby jockey to sense the emotional connection between horses and humans. Since you’re in the heart of Bluegrass Country, be sure to make an equine experience a part of the vacation’s activities.
With nearly 100 horse farms, Shelby offers guided trail rides, classes and a variety of scenic tours. It’s an ideal opportunity to sense solace in the presence of these majestic and beautiful creatures. If you want to truly experience this area, take a horseback riding lesson or sign up for a trail ride at Shelby Trails Park and Red Fern Riding Center.
Get up close and pet beautiful and rare Icelandic horses at Léttleiki Icelandics at historic Swallowland Farm in the rolling hills. The word “Léttleiki” is “lightness” in Icelandic, suggesting the gentle sway and cues between horse and rider. See how West Meadow Farm connects people, horses and nature, while Kismet Farm offers riding lessons and farm tours.
Stay at an authentic working horse farm in Shelby County
Snuggle up at Cerulean Farm Bed and Breakfast and working horse farm — Photo courtesy of Cerulean Farm
How many opportunities will you have to lodge at a combination guesthouse and horse farm? Consider a stay at the 1860 Cerulean Farm Bed and Breakfast homestead and working horse farm, with equine-themed rooms that afford views of the horses grazing in the serene countryside. Dig into a hot country breakfast, leave the cell phone in your room and take a tour to meet the horses.
If you prefer to stay in downtown Shelbyville, choose to snooze at the upscale Saddlebred Suites. The 1890s building has been finished out as modern, two-bedroom and studio lofts. It’s located steps away from coffee shops, restaurants, antique stores and indie boutiques. Outside of town, visitors can rent a restored Victorian farmhouse, a cottage or a cabin along the Bourbon Trail — where you can take a deep breath, enjoy the scenic country vistas and listen to the world turn.