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A Local's Guide To The Kentucky Derby

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

Note: Some photos are not from the actual day of the Kentucky Derby, but rather to show off Churchill Downs!

Ah, the Kentucky Derby, also known as the two most exciting minutes in sports! This world-famous event takes place every year on the first Saturday of May. Another fun fact: It is also the longest-running sports event in the United States!

From someone who has lived in Louisville all of their life, I'll be honest with you that most locals do not have the desire to attend the actual Derby every year. Louisvillians typically prefer Thurby (The Thursday before Derby,) or the Kentucky Oaks that is held on that Friday. BUT, I highly encourage everyone to attend the real Kentucky Derby at least once. With that being said, here's everything you need to know from someone who grew up with this lively culture!

A Two Week Party...The Kentucky Derby Festival

Many locals may argue that the Derby Festival is the best part of the season. Two weeks before the race, there are many different events that take place. Thunder Over Louisville is one, the largest firework display in North America... This is one of my favorites! Getting to watch fireworks over the Ohio River is really gorgeous at night. There's also the Pegasus Parade, a super fun parade that strolls through downtown the Thursday before. And that's just the beginning of it... Galas, concerts, and one of my personal faves: The Kenducky Derby. If the idea of watching thousands of rubber ducks float down the river sounds fun to you, you'll love this also! You can also bet on a duck and win a ton of money if yours comes in first place!

Aside from the actual events, Louisville becomes so much more of an exciting place during these two weeks. Everyone's yards are decorated, bakeries are getting filled with fresh derby pie, and parties galore.... If you can't go to the real Derby, you gotta at least find your way into a local's party!

Before Derby Day, make sure to get your outfits in advance! The fashion of the Derby is such a cool experience to see, and there really isn't one certain thing that everyone is supposed to wear. The main thing to keep in mind are pastel/bright colors, and of course a fancy hat! Fascinators, sun hats, fedoras... It's your pick! If you've got some extra time, I highly recommend checking out one of the local boutiques around the city, as those are the best place to find a great fit!

Day of the Derby

So, you decided to take on the beast that is the Kentucky Derby! Just kidding, you're in for a crazy and fun time. I'll lay it out on the table right now that tickets are expensive. The cheapest option is the infield, which sits in the middle of the race track and is roughly around $80 a pop. But if you have a few hundred (or thousand) that you have to spend, getting a seat is well worth it. If you're looking at the infield, you will not get a chair but you can bring your own!

Be prepared for large crowds once you arrive. Parking will be available at many nearby places and can be expensive. Ubering would be a cheaper option but you may have to wait for one for a bit when the Derby is over, so the choice is yours.

My favorite part about Churchill Downs is that there are so many cool places to explore around the track and building! Of course, some areas you will need a special ticket for, but even if you just got general admission, there are still many spots to check out. The Paddock is my favorite, where you can see the horses come out before they head to the track. There are also many different covered areas in case it rains or gets too hot. In the infield, there are all kinds of vendors, and some brands who throw a party like Vineyard Vines.

If you drink, there are two specialty drinks that you need to try! One being the Oaks Lily, which is Grey Goose Vodka with cranberry juice, lemon juice, orange liquor and simple syrup. If you need to get your Kentucky Bourbon fix, order a mint julep. This is the official drink of the Kentucky Derby, consisting of sugar, mint and bourbon.

So let's talk about what you're probably coming here for.... The horse racing!! I'm not much of a gambler or sports-watcher, but I do love the Derby. You can bet as little as $2 or can raise the stakes high! Make sure to grab a program on your way in, so you can look at all of the horses and their stats. The fun of it all is that everyone has their own way to bet... Some look at past history while others look at the owners/trainers... Or if you're like me, you just pick the ones with the cool names! (And there are some funny ones out there y'all.)


To put it the short way, the Kentucky Derby is not for everyone, but I certainly think that everyone should go at least once! If you have fun being around a lot of people and like to party, you'll really get amped up here! But if you're not one who likes to be in huge crowds, you may not be an annual goer. But no matter what, make sure you are prepared before going! If the weather will be bad, plan accordingly!

The Derby is a big reason for Louisville's culture and why I love to call this place my home!




Hey there, I'm Shelby! Traveling has been one of my biggest passions in life, and so I'm here to share all of my great finds, tips and advice that I discover along the way. When I'm not on a plane, you can find me in Kentucky with my husband and fur child, Zoe (My adorable kitty!) 

I have always loved to write, and after many attempts at blogging again, I find myself here and inspired to share the world. My husband and I both work a typical 9 to 5, but make it a priority to plan as many trips as possible each year. I want to show others that it is totally possible to live a travel-filled life full time or on the side!

Thank you for stopping by, I hope you enjoy!


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