Kentucky winters force visitors and locals alike to face frigid temperatures and snowy conditions, but it is well worth it with the wealth of activities offered throughout the season. There isn’t anything quite like a holiday light show to get that warm feeling inside. There isn’t anything quite as breathtaking as a stunning ballet performance of the legendary Nutcracker. So bundle up and brave the cold this winter to enjoy these 15 wonderful winter activities in Kentucky.
Find the biggest vehicle you can and pack it full of friends and family to experience Lights Under Louisville. Lights Under Louisville is an annual event held at the Louisville Mega Cavern that allows you to drive through 17 miles of the manmade limestone cavern to experience its holiday light show. With more than two million lights, this massive show provides entertainment for the whole family. As a bonus, entry is charged by the carload, making it a cost-friendly way to entertain a large group.
The Crestwood Festival of Nativities is an annual Christmas celebration and display featuring more than 500 nativity scenes. For each year in December, residents of Crestwood, Kentucky, and its surrounding areas converge to get in the spirit of the holidays. Listen to local choirs sing holiday songs, explore the holiday decorations and nativities—including a living nativity display—and enjoy children's activities like crafting and coloring.
Many families in Kentucky have a holiday tradition of watching a live performance of The Nutcracker. Louisville residents and visitors can catch the Louisville Ballet's live performance of The Brown-Forman Nutcracker each year at the Kentucky Center for the Arts. In Lexington, residents and visitors can watch the Lexington Ballet's annual live performance of the iconic holiday production at the Lexington Opera House.
The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, hosts an annual winter event known as Christmas Town. At Christmas Town, visitors can wander through the museum's botanical garden that's been covered in lights, giving it the appearance of frigid Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. A live nativity and roaming biblical characters make appearances throughout the event, and hot chocolate from Noah's Café keeps visitors warm on cold December evenings.
Th city of Louisville, Kentucky, kicks off the winter season with the annual Light Up Louisville celebration. The event starts with a parade and ends with the city's mayor flipping a switch to turn on all of the downtown holiday lights. After Light Up Louisville, residents and visitors can continue to enjoy downtown Louisville's winter season throughout December with food and drink vendors, holiday concerts, and ice skating in and around Jefferson Square.
Kentucky winters are unpredictable. Temperatures can drop below zero or get as high as 60 degrees, sometimes within days of each other. However, even on a warm winter evening in Kentucky, residents and visitors can enjoy ice skating in Lexington's Triangle Park. Every year from November through January, an outdoor ice-skating rink is installed at Triangle Park. Ice skates are available for rent on-site, and hot chocolate is available for purchase on truly cold evenings.
At Lexington's Kentucky Horse Park, you'll find the Southern Lights Holiday Festival. The annual event features both in-car and on-foot attractions. While driving through the park, visitors enjoy more than three miles of holiday light displays. Then, visitors can park and experience the rest of the festivities: visits with Santa, train rides, holiday shopping, and a petting zoo. The event usually draws more than 100,000 visitors each year, so plan for long waits and make sure to dress warmly.
Luminate Lexington consists of two popular winter events hosted annually in downtown Lexington: a holiday market and tree lighting event, and the Lexington Christmas Parade. The holiday market and tree lighting event feature holiday shopping, and the evening culminates with the lighting of the city's holiday tree. The Lexington Christmas Parade features favorite holiday characters and winds its way through downtown to the delight of Lexington families.
A variety of events entertain visitors to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill during the winter and holiday seasons. Visitors can shop for hand-crafted holiday gifts, craft their own personalized presents, enjoy the holiday light displays, and warm up around bonfires with hot chocolate and spiced cider. Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is a retreat from the bustle of everyday life at any time of the year, but visiting feels especially rewarding during the holiday season when people want to enjoy life's simple pleasures.
Music lovers won't want to miss Christmas in the Valley—a live music series put on annually at the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. The Renfro Valley Entertainment Center boasts two barn theaters where live gospel, country, and bluegrass acts perform for crowds. During the holiday season, live acts put on holiday performances featuring classic Christmas and winter songs.
If standing in line at the mall to let your kids visit with Santa sounds like your worst nightmare, consider instead taking them on a 90-minute train ride with Santa from the Bluegrass Railway Museum in Versailles, Kentucky. The train passes through farmland, horse farms, and limestone cuts, and on the special Christmas trains, Santa takes the time to visit with every child on board. The train is also festively decorated with tinsel and lights, and train conductors lead passengers in Christmas carols.
Each year, the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, kicks off the holiday season with its Lighting of the Trace Celebration. The distillery and grounds are illuminated with holiday lights and displays, and holiday stores are set of for shopping. After the distillery lights are turned on, visitors can drive through Buffalo Trace any night to see the displays, and Santa himself visits the distillery on several occasions. All holiday events at the distillery are free.
Another holiday train ride, this one is operated by My Old Kentucky Dinner Train out of Bardstown, Kentucky. The two-hour train ride takes passengers through Bernheim Forest, past the Jim Beam Distillery, and to Limestone Springs. While aboard, visitors will enjoy a hot meal, visits from Santa, caroling, and crafting. There are plenty of activities to keep kids entertained, and adults will enjoy the food and scenery.
Bardstown, Kentucky, is a quaint southern town that's beautiful anytime of the year, but it is especially breathtaking after lit up with holiday lights in winter. Each year, the annual Light Up Bardstown celebration bring residents and visitors together for a tree lighting celebration. The event offers visits from Santa, face painting, and crafts for kids, and adults can enjoy holiday shopping—area businesses stay open later for the celebration.
Each year, Kentucky's state parks offer a number of wildlife viewing excursions. Because of the cold weather, fewer people visit the parks, making winter the perfect time to see eagles, elks, cranes, and other park wildlife. Make sure to dress warmly and wear shoes that are unlikely to slip—Kentucky tends to be wet in winter, so invest in a good pair of boots before doing any winter hiking. Check the Kentucky Parks site each year for information about available wildlife tours.