Louisville and Lexington go head to head in six Kentucky-based categories

The Louisville skyline by Instagram user @502pics

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Lexington + Louisville are the two powerhouse cities of Kentucky with a complicated relationship, similar to that of a jockey and his horse

The horseLouisville — is big, strong + tends to steal the spotlight at times. The jockeyLexington — is smaller, always ready to compete, but has a tendency to stay behind the scenes. 

Each city has its own unique attributes, and combined, they are the economic and cultural centers of the Bluegrass.

While the big UK vs. UofL game has been postponed, we couldn’t sit by on the sidelines quietly. We wanted to take this opportunity to showcase what the two best cities in Kentucky have to offer.

In today’s dueling city convo, we want to explore this sibling relationship by doing a compare + contrast of the two cities.  

Historically, Lexington is the firstborn. It was founded in 1775 + once deemed the “Athens of the West.” In the early 1800s, Lexington was the largest + wealthiest town west of the Appalachian mountains — boasting the new west’s first millionaire, first newspaper + first college. Hi, Transy.

Louisvillefounded three years later in 1778 by George Rogers Clark — was also growing during this time, just not as quickly as Lexington. But it wouldn’t take long for little brother to outgrow big brother. 

The advent of the steamboat in the 1800s sped things up + initiated booming industrial trades in Louisville. By 1830, River City became, and remained, the largest city in Kentucky.  There’s a lot to be known for when you’re Kentucky’s largest city for 150+ years — from inventing the cheeseburger to making 90% of the world’s disco balls to being the birthplace of Muhammad Ali. 

While there are many things we could pit against the two cities, we’re breaking down who takes home the roses in six categories — bourbon, horse racing, outdoor rec, food + drink, and, of course, basketball. 

Bourbon | Louisville

You can’t pass into Bourbon Country without first going through the Louisville gateway. Not only is it the birthplace of Kentucky’s first commercial distillerythanks, Evan Williams — we also have the Urban Bourbon Trail running through the city that features 10 distilleries + nearly 50 bourbon-centric bars and restaurants

Here are some quick facts about Kentucky bourbon: 

  • Bourbon is an $8.6 billion signature industry, generating $235+ million in tax revenue for local and state governments. 
  • The Frazier History Museum in Louisville is the official starting point for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
  • Lexington will be home to the largest African American-owned distillery in the state with the completion of Fresh Bourbon Distilling Co.’s $5.4 million production facility.

Horses | Lexington

Louisville might be the host of the most exciting two minutes in sports — the Kentucky Derby, but Lexington is home to ~150 horse farms where many of those four-legged athletes are born. Hop on Old Frankfort Pike + you’ll pass the fence-lined fields of Three Chimneys, Airdrie Stud, and Stone Street

And we can’t mention horses without talking about Keeneland. You can always bet on a good time when visiting the historic racecourse during its Fall + Spring racing meets. The Horse Capital of the World wins this by a nose. 

Murals | Lexington

Look up y’all, art is everywhere in LEX and LOU. In fact, Louisville artist Liz Richter — a local muralist herself — offers a NULU Mural Walking Tour. But even on the cloudiest day in Lexington, the downtown cityscape is bright with walls filled with colorful scenes. Horses, happy monsters, historical figureswe’ve got them all. Local nonprofit PRHBTN and local artist Wylie Caudill are literally painting the town. With 50+ and new must-see spots popping up every day, Lexington wins with a mural scene that is picture perfect.  

Food + Drink | Louisville

Louisville takes the cake as a foodie city ranking No. 29 on WalletHub’s “Best Foodie Cities in America” with Lexington coming in the 62nd spot. 

Take a bite out of these five accolades. 

  • Chef Edward Lee — of 610 Magnolia — has six “Best Chef Southeast” nominations from the James Beard Foundation
  • Named one of the “South’s Best Food Cities” by Southern Living Magazine
  • Titled the “Culinary Capital of Bourbon Country” 
  • Boasts 2,500+ locally-owned restaurants + had the second-most in the country in  2015. 
  • 70+ restaurants opened in 2021 + it’s rumored that you could visit a new restaurant twice a day for a month and not hit every local dining option in Louisville 

When it comes to drinking, Louisville does produce a third of the world’s bourbon, but I think both cities can agree an Old Fashioned or frankly a pour of Old Forester with a splash of Ale-8 taste great in both places. 

Check out the Kentucky Sweater Weather cocktail LEXtoday + LOUtoday created. 

Outdoor Recreation | Tie

Louisville has the famed Olmsted Parks, Jefferson Memorial Forest + the newly developed Parklands of Floyds Fork. All three of these world-class park systems offer Louisvillians greenspace and recreational opportunities close to the city’s urban core.

While Lexington’s park system is not as extensive as Louisville’s, Raven Run Nature Sanctuary + Jacobson Park are great spots to relax and recreate. Plus, just a short drive down the road are two of Kentucky’s crown jewels — Red River Gorge + Daniel Boone National Forest

Lexington has also been placing a heavy emphasis on the development of urban bike paths. By the end of 2022, Lexington will have ~30 miles of pedestrian-friendly greenways built throughout the city.

Both cities have amazing opportunities for outdoor recreation, so we are calling this one a tie.

Basketball | Lexington

The basketball rivalry between UK + UofL is considered to be one of the most intense in college sports. These two teams first faced each other in 1913, but didn’t routinely face off against one another until after they met in the NCAA Tournament in 1983. 

In order to determine the clear winner here, we have to break this rivalry down by the numbers.

  • The two teams have played each other a total of 54 times — with the Wildcats leading the series 37-17. 
  • Kentucky has won ~2,300 games with a total winning percentage of .762.
  • Louisville has won ~1,700 games with a total winning percentage of .652.
  • Kentucky has won a total of eight NCAA Division I Championships.
  • Louisville has won a total of two NCAA Division I Championships

The numbers don’t lie. Over the years, Kentucky has been the more formidable opponent in this series. That doesn’t make this rivalry any less intense every year.

Regardless if you’re a Louisvillian or a Lexingtonian, we think the whole commonwealth is pretty cool. And we’re not the only ones. Just this year, Kentucky has topped $11 billion in new investments + created 17,000 new jobs, shattering all previous records for single-year economic growth.

Not only are we a great place to do business, but we’re also a state with a true heart. Following the storms that damaged Western Kentucky, the Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund has reached nearly $10 million in donations. First responders, restaurants, nonprofit organizations, and individuals from Louisville, Lexington, and across the state have organized supply drives + fundraisers to help our neighbors recover from the impact.

Just like our state motto says, united we stand, divided we fall.

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