Off the beaten path treasures in Kentucky

Sometimes you need an escape from the bustle of city life. Instead of hitting the road and heading to the most popular vacation destinations, how about reconnecting with your family over simple, small town treasures? Savor these Southern gems on your way to Nashville or Louisville, or just take a rambling road trip for the joy of discovery. Kentucky has more to sway you than the Bourbon Belt.


Nestled in the heart of the Bluegrass Region, Harrodsburg, Kentucky has received numerous accolades for being a beautiful and charming hidden treasure. It is Kentucky’s oldest town and offers some of the most unique accommodations my family has ever enjoyed.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is America’s largest restored Shaker community and a founding member of Discovery Destinations, a collection of destinations across the world that enable guests to immerse themselves in culture, history and education. A visit to the Shaker Village includes tours, talks, hands-on activities and experiences such as hikes, hayrides, farm visits and cruises down the Kentucky River, which are available most days. Check the rotating, seasonal schedule.

During the winter holidays, bonfires and hot chocolate, caroling and ornament making are available, and kids will get a kick out of writing letters to Santa with a pen and ink well. Then, starting in April, Breakfast with the Babies is a popular family activity, with many opportunities to interact with farm animals after a delicious breakfast buffet.

Stay in one of the thirteen restored Shaker structures. Choose between guest rooms in communal family dwellings or private cottages, all with breathtaking views of the countryside and Shaker reproduction furniture, such as soothing rocking chairs that lull away any stress.


Bardstown, the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” was also named the ‘Most Beautiful Small Town in America’ in the Rand McNally/USA Today 2012 “Best of the Road” contest. A certified Kentucky Cultural District, Bardstown has also been recognized for having one of America’s most beautiful town squares. Delight in the small town charm with a stroll around their quaint shops. Holiday time is magical, with twinkling lights, parades, Christmas teas and one-of-a-kind gift shopping in independently owned shops and six distinctive distilleries.

Stop at Mammy’s Kitchen for breakfast, lunch or dinner in the family-owned restaurant with a fantastic store in back. Devour a Downtown KY Hot Brown, Smothered Chicken, Southern Fried Steak or Bourbon Chops in a cozy, country setting. From the moment you walk in, you can tell this establishment has a lot of heart.

New Haven

The Kentucky Railway Museum in New Haven is a non-profit railroad museum with historic steam locomotives and Kentucky railroad artifacts. They offer weekend excursions on a heritage line, with themes like Day Out with Thomas, Halloween Express and Easter Bunny visits. During the holidays, don’t miss the Christmas trains! Enjoy milk and cookies while you go pick up the big guy in the red suit.


The rolling hills and horse farms of Kentucky make for stress-free, scenic driving. Shelbyville, the Saddlebred Capital of the World, is home to countless horse farms that will often open their doors to curious visitors. Shelbyville’s quaint downtown also offers many consignment shops brimming with Derby hats and designer clothing at deep discounts. The Polka Dotted Pineapple is one not to be missed for women’s fashions with tons of personality.

Claudia Sanders Dinner House–opened by, you guessed it: the Colonel’s wife–is a charming Southern dinner house with juicy fried chicken and rolls that are like clouds of deliciousness. You won’t leave without a full, happy belly.

Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.
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