Just over 30 miles from Lexington, the horse capital of world, you’ll find the sleepy town of Harrodsburg, Kentucky. This is Kentucky’s oldest city, founded all the way back in 1774, when Kentucky was just the western border of Virginia.
I loved my visit here, as it defied any expectations of what I may or may not have been thinking about traveling in Kentucky. While there are the famous horse farms of Lexington, the incredible caverns of Mammoth Cave, and Bourbon Country all just an easy drive away, there’s plenty to see and explore here as well. Here are some Harrodsburg highlights.
Old Soda Fountain on Main Street
Main Street, Harrodsburg, is a quiet place. That’s not a bad thing – start your visit with food and drink at the old soda fountain on Main Street, the Kentucky Fudge Company. They have great soups and sandwiches, as well as plenty of ice cream.
The grid of streets downtown also features a number of antique shops and specialty stores. It’s worth a stroll around to see what you might find.
Eat, Drink, Sleep at the Beaumont
Located right in Harrodsburg, the Beaumont Inn is Kentucky’s oldest family-operated country B&B, still in the family after generations. The inn is more of a destination than just a place to sleep, with the interiors covered in historic photographs and antiques, all of which you can enjoy while relaxing on period furniture, and maybe even chatting up the staff, all of whom have many stories about the inn and the history of the region.
That is, if you can tear yourself away from your room, with comfy beds so high you have to jump off to relax in your sitting area. Rooms in the main inn are a wonderful way to relax in a historical atmosphere, while the adjacent Greystone House (which looks quite modern but in fact, it isn’t a new construction) has some wonderful suites perfect for adding a touch of luxury to your trip.
Don’t leave hungry, though – the Beaumont is just as famous for its food and drink as it is for its hospitality. The inn’s dining room serves up the region’s best ham and fried chicken (they cure ham on-site – how’s that for some Kentucky prosciutto?) and in the mornings, you will die over the homemade corncakes. I do not lie when I say I would drive all the way to the Beaumont for the food alone.
Last year the inn also opened the Old Owl Tavern, which serves up a buffet of bourbon cocktails, Kentucky beer, and plenty of other cordials to soothe any sightseeing weariness. The tavern also has a bar menu slightly different to the main dining area. Being one of the few bars in town, it’s extremely popular with the locals and packed on weekends.
Harrodsburg is in Mercer County, which is a dry county. That means there are no liquor stores; however, restaurants such as the Beaumont Inn or the Shaker Village can serve alcohol in their restaurants. Need wine or some beers to take up to your room? Nicholasville is a short drive away.
Learn About the Shakers
Near Harrodsburg is the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. It’s one of the best preserved Shaker Villages in the United States, and one of the few here in the region. The establishment is charming and sits on a picturesque piece of land in the countryside. On site is a superb restaurant, a small gift shop, and several buildings where demonstrations of Shaker craftsmanship take place – furniture is available for purchase! One building houses a museum exploring the history of Shaker culture and innovation; I found this quite insightful as I didn’t really understand what the Shakers were all about until seeing these exhibits. (Interestingly enough, they seemed just as much about a lifestyle as they were about a religious movement.)
You can spend a lot of time here, or spend the night – most of the buildings also contain quaint hotel rooms, complete with Shaker furniture, and of course the on-site restaurant. Our building just had 6 rooms, great for a family or multigenerational trip, and in our lobby was a large sitting area with fireplace, perfect for relaxing at the end of the day.
Interesting Nearby Drives
Like anywhere in Kentucky, there’s always something interesting to see nearby. One tip is to head down the winding roads past the Shaker Village where you’ll end up at High Bridge, a town named after it’s main attraction, the High Bridge, which was once the highest railroad bridge in the world. An iconic piece of architecture, you can learn more about it from the nearby park, which also affords some great views for pictures. The Shakers run a boat tour on the Dixie Bell, which departs not far from the bridge and also gives you some great views.
And I can’t help but imagine what fun experience it would be to enjoy a movie over at the nearby Twin Hills Drive-in, open spring through fall – we missed the opening by a few weeks. Movies start at dusk! Just one of the many little charms tucked away in the Kentucky countryside.
Editorial Disclosure: Portions of this trip were sponsored by Kentucky Tourism and their suppliers. Much appreciated!