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Lexington vs. Louisville: A sibling rivalry for the ages

In honor of Kentucky’s birthday, we wanted to dive into the Bluegrass state’s most decorated cities.

An aerial shot of downtown Lexington.

The FY 2025 budget will go into effect on July 1, 2024. | Photo courtesy of @femibranded

Table of Contents

Lexington + Louisville — they’re the two powerhouse cities of Kentucky with a complicated relationship — ahem, Governor’s Cup, Cats vs. Cards, and horse racing. Each city has its own unique attributes, and combined, they are the economic + cultural centers of the Bluegrass.

As we look to our home state’s birthday tomorrow, June 1, we’re exploring this sibling relationship with a little game of compare + contrast of the two.

A bird's eye view of downtown Lexington.

We might be biased, but we can’t get over these Lexington views. | Photo courtesy of @femi.branded

Lexington’s history

Historically, Lexington is the first born. Founded in 1775 and was once deemed the “Athens of the West,” Lexington was the largest and wealthiest town west of the Appalachian mountains — boasting the new west’s first newspaper, first college (hi, Transy), and the state’s oldest operating business.

Louisville’s history

Louisville — founded 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. By 1830, River City became, and has remained, the largest city in Kentucky.

And 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 | Winner: Louisville

Louisville is the gateway to Bourbon Country. Not only is it the birthplace of Kentucky’s first commercial distillery Evan Williams, but they also have the Urban Bourbon Trail running through the city that features 10 distilleries + ~50 bourbon-centric bars and restaurants.

Lexington also sits along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, featuring six different stops within city limits where you can taste and try our beverage of choice.

Horses | Winner: Lexington

Louisville might host the most exciting two minutes in sports, 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. There’s a reason why we’re the Horse Capital of the World.

A yellow and gold mural of Louis Armstrong and a trumpet

You can’t help but smile when you drive past Louis. | Photo courtesy of VisitLEX

Murals | Winner: 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 figures — we’ve got them all. Local nonprofit PRHBTN and local artist Wylie Caudill are literally painting the town. With new city artwork popping up seemingly every day, Lexington wins with a mural scene that is picture perfect.

Food | Winner: Louisville

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

Take a bite out of these four Louisville foodie accolades:

That’s not to say Lexington doesn’t offer its fair share of good eats. You can’t go wrong with any number of chef Ouita Michel‘s restaurants around town — Honeywood, Zim’s Cafe + Windy Corner Market are all fantastic options.

Plus, the 100 block of N. Limestone is prime with brunch spots from restaurants like Corto Lima, Pearl’s Pizza + Minglewood.

Outdoor recreation | Winner: Tie

Louisville is home to the famed Olmsted Parks Conservancy, which boasts having one of only four completed park systems designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. It also has the largest municipally-owned urban forest in the US, the Jefferson Memorial Forest.

Lexington’s park system, while not as extensive as Louisville’s, has some of the most idyllic getaways in town — we recommend Raven Run Nature Sanctuary + Jacobson Park 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.

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

Basketball | Winner: 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 55 times — with the Wildcats leading the series 39-17.
  • 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 three 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.
Just like our state motto says, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”