A well-preserved early-20th century rail depot, a deep-rooted Civil War history, a vibrant downtown square brimming with greenery and indie shops, parks and reservoirs as far as the eye can see and … Corvettes? Bowling Green has all the makings of a multi-faceted destination that intrigues road warriors and frequent travelers like us. And whether you’re planning a trip to Bowling Green already or still need convincing, here’s everything you need to know to pull the trigger.
This project was in partnership with Bowling Green Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.
How to get to Bowling Green
Right out the gate, Bowling Green is perfectly poised to take advantage of the current tourism boom; just an hour north of Nashville, it’s centrally located for travelers from across Tennessee, as well as those based in Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati. Smaller metropolitan cities like Evansville, Bloomington, Clarksville and Murfreesboro also are all within easy driving distance of this vibrant college town, too.
It’s also on the way to so many hot destinations along I-65—think: Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Chicago—so an easy decision for a pull-off if you’re passing through. And if you, like us, have been glamoured by the glitzy draws of Corvettes—after all, Bowling Green boasts the Corvette assembly plant, as well as the national museum and adjoining motorsports park and racetrack—now’s your sign to finally let your curiosity yank you off the interstate.
What makes Bowling Green special
Situated right in the middle of it all, Bowling Green changed hands multiple times during the Civil War and was the bloodied heartland of early settlers as Europeans expanded into the interior of North America and fought over land and mineral rights with the indigenous people, which included the Shawnee and Eastern Band Cherokee during the turbulent era of expansionism.
Newcomers and pioneers heavily invested in communities that served the people and aligned with the goals of the growing United States, and the downtown of Bowling Green is thick with grand architecture from the early 1800s onward that reflects this mentality. The addition of rail connectivity in the post-Civil War period accelerated the growth of cities like Bowling Green, and these downtowns are cherished glimpses into the past that house Italianate, Renaissance, Greek Revival and Victorian styles of building.
Where to stay in Bowling Green
Being a college town with the 20,000-student Western Kentucky University at its epicenter, Bowling Green offers plenty of places to stay by way of hotel brands like Hyatt and Hilton or independent properties like Kentucky Grand Hotel & Spa.
We’re more boutique hotel and vacation rental type of travelers, so the Candle Loft Downtown was the perfect option for us as a base in Bowling Green. Located on Fountain Square Park, Bowling Green’s hub for downtown commerce and activity, this well-equipped, two-bedroom apartment sits atop the candle store and gift boutique, Candlemakers on the Square. Not only does the loft have a kitchen and a large bathroom, but there are multiple seating areas making it a great fit for a family or group of friends traveling together.
Just be sure you schedule a time to pour a candle while you’re there as Candlemakers on the Square offers this fun activity for groups and individuals. The boutique side of the shop also brims with handcrafted art, jewelry and home decor by local makers. Don’t have time to make your own candle? Candlemakers also sells pre-poured candles in dozens of interesting scents.
How to plan a Bowling Green weekend
Before you book your flight or get in your car and go, here’s what to know about planning an epic trip to Bowling Green.
Day 1 of your trip to Bowling Green
In order to understand one of the main tourist attractions in Kentucky’s third largest city, the first stop on your trip to Bowling Green should be to the NCM Motorsports Park. Here, you can rent a street legal rocket ship and zoom around the twisty track behind a trained pace driver, and it’s an experience that any car junky will love forever.
The park also offers high-speed go karts, driver education programs and the ability to host your own meet-up or event; many car clubs take advantage of this option. Due to tornado damage, part of the campus is currently under construction with some awesome new facilities being added to the mix, though the racetrack remained untouched by the storm and is very much open for business.
Related Article: Put the Pedal to the Metal: Drive a Corvette in Bowling Green
Once you’ve tested your skills on the track, head down the road to the National Corvette Museum where you’ll journey through America’s sports car history and even witness hotrods fresh off the line as car owners stop in to pick up their new set of wheels. Be sure and wander through the Corvette Hall of Fame, as well as check out the interactive kiosks that comprise the sinkhole exhibit.
We didn’t have to mosey far for lunch. The museum boasts a new restaurant concept, Stingray Grill, that offers an elevated lunch experience with plenty of craft beer on tap and Kentucky bourbons behind the bar.
I’m always in need of a nap after a big morning like we had, and where better to do that than via a deep guided relaxation (i.e. guaranteed nap!) in the salt cave at Be Happy Yoga. If you haven’t been in a salt cave before, you’re in for a treat: the atmosphere inside is misted with atomized salt, creating a calming and refreshing break from reality, with tangible health benefits. This charming studio also offers several styles of yoga, massage therapy, reiki, Thai Yoga and biomat sessions.
After making our way to our Bowling Green lodging, the Candle Loft, we unpacked our bags and then set out by foot to explore downtown Bowling Green. The biggest problem we found is having only so much stomach space but far too many delicious Bowling Green establishments to try: Baked for the gourmet cookies, Little Fox Bakery for the cupcakes and macaron bar, Mary Jane’s Chocolates for its decadent truffles, Meltdown for its shakes and ice cream. We’ve found this is a common occurrence in college communities and I can’t say we hate it!
Also of note, Gasper Brewing is Bowling Green’s newest microbrewery and the taproom is minutes from Fountain Square if you’re looking to sample the local water and quaff a few pints. This spacious location features live music, trivia, disc golf and comedy nights. Additionally, The Bistro is a French-inspired establishment offering brunch and dinner in the historic 1893 Fletcher House and was our final stop for the evening before we turned in.
Day 2 of your trip to Bowling Green
Our second day in Bowling Green started early with the tail-end of sunrise from Reservoir Hill Park, a five-acre park perched over downtown that served as a bastion fort during the Civil War and was designed to withstand attack from any direction. Being the highest point in the area, it’s a great spot to take your dog for a walk or to admire the surrounding neighborhoods.
Then, it was back to the square to inject caffeine into my body via Spencer’s, a coffee shop beloved by locals of all ages, before hitting the pavement for another full day.
We then tooled around WKU campus and did some house window-shopping via the stunning homes that pepper the College Hill Historic District. If you’re a fellow architecture geek, spend some time ogling the stately mansions lining State and Chestnut, as well as the adjacent streets.
We also made time to drive the 25 minutes north to Shanty Hollow Lake, a 114-acre body of water that’s popular for its fishing and many hiking and mountain biking trails. If you feel like spending a day on the lake, there are plenty of equipment rentals in the vicinity; there are also a dozen waterfalls located along the trails.
If you’re an outdoors lover, Kentucky’s parks and reservoirs are gorgeous places to enjoy nature. Our first taste of this was a quiet visit to Baker Arboretum, a massive, outdoor collection of trees and flowering shrubs from across the country that is an idyllic oasis just west of the city.
For lunch, we drove out to Bowling Green’s storied establishment Chaney’s Dairy Barn, a large bi-level building that houses a restaurant, a store and a scoop shop. I’ve never been one to turn down ice cream, and Chaney’s makes all of its treats from milk and cream that come from their very own Jersey cows.
You can take a self-guided tour and see the robotic milker; there’s also a playground that’s free to use for patrons—a great way for your kiddos to let out energy if you’re traveling with little ones—as well as seasonal attractions like a corn maze.
Since we were already a ways out of town, we continued on to Rockfield’s own veteran-owned vineyard, Traveler’s Cellar Winery. In a state known for its bourbon, it’s always interesting to explore another adjacent industry, and this boutique vineyard produces fine wines not commonly found in Kentucky but that are influenced by the owners’ origins and family members.
Lest we forget Bowling Green is a college town, the fact that it’s got a resident Ramen Bar reminded us of that fact, and we love a good ramen so that’s where we headed for dinner. This cozy subterranean restaurant sits in an old building right on the square next door to Gerard’s 1907 Tavern if you’re looking for a post-dinner nightcap.
Day 3 of your trip to Bowling Green
When I started posting that I was in Bowling Green, my DMs were alight with people telling me to grab donuts at GADS. And given I’m not one to say no to sweets in general, we did as the good people said and picked up breakfast at Great American Donut Shop to pair with the campfire latte I ordered from Funky Bean, which also has a full breakfast menu if you’re looking for something a bit more filling.
We’re also big fans of rail travel and railroad history, so when we saw the 1925 Historic RailPark and Train Museum, we had to pull over and take a peek inside! We toured the two-story museum, which offers a fascinating and comprehensive look at not just the history of the train in Bowling Green, but the stories along the lines over the centuries.
There’s also a Civil War exhibit, as well as a huge model train setup that you can start up and run. And if you have time, you can even tour the Art Deco train itself, which includes one of five remaining Jim Crow combine cars dating to the late 1800s.
Our final attraction during our trip to Bowling Green was Lost River Cave for Kentucky’s only underground boat tour. We were in Bowling Green for the last vestiges of fall, so the trails and woods surrounding Lost River Cafe were a magnificent tapestry of color. Taking the Lost River Cave tour into the caverns is a fun way to beat the heat if you’re traveling in the dead of summer and also just a cool thing that highlights the cave and water systems that exist all over the South.
Super bonus points go to the foundation that runs this tourist attraction and preserves not just the water supply for the region but also specifically inspires new generations of scientists and explorers with its exhibits.
Related Article: This Is the Coolest Cave Tour in Kentucky
On our way out of town, we stopped at Toro, a Latin-inspired tapas bar and restaurant owned by one of Bowling Green’s most prominent hospitality groups. This was by far the best meal we had in Bowling Green, and I know I’d be a weekly patron if we lived there. Serving an eclectic mix of Spanish and Latin dishes, many of them sharable like ceviche, pork belly chimchurri and the fish and potato croquetts. The cocktail menu comprises an extensive selection of tequilas, mezcals, rums and other spirits.
So that was our first taste of Bowling Green: We found plenty to do, eat and drink in our three days there, and there was plenty that didn’t make the cut that definitely warrants a return trip to Bowling Green.
Loved this article! BG is a very short trip from the north end of Mt Juliet. We drove up one afternoon the week before Christmas. Lunch + coffee at Funky Bean, Corvette museum, shopping around the square, treats from Little Fox bakery, dinner at Ramen Bar. Great fun! We have done Lost River Cave before and also recommend.
A must-do weekend trip from Nashville, don’t you agree? We’re a little south of there, and it’s still just two hours from us (we took 840 to avoid 24 traffic). So easy!