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Louisville is blessed with four truly great hotels, all on Fourth Street : The Brown, Seelbach, Hyatt Regency and Galt House. These magnificent and historic hotels are in themselves worth a trip to the city. They're all within walking distance of every important downtown site. Even though Freedom Hall, Churchill Downs, the Zoo, the State Fairgrounds and the Stadium are located five miles away, everyone still stays down here at these four hotels and takes shuttle buses back and forth. Anyone who grew up in Louisville has memories of proms, dances, special dinners, weddings, class reunions, and other events at these hotels, so when those people return to the city this is where they want to stay. These are where Louisvillians celebrate birthdays, graduations, new jobs, promotions and retirements. Few hotels in any city have the deep emotional ties these four have established with the people of Louisville. Even people from out in the state have State Tournament, 4H, Student Council, and other school memories at these four hotels. Truly, the Brown, Seelbach Galt House and Hyatt Regency are Louisville. However, downtown also has several other hotels, smaller but well located and very comfortable.

Brown Embassy Suites Galt House Hyatt Regency Grady 21C Seelbach

Our recommendation for anyone's first trip to Louisville would be to stay at The Brown Hotel (photo, above). One of the South's truly great hotels, the Brown was J. Graham Brown's life masterpiece. An eccentric genius, he pinched pennies in his personal life but lavished spending on the hotel, museums, art galleries, Mammoth Cave National Park and Hanover College. He lived on the Brown's top floor. A statue of him with one of his dogs adorns a 4th Street sidewalk. 

The Brown has been a Louisville icon for a century. Its walls are filled with photos of celebrities who have stayed here, Hollywood movies filmed here, and, during the famous Louisville Flood, locals rowing boats in the Broadway entrance, through the lobby, and out the 4th Street entrance. The Brown reeks of Old South, Gilded Age splendor. You can wander around lobbies, hallways, staircases, store, bar and various nooks and crannies with a camera. There are plenty of comfy couches and chairs to sit and people watch, relax, converse, or read the day's Courier Journal, published just two blocks away. 

The Brown is on 4th Street, the cultural and historic heart of Louisville. You're in walking distance of downtown restaurants, the waterfront, the Yum Center, concerts, museums, games, theaters and historic sites. And it's easy to get to. I-71 coming south merges with I-64, which you follow one mile to the downtown exit. You come south on either First or Fifth Street (4th is blocked off as a pedestrian mall), turn onto Broadway, and follow it 1-3 blocks to the Brown.

The Brown contains a store, a bar and three restaurants, reviewed on our Restaurants page.

To fully appreciate Louisville you may need to slow your pace. This is a very genteel city in keeping with its Southern heritage. The Brown has plenty of little nooks where you can relax in comfy sofas or chairs and talk or enjoy a drink while people watching.




You also need to adjust your taste in beverages. This is not Beer or Wine country. Louisville is the Bourbon Capitol of the World. The famous Bourbon Trail includes two dozen distilleries between Louisville and Lexington, four a few blocks away on Main Street. By law, only Whiskey distilled in Kentucky may be called Bourbon. They've been perfecting the process for three centuries. People here understand and appreciate Bourbon, and bars and restaurants stock as many as a thousand different flavors. They know how to serve Bourbon here, and they know how to mix it in other drinks. So while you're here, forget about Budweiser, Coors, Merlots, Pino Grigiots and Ports and try Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Wild Turkey, Four Roses and other famous Bourbons.  Try an Old Fashioned, the signature mixed drink of Kentucky. And in between meals, if you just want a refreshing nonalcoholic beverage, try an Ale 8, signature soft drink of Kentucky. Ale 8 is made in Winchester, where they take ginger ale and age it in used bourbon barrels hauled over from nearby distilleries.

But the Brown has competition. Its age old rival is The Seelbach, also on 4th Street a few blocks toward the river. The Seelbach is an equally magnificent and historic hotel, with the added feature of being the setting for one of America's greatest novels. The Seelbach stands as a grand symbol of the Jazz Age, the Roaring Twenties. The Seelbach has been beautifully maintained. Now a Hilton, it was built in 1905 in the Spanish Renaissance style. A century of Presidents, foreign dignitaries, executives, movie stars and athletes have stayed here. Its green and white marble came from Italy, the rose marble from Switzerland, the bronze from France, and the mahogany from the West Indies. The magnificent murals in the lobby were painted by Arthur Thomas, then the world's most famous painter of historical panoramas. They depict key scenes from Kentucky history. Two massive five tiered bronze and crystal chandaliers hang over the lobby.

The Oak Room, which in non COVID times is a five diamond restaurant, was originally a billiard hall. Paneled in hand carved American Oak, its southwest wall contains a secret escape passage for Al Capone and the other famous gangsters who frequented the Seelbach.

The Seelbach is beloved by American Literature teachers, scholars and fans of the novel and movie The Great Gatsby. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald was stationed at nearby Fort Knox. On weekends he stayed, ate, drank, partied, danced, played pool and three times got so drunk he was thrown out here. Later, he used the Seelbach as one of the key settings in his famous novel. He met George Remus here, and most literary historians are convinced Remus was the basis for the character J. Gatsby. In the novel, Gatsby met Daisy Fay here, and Daisy married Tom Buchanan here. The Seelbach became the lens of extreme wealth through which Fitzgerald viewed the world.

The five star Oak Room restaurant is closed right now, and J. Gatsby's is only open for a buffet breakfast, but hotel management promises they'll return after a planned renovation of the entire hotel. Meanwhile, you can eat in the Old Seelbach Bar, also a historic restaurant.

Perhaps the Seelbach's most unique feature is the Rathskeller (photo, right), in the basement of the hotel. You must go downstairs and see this. Modelled after a real German Rathskeller, this is the only surviving Rookwood Pottery room in the world. All the tile work was made by hand at the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati. The designs on each tile were drawn by hand and then fired. Each color was added and then refired, once for each color. Designs on the walls depict the Rhein region of Germany, where the Seelbachs were from. The pelicans which adorn the columns are a sign of good luck. The ceilings are made of fine tooled leather. This was where, in the novel, J. Gatsby met and danced with Daisy.

At the far end of 4th Street from The Brown is The Galt House, Louisville's newest oldest hotel. It first opened in 1835 as a classy waterfront hotel, serving passengers and pilots on the paddlewheel steamboats operating between Pittsburgh and New Orleans on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. During urban renewal the original building was torn down and this new one built on the same site.

While both The Brown and The Seelbach are on 4th Street, the Galt House straddles it. The glass bridge across the actual street holds a bar and snack bar. Walker's Exchange, a casual restaurant, is on the third floor of the left (west) tower. That octagon you see part of atop the right (east) tower is Swizzle, an upscale dinner restaurant that rotates every 25 minutes with spectacular views of the river and the city. Reviews of those restaurants can be found on the restaurant page.

Since The Galt House was recently rebuilt, it features more expansive lobbies, atriums and common areas than the Brown or Seelbach. It loses the historic charm of its two rivals but makes up for that with sweeping views of the river. The towers have 25 floors. Combined, they offer 1,310 rooms, making the Galt House the largest hotel in the state and one of the five largest in the entire South. It is Louisville's only waterfront hotel.


The Galt House is adjacent to the Yum Center so is the lodging of choice for visiting teams and fans in town for University of Louisville basketball games.

You can wander around in the Brown or Seelbach, but you can really lose yourself in the vast expanses of the Galt House. It's a photographer's fantasy, with lots of glass and light and interesting architecture.

Within the Galt House are a total of seven restaurants and bars.

There was a lot of history in the old Galt House. Charles Dickens and other notables stayed here while travelling by steamboat up or down the Ohio River. Because of its key location at the Falls of the Ohio, where all boats had to unloaded, passengers and cargo transported to the other side, and reloaded onto new boats, the Union took over the Galt House during the Civil War to control all river traffic. Ulysses Grant and Abraham Lincoln spent many nights here, often meeting with William Sherman and other Union generals to plot strategy.

The Galt House has 50 meeting rooms, two ballrooms and an exhibit hall. There's a spa and barbershop.

While The Brown and Seelbach have paintings and small sculptures, because of its much larger spaces, the Galt House displays large pieces of various kinds of art, such as hanging glass pieces and modernistic metal mobiles.

There's an outdoor swimming pool and a top floor fitness center with views of the river to entertain you while you work out.

All of these features actually create a disadvantage for individual travelers, however. The Galt House is popular for conventions, conferences and workshops. It is often totally booked for 3-4 day events. So if you want to stay at the Galt House you need to book reservations far ahead.


The Hyatt Regency is 45 years old, but a $14 million renovation in 2015 gives it a sleek, modern ambience. It has 18 floors and 393 rooms. Sway is a very good three meal restaurant and the fitness center and pool are the best downtown. The bar is well stocked and serves a very good Old Fashioned. Upper floor rooms have great views of the downtown and river. The rooms themselves are spacious and spotless and the beds and pillows excellent.

Grady's is a boutique hotel on West Main Street near the Ali Center, Louisville Slugger factory and museum, and the Frazier History Center. The 1893 building is worth a visit just for itself. But the local artwork prominently displayed, the excellent Wild Swann restaurant and bar, and the historic artifacts scattered around make Grady's a very appealing hotel. The rooms here are larger than most downtown hotels and have very high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows. There are only 51 rooms so you get a lot of individual attention from the staff. Breakfast at the Wild Swann, which is included with the room, is very good.

If you're coming to Louisville for the Symphony or an Actors Theater production, this is an obvious choice, since it's only steps away from those two.

The valet parking, which is unavoidable since there is zero other parking available, costs $40 a night, which seems a bit steep. Free WiFi is strong and fast. "River view" rooms are actually only views of the Ali Center (they were probably riverview before it was built).

We review the Wild Swann restaurant on the restaurant page, but we should mention that if you stay here, at some point during your stay you must try their Shrimp & Grits, Curry Cauliflower Soup, Beef Short Rib Rigatoni and Cranberry Bourbon Bread Pudding. And the bar does make a very good Old Fashioned.

21C is a cross between an art gallery and a hotel. You're surrounded by art throughout the hotel, but the 91 rooms have high ceilings and tall windows so are very comfy. They all have art displayed, some of it inspiring, some of it challenging and/or disorienting. Their Proof on Main is an outstanding restaurant we review on our restaurant page. The big gold statue of David outside and the red penguins along the roof add an eclectic touch. The rooms and bathroons are fine but, oddly, there's no desk to work at for anyone on a business trip. The 21C is on West Main amid the Ali Center, various museums, the Glassworks, and just down the street from the KFC Yum Center and Actors Theater.
Oddly enough, the Hilton Corporation bought two hotels right across Fourth Street from one another. The other one is Embassy Suites. It's a 100 year old facility Hilton has dramatically updated with large, state of the art rooms, a complementary breakfast buffet, small pool and well equipped fitness center. The Orchid Room, named for the old Wild Orchid Tea Room up on the 16th floor, is their restaurant but it only serves breakfast and only to guests. Rooms here cost about half what they do across the street at the Seelbach. Valet parking is the same $40 a night.
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