Kentucky Derby Planning Guide

The horses. The hats. The mint juleps. There are few events more iconic than the Kentucky Derby. From singing “My Old Kentucky Home” to watching jockeys parade past the crown of roses, eagerly awaiting the sound of the bugle, it’s a horse-lover’s dream. 

Unfortunately, a dream vacation and an experience of a lifetime could become a nightmare without the right planning. Visiting Louisville during Derby weekend can get expensive, and the crowds can make it hard to participate in all of the activities. By following these tips, you can make sure you’re ready for the Kentucky Derby and the fabulous weekend that comes with it.  


Determine Your Budget Beforehand

Attending the Kentucky Derby can be a $500-weekend or a $10,000-weekend depending on your budget. While most people dream of spending $7,000 to watch the race from the Stakes Room, few can afford the cost and opt for more affordable options. 

The base cost for tickets to the Kentucky Derby is $105. These general admission tickets don’t have assigned seating, but you can still see the horses saddled up before the race. If you want to splurge and make the weekend truly memorable, consider opting for Clubhouse seating for $750. These tickets also include the Oaks race the day before, so you can spend a whole weekend watching the races. By knowing how much you want to spend, you can plan the rest of your trip accordingly, so you don’t go broke before you even arrive.   


Book Your Lodging a Year in Advance

The best time to plan next year’s Kentucky Derby trip is to book your hotel before this year’s Kentucky Derby. Hotel rooms fill up fast and you might struggle to find a room in a good location that can accommodate your whole group. You can also expect the costs of the rooms to increase dramatically. Time Money reports the average cost of a hotel room on Derby Day is $1,227, almost 10 times the normal cost for rooms during the rest of the month. 

If you’re booking late or can’t afford to pay the current hotel costs, consider booking in towns outside of Louisville. Even if you’re an hour or two outside of the city (Lexington is only 80 miles away and there’s a shuttle bus available), you might be able to save money by driving in that morning. Additionally, check out lodging-specific sites to find discounts you might not be able to see on other travel pages. 


Make Dining Reservations Beforehand encourages Derby attendees to make reservations in advance for most fine eateries, and this advice can be applied to other restaurants as well. The town will be packed, so calling ahead to make a reservation or put your name on a list can save you significant wait times. After all, you’re going to Louisville to watch the horses, not to wait for food!  

The Kentucky Derby is a great experience whether you attend once in your life or return every year. With the right planning, you can focus on the fun, not on the costs. 

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