15 Best Things to Do in Franklin, KY

Franklin, KY
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Franklin, Kentucky, is a home rule-class city off Interstate 1-65 north of Nashville, Tennessee.

It is the county seat of Simpson County, Kentucky, and is on the south-central border of the state.

It has been honored as one of the 50 Best Small Southern Towns, the only Kentucky city on the 1-65 to be on this list.

Travelers on the 1-65 find Franklin a popular stop for several reasons: it has a neat variety of restaurants and chain motels, no city traffic, and cheap gas prices.

It was formally incorporated by the state assembly on November 2, 1820, and named for founding father Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin is known for having a top-rated golf course, a drive-in theatre, three historical museums, and special events like car shows, horse races, concerts, and music festivals.

The shopping district around Franklin’s 1882 courthouse is meticulously preserved and listed on the National Register; here, you will see lovely cast-iron storefronts, art galleries, and antique malls.

The main attraction in Franklin is the Kentucky Downs entertainment complex, which offers Las Vegas-type gaming in the wee hours and thoroughbred racing on its European-style racecourse.

More entertainments are in its outdoor murals, horse-and-buggy communities,  elegant houses, and celebrity sites, such as the church where Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash got married.

There are many interesting occupations in Franklin, so if you’re ready, here’s a list of some of the best things to do in the city.

Go Off to the Races at Kentucky Downs

Cars parked outside the Kentucky Downs in Franklin, Kentucky
Brian Stansberry, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kentucky Downs is a Thoroughbred horse-racing track along the Kentucky-Tennessee border in Franklin.

It stands out among American tracks, as it is a European-style racecourse with its surface made of turf or grass; and it is kidney-shaped, featuring undulation and a right-hand bend.

The Mint gaming hall at Kentucky Downs is home to over 1,000 gaming machines that pay millions monthly.

You can have fun playing slots, enjoying jackpots, winning money, and even participating in some horse race betting.

If you’re into alternate pursuits, you can simply enjoy the racecourse, one of the longest in the nation at one mile and five-sixteenths in length, with an average field size of 11 horses per race.

Kentucky Downs hosts the Kentucky Cup Turf Festival, a full event of top-tier horse racing that features four major turf stakes, and it hosts season-long simulcasts for the Kentucky-Tennessee market.

Look for Old Things at Bright’s Antique World

Come and look through 35,000 square feet of floor space at this quaint antique shop, and you just might spot treasures.

The aisles at this store are brightened with street lamps, and the booths are shaped into storefronts where different sellers offer up their wares to the public.

You will see items such as antiques, vintage collectibles, retro items, nostalgia pieces, and household goods.

Vendors offer antique artifacts, useful tools, old comic books, tea sets, ancient toys, quaint ornaments, odd furniture, memorabilia, and more!

You might also want to join them at their weekend bazaar every fortnight when they take their wares to the vintage flea market.

Allow yourself plenty of hours to browse at Bright’s Antique World and divide your time so you don’t miss anything in this amazing array of antiques.

Gallery on the Square is a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting local artists that have been active since 1992.

It has been upheld through contributions and membership from the Franklin community over the years.

It is operated by the Simpson County Guild of Artists and Craftsmen, and its mission is to support artists, art, and education in the community.

The gallery prides itself on a fine selection of original art from Kentucky and Tennessee craftsmen and artists.

You will discover a huge range of artworks, such as glassworks, ironworks, metalworks, jewelry, pottery, woodwork, candlemaking, fiber art, painting, mixed media, and more.

The Gallery on the Square hosts six shows a year from regional artists and also holds Happy Brushes, a social painting class for all levels of painters.

It is a heartfelt art collective that always gives back to the community.

Have a Drink at Duelling Grounds Distillery

Duelling Grounds is a Franklin-owned distillery specializing in small batch ultra-premium bourbon, aged in charred white oak to draw out a unique, sweet, woody flavor.

Linkumpinch Bourbon, named after Linkumpinch Farm where legendary duels were fought, has batches that are double-pot distilled and aged for four years in charred oak barrels; it exemplifies the grains of the region.

The distillery holds 30-40 minute tours led by the people who make the signature Linkumpinch Bourbon that teach visitors about the ingredients and the process that makes it unique.

Stop by for a tour and a tasting and be impressed by the craftsmanship, professionalism, and flavors that the establishment creates.

Glimpse the Past at Simpson County Historical Society and History Center

Located in the old stone jail built in 1879 and used up to 1886, this museum contains a variety of archives that include wills, deeds, marriage certificates, tax records, and county court documents.

At the jailer’s quarters are paintings and artifacts donated over the years, and the cells have been left just as they were when last used.

Maintained at this museum are extensive family history files and the genealogical collection of the different counties in Tennessee.

You will find old scrapbooks, bibles, funeral records, manuscripts, maps, pictures, obituaries, memorabilia, and a wide genealogical library.

Unfortunately, some of the records were lost due to a fire razing the courthouse in 1882, but there are still exhibits and records in the old jail that go way back to the Civil War.

The Simpson County Historical Society conducts the tours at this facility.

Play Golf at Kenny Perry’s Country Creek Golf Course

Kenny Perry is a PGA tour veteran and a Franklin resident who designed Country Creek, an 18-hole golf course in a lovely pastoral setting.

He built the place because he wanted to make golf accessible to anybody, and he designed the layout to be fun for players at all handicap levels.

The course is nestled in the hills and woods of south-central Kentucky, with a practice range and a putting green and a challenging path meandering into the pretty countryside.

Golfers will love the well-designed layout, with elevation changes, rolling greens, and fairways in great condition.

Golfers will also have a good time with Kenny Perry memorabilia throughout the pro-shop, from his first set of golf clubs to his tournament photos.

Spend a Night at Sandford Duncan Inn

Sandford Duncan Inn was a stagecoach stop in the early 19th century and is one of the oldest log structures in Simpson County.

It is thought to have been built in 1818 in what used to be Logan County.

A corner of the property bought in 1818 was on the ‘Lexington to Nashville Road,’ and it was down here that the travelers came to visit.

Tax records show that by 1822, the inn was also operating as a tavern.

Residents stayed to prepare for their famous duels at the grounds of Linkompinch right next to the inn: many gentlemen came to settle their differences.

Duels were fought at sunrise, and most participants and their ‘firsts’ would stay at the inn the night before and drink rum in the tavern.

Famous figures stayed at the inn over its history, and it is still furnished like it was in the 1820s and the 1830s.

Take Your Family to Feathers and Friends Alpaca Farm

Feathers and Friends is a full-service alpaca farm in the lush farmlands of Franklin in Central Kentucky.

They sell alpacas for breeding stock and for pet and fiber animals, and their dedication to the well-being of these animals is of the highest concern.

Come and appreciate these lovely and entertaining animals on the farm as you feed them, pet them, and take fun pictures.

The farm has a strict breeding program with continuing research and education towards genetics so they can produce vigorous conformations and excellent fiber qualities with their Huacaya alpacas.

As the first promoter of the alpaca fiber industry in Simpson County, they are committed to the consciousness and development of alpaca fiber as a key domestic textile.

Feathers and Friends carries a full line of natural fiber clothing, alpaca yarns that make up scarves, hats, bags, stuffed toys, and other products for everyone’s needs.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Drop by for a Visit at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill

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Historic Buildings at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
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Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, located 18 minutes from Franklin, is the oldest National Landmark in Kentucky.

At this place, there are 34 buildings from a gentler age built between 1809 and 1875 and set on a gravel track.

A communal religious sect called the Shakers used to occupy these buildings, which include huge dormitories, barns, stables, subsidiary shops, and a mill complex.

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Cowboys at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
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The Shaker’s lifestyle covered simplicity in all sorts of things, with communal living and celibacy and withdrawal from the world.

They had a broadminded theology that included equality between genders and races, green living, and pacificism.

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Trees at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
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The Shakers started producing items for sale in the late 18th and 19th centuries: household items, textiles, and tools, objects of timeless beauty and quality.

Today at the historic center, see the Shaker living spaces and the relics of their lifestyle in the largest collection of Shaker artifacts in the country.

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View of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill
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Sip Wine at Sumner Crest Winery

About a 13-minute drive from Franklin, Sumner Crest Winery is the perfect stopover for wine connoisseurs.

There are daily wine tastings and more than twenty wines to pick from, created on the premises.

The Hall Family built this place on a shared love of viticulture, a passion for creating a winery with distinct characteristics, and second-generation vintner capacities.

Come to their taste their flights, two-ounce pours of wine from their wine list that are sure to satisfy your palate, which you can enjoy on their patio or their beautiful chandelier room.

They have VIP tastings with a wine consultant who will instruct on how to properly taste and give a history and insights, and premiere tastings complete with hors d’oeuvres and cheeses to properly complement the wine.

You can also dine at their Grape Vine Café with homemade melts, flatbreads, soups, appetizers, and a delicious seasonal menu.

Admire the Landscape at the Baker Arboretum and Downing Museum

Half an hour from Franklin in Bowling Green, the Baker Arboretum and Downing Museum was founded in 1992 by Jerry Baker, which covers 115 acres of land.

Baker worked with landscape architect Mitchell Leichcardt to create an arboretum: a tapestry of trees and art, a beautiful collection of Japanese maples and conifers interspersed by magnolias, dogwoods, and other flowering trees.

You will see 88 species of conifers, 106 types of Japanese and other Asian maples, 153 species of Kentucky native plants, and 600 total species with over 1,500 varieties—a stunning array of plant species arranged in a serene park.

You will also see the Downing Museum, showcasing the work of internationally renowned sculptor, painter, and designer Joseph Dudley Downing who has exhibited all over the globe.

The museum also serves as the exhibition space for local artists as well as those recognized by the state and internationally.

See the Mysteries of Octagon Hall

The haunted Octagon Hall in Franklin, Kentucky
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Known for its Civil War history, Octagon Hall is an antebellum landmark, which is nine minutes' drive away from Franklin.

It was built in 1847, and owner Andrew Caldwell decided it would not be a mere four-walled structure but an eight-walled edifice that could be seen nowhere else in the region.

Its grounds were soon occupied by Confederate soldiers in 1862, with Union soldiers in constant pursuit throughout the Civil War years.

Front View of Octagon Hall
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Osteopath Dr. Miles Williams purchased Octagon Hall in 1918, and it became a rental property until his death.

Today, it is preserved and restored by the Octagon Hall Foundation.

Today you can view an extensive library at the Hall, along with a display of Civil War artifacts, Native American artifacts, genealogical history research materials, a slave cemetery, and historic gardens.

It is also considered one of the most haunted places in the South, and there are ghost stories associated with the Caldwell family, enslaved people, and soldiers from the past.

Find Local Black History at the African-American Heritage Center

In the heart of the Harristown National Historic District is this early 20th century Victorian home that has been restored to hold a font of the exhibits and records of local black history.

It is an educational and cultural facility designed to echo the happenings of the past, reflect on the events of the present, and preserve these findings for future generations.

The programs and activities of this center highlight the outpouring of deep contributions, heritage, and rich history of African-Americans.

They serve to showcase what roles and services African-Americans have played in the history of the area.

Their ultimate purpose is to boost and improve, through the appropriate programs and events, genealogical research, workshops, and activities, an understanding of the rich life of African-Americans.

In addition to their cultural enrichment programs, they also hold educational programs for children and outreach programs to feed the hungry.

Catch a Film at the Franklin Drive-in

Franklin Drive-In is a family-owned and operated movie theater that has been in business since 1969.

Kick off your weekend nights with a trip to the drive-in, and have a unique experience as you watch your favorite movies underneath the stars.

Just drive to the toll booth and pay, pick a good spot at the drive-in, find the radio station that plays the movie audio, and have a grand time watching the movie from the comfort of your car.

You can even bring a handheld radio and lawn chairs and sit out in the open or lay in the back of a pickup or hatchback with blankets and pillows.

Also, refresh yourself at their concession stand with tasty treats, such as popcorn, wings, potato wedges, and corndogs.

You pay one price for a double feature at this theater with a short intermission between enjoying movies.

Learn about Rail Travel at the Historic Rail Park and Train Museum

Also located half an hour from Franklin in Bowling Green, the Historic Rail Park and Train Museum is a place where you can step back into the rail travel of a past time and learn about this heritage.

It is located in the former Louisville and Nashville Railway Station.

It has been restored into a two-story self-guided museum where visitors can educate themselves on the history of the track and ask questions of ‘real railroaders’ via an interactive gallery.

The exhibits are filled with railroading history, which highlights railroads from a cultural standpoint and displays actual items that were put to use in railcars.

Displays cover the African-American viewpoint during segregation, the Civil War experiences of the railroad, Women in Railroading, and the nitty-gritty Business of the Railroad.

Currently, the Historic Rail Park displays seven restored cars for touring outside on the premises.

Learn about trains and railroads and stack up your historical knowledge at this unique facility.

Final Thoughts

There are many varied and unexpected encounters to meet you in this city.

Go to this list if you ever plan to visit there, so you’ll be updated on the best things to do.

If you’re into offbeat history and exploring the unusual, you’ll soon feel right at home in Franklin.