Kentucky : Safety by City
- Bowling Green
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- Cumberland Falls
- Harlan Tri-Cities
- La Grange
- St. Matthews
Bourbon, beauty, and bafflement are all keys to unlocking the mysteries and magic of Bardstown, Kentucky.
This city is known as the Bourbon Capital of the World.
It’s such a hot ticket here that when I went to explore the excursions on the tourism website, every last one of them was related to bourbon.
Bardstown was once ranked as one of the Most Beautiful Small Towns in America by USA Today.
The city really does have a look like you’re walking in a painting.
Bright colored buildings and contrasting awnings, with a red Gothic-style old courthouse at the center of it all.
Country Living ranked Bardstown as one of the best Christmas towns for a holiday bucket list.
The history is rich here, including a museum dedicated to the women of the 1800s and the Civil War and an African American Heritage Museum.
You can even visit a 1790s replica frontier village.
You’ve got about as many historical places to tour as you do bourbon tasting rooms.
There’s an underbelly of mystery and speculation in Bardstown, with five unsolved murders between 2013 and 2016.
One was a Bardstown Police Officer, seemingly set up by a fake roadblock.
Another involved a missing woman whose father was killed the next year.
Then there’s another mother and daughter who were slaughtered in their own home.
All cases are still unsolved with few leads, generating nationwide interest from law enforcement and true crime fans.
It’s hard to imagine these brutal crimes in such a serene slice of “My Old Kentucky,” a song written by Stephen Foster in the 1850s.
Warnings & Dangers in Bardstown
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low overall risk for tourists in Bardstown. Even with the rash of murders from a few years ago, only 14% of crimes here happen against strangers. Balance out what crime there is with the number of things to do, and you can easily use common safety steps to have an enjoyable vacation here.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Bardstown is less than an hour from Louisville, but you'll need to take a taxi or rental car to get here. Once you are in Bardstown, there are a handful of taxi services and plenty of tour shuttles. There isn't a public bus system. There's low risk with all options, but unless you have your own car, you'll be on someone else's schedule.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
Shoplifting is the largest category of thefts here, but there weren't any pickpockets or purse snatchings reported in the past few years. Car break-ins account for 23% of thefts, so it's better to carry your wallet with you than leave it in the car.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
You'll get a wide variety of weather risks here, and Kentucky has really taken the brunt of the storms the past few years. From historic flooding to deadly tornadoes to crippling winter storms - there isn't a season that doesn't have a threat. Because of that, there's medium risk.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
There were three robberies in 2020, and the highest number of robberies in a year was 2015 when 16 robberies happened. Most years, there are fewer than 10 robberies a year. This is a low risk for tourists, but also be sure you never let a safety rating cause you to let your guard down.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here since it's a small town of fewer than 14,000 people and isn't near a military base. Louisville or Fort Knox would be the biggest potential targets nearby. Both of those locations are about 45 minutes away.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
In 2017, a scam was reported of two men dressed as priests going door-to-door trying to scam people out of money. Turns out, they were seminarians from a regional church collecting donations. What's good about this is that a keen citizen took action about a possible scam. While there is a low risk of a tourist being scammed, you should know the neighbors are watching out for everyone.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk for women here and a lot of fun things to do on top of that. Even the victims of crimes were evenly split 50/50 between men and women. You should use extra caution if you're taking bourbon tours. People can get feisty when they have too much to drink. Always go on these tours with a buddy if you can. If not, buddy up to the tour guide for safety.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The city improved the water treatment and transportation systems in 2021, and all standards were met or exceeded. There were no violations, according to the 2021 Water Quality Report.
Safest Places to Visit in Bardstown
Start downtown because that’s where you can get all the information about tours and attractions.
That old courthouse that dominates the roundabout at the center of town is actually the Tourism Commission.
Wandering the streets of downtown, you will find some unique boutiques, cafes, and souvenir shops.
I’m not going to list all 11 of the distilleries here, but I do recommend scheduling one of those excursions if you want to see multiple places and have the plan laid out for you.
However, those excursions cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,500.
Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam are two of the most popular distilleries, but the other nine options all have their own unique traits.
VisitBardstown.com is a great resource to pick and choose your preferred bourbon tours.
You can learn about the history of the second-oldest city in Kentucky and the surrounding county at the Bardstown-Nelson County Historical Museum.
To focus just on the history of bourbon here, the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History is the place for you.
“My Old Kentucky Home” is just one of the many songs composer Stephen Foster made.
Others that might be more familiar to you are “Oh! Susanna” and “Camptown Races.”
From July through August, there’s a Stephen Foster musical performance.
On Museum Row near downtown Bardstown, you’ll find The Civil War Museum & the Women’s Museum of the Civil War, Old Bardstown Village, and The General Hal Moore Military Museum.
Just east of the downtown area is My Old Kentucky Home State Park, complete with a walking tour through a plantation home.
For a unique meal, you can ride My Old Kentucky Dinner Train.
There are lunch, dinner, bourbon, winery, and murder mystery options, and children over five years old are welcome.
There’s a Polar Express in the winter for kids of all ages.
15 minutes south of Bardstown, train enthusiasts can also tour the Kentucky Railway Museum in New Haven.
20 minutes northwest of Bardstown, check out the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.
Wear good walking shoes or hiking boots, because there are miles of trails to explore here.
There are activities tailored to children of all ages and some impressive artwork mixed into the natural setting.
Bernheim at Night is a great way to see the stars and lunar events, but check the schedule during the time of your visit.
Places to Avoid in Bardstown
The downtown area and the west side of the city have the highest crime rates, but those are also two of the busiest places in the city.
When there are more people, there will inherently be more crime.
There’s nothing in the crime data that suggests you should avoid any single part of town.
The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is held in Bardstown every September.
If you don’t want to deal with large crowds, avoid this city around this time of year.
If this is one reason you are visiting, book way in advance as rooms and reservations fill up quickly.
There are traditional hotels but also some really cool bed and breakfast inns, including one in the former jail.
Download the Lyft app so you can avoid even thinking of drinking and driving.
Even if you just sampled a few things, you can still be legally intoxicated.
The Kentucky Distillery Association teamed up with Lyft to create Safe Ride KY.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Bardstown
- Follow the Bardstown Police Department on Facebook @BardstownPoliceDept. The information there is a lot more updated than on the website. To reach the main line, you can call (502) 348-3211. You can also email BardstownPolice@gmail.com if you have additional safety questions.
- If you’re going to be sampling a lot of bourbons, you really need to pace yourself and plan ahead. Have a large meal before you go, so the alcohol will take longer to absorb. Have a glass of water between samples to avoid getting too intoxicated.
- Bring your ID with you as you travel throughout Bardstown, and never let a child sneak in underage. Your ID will be checked and run through security software to verify its validity. Fake IDs will be confiscated, and police will be called.
- The city of Bardstown has an app in the Google Play and Apple Store that is more about the city services than tourism locations, but it’s still a great tool to have in your pocket.
- Here’s a great piece of safety information from Nelson County. All hotels must now have phones that dial right to 911 without dialing a one or a nine first. This is because of Kari’s Law, where a young girl in Texas tried to save her mom from being attacked, but when she dialed 911, nothing happened because the first “9” was to get to an outside line. This is good information to share with children, and you should confirm with your hotel or inn that this system is in place.
- Summer is a popular time to visit Bardstown, but it can get too hot for certain activities. Even as I write this, I’m looking at several closed trails due to excessive heat. The temperatures mixed with the humidity can create a “feels like” temperature higher than the actual temperature. On top of the heat, if you mix it with bourbon, you can quickly become dehydrated. Make sure you are replenishing with water and electrolytes throughout the day.
- Find the Nelson County Civic Center and save it in your mapping program. This is a safety shelter for tornadoes and a warming shelter if the power goes out in the winter. A tornado can happen so quickly that you should seek shelter when a storm system capable of producing tornadoes moves in.
- This is a small town, and the unsolved murders have really created a sense of somberness among community members. Don’t go asking questions about the homicides and “what really happened.” If you really want to learn more, Shay McAlister from WHAS11 hosts a Bardstown podcast where you can catch up on the crimes and ongoing investigations.
- Many of the side streets in Bardstown don’t have a center divider line. Be sure to stay on your side of the road when driving and slow down if a car is approaching from the other direction. Not everyone can figure out what “their side of the road is” without those lines.
- Parking is a problem in Bardstown. There aren’t any parking garages, and much of the available parking is on the street. There are some parking lots available as well, but the spots fill up quickly. The city’s growth has led to this problem, so if you are driving around looking for a spot, take the first one you see. Parking is free, but it’s also hard to find.
So... How Safe Is Bardstown Really?
Bardstown is such a great tourist city that citizens and police work together to keep the community safe.
All crime levels are below the national and state averages aside from property crime.
Theft is slightly higher as well.
Here’s how the risks break down in Bardstown:
- Violent Crime: 1 in 485 risk
- Robbery: 1 in 3,392 risk
- Theft: 1 in 68 risk
Even if you drink responsibly here, you’ve got to trust that others will do the same.
What are the chances of that?
Always use caution on the streets and if you spot a vehicle driving erratically, call 911 to report it.
Not everyone knows how bourbon will affect them, and you can be a good community steward by helping people who had too much to drink or calling a ride for them.
Never get into an altercation about it, but do your best to prevent an accident or injury.
How Does Bardstown Compare?
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You'll need a U.S. Travel or Work Visa to visit here from outside the country, and that process can take several months, especially as travel ramps up in the years after COVID. You need your ID on you at all times in Kentucky, but you don't need your visa. Lock that in a safe place until you head back to the airport.
You should exchange currency in Louisville or at the airport because you might not find an option in Bardstown. The U.S. Dollar is the only currency you can use, but most attractions accept credit cards or mobile payment apps.
Kentucky's weather is as wild as Wild Turkey. Bring layers of clothing to accommodate changing temperatures. In winter, you'll need to bring outerwear and boots, but there won't always be snow on the ground. Summers will be humid, and you'll sweat a lot. There's no getting around it. Wearing loose, light-colored clothing and a hat or sweat rag will be helpful.
Louisville's airport is the largest option and is less than an hour away. Lexington's Blue Grass Airport is one hour away as well. If there is severe or winter weather happening, give yourself twice as much time to get there.
Travel insurance should be a staple of any itinerary. There are just so many risks that can cause anxiety and having insurance to protect your flights, health, and belongings will put you at ease.
Bardstown Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Kentucky - Safety by City