Paducah, Kentucky, is a small city full of big adventures. From kayaking on the Ohio river to exploring art galleries and boutique stores, Paducah has something for everyone. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast looking to take in the Kentucky landscapes or an urban explorer searching for unique finds, Paducah offers fun activities and attractions that will make your visit memorable. Whether you are there for Quilt Week or just passing through, here are nine things to do in Paducah.
Brief History of Paducah
Paducah, Kentucky was originally settled around 1815 and became the county seat of McCracken County in 1832. Its name was derived from the largest nation of Native Americans in North America, the Padouca Indians.
Because of its location at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers, the city has a history of flooding. Flooding has been a common occurrence, with the worst occurring in 1937 when the city was inundated with over 30 feet of water.
The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) built several dams along the rivers that helped to prevent future flooding and provided power for Paducah’s industrial development. (The Kentucky Dam is about 25 miles to the east of Paducah.) In 1940, the US Navy opened a uranium enrichment plant in the city, making Paducah a major center of the Atomic Age. (It ceased operating in 2013.)
Paducah is known for its cultural heritage with multiple museums and galleries such as the National Quilt Museum and Market House Theatre. In addition to its artistic influences, Paducah is also home to a variety of outdoor recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and hiking. Visitors can explore the many parks that line the banks of the Ohio River and enjoy a variety of water sports. With its unique combination of culture and nature, Paducah is an ideal destination for anyone looking for a fun and relaxing vacation.
Paducah is a fun, charming little city that can easily be explored in a couple of days. You should visit and see why it was named the World’s 7th City of Crafts and Folk Art by UNESCO in 2013.
Let’s look at nine things you should do when in Paducah.
1. Eat at a Fifth-Generation German Bakery
I listed Kirchhoff’s Barkery and Deli first on this list of things to do in Paducah because it is an absolutely incredible bakery and I could eat my weight in croissants there. If you are there during an event, expect to see a line forming outside the door just prior to opening. In addition to the best croissants and pastries, they also bake fresh bread, dessert bars, cookies, cake, and pie. For lunch they serve fresh made deli sandwiches, salad, and soup.
The croissants are flaky and the pastries are sweet and delicious. A plain croissant is only $1.25 and a small danish will only set you back $2.00. Get there early to get a hot ham and cheese croissant for breakfast and then walk next door to the coffee shop for a cup of coffee. Alternatively, sit outside at one of the tables and you might feel like you have been transported to Europe.
Kirchhoff’s Bakery and Deli is located in historic downtown Paducah at 118 Market House Square – just down the street from the Market House Theatre. It opens Monday through Friday at 7 am and at 8 am on Saturday. (For more information, click here to visit Kirchhoff’s website.)
2. Eat at Paducah’s First and Only Farm-to-Table Restaurant
The Freight House is another place that you should dine at when you are in Paducah. Chef Sara Bradley is the brains and creative genius behind this one-of-a-kind restaurant. She’s a Paducah native who places emphasis on fresh ingredients from local farms.
The Freight House has become a family business, with Sara’s mom, Beverly, making desserts and coleslaw.
If you are a bourbon connoisseur, then I have some good news for you. The Freight House has been listed as one of the Great Bourbons Bars of America. It has a huge collection of bourbons from around Kentucky as well as from around the world. (Hakushu single malt, anyone?)
The Freight House is located in the former Paducah Freight Depot at 330 South 3rd Street. Click here to see a sample menu. It is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 5:00 pm until 9:00 pm.
3. Eat and Drink inside an old Cocoa-Cola Bottling Plant
The Art Deco Coke Plant in Paducah was built in 1939 and served the area for about 50 years. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and has found new life repurposed as a mixed-used facility housing diverse entities such as a yoga studio, tea & coffee shop, brewery, and pizza restaurant.
Paducah’s Mellow Mushroom occupies a good portion of the facility and stone-bakes their pizzas and serves beer in a lively environment with a nod to Paducah’s creative side.
Mellow Mushroom is located at 3121 Broadway Street and it opens daily at 11:00 am and is open until 9:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and until 10:00 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
If you are a craft beer aficionado, then you will want to make haste and get yourself to Dry Ground Brewing – it’s next door to Mellow Mushroom. There you will be able to sample Paducah-brewed craft beer, classic beers, guest taps, and some hard cider. You can even eat your Mellow Mushroom pizza there.
What I found pretty cool about Dry Ground Brewing was the absence of televisions and the addition of board games that patrons can use. The emphasis is on disconnecting from technology and connecting with people. (Curious about the name? Visit the Dry Ground Brewing Company website and read the interesting story behind it.)
Dry Ground Brewing is open from 3:00 pm until 11:00 pm Mondays – Thursdays, from 3:00 pm until midnight on Fridays, from noon until midnight on Saturdays, and from 1:00 pm until 9:00 pm on Sundays.
If beer isn’t your cup of tea…or if you want an exceptionally good cup of tea, then you should make your way to Pipers Tea & Coffee.
This tea and coffee shop is the real deal. It was founded by a husband (he’s from the UK) and wife (she’s from the US) team. Together they have a passion for brewing the perfect tea and coffee.
They taught me a thing or two about both of those well-loved beverages and I am grateful for that information. Oh, and that Matcha Strawberry Lemonade pictured below – it was fantastic. I recommend that you try it – just be sure to stir the two together before drinking for optimal satisfaction.
Pipers Tea and Coffee is open from 6:00 am until 6:00 pm daily.
If you fancy yourself a coffee aficionado, you might want to check out Etcetera Coffee House. Located in the Lower Town community at 320 N. 6th Street, it has been helping Paducah wake up to fresh brew since 2006.
4. Discover the Importance of America’s Rivers
Paducah’s location at the junction of two rivers made it a vital stopping point early on in our country’s history. Many people probably do not realize how important and how efficient shipping via America’s rivers is even during this modern age.
The River Discovery Center is dedicated to preserving the heritage of America’s rivers with featured exhibits and educational programs. It is a great place for children to explore. They will love learning about river habitats and interacting at the 7 music stations around the museum. My favorite thing there? The boat simulator which allows you to “drive” a boat of your choice during a daytime or nighttime scenario. Check out the video below for a quick glimpse.
The River Discovery Center is located at 117 S Water Street and is open from 9:30 am until 5:00 pm Mondays – Saturdays. Admission is $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $8 for students. Children ages 4 and younger are admitted free.
5. Visit the World’s Most Awesome Quilt Museum
If you’re looking for a unique way to spend your time in Paducah, make sure you visit the The National Quilt Museum! It’s one of the largest quilt museums in the world and features a variety of different types of quilts from around the globe.
It is the top tourist attraction in Paducah with over 115,000 visitors annually. Once you step inside and see how today’s quilters are creating artistic masterpieces, you will understand why. And that picture you see above is just one of a great collection of quilts in the world’s largest facility devoted to quilts.
There are often art shows and special exhibits that change throughout the year. If you’re an avid quilter, this is a must-see destination! And while you’re there, why not take a quilting workshop? You’ll learn the basics of creating beautiful works of art with fabric and thread, as well as get to make some friends who share your passion. It is easy to see why Paducah is a Unesco Creative City after visiting this museum.
The National Quilt Museum is located at 215 Jefferson Street and is open from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm Mondays through Saturdays and from 1:00 pm until 5:00 pm on Sundays. Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors, $5 for students, $11 for military, and children under 12 are admitted free with an adult.
6. Visit the Local Art Center
The Yeiser Art Center houses rotating exhibitions that spotlight various art forms and techniques created by regional as well as international artists. There is also a small gift shop on site that sells Kentucky-crafted items, original art, and craft media.
Yeiser Art Center is located at 200 Broadway Street and is open from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays.
7. Learn About Paducah’s Past via the Flood Wall
Paducah’s worst natural disaster was The Flood of 1937. During this time, 27,000 residents had to be evacuated as the river swelled to over 60 feet and submerged 95 percent of Paducah. Because of this devastating event, the flood wall was erected in 1939 to help protect the city.
The Paducah wall is 14 feet tall (3 feet higher than the 1937 flood) and part of a 12.25-mile concrete and earthen levee system. Being that Paducah is a creative city, 50 murals that tell Paducah’s story have been carefully painted on the floodwall by the Dafford Murals Team. It’s free to visit floodwall murals and a great way to burn off some of those calories you consumed at one of the places mentioned above.
8. Get Creative and Make Something
Kijsa is a classically trained artist with a BFA in Painting from Baylor University and graduate work in historical techniques through Art History at Vanderbilt University. But don’t let her credentials intimidate you – she’s down to earth and just wants to help you be creative.
MAKE Paducah offers scheduled classes and private art/crafting events. They also allow you to create on your own with uninstructed MAKE time. If you are in Paducah in April or May, check MAKE’s calendar to see when the 656 Feet Painting Event is offered. It’s MAKE’s way of honoring an employee’s legacy by painting and providing shoes to people in Uganda.
MAKE Paducah is located at 628 Broadway Street. It is open on Saturdays from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm.
Another interesting shop that just opened next door to MAKE is Beads & Rugs.
If you like to make jewelry, then you need to visit this store which has a large selection of beads that you won’t find at one of those chain craft stores.
Beads and Rugs is located at 626 Broadway Street. Store hours are Monday – Saturday from 11:00 am until 5:00 pm.
9. Attend a Local Theatre Production
Now you might think that a town with fewer than 30,000 residents wouldn’t have a theatre, but Paducah does indeed have one.
The Market House Theatre has been nationally recognized and has been producing musicals, dramas, and comedies for five decades. They also have fall ghost tours and murder mystery dinners. Tickets go on sale 4 to 6 weeks before the performance.
The Market House Theatre is located at 132 Market House Square.
More Things To Do in Paducah
Visit the Lloyd Tilghman House and Civil War Museum – History buffs will want to take a tour of the Lloyd Tilghman House, a historic home that dates back to 1852. It stands as one of the few remaining antebellum homes in western Kentucky and has been recognized by both the state and federal governments for its significance.
If you are in need of some green space, make your way to Stuart Nelson Park at 175 S Nelson Park Road. This park offers a play area, walking trails, and plenty of wide-open spaces for recreation. It’s a great place to take your pooch for a run.
Where is Paducah, Kentucky?
Paducah is located in the southwest corner of Kentucky at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. It is midway between Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri, and is in the Central time zone.
The nearest airport is the Barkley Regional Airport.
Search For Nearby Accommodations
Looking for accommodations in Paducah? Here’s an interactive map of the area to help you plan your trip.
Nearby options include The 1857 Hotel, a boutique hotel with 13 rooms located within walking distance of all of the downtown attractions, Holiday Inn Paducah Riverfront, a short 8-minute walk from the National Quilt Museum, and the Belle Louise Historic Guest House, a beautiful Italianate mansion built in 1879 located in the Historic Lower Town Arts District.
You can get more information about Paducah at the visitor center located at 128 Broadway. You can also request a free visitor guide at the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau website.