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Arts and culture

Few cities the size of Louisville can boast their own ballet, orchestra, regional repertory theatre, children's theatre, opera, dinner theatre and Shakespeare festival.

Louisville is an arts town with resident theater, opera and ballet companies as well as an orchestra. Actors Theatre of Louisville each March mounts a new-play festival that is known internationally for launching works that later hit the stage in New York and other cities. And the Speed Art Museum, thanks to some recent large endowment gifts, continues to build its collection and bring attention-grabbing exhibits to town.

Equally worth getting to know are some of the smaller arts and entertainment options — from the Louisville Slugger Museum, where visitors learn about the storied history of baseball’s most famous piece of equipment, to the Youth Performing Arts School, a public school arts magnet program that stages tomorrow’s talents today, to the Jamey Aebersold Jazz Studies Program, which each summer brings in musicians from all over the nation and presents many in concerts open to the public.

Main Street downtown is a performing arts hub, with the Kentucky Center hosting its own programming there as well as providing a home to resident companies in three different theaters. Actors Theatre stages high-quality productions year-round. The East Market District (NuLu) neighborhood has become an attraction with its restaurants and art galleries.

As for attractions, Louisville has both the wild and woolly versions, as well as the sublime. The Louisville Extreme Park, located downtown, is one of the nation’s best skate parks, with awesome features including a 24 foot full-pipe. The park offers a great balance of street-style, transition-style and vert. The Louisville Extreme Park provides skateboarding, in-line skating and biking opportunities to people of all ages and skill levels.

The Louisville Zoo has over 1,300 animals exhibited in beautiful natural settings.  Favorites include gorillas, lions, tigers, penguins, pygmy hippos, orangutans, reptiles, hundreds of colorful birds and many more. One of the newest and most popular attractions is Glacier Bay, home to its polar bears.

The Belle of Louisville steamboat, docked downtown, first floated in 1914 on the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh under the name of the Idlewild. Arriving in Louisville in 1931, the boat served as an amusement park ferry. After some time away from Louisville, and a rather hard life, the deteriorating boat was bought by Louisville in 1964 for the scrap price of $34,000. After restoration, the steamboat made its comeback with a race against the Delta Queen, which has now become a tradition, on the Wednesday before the Kentucky Derby.

The Belle is recognized as the oldest river steamboat still in operation. She was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989, and celebrated her 90th birthday in 2004. The Belle continues to be owned and operated by the Louisville Metro Government.