Image via Flickr by Bill Brine

The Kentucky Derby is a one-of-a-kind experience. Over 150,000 people attend this race every year. If this is your first time attending “The Run for the Roses,” here are some tips for making it a very memorable experience.

It’s a Full Day

Although general admission tickets are available, those seats don’t offer a live view of the race. Instead, you watch on a 4K video board. Go one step up and pick outdoor reserved seating. Those tickets cost several hundred dollars, but you get some view of the race. The day begins early with a full slate of races to get you ready for the Derby. All tickets allow access to the paddock where you see the horses up close as they get ready for racing.

Splurge for Hospitality

Buying a ticket with the hospitality package assures you a grandstand pass and includes food and drink. The more expensive the ticket, the better the food and drink and view of the race. Whether you include hospitality or not, try the traditional mint julep, the official Kentucky Derby drink. Tickets for the hospitality package begin at around $700, but each level has its own betting windows and restrooms, plus a souvenir program.  You can save money on nearby Louisville hotels with Hotel Planner. Staying near Churchhill Downs will make it convenient to attend the Derby and check out other attractions in the area as well.

What to Wear

The tradition of women’s hats dates back to the very beginning. Although women are not required to don hats, almost all wear one. Roses are the traditional decoration for hats, but pretty much anything goes. Pair your hat with a simple dress and comfortable shoes. Men customarily wear pastel suits and simple hats. You’ll spend most of the race day roaming the paddock area or standing in the grandstands watching the races, so make sure you wear comfortable shoes or bring a pair along to change into.


Derby weather is unpredictable. It might be sunny and hot or cool and rainy. Churchill Downs does not allow umbrellas as they obscure the view of others. So if the skies are cloudy, bring a light rain jacket. Bring sunscreen and lip balm with you, too. It’s no fun getting a sunburn at the race.

What to Bring and Not Bring

Even if you order online, you must show a paper ticket to enter Churchill Downs. You’ll pass through a security checkpoint, so be prepared. Do not bring purses larger than 12 inches in any dimension or cameras with detachable lenses, camcorders, or laptops. Also, no outside food or drink is allowed. Cell service is spotty, and there is no Wi-Fi. Betting windows only accept cash per Kentucky laws.

Enjoy Yourself

Relax and take in all the sights and sounds of the Kentucky Derby. The history of the race dates back to 1875, and it’s the first race of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing. When you go, there are three things you must do at the Derby: try a mint julep, wear a hat, and place a bet. Even if you just place the two-dollar minimum bet, it’s more fun when you root for a horse. Enjoy your day at the races.