The charming Ohio River city excels at old-timey arts. But this is not your grandma’s quilting bee.

On the Ohio River in western Kentucky, Paducah’s pretty-as-a-picture downtown enchants visitors with brick-paved streets and antebellum architecture that invites comparisons to Savannah and Charleston. Billed as the “Quilt Capital of the World,” Paducah shreds homey preconceptions of the folk art, showcasing new-wave materials and eye-popping pieces that are solidly 21st century, earning this river town designation as a UNESCO Creative City—one of only six in the United States and about a hundred worldwide. The National Quilt Museum has galleries that wouldn’t feel out of place in a contemporary metropolitan arts venue, and this year, the attraction marks its silver anniversary with exhibitions including the edgy Here and There: Works by the Manhattan Quilt Guild (through November 15).

An Artist Relocation Program is attracting a new generation of talent to the Lower Town Arts District, home to the Paducah School of Art & Design. The oldest residential neighborhood in town, it has inviting streets, Victorian-era homes converted into live/work spaces, outdoor sculptures, galleries, and antiques stores. Eclectic studio-shop combos like MAKE and Ephemera are worth browsing for handmade gifts and unique art supplies. On the bucolic riverfront, more than 50 floodwall murals offer a primer on Paducah’s history as a Civil War battle site, transportation hub, and A-bomb production powerhouse. Duck into the River Discovery Center to try steering a Coast Guard vessel on an interactive simulator.

The über-urban 1857 Hotel delivers New York style and exposed brick in 10 boutique rooms and a swank bar/event space. Farm-to-table Freight House presents artful plates with locally sourced meat and produce, along with fiery shrimp and pimento cheese grits. Both spots exemplify Paducah’s—ahem—seamless blend of past and current, quaint and cosmopolitan.


Dry Ground Brewing Co. in the landmark Coca-Cola Plant pulls tasty pints of Preacher Pils and ’37 Flood IPA.


Locals rave about the sammies and scones at 140-year-old Kirchhoff’s Bakery and Deli.


Quilt in a Day offers patterns, materials, and instructions for a DIY masterpiece.


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