Kentucky may be known for its horse racing, bluegrass, bourbon, and, of course, delicious, crispy fried chicken; but as residents will tell you, it is home to so much more. We’re talking about great education, tons of amenities and things to do, beautiful weather, and, yes, delicious, crispy fried chicken, too.
It’s also home to some pretty impressive communities; places like Fort Knox, Burlington, and Murray—which, according to our latest study, in an effort to unveil the best places all over the country, was the best place in Kentucky.
Of course, it wasn’t the only winner of this veritable horserace. Here are the 15 best places in Kentucky.
1. City of Murray
2. City of Jeffersontown
3. City of Erlanger
5. City of Fort Thomas
6. City of Fort Knox
7. Fort Campbell North
8. City of Lyndon
9. City of St. Matthews
10. City of Glasgow
11. City of Madisonville
12. City of Louisville
14. City of Henderson
15. City of Owensboro
What is so great about Murray? What’s with all the Forts? And how in the world did we come up with this order? Keep on reading to learn about the method of our study and just why each of these 15 places ranked so well. Giddyup!
How We Created This Ranking
In order to determine which places in Kentucky were the very best, we needed something a little bit more measurable than horse racing, bourbon, bluegrass, and crispy fried chicken—no matter how delicious. So, we settled on the following seven criteria, broken down into 13 total:
- Total amenities
- Quality of life (Cost of living, median home price, median rent price, median household income, teacher per student ratio)
- Total crimes
- Tax rates (Sales tax, income tax)
- Unemployment rate
- Commute time
- Weather (Temperature, air quality)
With these criteria in mind, we took a look at the U.S. Census data for all of the places in Kentucky with populations over 10,000, which left us with a total of 42. Then, we ranked each from one to 42 in each criteria, with one being the best and 42 being the worst. After that, we averaged our rankings into an overall Big Deal Score, with the lowest score being the winner.
Of course each of the 15 places listed are unique–some excelled in affluence; others did better in school. Overall, though, they all had a high number of total amenities, a well ranked overall quality of life, a low number of total crimes, a low tax rate, low unemployment, a shorter commute time, and since it’s the South, we awarded points for summer temperatures averaging at around 80 degrees—because ya’ll know anything below is sweater weather, and anything above, is just too hot.
If you want to see where your city ranked, you can hop down to the bottom of the post to see the complete list. Otherwise, let’s head to Murray and see what makes it so great.
This city in Calloway County, Kentucky not only scored well in our study, but, honestly, sounds like something straight out of a storybook. It’s home to tons of shopping, two parks, restaurants, a community theater, Murray State University, and an historic downtown to boot.
Of course none of that came into play in our study, but still, a little background is nice. Where it did excel on our list, though, was with its impressive 4,114 total amenities, its low cost of living score of just 79 (where the national average is 100), and some of the finest weather in the state. Murray’s average summer temperature is an ideal 76 degrees and the air quality score is a low 20, where the lower the number, the better.
Murray also aced it with an income tax of just 5.8 percent, compared to some cities where the income tax is almost 9 percent (Hopkinsville, for example.) Across the board, the state’s sales tax is 6 percent.
If all of that weren’t enough, Murray had one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, just 7.2, where the Kentucky average was 8.4 last year.
Located in Jefferson County, this quaint Kentucky place ranked well in our study, mostly due to its high overall rank in quality of life. So what does a good quality of life look like in Jeffersontown? According to our study, it looks a bit like this: over 1,600 total amenities; one of the lowest student to teacher ratios in the state—just 15 to 1; a median household income of over $55,000; and some of the hottest real estate in the state, if the high median home and rent prices are any indication, $160,400 and $783 per month, respectively.
Speaking of hot, Jeffersontown also gained points when it came to weather, with summer temperatures averaging at an ideal 76 degrees and an air quality score of 38, where 1 is the lowest (and the best). Perfect conditions whether you’re enjoying the weekly farmers’ market, bowling at Kingpin Lanes, munching on a Cafecito Italian Ice, or just studying up at the Jeffersontown Library/Museum. (Yes, you can still enjoy nice weather even if you’re indoors bowling.)
Burlington seems to have it all. It is dog-friendly, with parks like England-Idlewild Park, it has one of the area’s most beautifully designed public libraries, it has the Tousey House Restaurant, plus, the famous annual Burlington Antique Show, and now, it has this prestigious honor: No. 3 on our list. It earned the award for many reasons, but chief among them, was this community’s impressive median household income of $67,868—highest median household income on our list.
Murray also had some of the highest price real estate in Kentucky, with a median home value of $169,800 and a rent price of $834 per month, indicating a strong desirability to live in the area, and why wouldn’t you want to? Burlington only saw 1,421 crimes per 100,000 in the last year, making one of the safest place on our list.
Tying with Burlington for the No. 3 spot on our list was Erlanger. This town, also known as “Friendship City,” gained points in our study for an impressive amount of total amenities—1,545 in all—and an overall good score in quality of life, mostly due to its high median household income of $57,513.
Erlanger also scored points for affordability, both for its cost of living of 83 and an income tax of just 6.22 percent. This, plus a high median household income, makes Erlanger sound like the ideal place to get more for your money.
All of this plus beautiful parks like Center Street and Silverlake Parks, an outstanding and close-knit police department, plus places for your kids (or you) to play like Lazer Kraze, and it is no wonder Erlanger scored so well in our study.
5. Fort Thomas
With over 3,400 total amenities, Fort Thomas certainly ranked as one of the places in our study with the most going on—and a good thing, too, because with a median household income of just over $60,000, it seems like residents here can afford to have a good time.
What does a good time look like in Fort Thomas? Well, you’d have to ask a resident, but if you ask me, starting the day with a cup of joe from Fort Thomas Coffee, grabbing some brunch at the Cobblestone Cafe, and then maybe checking out Fort Thomas Tower Park, before heading to the Old Fort Pub, well, that all sounds pretty good. (Like we said, lots of amenities.)
Fort Thomas also ranked the very best when it came to real estate, with a median home value of $191,300. Plus, it had one of the lowest crime rates on our list as well: 45 percent lower than the Kentucky average.
6. Fort Knox
Fort Knox may be an army post—a huge army post, in fact, covering 109,000 acres and three counties, which we once actually attempted to model our very own cushion fort after—but it was also one of the best places to live in the state, according to our analysis. Well, at least the residential portion of it in Meade and Hardin Counties.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Fort Knox ranked as one of the safest places on our list, with a crime rate of just 2,746 crimes per 100,000 people; and with an income tax rate of just 5.8 percent, it was one of the four lowest taxed on our list.
The cherry on top? Fort Knox had one of the shortest average commute times in our study—just 16 minutes. But with a majority of the population working, well, at Fort Knox, this makes pretty good sense.
7. Fort Campbell North
This Christian County, Kentucky community may well be the epitome of simple Southern living at its finest. It is quaint, quiet, close-knit, and affordable. With a cost of living score of just 84, Fort Campbell North was one of the least expensive places in our ranking, and at the same time, the median rental price of $858 is one of the highest, which indicates the area’s strong desirability.
Fort Campbell North blew most of the other places away with an air quality score of just 20 out of 100 (remember, the lower the better), and with an average commute time of just 14 minutes, residents can enjoy the short ride with the windows down.
This Jefferson County city scored well on our list in a number of areas, but particularly within the realm of real estate. The median home value in Lyndon is a high $148,100 and the rent is an equally impressive $716 per month.
Lyndon also ranked as one of the safest cities on our list, with a crime rate of just 1,509 crimes per 100,000 people, and with an air quality score of just 38 and an average summer temperature of a warm 76 degrees, Lyndon may just be the perfect Kentucky city to raise a family. If that’s not enough to convince you, just take a look at its income tax of just 5.8 percent, one of the lowest in the state.
9. St. Matthews
With a median home price of $170,600, a median rent price of over $800, a median household income of nearly $45,000, and one of the lower student to teacher ratios on our list, St. Matthews came in as one of the highest scoring on our list in overall quality of life. While St. Matthews doesn’t have the lowest tax rate on our list, its income tax rate of just 6.55 percent certainly beats about 90 percent of the rest of the state where it is higher.
Glasgow may be known for its annual Scottish Highland Games, but as our study shows, there are tons of other options of things to do here—21,649 amenities worth of things to do, to be precise. Glasgow also had the lowest cost of living out of any place in our study, and one of the shorter commute times, an average of just 17 minutes.
Need one more reason to move to Glasgow? (As if the Scottish Highland Games weren’t enough!) Glasgow ranked as one of the safest cities in the state, with a crime rate of just 2,202 crimes per 100,000 people.
Located in the Western Coalfields of Kentucky, Madisonville just sounds like an idyllic community—and it is. Madisonville had one of the lower cost of living scores in our top 15, a score of 80 where the national average is 100. It also had one of the lowest student to teacher ratios—just 14 to 1—giving this city a good overall score for quality of life.
As you might hope for a place located in what sounds like a fairytale, the Western Coalfields, Madisonville came in with the best weather score in our study, with an average summer temperature of 77 degrees and an air quality score of 20 (100 is the worst). What could make this idyllic scene absolutely perfect? How about a shorter commute time—in this city, the average time spent in the car was just 20 minutes.
12. Lexington-Fayette Urban County
Located in the thick of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Region, Lexington-Fayette is by far the largest place on our list thus far with a population of over 305,000. As you might expect for a larger community, Lexington-Fayette scored well in amenities, with 1,682 total. But as you might not expect in a larger area, it also scored well with a low student to teacher ratio of just 14 to 1.
The median household income in Lexington-Fayette was a high $47,469, and more impressive still, the median home price was nearly $160,000—40 percent higher than the Kentucky average. Finally, Lexington-Fayette had the lowest unemployment rate out of any place in our study, just 6.7 percent, where the state average was 10 percent. Keep up the good work, Lexington-Fayette!
Tied with Lexington-Fayette for the No. 12 spot on our list was another, much larger city: Louisville. Now this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Louisville in a Movoto post. One of its suburbs, Clarksville, made the cut for our list of the most affordable suburbs in the U.S., and the city is so great, we’ve even explored its best individual neighborhoods.
In this analysis, though, it ranked well for many reasons. First of all, with a population of over 600,000 people, it may not be surprising that Louisville ranked as one of the highest in terms of total amenities—4,201 to be exact—and with an average summer temperature of 77 degrees and an air quality score of just 38, Louisville is the perfect place to enjoy them. To top it off, Louisville had a median home price 20 percent higher than the rest of the state at $137,400.
Part of the Evansville Metropolitan Area, Henderson ranked well in our analysis for its low cost of living, a score of just 80 where the national average is 100, and its high number of over 2,100 total amenities. Henderson residents can also enjoy a relatively short commute time of just 20 minutes—the perfect drive to enjoy the 75 degree weather during the summer.
Last—but certainly not least—on our list was Owensboro. This Davies County city ranked well for one of the lowest costs of living on our list, a score of 80 where the national average is 100, and also for some of the best weather in the state. With an air quality score of just 39 and a warm average summer temperature of 77, Owensboro is the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors—or, seeing as though the unemployment rate is a mere 7 percent, perhaps a day at the office. Oh well. At least with an average commute time of just 19 minutes, residents aren’t stuck sitting all day!
From great education and tons of amenities to low tax rates and some of the most ideal weather in the South, these Kentucky places prove that even without the bluegrass, bourbon, horse racing, and all the crispy fried chicken you could eat, this Southern state has plenty to offer—particularly in our No. 1 city, Murray.