22 Top-Rated Things to Do in Lexington, KY (2024)

Written by Bryan Dearsley
Updated Dec 26, 2023
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Author Bryan Dearsley traveled to Kentucky in the fall of 2022 to explore its cities, including Lexington, home of the thoroughbred racehorse.

The beautiful city of Lexington, famous as the "Horse Capital of the World", is undoubtedly one of my favorite places to visit in Kentucky. In addition to being America's home of thoroughbreds and horse racing, Lexington is also well-known for its music and entertainment scenes.

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Ranked the third safest city to visit in the USA, Lexington is also filled with numerous other fun things to do, including an endless array of historical, natural, and cultural attractions to explore. Among them, the Mary Todd Lincoln House provides perspective on this influential First Lady, while the Aviation Museum of Kentucky highlights the state's high-flying history.

Looking for fun things to do in Lexington after nightfall? For a fun evening activity, grab a bite to eat and afterward, catch the latest indie or blockbuster movie at the historic Kentucky Theatre or head to The Summit at Fritz Farm for a high-end shopping experience.

Whether you're visiting for a day or a romantic Kentucky weekend getaway, before heading out to explore the city and the beautiful surrounding countryside be sure to read through our list of the best things to do in Lexington, Kentucky.

See also: Where to Stay in Lexington

On This Page:

  • 1. Take a Tour and Watch a Race at Keeneland
  • 2. Visit a Working Horse Farm at the Kentucky Horse Park
  • 3. Where Abe's Wife Stayed: Mary Todd Lincoln House
  • 4. See the Foals and Yearlings at Mill Ridge Farm
  • 5. Visit Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate
  • 6. Explore the Past at Lexington Cemetery
  • 7. See the Blooms at The Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky
  • 8. Take Flight at The Aviation Museum of Kentucky
  • 9. Get Outdoors at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
  • 10. Take a Stroll through Thoroughbred Park
  • 11. See a Movie at the Kentucky Theatre
  • 12. Learn about Plantation Life at Waveland State Historic Site
  • 13. Stop in at the Lexington Visitor Center
  • 14. See the Trotters at Red Mile Harness Track
  • 15. Hopemont: The Hunt-Morgan House
  • 16. Take a Tour of the University of Kentucky
  • 17. Go for a Drive on a Kentucky Scenic Byway
  • 18. Wander around Gratz Park Historic District
  • 19. See a Game at Kroger Field
  • 20. Take in a Performance at Lexington Opera House
  • 21. Shop at The Summit at Fritz Farm
  • 22. Take the Family to Fort Boonesborough State Park
  • Where to Stay in Lexington for Sightseeing

1. Take a Tour and Watch a Race at Keeneland

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Keeneland is the place to visit if you're interested in horses and horse racing. In addition to its two racing seasons held each spring and fall, this popular attraction is well-known internationally as the world's leading auction place for thoroughbreds.

Open to the public year-round, this 147-acre oasis is just a few minutes' drive from downtown Lexington and makes for a fun diversion at any time of year. In addition to experiencing the thrill of its race seasons, there are many other great reasons outside of race day to visit Keeneland, including simply touring the facility and soaking up the aura of thoroughbred racing culture.

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One of the highlights of a visit here is watching the thoroughbreds doing their morning training runs. Other fun things to check out include extensive historical archives of the thoroughbred industry in the property's reference library, a retail shop with equestrian-themed gifts, and the Keeneland Kids Club for those 12 and under.

The grounds are also accessible for those simply wanting to enjoy this beautiful park-like setting in Kentucky. Feeling peckish? Visitors are always welcome at the Keeneland Track Kitchen, the attraction's on-site restaurant. Here, you'll have the chance to grab a bite to eat while rubbing shoulders with jockeys, owners, and Keeneland staffers.

A great way to get to see Keeneland is via a fun half-day thoroughbred horse farm tour. These informative excursions include a walking tour of the famous racecourse led by an enthusiastic guide, along with a visit to a working farm to see thoroughbred foals, yearlings, and mares, many of them retired racehorses themselves.

Address: 4201 Versailles Road, Lexington, Kentucky

2. Visit a Working Horse Farm at the Kentucky Horse Park

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The world-famous Kentucky Horse Park lies 10 miles north of Lexington (I 75, exit 120) and is considered one of the top attractions in Kentucky whether you're a horse lover or not. A working horse farm that's open to the public, it offers all kinds of information on horses.

If it's your first visit to the "Bluegrass State" and its deep-rooted love of all things equestrian, the horse park is a good first step in learning about these magnificent creatures and their place in Kentucky's culture and history.

You can meet retired racing legends in the Hall of Champions Barn, see unique and rare breeds at the Parade of Breeds Show, and learn about real horsepower at the Draft Horse Demonstration. You can also experience a historic horse-drawn trolley tour and explore equine history at the park's International Museum of the Horse.

After learning so much about horses, you may even be inspired to get in the saddle. The Kentucky Horse Park offers a guided 30-minute horseback trail ride through the park's paddocks. Pony rides are available for the youngest horse enthusiasts.

Are you traveling to Lexington with an RV? Then you may want to consider booking a stay at the Kentucky Horse Park. The park has 260 camping spots available with 20/30/50 amp service.

Address: 4089 Iron Works Parkway, Lexington, Kentucky

3. Where Abe's Wife Stayed: Mary Todd Lincoln House

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Construction of Mary Todd Lincoln House was completed in 1806 when it served initially as an inn. It was later purchased in 1832 by Robert S. Todd as a home for his family. Mary Todd, who would later become Abraham Lincoln's wife, visited her girlhood home often throughout her life.

Today this attractive Georgian-style red brick house is furnished with period furniture and decor and displays family portraits, as well as personal items of the Lincoln-Todd families. Visitors can tour the 14-room house on an hour-long guided tour, which also tells the remarkable story of the influential First Lady who grew up here.

For a fun Abe-related experience, consider booking one of the museum's fascinating "Lincoln's Lexington" walking tours. Following the footsteps of both Abe and his wife, this mile-long self-guided walk takes you past a number of landmark buildings that would have been familiar to both.

Address: 578 West Main Street, Lexington, Kentucky

4. See the Foals and Yearlings at Mill Ridge Farm

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A scenic eight-minute drive south of Keeneland, and you'll find yourself at one of Kentucky's leading breeders of thoroughbreds: Mill Ridge Farm. Open to the public via fun guided tours only, this working horse farm is well-known for having been home to no less than 52 champion racers, among them a Kentucky Derby winner.

Your tour begins with an informative presentation by your guide who shares details of these winners, as well as the Chandler family who established the farm in 1962. The rest of the tour includes a drive in your car, following your guide for a scenic drive through the farm's more than 900 acres of beautiful rolling Kentucky countryside.

The highlight is stopping to get a close-up, hands-on experience with the farm's foals and yearlings. After dishing out plenty of carrots, your guide gets the attention of these playful, fun-loving youngsters who then make their way to greet their new fans. It's a heart-warming, unforgettable experience that's a must-do, horse fan or not.

Address: 2800 Bowman Mill Road, Lexington, Kentucky

5. Visit Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate

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Set in a charming, leafy neighborhood just a few minutes' drive from the downtown core, Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate provides a fascinating look into Lexington's past. Constructed in 1811, the attraction shares details of its construction by around 60 African American slaves who were later also forced to work on the plantation; the contrast between privilege and poverty is startling.

The best way to see this opulent home is via a guided tour. Led by costumed guides, you'll see some of the original furnishings enjoyed by the Clay family, as well as the adjoining buildings occupied by slaves. Be sure to allow time to explore the 17 acres of grounds, too.

A gift shop is located on the premises. If you feel like lingering a little longer, check out the Ginkgo Tree Café for a sweet treat or lunch on the patio.

Address: 120 Sycamore Road, Lexington, Kentucky

6. Explore the Past at Lexington Cemetery

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The Lexington Cemetery was established as a public burial ground in 1849 and highlights the social, political, military, and environmental history of the community. The cemetery is also a beautiful green space, encompassing more than 170 acres of land.

A walking tour, with labeled metal plates, allows visitors to learn about the many types of trees in the cemetery. Bird watchers often visit, as the peaceful environment lends to rare sightings.

On the last Monday in May, the cemetery hosts a Memorial Day observance with a symbolic service, and anyone looking to pay their respects is encouraged to attend.

Address: 833 West Main Street, Lexington, Kentucky

7. See the Blooms at The Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky

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The Arboretum State Botanical Garden of Kentucky is a beautiful green space maintained by the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture. Spread across 100 acres, it's here you'll explore a varied landscape that includes botanical gardens, numerous species of trees, and a children's garden where kids can learn and actively participate in food gardening.

Among the various gardens are areas dedicated to specific plant species and uses, including the Pollinator Garden, Herb Garden, and a Witch Hazel Dell. There is also a beautiful rose garden that memorializes the victims of Flight 5191, and a fragrance garden.

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The park's springs and ponds are fed by an underground aquatic system that is the result of the area's karst geology: the Blue Hole is named for its color, while the Boils is known for its geyser-like action that makes the water appear to be boiling.

Tourists looking for other green spaces to explore within the city will also enjoy the 26-acre McConnell Springs Park.

Address: Alumni Drive, Lexington, Kentucky

8. Take Flight at The Aviation Museum of Kentucky

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Located at the Bluegrass Airport, an easy 15-minute drive from downtown Lexington, the Aviation Museum of Kentucky is a must-visit attraction. It's designed to educate visitors about the aviation industry and inspire those interested in pursuing an aviation career. You'll enjoy various aircraft that are on display, both inside the 25,000-square-foot facility and outside.

The museum houses the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame, recognizing the accomplishments of Kentuckians. Special aviation camps take place at the museum throughout the summer for ages 10 to 18 and above.

Traveling exhibits are also on display throughout the year, so be sure to check the museum's website to see what's new. Guided tours are available.

Address: 4029 Airport Road, Lexington, Kentucky

9. Get Outdoors at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary

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Raven Run is a 734-acre nature sanctuary and outdoor destination with more than 10 miles of hiking trails, a nature center, and a bird blind for nature observation and education. The sanctuary is home to a wide variety of bird species and hosts an assortment of events throughout the year. Highlights include weekly yoga sessions, special programs for little explorers, and organized running events.

Within the sanctuary, the Joe Pulliam Memorial Garden is a Monarch waystation, attracting and supporting butterflies as they make their way across North America.

Address: 3885 Raven Run Way, Lexington, Kentucky

10. Take a Stroll through Thoroughbred Park

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Equestrian enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to Thoroughbred Park, An easy 10-minute walk from the Lexington Visitors Center, this exceptional outdoor artwork consists of a series of seven bronze statues appearing to race down the cobbled pavement toward an invisible finish line.

This nearly three-acre park in downtown Lexington honors the important role horses have played in the city's rich culture, heritage, and economic growth. It's a great spot for a selfie or two, especially if you're framing these galloping horses against the large fountain they seem to be racing past.

Walking beyond these sculptures, the path passes a grassy area where some horses, including foals and yearlings, are depicted grazing and resting. Part park, part outdoor museum and art gallery, this beautiful green space goes a long way to celebrate the accomplishments of both equine athletes and humans who have made significant contributions to the sport.

Address: 100 Midland Avenue, Lexington, Kentucky

11. See a Movie at the Kentucky Theatre

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From the first "talkies" to air conditioning and midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Kentucky Theatre in downtown Lexington has a near-century history in the community.

In all that time, this now historic movie theater has ebbed and flowed with the economy, but a dedicated fan base has ensured it's still around to feature the latest blockbusters. Prefer the indie movie scene? This perfectly preserved theater regularly features a long lineup of alternative and independent movie showings.

Much of the appeal of seeing a movie at the Kentucky Theatre is the immediate sense of history surrounding you as you enjoy a movie or two.

Address: 214 E Main Street, Lexington, Kentucky

12. Learn about Plantation Life at Waveland State Historic Site

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Also known as the Joseph Bryan Estate, the Waveland State Historic Site was built in 1887 for the nephew of frontiersman Daniel Boone. Today it offers a glimpse of plantation life in the 19th century. Set amid 10 acres of beautiful Kentucky countryside, the main tourist attraction here is the Greek Revival mansion that was built in 1847.

Also on the grounds are an icehouse, smokehouse, and servants' quarters, which have all been restored. You can take a guided tour and stroll around the gardens. Special events at the Waveland include Tea Tuesdays, Derby Day Breakfasts, and vintage baseball games with costumed characters throughout the summer.

Address: 225 Waveland Museum Lane, Lexington, Kentucky

13. Stop in at the Lexington Visitor Center

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Set in Lexington's historic old courthouse on Courthouse Square, the Lexington Visitor Center is definitely worth popping into. In addition to the helpful staff, you'll find plenty of useful information on area attractions you may have missed or have yet to visit, along with tips on local eateries and events.

In addition to fun displays relating to the city's rich heritage, including its position as the "world's horse capital," you can treat yourself to a variety of Lexington-themed souvenirs to take home with you. And be sure to grab a selfie outside the huge "Lexington" sign at the front of the building.

Address: 215 W Main Street, Lexington, Kentucky

14. See the Trotters at Red Mile Harness Track

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The Red Mile in Lexington is a one-mile oval horse race track for trotters and pacers. It's the second-oldest harness racetrack in the world, with live races held here from July through September. Daily workouts can be viewed from dawn until late morning at this historic track.

Many on-site dining options, like the 1101 Grill, provide affordable and satisfying fare. When races aren't occurring at the Red Mile, the facility simulcasts races from around the world on more than 175 HD televisions.

Address: 1200 Red Mile Road, Lexington, Kentucky

15. Hopemont: The Hunt-Morgan House

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John Wesley Hunt, the first millionaire west of the Allegheny Mountains, built this charming Federal period townhouse in Lexington in 1814. Features of Hunt-Morgan House, also referred to as Hopemont, include a three-story, cantilevered staircase; a lovely garden and walled courtyard; a collection of Kentucky furniture; early 19th-century portraits; and porcelain.

The home is part of the larger Gratz Park Historic District in downtown Lexington. Made up of the city park after which it's named and many attractive 19th-century homes and mansions, it's a fun area to spend time exploring on foot.

Address: 201 N. Mill Street, Lexington, Kentucky

16. Take a Tour of the University of Kentucky

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John Bowman began the Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1865, which was later renamed the University of Kentucky in 1916. Guided tours of the Lexington campus are offered to the public and depart from the university's visitor center.

One of the attractions is the University of Kentucky Art Museum featuring changing exhibits from its permanent collection. Works include paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, and decorative arts, as well as special loan exhibits.

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Other things to do on the UK campus, as it's known to locals and students, include visiting the Buell Armory; the richly-stocked campus bookstore; and Rupp Arena, home to the Kentucky Wildcats basketball team.

Address: 160 Ave of Champions, Lexington, Kentucky

17. Go for a Drive on a Kentucky Scenic Byway

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As lovely a city as Lexington is, you'll want to spend at least a little time exploring the beautiful surrounding countryside.

While there are plenty of options for a scenic drive from Lexington, one of our favorites is the 25-mile trip to the state capital city of Frankfort. This pleasant stretch along the Old Frankfort Pike takes you past many horse farms dotting the rolling countryside, offering many great spots to stop for a picture.

Two other routes to consider include taking the sideroads to Fort Boonesborough State Park to the south of Lexington and then continuing to Richmond; and US 68 west to Harrodsburg. One of the prettiest small towns in Kentucky, picturesque Harrodsburg is famous as Kentucky's oldest town.

18. Wander around Gratz Park Historic District

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Just a block away from the Lexington Visitor Center in the city's downtown core, Gratz Park Historic District is a fun area to explore on foot. Encompassing a few blocks of pretty heritage homes that surround Gratz Park itself, this shady, tree-lined neighborhood offers no end of great photo opportunities.

The park itself features a sculptured fountain nicknamed the "Fountain of Youth" that's pleasing to the eye and contains a number of level, easy walking paths. It's also a great place to visit for a fun family picnic, offering plenty of shade and grass on which to sit.

The city's oldest neighborhood is also home to the photogenic Carnegie Center, the city's former library built in 1906; the historic Hopemont mansion; and Bodley-Bullock House, built in 1814 and now a museum.

19. See a Game at Kroger Field

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Covering a large 86-acre corner of the University of Kentucky's campus, Kroger Field is the home of the Kentucky Wildcats football team. Built in 1973 and modernized frequently since, this huge stadium can seat up to 61,000 fans and regularly sells out during football season.

Fun tours of the stadium and the Joe Craft Football Training Facility are available from time to time and are must-dos for sports fans. Highlights include exploring both facilities and getting a close-up look at trophies and memorabilia. The stadium also hosts music concerts throughout the year.

Rupp Arena is another major sports venue located on the UK campus. Home to the university's Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, this state-of-the-art facility was built in 1976 and can seat up to 23,000 basketball fans at a time. It's one of Lexington's most popular concert venues, too, hosting artists as diverse as Kiss and Elton John.

Address: 1540 University Drive, Lexington, Kentucky

20. Take in a Performance at Lexington Opera House

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Lexington Opera House is a must-visit for culture hounds. Constructed in downtown Lexington in 1887, this attractive red-brick heritage building was designed by Oscar Cobb and continues to impress with its superb acoustics and stage.

It's one of few opera houses built in the 19th century that are still going today. The original interior remains intact and features some of the most elaborate décor in the country. The facility continues to offer a diverse program of music, dance, and theater. Comedy events and children's shows are also held here regularly.

Among the famous American performers to grace its stage are W.C. Fields, Harry Houdini, and Sarah Bernhardt, to name but a few.

Address: 401 W Short St, Lexington, Kentucky

21. Shop at The Summit at Fritz Farm

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No visit to the world's horse capital is complete without getting in at least a little shopping. Leading the charge for high-end shopping experiences is the recently opened The Summit at Fritz Farm. Located a 20-minute drive south of the city center, The Summit is a mix of luxury retail outlets, food and drink destinations, as well as entertainment options that take shopping to a whole new level.

You'll notice numerous references to its former past as a farm, as well as Lexington's leading role as the home of the thoroughbred. Park your car in the discrete multi-level parking and just follow your nose. If you're hungry, odds are it will lead you to eateries, including the Shake Shack or Grimaldi's Brick Oven Pizzeria, both of them offering sit-in or takeout options. At the latter, pull up an Adirondack chair and enjoy your food next to one of the property's cozy fire pits.

The Summit also makes for a great base from which to explore Kentucky.

22. Take the Family to Fort Boonesborough State Park

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While it's a 40-minute drive away from downtown Lexington, a visit to Fort Boonesborough State Park makes for a perfect family outing. One of the top things to do in this part of Kentucky, this historic fort dates from 1775 and was wonderfully recreated from the original plans.

The fort today is a snapshot in time from the 18th century. Kids will love the costumed docents who go about daily life using historical items from the time period.

In addition to the fort, the state park also has a giant pool with a splash pad area for children, an ideal place to cool down on those hot, humid Kentucky summer days. The park also has a miniature golf course, walking trails, a museum, and a 166-site campground.

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The woods and meadows around the fort provide an excellent habitat for birds. Keep an eye out for wild turkeys roaming about, and listen carefully for the tell-tale knocking of pileated woodpeckers.

When you're done touring the fort, head south for 20 minutes and spend a little time exploring the city of Richmond. Fun things to do in Richmond include White Hall State Historic Site, the perfect place for a family picnic; the Battle of Richmond Visitors Center, a great resource on the Civil War; and Paradise Cove Aquatic Center for a family splash about.

Address: 4375 Boonesboro Road, Richmond, Kentucky

Where to Stay in Lexington for Sightseeing

Many of Lexington's key attractions are located in the downtown area or just a short drive away. For first-time visitors, this is the best place to stay. Below are some highly rated hotels in convenient locations:

Luxury Hotels:

  • The Hilton Lexington Downtown is ideally located in downtown and is attached to the Lexington Convention Center. Within walking distance of the hotel are a wide assortment of interesting restaurants and the Mary Todd House.
  • The new 21c Museum Hotel Lexington is a great luxury option for those looking for something completely different. Housed in the historic Fayette National Bank building, the hotel has contemporary rooms and features a gallery with trendy artistic works on display.
  • Just north of downtown is the Lexington Griffin Gate Marriott Resort & Spa, a full-service resort with an on-site spa, an award-winning restaurant, and an 18-hole golf course.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • A five-minute drive north of the city center is the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lexington featuring rooms with kitchens and separate sitting areas. A full cooked-to-order breakfast and evening appetizers are included in the rate.
  • Another all-suite option, five minutes southwest of downtown, is the Home2 Suites by Hilton Lexington University/Medical Center. This recently built property is pet friendly, features a saltwater pool, and is centered in a lively area near the University of Kentucky.
  • The DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel Lexington, with whirlpool tubs in every suite and a seasonal outdoor pool, is a standout for its European-inspired décor.
  • Definitely batting above its 3-star rating, the Origin Hotel Lexington, while located a one-minute drive from the downtown core, is a great place to stay. Located in the trendy Summit at Fritz Farm shopping, dining, and entertainment hub, the rooms here are spacious, bright, and modern. A restaurant is located on-site, along with a fitness center and meeting space.

Budget Hotels:

  • The best budget hotels are located outside the city center. The Country Inn & Suites By Radisson, slightly east of downtown on a quiet side street, offers large rooms at an attractive price.
  • Nine miles south of downtown and easily accessible off I-75 is La Quinta Inn & Suites. This hotel has expansive grounds and is within walking distance to many chain restaurants.
  • Offering good value, the recently renovated GuestHouse Lexington features decent rooms, a complimentary breakfast, and an indoor pool.
22 Top-Rated Things to Do in Lexington, KY (2024)

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