By Kathy Witt
The Northern Kentucky River Region spreads out along the Ohio River from Carrolton to Vanceburg, stretching inland until it reaches Flemingsburg, Owenton and Williamstown and an attraction of biblical proportions – the massive, immersive Ark Encounter.
Before you get there, though, temptation abounds.
You’ll be drawn to old-fashioned candy stores along the Sugar and Spice Trail, where biting into Schneider’s Sweet Shop’s sinfully luscious dark chocolate Opera Creams is a religious experience. You’ll be lured inside locally-owned boutiques and novelty gift shops in stroll-friendly gems like the town of Bellevue and MainStrasse German village in Covington.
And then there’s bourbon.
Watch your willpower fade at Boone County Distilling in Independence, Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar and Bourbon Haus 1841 in Covington, and New Riff Distillery and Newberry Bros. Coffee & The Prohibition Bourbon Bar in Newport, where the world’s (yes, world’s) largest collection of bourbon and rye whiskeys awaits.
These spots will tantalize your taste buds with the country’s only Native Spirit – so smooth, complex and sip-worthy that it’s almost criminal. Fortunately, this is the place to savor some scandal.
Sin & Salvation
The American Legacy Newport Gangster Tour delights in showing off the city’s wayward past. Gangster guides lead the way to a place once called “Sin City” that’s crawling with mobsters and their molls, gamblers and gaming – think, Vegas before Vegas.
But never fear, redemption is at hand. Bringing the history of the Bible to life in Petersburg is the Creation Museum with 140 breathtaking exhibits, plus botanical gardens, a planetarium, a creepy-crawly Insectorium, dragon legends – even a zip line course. The museum pairs perfectly with the Ark Encounter and its three decks of beautifully crafted and colorful exhibits that include realistic animals and lifelike mannequins.
Ark Encounter awes with its hulking girth rising from the Williamstown landscape and a soundtrack inside the massive timber frame structure – the largest in the world (yes, world) – punctuated with thunderclaps and pelting rain. A petting zoo, camel rides and zip-lines add to its appeal as well.
Find more family entertainment on the Ohio River with a cruise aboard BB Riverboats’ majestic Belle of Cincinnati or charming River Queen, or a safari through the galleries, reefs and glass tunnels of the Newport Aquarium. It is located at Newport on the Levee, a lively mix of shops, restaurants and entertainment in walking distance of the pedestrian-only Purple People Bridge, which stretches half a mile across the river into downtown Cincinnati.
Ready for more excitement?
Catch the fun of minor-league baseball at a Florence Freedom game. Explore newly refurbished museums at Big Bone Lick State Historic Site in Union featuring displays on paleontology, geology, the Ice Age, Native American history and more. Claim a stretch of soft, green lawn at Covington’s beautiful Devou Park for a themed summer concert compliments of the innovative Kentucky Symphony Orchestra.
And don’t overlook one of the park’s tucked-away treasures while you’re there. Step inside the Behringer-Crawford Museum for interactive, kid- and family-friendly fun and learning. You’ll find a model town with working trains, a vintage streetcar, jukebox, drive-in theatre, steamboat – even a two-headed calf and shrunken head. Wooden heads are the subject of another little-known jewel at Fort Mitchell’s Vent Haven Museum. Mingle with hundreds of dummies at the only museum in the world (yes, world) dedicated to ventriloquism.
A cornucopia of culinary influences from NKY’s German settlers, its Midwest proximity and its Southern roots combine to create a vibrant dining scene. One of the most authentic local dishes is goetta, a breakfast sausage made of pork, beef, steel-cut oats, onions and spices blended together and fried up crisp-delish. (It’s so beloved it has its own festival: Glier’s GoettaFest in August.) But you can order the savory concoction year-round at Bellevue Bistro, where it stars in award-winning breakfast bakes and arrives sizzling in an iron skillet.
Go full-on German at Newport’s Hofbräuhaus, where you’ll savor würstl, schnitzel, sauerbraten and, this being Kentucky, the Hofbräuhaus’ own spin on the legendary Hot Brown, served here with a signature homemade bier cheese. Compare it to the more traditional Hot Brown at Burlington’s elegant Tousey House Tavern, where it’s smothered in Mornay sauce and topped with pecan wood-smoked bacon. If this awakens a craving for Southern-inspired vittles, head to the intimate MainStrasse eatery, Otto’s, for a plate of flavor-exploding fried green tomatoes.
Other local foodie faves are Dixie Chili, made from a secret recipe created by a Greek immigrant in 1929 and served at locations in Newport, Covington and Erlanger, as well as Graeter’s Ice Cream, small batch, artisanal ice cream still made the way it was back in 1870. Celebrating the area’s Italian heritage is the Newport ItalianFest, a four-day fete of everything Italian: food, wine, entertainment – even a 5K Spaghetti Run.
NKY is easy to reach and navigate, with the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport located here, and Interstates 75 and 71 conveniently connecting area attractions, restaurants, shops and accommodations, as well as a host of attractions across the Ohio River.
Overnight options cater to all wayfaring tastes and wallets: The style-centric and affordable Aloft Newport on the Levee and the upscale boutique Hotel Covington are among the area’s newest and hottest places to stay. Bed and breakfast inns include Bellevue’s amenity-rich Weller Haus and Burlington’s Willis Graves, a sophisticated countryside retreat.
Hmmm. Temptation and salvation in one devilishly fun getaway? Plan your trip today by calling 859-261-4677 or visiting www.meetNKY.com.