Take the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge (the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge) across the Ohio River for a heavy dose of German heritage, good bourbon and family-friendly entertainment.
With a population of less than 6,000, this quaint little sister of Covington and Newport has a main drag of eclectic gift shops, tea rooms and longstanding eateries. bellevueky.org.
- EAT — Virgil’s Café (710 Fairfield Ave., virgilscafe.com) is the main food attraction in Bellevue. Chef Matt Buschle rotates the seasonal menu based on what’s local and fresh. Favorites include the house-made Andouille sausage and fried-to-perfection frog legs.
- DRINK — While there are a couple of locals-only type dive bars on the Fairfield Avenue strip — and a little bit off, like the Riverside Marina (145 Mary Ingles Highway, riversidemarinaky.com) — the booze-based highlight of Bellevue is The Party Source (95 Riviera Drive, thepartysource.com). There’s no other alcohol store like it in the country. Its huge selection of spirits at discount prices alone is mind blowing, but add to that the in-store craft brewery Ei8ht Ball Brewing (ei8htballbrewing.com), where you can grab a pint or growler of house-brewed or other locally brewed beer and wander the aisles; the attached microdistillery New Riff Distilling (newriffdistilling.com), which offers tours six days a week; and their assorted specialty beer, bourbon and wine tastings, it’s like Disneyland for adults who like to drink.
- SHOP — With too many gift shops and secondhand stores to name, just stroll down Fairfield Avenue and you’ll inevitably walk into one; all have a bit of that kitschy country vibe — some more than others. Housed in between the gift shops are artisans Cleves and Lonnemann Jewelers (319 Fairfield Ave., clevesandlonnemann.com), ripe with certified master watchmakers, and Bellevue Violins (705 Fairfield Ave., bellevueviolins.com), where luthier Patrick Higgins repairs and builds violins, violas and cellos. For furry friends there’s Doggynauts (708 Fairfield Ave., doggynauts.com).
- EXPLORE — Walk down to Bellevue Beach Park (665 Frank Benke Way, bellevueky.org), directly across the river from Cincinnati’s Friendship Park, for city and river views. Or take a short drive to the campus of Thomas More College (333 Thomas More Parkway, thomasmore.edu) to see “the smallest church in the world.” The 6-foot by 9-foot fieldstone Monte Casino Chapel was built in the late 19th century by Benedictine monks and moved to the college grounds in 1965.
- MUST — Grab some candy at the iconic Schneider’s Sweet Shop (420 Fairfield Ave., schneiderscandies.com), which has been satisfying sweet tooths with their famous homemade Opera Creams since 1939.
Covington’s historic faux German MainStrasse Village is full of quirky shops, al fresco eateries and the Carroll Chimes Bell Tower, a glockenspiel where little mechanical men act out the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin hourly April through December. mainstrasse.org.
- EAT — In Covington’s German-style MainStrasse village, get lox and bagel for brunch at Otto’s (521 Main St., Covington, ottosonmain.com); chicken, andouille and shrimp jambalaya at Dee Felice Café (529 Main St., Covington, deefelice.com), with sauce so good they sell it at Kroger; or seasonal farm-to-table entrees at Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar (519 Main St., Covington, bouquetrestaurant.com), winner of Wine Spectator’s award of excellence, with a seven-page wine menu and options for vegans, vegetarians and those with gluten sensitivities. MainStrasse is also home to the Carroll Chimes Bell Tower, a glockenspiel in Goebel Park that features motorized figurines playing out the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. For Asian, sit at a traditional floor table with a steaming Dolsot Bibimbap at Riverside Korean (512 Madison Ave., Covington, riversidekoreanrestaurant.com) or order some super-spicy Dragon’s Breath egg rolls in the comfortably small Amerasia (521 Madison Ave., Covington, facebook.com/kungfoodchu), super fresh and classic Americanized Asian with a Kung-Fu lean and a ton of beer. And Keystone Bar & Grill (313 Greenup St., keystonebar.com) has an entire menu devoted to inventive mac and cheese.
- DRINK — There are plenty of pubs in the area whose MO — sports, dancing, hanging — is distinguishable by their name and clientele. But bourbon is king in Covington, where two bars made the top 60 best bourbon bars in America as rated by The Bourbon Review, including the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar (629 Main St., facebook.com/1okbb), which has more than 150 different types of bourbon and an extremely knowledgeable staff, who create a special tasting flight every day. The Wiseguy Lounge (603 Main St., goodfellaspizzeria.com/wiseguy.php), above Goodfellas Pizzeria, has a Bourbon Connoisseurs Club. Molly Malone’s Irish Pub (112 E. Fourth St., covington.mollymalonesirishpub.com) is run by real Irish people — accents and all — and shows all Barclays Premier League “football” games live. And for the LGBTQ crowd and allies, Rosie’s Tavern (643 Bakewell St., 859-291-9707), just off MainStrasse, offers a casual environment for happy hour, darts, pool and pinball. Braxton Brewing Company (27 W. Seventh St., Covington, Ky., braxtonbrewing.com) was started in a garage by co-founder Evan Rouse when he was just 16. He couldn’t taste what he was brewing, but, now of age, his skills are visible —and tasteable — in creations like the Dead Blow tropical stout. The comfy garage-inspired taproom also features a ton of modern technology, including tech charging stations.
- COFFEE — Cincinnati’s hip to the craft coffee trend, so there’s a local roaster and a slew of cool baristas in every hood. In Covington, hit Left Bank Coffeehouse (Seventh and Greenup streets, Covington, leftbankcoffeehouse.com) for an iced Americano made with local Deeper Roots beans, or the Roebling Point Books & Coffee (306 Greenup St., Covington, roeblingpointbooks.com), a dog-friendly bookstore and coffee shop that writes quotes from literary figures on their alley door.
- SHOP — For a little bit of everything, from vintage to jewelry to local art, visit Julie’s Inspiration Consignment Shoppe (608 Main St., juliesinspiration.com). Or for something a bit more mystical, Stoney’s Gifts (323 W. Sixth St., stoneysgifts.com) has fairy wings and tutus; The Magic Shop (526 Philadelphia St., artiesmagic.com) sells supplies for amateur and professional magicians; and Strasse Dog (605 Main St., 859-431-7387) has all the accessories for the fashionable pooch, plus grooming.
- EXPLORE — Walk the Riverside Drive Historic District (Riverside Drive, nkytourism.com). This 13-block area includes Civil War homes, carriage houses, Underground Railroad tunnels and life-size bronze statues of historic figures in lifelike poses; take your picture fake sketching next to the permanently sketching John James Audubon. Can’t make it to Paris? NBD. The French-Gothic St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica (1140 Madison Ave., covcathedral.com) is a replica of the Notre Dame Cathedral, featuring 80 stained glass windows.
- MUST — Drive up the hill to Devou Park (638 Madison Road, covingtonky.gov) for incomparable river views, as well as a golf course and the Behringer-Crawford Museum (1600 Montague Road, bcmuseum.org), dedicated to collecting, preserving and exhibiting the Ohio Valley’s heritage.
Historically referred to as “Sin City,” Newport was once known for casinos, brothels and speakeasies; the city is now home to family-friendly restaurants and attractions (and just a couple of ghosts). newportky.gov; newportonthelevee.com.
- EAT — Newport on the Levee houses several spacious restaurants and bars serving food, while nearby areas offer intriguing traditional and international options. Hit up Dixie Chili (733 Monmouth St., dixiechili.com), which opened in Newport in 1929, for a three-way. Or some handmade ravioli and bocce ball at Pompilios (600 Washington Ave., pompiliosrestaurant.com), the restaurant where the toothpick scene in Rain Man was filmed. La Mexicana (642 Monmouth St., 859-261-6112) dishes out excellent Mexican, including sesos (beef brains) tacos. And Katharina’s Café Konditorei (529 Overton St., katharinascafe.com) is an authentic German breakfast and lunch café run by transplants from Mainz. Other favorite eats in Newport are Packhouse Meats (1004 Monmouth St., packhousemeats.com), a meatball restaurant with excellent quinoa meatballs, Strong’s Brick Oven Pizza (336 Monmouth St., strongsbrickovenpizza.com), The Pepper Pod (703 Monmouth St., 859-431-7455), a 24/7 diner worth the trip alone for the fried pickles and Tom+Chee (tomandchee.com), a grilled cheese and tomato soup restaurant that’s gone national.
- DRINK — The Beer Sellar (301 Riverboat Row, 859-431-6969, facebook.com/thebeersellar), a sports bar on a docked riverboat, offers a boat taxi to Reds games. Grab a stein of German brew and a schnitzel in the biergarten at the first authentic Hofbräuhaus (200 E. Third St., hofbrauhausnewport.com) in America — “Where it’s Oktoberfest every day!” Law prohibits the selling of alcohol in all-nude strip clubs, but Newport keeps the ladies in pasties — so drink up. If you’re looking for a “good time,” The Brass Ass Show Lounge (613 Monmouth St., facebook.com/thebrassassshowlounge) is one of the last remaining bastions of Newport’s naked past. Mansion Hill Tavern (502 Washington Ave., 859-581-0100) has an open Blues jam every Sunday. Nearby coffee shop Newberry Bros. Coffee (530 Washington Ave., newberrybroscoffee.com) has more than 35 wines by the glass (for $4 on Sundays), while the philanthropic Carabello Coffee (107 E. Ninth St., carabellocoffee.com) has cold-brew coffee on draft.
- EXPLORE — The Newport Gangster Tour and the seasonal Newport is Haunted tour (americanlegacytours.com) both look at the city’s mob past with tales of murder, prostitution, gamblers and ghosts. For a more family-friendly adventure, check out Ride the Ducks (1 Aquarium Way, newport.ridetheducks.com), the amphibious sightseeing tour. BB Riverboats’ (101 Riverboat Row, bbriverboats.com) historic steamboats offer a variety of tours and dinner cruises on the Ohio.
- MUST — Walk or bike across The Purple People Bridge (purplepeoplebridge.com) from The Banks to Northern Kentucky entertainment destination Newport on the Levee (newportonthelevee.com) — or vice versa. Newport on the Levee is a one-stop-shop for restaurants and entertainment. Visit the Newport Aquarium (1 Aquarium Way, newportaquarium.com) at Newport on the Levee to pet a shark or watch a penguin parade at 9:15 a.m. daily. Also on the Levee is The Funny Bone (funnybonecentral.com), a comedy club with national acts; an AMC Theater (amctheatres.com); and Axis Alley (axisalleylevee.com), a boutique bowling alley.
FLORENCE AND NEARBY NORTHERN KENTUCKY
Famous for its “Florence Y’all” water tower, Florence is home to a big mall, chain restaurants and an independent minor league baseball team. florence-ky.gov.
- EAT — The Greyhound Tavern (2500 Dixie Highway, greyhoundtavern.com) has been serving classic fried chicken in Fort Mitchell since the 1920s.
- DRINK — Kentucky’s largest winery, Elk Creek Vineyards (150 Highway 330, elkcreekvineyards.com), is housed in the rolling hills of Owenton and offers award-winning wines produced and bottled on-site.
- SHOP — Florence Antique Mall (8145 Mall Road, florenceantiquemall.com) is filled with vintage treasures and cool stuff; and for non-antique, there’s the Florence Mall (2028 Florence Mall Road, florencemall.com), with various stores and a carousel.
- EXPLORE — Itty bitty rivertown and weekend destination for area bikers Rabbit Hash (10021 Lower River Road, rabbithash.com) is grounded by its historic general store and dog mayors, many of whom run wild. The current canine in charge is Lucy Lou, a border collie — grab a beer at the general store and see if she wants to play fetch. Live Bluegrass music generally starts up without warning. Florence is a hub for fast-paced sports. Turfway Park (7500 Turfway Road, turfway.com) is a horse track conducting live thoroughbred races in fall and winter/spring, with off-season year-round simulcast wagering. Frontier League independent professional baseball team the Florence Freedom (7950 Freedom Way, florencefreedom.com) offers up the food, amenities and giant, fuzzy mascots of the major leagues. Northern Kentucky University (1 Nunn Drive, nku.edu), home of the NKU Norse, has athletic teams in soccer, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis and more, with games open to the public. In Sparta, Ky., the Kentucky Speedway (1 Kentucky Speedway Blvd., kentuckyspeedway.com) hosts racing events, including ARCA, NASCAR and the Indy Racing League. Also worth a drive is the CVG Airplane Viewing Area (off Donaldson Highway), open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily, to watch planes take off and land on their way in and out of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Opened in 1932, the Wildwood Inn (7809 U.S. 42, wildwood-inn.com) is a now a Howard Johnson but still houses themed suites, including an “authentic” African safari village with African bush huts; surprisingly, smoking is allowed.
- MUST — There aren’t really words to describe The Creation Museum (2800 Bullittsburg Church Road, Petersburg, creationmuseum.org). One part museum, one part fantasy and all parts the Book of Genesis, this private oasis brings the Bible to life with dynamic animal and human displays featuring the likes of Adam and Eve and dinosaurs — together. There’s also a planetarium describing how God built the universe, a zip line, botanical gardens and a petting zoo with camel rides. For a more realistic look at biological history, Big Bone Lick State Park (3380 Beaver Road, parks.ky.gov) is named after the Pleistocene megafauna — giant sloths, mammoths, etc. — fossils found there. The indoor museum houses a 1,000-pound mastodon skull while the outdoor museum is home to a herd of real bison. Visit the world’s only museum dedicated to the art of ventriloquism, Vent Haven Museum (33 W. Maple Ave., venthavenmuseum.com), full of classic “figures;” don’t call them dummies.