While Lexington and Louisville are known for bourbon and horses and Bowling Green is known as the gateway to Mammoth Cave, northern Kentucky has interesting towns worth exploring. Following the curves of the Ohio River, it was an important place for trading, shipping bourbon and other goods.
Today, these communities have their own Bourbon Trail as well as charming downtowns with historic theaters, shops, and restaurants. Plan on flying into Cincinnati and crossing the river to road trip between locations.
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The small town of Augusta was founded in 1786 as a trading post on the Ohio River. In fact, there is still a car ferry to shuttle people back and forth between the states. It’s also the home of actress Rosemary Clooney.
Where to Eat in Augusta
Beehive Augusta Tavern– Originally built in 1796, the tavern is one of the oldest restaurants in the state. Today, the menu highlights the best local ingredients as well as an incredible bourbon selection. 101 West Riverside Drive, (606) 756-2137
Bravo & Bourbon– The charming cafe serves Mediterranean and American dishes, including salads, sandwiches, and creative takes on macaroni and cheese. 121 Main Street, (606) 756-7901
What to Do in Augusta
Augusta Distillery– Set in a historic building from 1883, the Augusta Distillery offers tastings of its aged spirit and a tour that showcases how it comes together. 207 Seminary Avenue
Rosemary Clooney House– See the historic 1835 house where the Hollywood starlet lived for over two decades. The collection includes clothing she wore as well as items belonging to her famous friends like Vivien Leigh and Cary Grant. 106 East Riverside Drive
Where to Stay in Augusta
Augusta Guest House– One of the only places to stay in town is this boutique inn with ten rooms and a complimentary daily breakfast. 103 West 2nd Street
Stay Augusta KY– This local company operates a number of Airbnb properties around town including a one-bedroom house with a hot tub and a three-bedroom 1770s log cabin by the river.
Located across the river from Cincinnati, Covington is the perfect spot to base yourself for exploring the region. Check out the historic neighborhoods and charming main street, called the Mainstrasse, not to mention the Roebling Bridge that inspired the Brooklyn Bridge.
Where to Eat in Covington
Kung Food AmerAsia– Check out this funky Asian restaurant covered in movie posters. The menu has favorites like giant egg rolls, wonton soup, and lo mein. There’s also a full bar with local beers. 521 Madison Avenue, (859) 261-6121
Libby’s Southern Comfort– Start your day off right at this family-owned restaurant known for its fried chicken, goetta hush puppies, and Cheerwine Bourbon Slush. 35 West 8th Street, (859) 261-3106
Lil’s Bagels– Set in a former home with a “windough,” this LGBTQ-supporting bakery has classic and funky bagels and pairings including lox, pastrami, soy sausage, and vegan schmear. 308 Greenup Street, (859) 412-6922
Otto’s on Main– Opened in 2006, this Mainstrasse Village restaurant in a historic space has art-covered walls and a bistro-style menu. Highlights include the famous Kentucky Hot Brown and shrimp and grits. 521 Main Street, (859) 491-6678
Rich’s Proper Food & Drink– This casual restaurant is the perfect spot for a post-distillery meal. Chow down on jambalaya and po boys along with funky cocktails. 701 Madison Avenue, (859) 415-0069
What to Do in Covington
Behringer-Crawford Museum– The regional history museum has dioramas and a model train and is popular with families. Offbeat items in the collection include taxidermy, shrunken heads, and mummified hands. 600 Montague Road
Carnegie Art Center– Set in a former 1904 Carnegie library, this art center has a theater with touring plays and an art gallery with rotating exhibitions. 1028 Scott Boulevard
Mainstrasse Village Food Tour– Sample the best bites from around the historic German neighborhood on this walking food tour.
Vent Haven Museum– Located in neighboring Fort Mitchell, this offbeat landmark is the only museum in the world dedicated to ventriloquism. 33 West Maple Avenue, Fort Mitchell
Where to Stay in Covington
Hotel Covington (review here) – Set in the state’s first modern skyscraper and a former department store, this boutique hotel has 114 guestrooms and a bourbon-focused bar and restaurant. 638 Madison Avenue
Radisson Hotel Cincinnati Riverfront– This chain hotel has a rotating restaurant on the 17th floor, an indoor pool, and a fitness center. 668 West Fifth Street
Small town Ludlow was established when the land was given to a Revolutionary War hero and came to prominence thanks to its rail location. There aren’t places to stay here and only a handful of restaurants, so plan on stopping by on your way to one of the bigger towns.
Where to Eat in Ludlow
Ernie’s Yard– The food truck park has a constantly rotating selection of options from barbecue to Mexican. 333 Elm Street
Taste on Elm– The specialty market has charcuterie, cheese, wine, and other essentials. 227 Elm Street, (859) 916-8488
What to Do in Ludlow
Second Sight Spirits– One of the stops on the area’s bourbon trail, this distillery is inspired by magic, with fortune-telling still.
Founded by none other than Daniel Boone, Maysville is known for its ties to Kentucky Bourbon but it was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad. It was even the setting for a scene in Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe.
Where to Eat in Maysville
Capronis Restaurant & Bar– Set in a 1930s building, this restaurant has both traditional Italian and American fare. 320 Rosemary Clooney Street, (606) 564-4321
M’s Eatery– The restaurant on the east side of town serves salads, flatbreads, burgers, and more. 1201 East 2nd Street, (606) 584-5855
Parc Café– Stop by this French-inspired cafe, where you can enjoy coffee and sandwiches like the French dip. 35 East 2nd Street, (606) 564-9704
Kenton Stories with Spirit– Browse and snack at the bookstore and art gallery with wine, bourbon, sandwiches, and charcuterie. 11 West 2nd Street, (606) 407-6037
What to Do in Maysville
Kentucky Gateway Museum Center– The museum features a large collection of miniatures, including replicas of local landmarks, along with artifacts and an adjacent space with Old Pogue displays. 215 Sutton Street
National Underground Railroad Museum– Learn about this important part of history in the town where it happened. 38 West Fourth Street
Old Pogue Distillery– Established in 1876, Old Pogue was the third distillery in Kentucky and is near what’s believed to be the state’s first Bourbon distillery. 705 Germantown Road
Where to Stay in Maysville
Days Inn by Wyndham Maysville Kentucky– Options are sparse in this part of Northern Kentucky, but this basic roadside inn has free WiFi and free parking. 484 Moody Drive
Lee House Inn– Right near the river is this historic inn that offers daily breakfast. 100 West Front Street
Founded in 1795, Newport is also across the river from Cincinnati, next to Covington. It has an interesting history, specifically during Prohibition and when gambling was legal and the city had a dark reputation.
Where to Eat in Newport
The Baker’s Table– The farm-to-table prix fixe restaurant was opened by California transplants and focuses on the region’s local farmers and purveyors. 1004 Monmouth Street, (859) 261-1941
Purple Poulet– You may have had “Kentucky fried chicken,” but none quite like this. It’s located inside a historic building and has a menu of Southern favorites. 846 York Street, (859) 916-5602
York Street– This cozy restaurant is covered in memorabilia and is popular for special occasions with dishes like smoked salmon and Berkshire pork. 738 York Street, (859) 261-9675
What to Do in Newport
Dinner Cruise on the Ohio River– See the Ohio River from the BB Riverboats cruise, which includes a meal with a view.
Haunted Tour In Newport KY– Learn about the spooky history of downtown Newport on this evening walking tour.
Newport Aquarium– The sprawling aquarium has 14 galleries of underwater creatures including penguins, sharks, and stingrays. 1 Aquarium Way
Newport Gangster Walking Tour– Follow a local historian around town to learn about Newport’s seedy past that once rivaled Vegas in terms of bootlegging and gambling.
New Riff Distilling– A longtime favorite of the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Tour, this distillery hs been creating spirits since 2014 but is especially known for its rye, which uses heritage grains. 24 Distillery Way
Where to Stay in Newport
Aloft Newport on the Levee– The colorful hotel has free WiFi, an indoor pool, a fitness center, and bike rentals to help you explore the area. 201 East 3rd Street
Hampton Inn & Suites Newport– The standard hotel has free parking, free WiFi, breakfast, and a swimming pool. 275 Columbia Street