Northern Kentucky has worked hard to build its own identity in business, education and community while collaborating with its big neighbor to the north on many projects.

Where NKY truly stands out, however, is in leisure activities. It is home to arguably the top music venue in the Tristate (Southgate House Revival in Newport), one of the most vibrant arts venues (the Carnegie in Covington) and one of the most diverse entertainment destinations (Newport on the Levee and the riverfront area behind it that hosts multiple festivals throughout the summer).

The Southgate House Revival, which is located in the former Grace Methodist Episcopal Church on East Sixth Street, rose from a family feud that forced proprietors Ross Raleigh and his daughter Morrella out of the original Southgate House location on Third Street. It features three performance spaces – the Sanctuary, which hosts the national touring acts; the Revival Room, a more intimate space on the top floor; and the Lounge, the raucous stage next to the main bar.

Rodney Crowell once dubbed the former Southgate House “the Fillmore Midwest.” Crowell hasn’t played the new joint yet, but some of his compadres – James McMurtry, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, Scott Miller, and Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison among others – have, and to a person, give it rave reviews.

The eclectic mix of rock, country, bluegrass and punk performers lures a wildly diverse base of music fans, even on the same night. Just in June, the lineup includes Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, Dawes, Black Flag and Son Volt. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.

As unique as the Southgate House Revival is, it has competition in its own backyard from two rooms in Covington – the Madison Theater and Molly Malone’s.

The Madison is a big room with balcony seating that hosts national acts such as Lucinda Williams and Delbert McClinton while Molly Malone’s is an Irish pub with karaoke, bluegrass and Irish music weekly in the bar, and a concert space on the third floor for national acts such as Bill Kirchen and Shannon McNally.

Music is also on the menu at the Carnegie, which sponsors a concert season, but it is better known for its art gallery and theater productions.

Local visual arts writer Kathy Schwartz is a fan and has written extensively about exhibits and events at the venue.

“At the Carnegie, I’m looking forward to the passing of the torch from longtime gallery director Bill Seitz, who retired in March, to Matt Distel, who is well-known locally for his work at the Contemporary Arts Center, Country Club and Visionaries + Voices. Once he comes aboard in June, I expect Matt to continue Bill’s legacy of championing Kentucky and regional artists and pushing them in new directions.”

In addition, Schwartz says to keep an eye on the Artisans Enterprise Center in Covington where director Cate Yellig, formerly at Phyllis Weston Gallery, has deep connections in the local community and will bring vibrant shows into that space.

Meanwhile, back in Newport, folks flock to the Levee all year long to visit the Newport Aquarium, the Funny Bone Comedy Club, the AMC 20 movie theaters, Star Lanes bowling, GameWorks, Blast Teen Nightclub, plus more than a dozen places to eat and drink.

The destination ramps up in warmer weather when the festival season begins on the riverfront. Starting with Italianfest in June and winding up with Oktoberfest in September, the location hosts the Newport Motorcycle Rally, Queen City Sausage Festival, Glier’s Goettafest, Great Inland Seafood Festival and Riverfest.

These spots offer more opportunities than many people can take advantage of in the course of a year, but they are far from the only games in the region. If you’re new to the area, talk to a neighbor to find out their favorite activities. If you’re a native and haven’t played golf at Devou Park, visited the Behringer-Crawford Museum or simply sat on the grass staring at the Cincinnati skyline, you’ve missed something special. If you’re allergic to the outdoors, join the Kenton, Boone or Campbell county libraries, which offer much more than books on shelves.

Work hard, study hard and spend quality time at home with your family. But do yourself a favor and explore your neighborhoods. It will be fun.