In northern Kentucky, a Christian tourist mecca

The Ark Encounter theme park includes a life-sized Noah’s ark.
The Ark Encounter theme park includes a life-sized Noah’s ark. | Dennis Lennox

I discovered much of the Judeo-Christian story from creation to salvation during a visit to Covington, a city in northern Kentucky directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati. 

After flying into Cincinnati’s international airport, which is actually located in Kentucky, I picked up a rental car and drove to the Creation Museum.

Opened in 2007 by Ken Ham of the ministry Answers in Genesis, the museum uses more than 140 exhibits to tell the story of biblical creation through the lens of so-called Young-Earth Creationism — a viewpoint derided by secularists. This is done by combining Scripture and science, neither of which are mutually exclusive of each other.

Forty minutes away on the outskirts of Williamstown and off an interstate highway exit is the Ark Encounter, also part of Answers in Genesis.

Part museum and part theme park, it opened to considerable fanfare back in 2016. For those needing a quick Old Testament refresher, the Bible in Genesis says God instructed Noah to build a huge wooden vessel to save creation from a flood that would destroy everything on Earth as punishment for mankind’s wickedness and evil. Inside the vessel was Noah, his family and two animals of every kind.

Calling what you see impressive is an understatement. Even nonbelievers have to be awed by the massive ark, which admittedly is an artistic interpretation of what Noah built, albeit one based on the dimensions specified on the pages of Scripture (roughly seven stories tall by two football fields long).   

St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky, has a west front copied from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky, has a west front copied from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. | Dennis Lennox

In downtown Covington is St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption.

If it looks familiar, it’s because much of the cathedral, built at the turn of the last century as the seat of the Roman Catholic bishop of Covington, is a copy of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Unfortunately, someone thought it was a good idea to build an elevated four-lane boulevard, parking lots and several hideous neighboring buildings, including an apartment tower and parochial school, within the cathedral precincts. Smart planning would have created a park to serve as a buffer from the surrounding cityscape.

For a nearly complete view of the west front — a one-third scale copy of Notre Dame — you need to walk about two blocks west on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Meanwhile, the north elevation with its nearly tennis court-sized stained-glass window in the transept can be seen from a parking lot.

The French Gothic revival architecture is truly spectacular, even if the cathedral is unfinished due to a lack of funds. And with Notre Dame still rebuilding after its 2019 fire, Covington’s cathedral is definitely worth visiting.

Another must-see is the Garden of Hope.

Besides sweeping views of the Ohio River toward Cincinnati, the big draw here is a replica of the rock-cut tomb in Jerusalem that some claim as the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. Spearheaded in the 1930s by the Rev. Morris Coers, a Southern Baptist pastor in Covington, the park has a few other curiosities, including stone from the Western Wall at the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, and a recreated Spanish chapel from the 16th century.

If you go

The Creation Museum and Ark Encounter are open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. My recommendation is to avoid the Ark on weekends and holidays, as everything about the visitor arrival experience is horrendously designed to the point where it can take an hour or more to park, buy a ticket and board a shuttle bus to the entrance point. Also, tickets at $54.95 for adults (plus parking) aren’t cheap, except when compared to say, Disney.

St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and on weekends outside regularly scheduled services with no charge for visitors.

The Garden of Hope is also free. Tours from volunteer guides need to be booked in advance.

I stayed at a forgettable chain hotel by the airport. For something different, book a room at Hotel Covington, a boutique hotel within a former department store in downtown Covington.  

By car, Covington is an easy drive from Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis.

Dennis Lennox writes a travel column for The Christian Post.

Dennis Lennox writes about travel, politics and religious affairs. He has been published in the Financial Times, Independent, The Detroit News, Toronto Sun and other publications. Follow @dennislennox on Twitter.

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