Growing up in Northern Kentucky and basically living by Cincinnati my whole life, I consider myself a “native” by default. I can be downtown in a fifteen minute drive, so I’ve spent my entire life enjoying the city and what it has offer!
Whenever someone mentions they’re visiting Cincy, they always ask me “what should I do?” Here is my answer to that question! These tips will give a good overview of the Queen City- a “big city” with a small town vibe.
Fountain Square: This is the “epi-center” of the city, and is known for its iconic (you guessed it) fountain. In the heart of the business district, there is usually something going on. In the winter it’s home to an ice-skating rink, and the rest of the year there is typically some sort of craft show, music festival, or live entertainment. If you happen to visit with nothing going on, you can always stop at the Graeter’s ice-cream (a Cincinnati staple) parlor in the square and get a cone of black raspberry chip!
Carew Tower Observation Deck: Nearby to fountain square, hop onto an elevator and go to the top of the second-highest building in the city. This has great views of the Ohio River and surrounding areas (Northern Kentucky mostly!), just be ready because it’s quite windy!
Great American Ballpark: If you’re a baseball lover, catching a game in the home of the Cincinnati Reds will make the perfect activity. If you happen to visit and no game is going on, there are also guided tours of the ballpark.
The Banks: This walk-able area by the baseball stadium along the riverbank is home to the annual Zinzinnati Oktoberfest every fall. During the rest of the year, you can pass the time enjoying one of many great restaurants (I recommend Moerlein Lager House as it’s a great representation of Cincinnati’s German brewery heritage). There are a few more high end places, and also some fun and casual spots like Tin Roof, Condado Tacos, and Pies & Pints. If you have kids with you, the park and fountains at Smale Park are always a good time too!
Zoo & Botanical Gardens: One of the best zoos in the nation, this place honestly will not disappoint! Not only will you get to come face to face with the famous hippo Fiona, but you can enjoy a beautiful day of seeing well cared for animals and extensive gardens. While I admittedly am not sure how I feel about zoos, and much prefer to see animals in the wild, if there is going to be a zoo- this is how it should be done. If you come in the winter, the zoo is host to the “Festival of Lights”, which is especially ideal for young families.
Music Hall & Washington Park: My husband and I had our wedding at this iconic Cincinnati building, so I might be a little biased, but this place is beautiful! Built in 1878, Music Hall is not only an architectural wonder, but is host to loads of wonderful shows. If there is nothing going on when you visit, you can take guided tours. In the fall, you can even partake in a ghost tour (it’s one of the most haunted places in the mid-west and has been on several TV shows like Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures)! The park facing the grand building, Washington Park, has some fun outdoor fountains, a dog park, and in the summer hosts craft shows, music festivals, and more.
OTR Neighborhood: Back as a kid in the ‘90’s, nobody would have ever recommended you visit here, but thanks to several ongoing cleanup efforts and some serious investment, this once dangerous area of the city is now one of the best! Filled with restored buildings from the late 19th century, this is now easily the trendiest (and yes, most hipster) part of town. The initials OTR stand for “Over the Rhine”, a reference to the canal that used to run through the city. Fondly called “The Rhine”, this pays homage to the huge amount of German immigrants who built up the city in the mid 1800’s (yes, including almost all of my great-grandparents!).
You can learn about this German heritage and underground brewery tunnel system on a fascinating tour with Queen City Underground (it’s honestly really cool!). If that’s not your jam, then walk around and eat food, play arcade games at 16-Bit, grab a drink at one of the many bars, and get dessert to finish! My favorites for dinner include Senate (hotdogs), Che (empanadas), Bakersfield (tacos) and The Eagle (fried chicken).
Findlay Market– In the heart of OTR, this farmer’s market is one of the largest outdoor markets in the mid west. Especially fun in the summer, you can easily spend a few hours exploring the various stalls, vendors, and food options. I always grab some waffles from Taste of Belgium and top it off with gelato from Dojo. For food options, I am particularly addicted to The Arepa Place!
Getting Around: You can go things on foot, in your own car, grab an Uber, or make use of the new Cincy Street Car to easily get from place to place downtown. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could always try out a Segway tour of the city. Or, if you’re in the mood for some drinks, I can recommend an afternoon riding the Cincy Brew Bus, or even a night out on the Pedal Wagon!
Day-Trips within a 1 hour drive: For the scoop on where all you can go in less than a one-hour drive from the city, check out my detailed post!
Staycation Ideas: Read my post about ideas on unique things to do and fun places to stay in the area!
Best Mexican/Latin-American Food: To hear my own opinion on where to find some of the best tacos, arepas, or empanadas in the area, check out this post.
Food Tours: If you are a foodie and want to indulge in all that the city has to offer, check out this lineup of fun tours. If you want to just hit up a few locally famous places on your own, I’d recommend the trifecta of chili (Skyline and Goldstar are my faves), goetta (Glier’s goetta is in most grocery stores, or Eckerlin Meats at Findlay Market), and icecream (try Greaters or Aglamesis Bros!).
Flying Pig Statues: As you explore the city, you will undoubtedly see several of these flying pig statues. Since Cincinnati was known as “porkopolis” back in the day, or “a place where pigs fly”, this urban art initiative pays homage to that great time.
Cincinnati Art Museum: If you have time, this museum is free to the public and has some truly great exhibits year round. The parks and area around it are also perfect for strolling and exploring, and you can check out the nearby Cincinnati Astronomical Observatory and Krohn Conservatory.
Union Terminal & The Museum Center: If you have kids, the museum center is always hosting new exhibits and is a great place to spend the day. You can also just hop in to admire its architecture, check out the massive tile mosaics, or catch a show at the Omnimax.
Spring Grove Cemetery: A little bit outside of the city, this grand cemetery has truly beautiful grounds (especially in the fall) and can be a photographer’s dream!
Newport Aquarium: While it’s technically across the river in Kentucky, this aquarium is honestly one of the best in the country and is a fun place to spend a few hours, even as an adult! The area it is in, called Newport on the Levee, is also a fun place to spend the afternoon.
Where to Stay
Splurge: 21c Museum Hotel, The Hyatt Regency, Cincinnati Hilton Netherland Plaza
Budget: SpringHill Suites Marriott, AC Hotel at the Banks, Residence Inn
Unique: The Swing House, Luxury Mansion
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As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, should you choose to book some of the tours linked above, I may receive a small commission via affiliate links which help with the costs of running this site.