Benefiting from a recent initiative to increase tourism to the Queen City, the number of things to do in Cincinnati has blossomed over the years to include many unique and exciting attractions that appeal to travelers of all ages.
From cutting edge art installations to classic museums embracing the growth and renewal of what is colloquially referred to as the first American City, Cincinnati is a vibrant and culturally complex city that attracts upwards of 26 million people annually!
Considering that the city is within a day’s driving distance of almost half the population of the United States, it comes as no surprise that it is an up and coming tourist destination!
Whether you are simply passing through, visiting for the day or making an extended weekend trip out of your adventures in Ohio, you will find plenty of things to do in Cincinnati, making it an exciting place to explore for all ages!
Things to do in Cincinnati that should not be missed!
Contemporary Arts Center
Founded in 1939, the Contemporary Arts Center is one of the first contemporary art institutions in the United States and should not be overlooked when planning your trip to Cincinnati.
With humble beginnings as the Modern Art Society, this museum has undergone many transformations starting in the basement of the Cincinnati Arts Museum before moving to the Women’s Exchange Building in 1964, and then to the Mercantile Center on Fifth Street.
In 2003, the Contemporary Arts Center found a new home in the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, which is praised as a work of art in itself. Designed by Zaha Hadid, this building is of important historical significance for being the first U.S. museum to be designed by a woman!
With ever changing exhibits that focus on new developments in all types of artistic media, the Contemporary Arts Center is a well-known for its thought-provoking and innovative displays. Breaking the mold of the typical museum, the center’s trademarked UnMuseum® opens up a new world of interactive art and education for people of all ages.
A variety of programs offer children hands on experiences where they are encouraged to touch the displays or even make art of their own (while leaving the mess behind). Also taking into account that admission is completely free, a visit to the Contemporary Arts Center is one of the most exciting and budget-friendly things to do in Cincinnati.
Carew Tower Observation Deck
Situated in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, Carew Tower is a National Historic Landmark that stands a massive 49 stories high. As the second tallest building in the city, the observation deck offers stunning panoramic views of the city below, as well as a glimpse of Northern Kentucky just across the Ohio River.
Built in 1930, this structure features elegant French Art Deco which is most prevalent in the metalwork of the elevator doors and lights. Access to the observation deck is free for children under 6 and age groups 6-11 and 12+ can enter for $3 and $6 respectively.
Carew Tower also houses over 20 shops, restaurants, and other amenities making a trip to this landmark a fantastic value for the price so don’t forget to include it on your list of things to do in Cincinnati!
Be sure to look for the early 20th century murals found throughout the complex, painted by Louis Grell.
Rumor has it the artist put interpretive renditions of the Carew Tower into the backgrounds of each of the ten murals you’ll find in the Palm Court!
A visit to this location provides ample opportunity to enjoy not only the history of the area, but also the breathtaking 360 degree views and convenient opportunities for souvenir shopping!
Nestled among the other residences in Cincinnati’s Camp Washington neighborhood is a seemingly unremarkable blue structure known as Swing House.
It is not obvious from the outside but this charming, three story building is actually home to one of the most impressive, large scale art projects the city has to offer.
The building itself has been gutted with all floors and walls removed. In the center of the open space, a pine swing hangs from natural fiber ropes attached to a metal beam three stories above.
Artist Mark DeLong conceptualized this piece nearly thirty years ago but put his art career aside to start a career in construction.
After three years of hard work, the dream is finally a reality and DeLong invites guests to enjoy the fruits of his labor by offering it for rent on AirBnB. For only $175, you and another guest can experience the space as it was meant to be.
The suite is complete with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and nearly 5 star review! Considering the experience and functionality of the Swing House, a stay here should definitely be on your list of things to do in Cincinnati.
What better way to end a day of sightseeing through the vibrant city of Cincinnati than to swing the night away in luxury and style!
American Sign Museum
Whether you are a history buff or fascinated by bright, colorful signage, a visit to the American Sign Museum should be on your list of things to do in Cincinnati. Experience the advances in technology and design first-hand as you take a stroll through over 100 years worth of commercial signs.
Guided tours are available, or participate in the audio tour on your phone as you explore the 20,000 square foot space. The stories behind the pieces bring them to life and add another depth to their existence beyond what you can see with your eyes.
Ceilings towering nearly 30 feet high overhead to accommodate some of the largest signs will give the impression of stepping into an electrifying world unlike any other attraction you’ll find nearby. With enough neon to rival Las Vegas’ Neon Graveyard and a healthy dose of classic American kitsch, the American Sign Museum is an excellent option for families looking for things to do in Cincinnati! At the end of the guided tour, visitors can witness sign makers in action at the Neonworks of Cincinnati workshop located inside the museum.
As Ohio’s oldest and most cherished public market, Findlay Market is a staple of the Cincinnati community. Located within the historic district of the city, this vibrant and bustling market space is surrounded by 19th century architecture and filled with just as much tradition and history as the neighborhood nearby.
Continually operating since 1855, a visit to Findlay Market is one of the top things to do in Cincinnati, regardless of the weather. Indoor merchants feature fresh local, regional and ethnic food and dining year round and during the warmer summer months, you’ll find the outdoor spaces filled to the brim with crafts vendors, local artisans, exciting street food and live performers to entertain visitors young and old alike.
One of the biggest perks for the spring, summer and fall months is the Biergarten. Featuring local craft breweries and special guest breweries, you’ll be able to taste eclectic and delicious offerings from all around the region!
Second Sunday on Main
Founded by the Over-The-Rhine Chamber of Commerce in 2005, Second Sunday on Main is a festival held on the second Sunday of each month from June to October. Attracting more than 2,000 visitors every month, this Main Street festival is intended to bring the spirit of togetherness to the neighborhood.
Enjoy the afternoon shopping, socializing and admiring art and wares by dozens of local vendors and regional artisans. Be sure to take advantage of the delicious food and drinks you’ll find throughout the festival, making it a cultural and refreshing option when looking for things to do in Cincinnati.
Much like the experience to be found in Findlay Market, the Second Sunday on Main Festival features a biergarten as a nod to the German settlers of the 19th and 20th centuries as well as over 120 different vendors and stalls coming together to embrace the community atmosphere so well-loved by those who live and work in the Queen City.
After nearly 1 million people visited Cincinnati in 2017 for the inaugural light and art show called BLINK, the founders knew they had to do it again. During Columbus Day weekend in October of 2019, the expanded four day event took over the city streets with mesmerizing light shows, interactive lighted art installations, state of the art architectural projections and murals created by artists from around the world.
Sprawling over a distance of 30 blocks, the 2019 BLINK festival ran from Covington in Northern Kentucky, over the Ohio River and an additional 20 blocks into the historic district surrounding Findlay Market, making it the largest of such projection mapping and light festivals in the entire United States!
This free event is one of the most exhilarating and exciting things to do in Cincinnati and will be an experience you won’t want to miss!
The event space is broken into five different districts or zones, each one featuring cutting edge designs and installations that take advantage of the unique and historic architecture, natural landscape and open spaces to create an immersive and otherworldly cultural experience that is sure to wow visitors of all ages.
In the Covington Zone, just over the Ohio River in Northern Kentucky, you’ll find live entertainment, interactive art installations and over ten different projections to light up the night.
North of the Covington Zone, you’ll find the Banks Zone. Admire the projection show on the John Roebling Suspension Bridge before walking through ten different art installations and light projections along the open space of the northern bank of the Ohio River.
Continue further north into the Downtown Zone, wander through the streets to admire a dozen different projections on the various unique buildings that comprise this vibrant urban location. Hop on a streetcar, the iconic transportation option and another bucket list must on any list of things to do in Cincinnati, to see the projections while whisking along the streets to view even more art installations and events.
Continue on the streetcar north into the OTR Zone, filled to the brim with over a dozen interactive installations and another half dozen light projections that fill the area with an almost otherworldly feel. For an indoor experience, in Washington Park ‘Architects of Air’ created a maze of colors and sensory experiences.
Last but of course not least is the Findlay Market Zone. Here, you’ll find well over a dozen different murals, each by a different artist with a different style or theme. Additionally, six different projection mapping exhibitions and smaller interactive light art installations will fill the market streets with immersive art experiences augmented by live entertainment.
All throughout the festival, you’ll find venues opening their doors to cater to the visitors, making this four-day festival one of the best things to do in Cincinnati and an EPIC USA bucket list destination!
Where to stay in Cincinnati
If you crave the feel of a unique locale when traveling, embracing the authenticity and vibrant spirit within The 21c Museum Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio, will come effortlessly as you succumb to its beauty, boldness, and bliss.
We live in a day and age where individuals, couples, and families desire so much more than a simple bed to lay their head when adventuring to experience a new city: whether it be particular amenities, mesmerizing culture, astute hospitality, or opulent luxury, visitors travel above all else to find something new and exciting.
The 21c is more than just a building with rooms and beds – with an audacious contemporary art museum and creative fixtures situated throughout the space, you’ll find something intriguing, new, and enjoyable at every turn. The property has even consistently been ranked among the “Top Hotels in the Midwest” by Condé Nast Traveler Reader’s Choice Awards, so you can be certain their reputation is beyond glitz and glamour.
The 21c Hotel evokes a playful attitude with bright flashes of color draped against very refined, distinctive finishes. Their ubiquitous Yellow Penguin is found throughout the property, adding an element of whimsy and fun that you can’t help but take a selfie with. The design style showcases a defined sense of attention to detail, sophistication, and charm, with a hint of humor.
The hotel was restored with a tall order: bring a new contemporary art museum, boutique hotel, and restaurant and bar to highlight fine art. As the 100-year old building that once housed the original Metropole Hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, re imagining the space required creativity, restraint, and a sense of imagination to bridge the past with the present and future.
Modernizing the space meant equipping the property with new technology, flow, and a defined voice to showcase contemporary art. If you’re shopping for a wedding, meeting, or private event space, the property has plenty of opportunities to suit the needs of your social gathering.
One of the best things to do in Cincinnati is to spend a few moments or hours getting lost in the hotel’s revered contemporary art museum, located within its own property.
The museum highlights a contemporary theme, with mixed modalities and colorful features abound. A solarium showcases even more unique offerings. Exhibitions rotate often, so there is reason enough for you to plan a return to the 21c and experience new works of art. The museum is open to the public 24/7, 365 days per year.
This boutique property has 156 guestrooms, and I had the pleasure of enjoying all 699 square feet of the Corner Suite. Equipped with a separate bedroom and king-size bed with luxury sheets, the spacious suite included a separate living room with comfortable sectional sofa and dining area.
The bathroom is very modern, featuring a dual vanity with black accents and white counter top, a glass-enclosed shower, tub, custom tile work, and plush robes. A Nespresso coffee machine and 42” HDTV were prime amenities included.
The guestroom offers fun pops of bold color in the contemporary design style, but overall feels like a muted and calm retreat compared to the entertaining museum outside its doors.
The Metropole Restaurant is an ode to the original Metropole Hotel, but the cuisine is refined American cuisine featuring the best of local purveyors. The menu is updated seasonally, with familiar offerings that are artfully prepared and unpretentious.
Start with Garlic Butter Shrimp or a charcuterie and artisan cheese board, and move on to entrees such as Braised Short Rib or The Metropole Cheeseburger. The Metropole Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner service daily, with brunch on weekends and a special bar menu available.
The restaurant also serves an in-room dining menu with rotating availability based on time of day.
Open seasonally and weather permitting, you can’t miss the rooftop Cocktail Terrace when visiting the 21c. Alcohol-infused “pop-tails” and slushies evoke the easygoing times of childhood. Savor every drop under the bright sun and take in some of the best views of downtown Cincinnati. The menu features something for everyone, including cocktails, beer, wine, slushies, and snacks.
Seeking out prime rest and relaxation during your trip to Cincinnati? Look no further than The Spa at 21c, offering endless opportunities and selections for you to retreat to a calming place. Seek out the greatest in serenity with a Red Carpet Glow facial, Alpha/Beta Complex Peel, AromaTouch Ritual, and more.
Experience the greatest in aromatherapy, detoxification, and recovery with revitalizing treatments that will leave you renewed and ready to take on the world, or a new museum exhibition just beyond The Spa doors.
Where to eat in Cincinnati
Foodies unite! Cincinnati is brimming with delicious eats within the city and just across the border in Covington, Kentucky. With a bevy of food options from all over the globe, Cincinnati is positioned as a melting pot of delicious eats. When it comes to the best things to do in Cincinnati, let eating be one of them.
Three places that should not be missed for breakfast are: Maplewood Kitchen and Bar, Boomtown Bisquits and Whiskey and Taste of Belgium!
At Maplewood you would be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t get their avocado Benedict. Easily the best one I have ever had and they do not use hollandaise. Instead they use a lemon and herb emulsion.
At Boomtown Biscuits – you really can’t go wrong here. Everything I tried was delicious and the biscuits pull apart perfectly. I recommend trying a variety of dishes and sharing.
For Taste of Belgium, HIGHLY recommend the McWaffle, which is Egg, bacon, Gruyère, Ohio maple syrup. We also went with a banana and nutella crepe just to get the sweets.
You must eat at Camp Washington Chili and get the five way chili!! It is an institution.
Findlay Market is a great place to find amazing food. I discovered an insane hand battered corn dog and deep fried pickles from a vendor.
One of my favorite things to eat is Pho, a Vietnamese soup! Don’t miss Pho Lang Thang. Grab a Vietnamese coffee too if you are feeling like a sweet treat.
The View at Shires Garden is a bit of an upscale dining establishment and I was pleasantly surprised with their medley of tomatoes and chicken dish, that came with a peach and bourbon glaze.
Bouquet, located in Covington, is on a stretch of beautiful street with both indoor and outdoor dining. I wasn’t feeling like a whole meal so we shared dishes. I think the pickle platter was everything. The pickle whatever they have in the kitchen and bring it out. So good!
Tips for visiting Cincinnati
- CVG is the airport code for Cincinnati and it is actually located in Kentucky across the river. So do not be alarmed when you land in Kentucky! The distance to downtown Cincinnati is under 13 miles and easy to access
- Uber and Lyft are readily available
- If you do not want to rent a car or use a ride share service, you can use the Cincinnati Bell Connector (for a fee) and it loops around the city
- Credit cards are widely accepted as is cash (although I did not need cash anywhere)
Cincinnati is a vibrant and cultural city that has undergone a revitalization in recent years. Taking advantage of its close and convenient location as well as its vibrant history, the city has doubled down on tourism initiatives, resulting in a huge number of unique and exciting things to do in Cincinnati.
Drawing millions of visitors annually, the city has embraced its new relationship with tourism and traveling to curate a breathtaking number of events and exhibitions to wow visitors of all ages.
Nicknamed the first American city, this classic, community-oriented locale prides itself on its heritage, landscape and robust cultural offerings, something that can be found in each and every event that you’ll experience during your time here.
From historic market sprawls to contemporary art collections, you’ll experience a truly unique and special city that has grown and shifted throughout the centuries to become the remarkable hub of vibrance and activity that it is today. Be sure to plan your visit ahead of time, no matter how long you’ll be spending there, to take advantage of all the amazing things to do in Cincinnati.
You’ll surely discover why so many who visit return again and again!
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Disclaimer: this post is written in collaboration with Source Cincinnati. As always, opinions are entirely my own.
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