48 Hours in Columbus: The Ultimate Itinerary

Columbus, Franklin Metropolitan Park in the summer
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The capital city of Ohio boasts all the friendliness and hospitality you’d expect of a major Midwestern metropolis, but what you may not know is that Columbus is also one of the most surprisingly stylish fashion centers in the United States. Trailing only New York and Los Angeles in its number of resident fashion designers (many of whom cut their teeth locally at the Columbus College of Art and Design), Columbus rolls out the red carpet to savvy fashionistas with chic boutiques lining the Short North Arts District and upscale open-air shopping centers anchored by premium retailers. Add in stunning green spaces, world-class cultural destinations, a wow-worthy culinary scene, fun kid-friendly attractions and the Ohio State University campus, and you’ve got all the makings of a memorable weekend getaway. These are some of the best suggestions to include on your ultimate 48-hour trip to Columbus, Ohio.

01 of 07

Day 1: Morning

Columbus, Ohio Skyline Elevated Aerial View
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9 a.m.: After your arrival into the John Glenn International Columbus Airport (named for the famed hometown astronaut), rent a car, grab a rideshare, or hop on the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) AirConnect bus service for quick transportation directly into the heart of the city. Home to the Greater Columbus Convention Center and the Nationwide Arena, downtown Columbus is also home to a wide variety of hotel franchises to choose from for accommodations in a range of price points. Get your bearings and shake off any lingering jet lag with a quick stroll around the Arena District or a run, walk, or CoGo bikeshare ride along the scenic Scioto Trail greenway that skirts the north/south-running Scioto River on the western edge of downtown through parks, under bridges, and past landmarks. 

11:30 a.m.: As you get hungry for lunch, set a course to the vibrant historic North Market in the Short North Arts District, and let your appetite run wild. Within a covered open marketplace that dates back to 1876, this eclectic resident lineup of more than 30 local food vendors and merchants proposes all sorts of nosh to consider from soup to nuts, as well as bagels, baked goods, produce, an array of ethnic cuisines, meats, seafood, and coffee. If you can’t find something to eat here, you’re just out of luck. Nibble and sample away to your heart’s content, and then cap off your lunchtime feast with a scoop of Brown Butter Almond Brittle, Brambleberry Crisp or decadent Darkest Chocolate from the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams stand; all products are made right here in Columbus. 

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02 of 07

Day 1: Afternoon

Running fountain in Goodale Park, Columbus Ohio reflects in the pond
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1 p.m.: After lunching at North Market, you’re now fueled up to shop and gallery hop ‘til you drop along High Street, the lifeblood thoroughfare of the Short North Arts District. Anchored by a series of fanciful steel arches, the epicenter of Columbus’s fashion scene claims some of the best boutiques and forward-thinking art galleries in town. Browse through customer service-oriented shops like Tigertree, Rowe, Ladybird, and Happy Go Lucky Her for apparel and accessories that’ll have you looking like you just stepped off a runway. Homage is the place to find quirky retro T-shirts, and relive your childhood at Big Fun through a whimsical and overwhelming inventory of vintage toys, board games, and collectible figures. Short North Gallery Hop events on the first Saturday of each month provide the perfect occasion to duck in and out of local makers’ studios at will to enjoy exhibitions, live music, food, and drink. 

3:30 p.m.: Cool off and take a breather by popping in the contemporary PIzzuti Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, sited within a gorgeous three-story historic Beaux Arts office building on the edge of Goodale Park. Highlighting a diverse and ever-evolving rotation of holdings from the personal collection of local philanthropists Ron and Ann Pizzuti, the facility also hosts thought-provoking displays, lectures, and traveling exhibits. 

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03 of 07

Day 1: Evening

6 p.m.: It’s happy hour, and Columbus boasts tons of fun watering holes in which to wet your whistle, from trendy mixology-driven hotspots to casual neighborhood dives and beer gardens. One of the most popular perches in the city, the see-and-be-seen Lincoln Social Rooftop lounge shakes up creative and classic cocktails to enjoy al fresco with views of the bustling Short North district nine stories down below. Or pop into the Short North Pint House for a cold beer and a few laughs with friends in a festive outdoor courtyard. 

8 p.m.: Round out your first day in Columbus with a leisurely dinner. You can’t go wrong with any restaurant in the Cameron Mitchell family. From humble beginnings, this hometown restaurateur has created an upscale dining empire that now features 15 different concepts and three dozen locations in Ohio and across several other states, all constructed on the tenets of top-shelf food quality and service. The sleek Guild House turns out plates of farm-to-table cuisine, the Pearl specializes in oysters and fresh seafood, and Marcella’s delights with updated Italian comfort foods like charcuterie, cheeses, pizzas, pastas, and delectable desserts. Downtown, the Four-Diamond M at Miranova impresses guests with its faultless surf and turf presentations and its classy fine-dining atmosphere.

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04 of 07

Day 2: Morning

New friend
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8:30 a.m.: Some of the best breakfast eats in town, the pillowy sweet pancake balls at Katalina’s are made with locally produced Fowler’s Mills flour wrapped around Nutella, apple-pumpkin butter or dulce de leche fillings and served alongside thick-cut bacon for salty-sweet flavor perfection. Old school in the best possible way, Jack and Benny’s serves up omelets, hash browns and other diner classics with the same warm welcome customers have come to expect since the 1950s. Meanwhile, Fox in the Snow tempts patrons with sophisticated French pastries, scones, biscuits, and donuts, all washed down with skillfully prepared coffee drinks. 

10 a.m.: Spend the morning communing with Mother Nature at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens beside the expansive Franklin Park. The Victorian-style John F. Wolfe Palm House took shape back in 1895 and today is home to lush greenhouse displays of living foliage. Across the 13-acre site, guests can also admire seasonal butterflies, stroll through painstakingly landscaped outdoor green spaces and a community garden, and enjoy viewing a lovely collection of works by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. 

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05 of 07

Day 2: Afternoon

Columbus Cityscapes And City Views
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12 p.m.: Break for lunch at one of Columbus’s many casual mid-day eateries. With a handful of locations scattered around town, Northstar Café, the signature veggie burger stands out amid a well-edited menu of brick oven-fired pizzas, salads, and sandwiches. Mediterranean fare with flair is the name of the game at Brassica in the Short North district; think fresh hummus plates and pita sandwiches stuffed with falafel, chicken shawarma, or house-pickled vegetables. And Brown Bag Deli is the place to go for flavorful specialty sandwiches like the Weezie’s Cheesie, Ben’s Black and Blue, the meaty Spice of Life, or an exemplary Cuban.

2 p.m.: Keep the cultural vibe alive with a wander through the world-class Columbus Museum of Art. Originally known as the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts at the time of its founding in the 1870s, this encyclopedic art museum underwent a massive expansion and renovation in 2015 that added the airy new 50,000 square-foot Walter Wing. Significant holdings cover European art, American art, folk art, glass art, and regional works by Columbus-area creators. 

4 p.m.: If the lovingly manicured Topiary Garden on the grounds of the Old Deaf School Park looks familiar, that’s because it’s actually a life-sized recreation of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte” by Impressionist artist Georges Seurat (on permanent display at the Art Institute of Chicago and featured in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”). The park is free to visit and open daily to the public dawn to dusk year-round, but summer’s the best time to go if you want to see the living recreation in full bloom.

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06 of 07

Day 2: Evening

6 p.m.: Defined by historical details and old-world charm, Columbus’s German Village just to the south of downtown accommodates brick sidewalks, quaint parks, independent businesses, thoughtfully preserved architecture and a thriving LGBTQ community. Take your time for a walk around the neighborhood before settling in to one of the district’s diverse restaurant choices for dinner. For an authentic taste of hearty German spaetzle, schnitzel, and strudel, belly up to Schmidt’s Restaurant und Sausage Haus, a Columbus dining institution since 1886. Prost! Or explore the flavors of Spanish tapas at Barcelona, feast on modern American fare at Lindey’s, or squeeze in a date night at romantic G. Michael’s Bistro and Bar.

7:30 p.m.: The largest resident ensemble theater troupe in the country, Shadowbox Live presents an ongoing schedule of cabaret-style productions with food and drink served before the show and during intermission. Formed in 1988, the 60-member company performs out of a dedicated German Village-adjacent space in the Brewery District. Blending rock opera and dance performance with sketch comedy and new media, every production is guaranteed to be unique and provides material for scintillating post-show discussion.

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07 of 07

Day 3: Morning

Columbus Cityscapes And City Views
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8:30 a.m.: Wind down your time in Columbus by treating yourself to a sumptuous brunch. Driven by seasonality, Skillet delivers a brunch menu of hearty American favorites with a twist—biscuits and chorizo gravy, a brisket and potato omelet, grilled figs, and lemon soufflé pancakes. An extensive selection of omelets, pancakes, Benedicts, and breakfast sandwiches makes the decision-making process difficult at the sunny Blunch urban café. Or head to Pistacia Vera for brunch with continental flair—quiche, smoked salmon tartare, exquisite croissants, and picture-perfect macarons in a rainbow of colors and flavors. 

10 a.m.: Visitors of all ages can feel like kids again after a couple hours of exploration at the Center of Science and Industry, “COSI” to locals. Wander through the awe-inspiring dinosaur gallery, a DC Superheroes exhibit, a giant screen theater, the largest planetarium in Ohio, and lots of interactive STEM-focused activities to engage and educate young minds.

1 p.m.: Wrap up your Columbus journey by paying tribute to our nation’s heroes at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, opened in late 2018. From the approach, the building cuts a dashing figure on the banks of the Scioto River with a striking arched concrete and glass architectural design. Inside, the Core Exhibit galleries honor veterans who’ve served in all four branches of United States military service in times of war and peace. The park-like grounds that surround the museum offer an opportunity for quiet reflection and one last glimpse of the downtown skyline. 

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