10 Best Museums to Visit in Cincinnati

Built on Ohio River commerce and a strong German foundation, Cincinnati buzzes with a thriving, diverse arts community. The selection of museums here manages to showcase—each in its own way—captivating exhibits, interactive learning opportunities, intriguing events, and engaging programs that respect the city’s proud past while looking toward the future.

Here are the 10 of the best museums to visit during your stay in Cincinnati:

01 of 10

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, slave pen, Cincinnati

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

50 E Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202, USA
Phone +1 513-333-7500

Sited on the Ohio River banks where many escaping slaves crossed during their journeys north, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center stands as a solemn and significant tribute to all who’ve fought and continue to fight for liberty and independence around the world. Among the permanent exhibits, the early-1800s slave pen recovered from a regional farm in Kentucky leaves a lasting impression. The “Invisible: Slavery Today” section educates on the horrors of human trafficking that still exist in our modern age. The interactive ESCAPE! feature walks visitors through the scenarios of traveling the Underground Railroad and the difficult choices involved. It’s impossible not to be moved by the stories told here, showing us just how far we’ve come as a civilization in the past few centuries and enlightening us about how far we still have to go.

02 of 10

Cincinnati Museum Center

Cincinnati Museum Center

Getty Images

1301 Western Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45203, USA
Phone +1 513-287-7000

If the Cincinnati Museum Center looks familiar, it’s because the facade inspired the Hall of Justice for the 1970s Super Friends cartoon series. In real life, the domed Art Deco digs once functioned as the city’s bustling Union Terminal train station. It houses a handful of museum attractions all under one roof—the Cincinnati History Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Duke Energy Children’s Museum (temporarily closed as of spring 2021), as well as an OMNIMAX theater and library archives. The most recent addition, the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center, relocated here in 2019, a thoughtfully appropriate decision because hundreds of Holocaust survivors passed through Union Terminal on their way to start new lives in Cincinnati decades ago.

03 of 10

Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum

Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati

alexeys, Getty Images

100 Joe Nuxhall Wy, Cincinnati, OH 45202, USA
Phone +1 513-765-7923

During Major League Baseball season from opening day in April through the fall, Cincinnati residents bleed red and white for the hometown Reds (or the “Red Stockings” for old-timers). Attending games at the Great American Ball Park is a cherished summertime tradition for many families, but the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum stays open year-round for a taste of history and nostalgia any time. Here, fans can admire game-oriented artifacts and memorabilia and pay their respects to legendary players like Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Barry Larkin, Frank Robinson, and others in the Hall of Fame Gallery. Don’t forget to pick up a cap, pennant, jersey, or bobblehead in the gift shop as a souvenir.

04 of 10

Cincinnati Art Museum

Cincinnati Art Museum

Courtesy of the Cincinnati Region

953 Eden Park Dr, Cincinnati, OH 45202, USA
Phone +1 513-721-2787

Founded when such facilities were still considered a novelty in America, the Cincinnati Art Museum has anchored one of the city’s most scenic neighborhoods since 1886. Originally referred to as the “Art Palace of the West,” this landmark structure shelters an encyclopedic collection of more than 67,000 items representing a span of some 6,000 years, including works by Cassatt, Cezanne, Chagall, Monet, O’Keefe, Hopper, Warhol, Van Gogh, and many other master artists. Holdings on display range from African, Asian, European, and Native American art to photography and prints, contemporary pieces, textiles—even musical instruments. Although you might have to pay to view a special exhibition or attend an on-site event, general admission to the museum is always free.

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05 of 10

American Sign Museum

Cincinnati neon sign. Bright light signboard. Vector banner.
Greens87 / Getty Images
1330 Monmouth Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45225, USA
Phone +1 513-541-6366

A hidden Cincinnati gem located in an old parachute factory, the American Sign Museum shines brightly with a quirky collection of neon, iconic commercial signs and vintage Americana curiosities to rival anything you’d see in Las Vegas. This intriguing attraction grew from museum owner Tod Swormstedt’s private collection, tracing the history of American signage from hand-painted gold leaf pieces dating back to the 1800s through milk glass lettering and light bulbs into the rise of 1930s neon and post-war plastic. The museum's unique nature creates a showy setting for weddings and other special events, and the on-site Neonworks workshop gives visitors a behind-the-scenes peek at the production and repair process.

06 of 10

21c Museum Hotel

Untitled brass chandelier, 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati

Raymond Boyd
 / Contributor

609 Walnut St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, USA
Phone +1 513-578-6600

You don't have to book a stay at the 21c Museum Hotel to take a wander around the boutique art-centric environs. The giant Untitled brass chandelier by Austrian artist Werner Reiterer welcomes guests at the street entrance, setting the stage for an out-of-the-ordinary visit filled with creative details. The hotel features site-specific installations like the groovy lava lamp-ish “Healing Tiles” regenerating floor outside the elevators and genre-spanning permanent and traveling contemporary exhibitions in the gallery spaces. If you do spend the night, you can expect the art theme to continue via clever in-room details (think white bathroom tiles molded in the shapes of body parts!). And look for the hotel’s signature yellow penguins to pop up throughout the property, in the Metropole restaurant, and maybe even holding court at the swanky rooftop bar.

07 of 10

Contemporary Arts Center

44 E 6th St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, USA
Phone +1 513-345-8400

Before or after exploring 21c, drop into the Contemporary Arts Center (a.k.a. the C.A.C.) next door as part of a one-two modern art punch or as a stand-alone experience. Since the early days of its establishment as the Modern Art Society, this long-time local institution's mission has always been to foster a meaningful connection to the community through cutting-edge works of art. Through the decades, the C.A.C. has found itself at the forefront of—sometimes challenging — movements, blazing a path of innovation for other creative types to follow. After moving through several locations, the Center finally settled into its permanent home in 2003 at the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, the first women-directed project of its kind in the United States. Admission is free.

08 of 10

Lucky Cat Museum

2511 Essex Pl, Cincinnati, OH 45206, USA
Phone +1 513-633-3923

In Asian cultures, Maneki Neko—the ceramic waving cats you often see greeting customers at businesses—symbolize good luck and prosperity. If this is true, then Cincy’s Lucky Cat Museum may just be the luckiest place on earth. Filled with statues, stuffed animals, paintings, and all other manners of representation, this whimsical attraction brims with fanciful felines. Keep the positive energy going by “adopting” one of your own to take home from the gift shop. It couldn’t hurt, right?

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09 of 10

Taft Museum of Art

Duncanson Mural, Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati

Taft Museum of Art

316 Pike St, Cincinnati, OH 45202-4214, USA
Phone +1 513-241-0343

Further support for Cincinnati’s reputation as a cultural powerhouse, the Taft Museum of Art rolls out a small but mighty internationally sourced collection that includes Impressionist pieces, European sculpture, Renaissance enamels, Chinese ceramics, and early American furnishings, all on display inside the 1820 home of Cincinnati’s first millionaire. The exquisitely restored Robert Duncanson landscape murals that adorn the entry date back to the 1850s and are regarded as the most significant pre–Civil War domestic murals in the country.

10 of 10

Over-the-Rhine District

Over the Rhine mural, Cincinnati

Amy Lynch

Over-The-Rhine, Cincinnati, OH, USA

One of Cincinnati’s most historic neighborhoods may seem an odd setting to find some of the most cutting-edge public art in town. The storied Over-the-Rhine (OTR) district acts as a living museum of sorts for a startling collection of oversized murals and forward-thinking art to observe. A stroll, bike-share spin, or ride on the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar through the area reveals dozens of large-scale paintings from the abstract to the downright ethereal tucked amid the 19th-century architecture, bars, restaurants, parks, and boutiques for a memorable DIY tour.

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10 Best Museums to Visit in Cincinnati