Cincinnati Ohio skyline with John Roebling bridge aerial view summer

Cincinnati Guide: Planning Your Trip

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Settled in the late 1700s, the “Queen City of the West” grew quickly during the 1800s thanks to an influx of German and Irish immigrants and a booming meatpacking industry. (A bit of trivia:  Cincinnati was at one time the pork processing center of the country, earning the nickname “Porkopolis.”)

Since its founding, the city has established itself as an industrial hub; some of the major companies who’ve chosen to headquarter here include Proctor & Gamble, Kroger grocery stores, Cinergy, American Financial Group, and E.W. Scripps Company.

Sports fans feel right at home in Cincinnati. The city bleeds red and white for the hometown Cincinnati Reds (originally called the Red Stockings); they kick off opening day of each Major League Baseball season with a parade that starts in the historic Over-the-Rhine district, and winds through downtown to the Great American Ball Park. During football season, Bengals fans don black and orange to tailgate before games at Paul Brown Stadium on the riverfront.

As of 2021, Cincinnati was home to 307,266 residents in the city proper, making it the third largest city in Ohio trailing Columbus and Cleveland. The greater Cincinnati metro area reaches across the river via a handful of bridges to claim portions of Northern Kentucky, from where you can enjoy stunning views of the downtown skyline.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: For many visitors, Cincinnati’s array of parks, green spaces, festivals, and outdoor attractions make summer the ideal of time of year to book a stay. Just be aware, average temperatures in the 80s and high humidity can sometimes feel oppressive to more sensitive guests. Spring offers its own special appeal as the city comes to life with blooming flowers and fresh greenery, whereas fall presents a spectacularly colorful palette of seasonal foliage to enjoy during hikes, strolls, and al fresco recreation. When all dressed up for the holidays, Cincinnati sparkles and shines through the winter months thanks to vibrant light displays, fun events, and ice skating on Fountain Square. 
  • Language: English is the most commonly spoken language in Cincinnati, but it’s not uncommon to hear snippets of conversation in Spanish and other global languages.
  • Currency: The standard U.S. Dollar is the main currency used in Cincinnati. All major credit and debit cards are widely accepted.
  • Getting Around: Most visitors rely on car rentals or drive in using their own set of wheels, but it’s possible to navigate the city using public transportation. The Cincinnati Metro bus system offers service to points throughout the area; meanwhile, the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK) services the northern Kentucky area, including routes to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. The downtown area is easily walkable using the river as a reference point, and the Cincinnati Bell Connector electric streetcar loops through downtown and the Over-the-Rhine district for just $1 per two-hour fare.
  • Travel Tips: The Cincinnati Red Bike bikeshare program maintains more than 500 two-wheelers at nearly 60 stations throughout the city. You can borrow one for up to 20 minutes ($3) or 24 hours ($10). Or, grab a trendy Bird electric scooter for zippy jaunts around the downtown region.

Things to Do

Sports, museums, music, fitness, animals, craft beer—whatever your interest, there’s a Cincinnati itinerary that’s sure to fit the bill.

  • Get to know Cincinnati’s German heritage, which shines brightly in the Over-the-Rhine district. The storied neighborhood just north of downtown is populated with 19th-century architecture, public art, charming shops, restaurants, and bars.
  • Spend some time discovering the parks and green spaces along the Ohio River, the city's most iconic landmark. A pedestrian stroll across the handsome blue John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge—designed by the same engineer who created the Brooklyn Bridge—delivers gorgeous backdrops for selfies against the sparkling downtown skyline.
  • Cincinnati embraces its roots with a diverse collection of museums to explore. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a must-see for visitors of all ages. Traditional art buffs can wander through the classics at the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Taft Art Museum, while modern masterpieces reign at the Contemporary Arts Center and 21c Museum Hotel. A whole collection of museums, including the Cincinnati History Museum and the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust Center, can be found in the former Union Terminal passenger train station. 
  • Buy a ticket and cheer on the home teams. Cincinnati Reds baseball season runs from mid-April into the fall, while Cincinnati Bengals football kicks off in September and lasts into the winter.

Check out other great suggestions with our full-length articles on things to do in Cincinnati and Cincinnati's top museums.

What to Eat and Drink

You can’t visit Cincinnati without trying some the city’s distinctive chili. Here, the meaty soup is laced with cinnamon in a nod to the Macedonian immigrants who brought the recipe from their homeland. You’ll find it on menus all over town, particularly at the big two regional franchises—Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili. Order it up in a “three-way” over spaghetti with an avalanche of shredded cheese and oyster crackers, or atop a coney dog.

Another classic Cincy concoction, goetta combines ground pork with oats and spices to create a one-of-a-kind breakfast sausage. It’s particularly easy to find across the river in the predominantly German suburb of Covington. For more German fare, Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine serves up a veritable smorgasbord of eats from more than 50 food vendors and merchants in one convenient location. Or, propose a toast to OTR by raising a craft beer and enjoying some indoor ping pong or cornhole at the vast Rhinegeist Brewery.

Graeter’s Ice Cream is the local favorite sweet treat, scooping indulgent servings of its rich French Pot-processed products into bowls and cones. The signature black raspberry chip flavor is worth every calorie.

Whet your appetite for more with our roundup of the top local foods to try in Cincinnati.

Where to Stay

Most Cincinnati visitors tend to gravitate toward accommodations in the compact Downtown region and the Central Business District because of easy walkability; access to public transportation; and proximity to so many attractions, shops, restaurants, entertainment venues, and the Duke Energy Convention Center. On the other side of the river, Northern Kentucky also maintains its own convention center along with a solid selection of hotels, conference sites, and tourism destinations in Newport and Covington.

Read our selection of Cincinnati's best hotels for ideas on where to book your stay.

Getting There

I-75, I-71 and I-74 are the main highway thoroughfares that lead into and out of Cincinnati, with the I-275 beltway looping around the city. Rush-hour traffic can get gnarly on weekday mornings and afternoons, particularly on the bridges connecting to Northern Kentucky; plan accordingly.

Based southwest of the city and across the state line in Hebron, Kentucky, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport serves the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana tri-state region; most major commercial airlines operate flights to and from here.

Money Saving Tips

Many visitors find Cincinnati to be a fairly affordable destination to visit in keeping with its Midwestern setting.

  • It’s entirely possible to get around without renting a car in Cincinnati. Public transportation is reliable and inexpensive, particularly the Cincinnati Metro's fixed-route bus system ($1.75 for a one-way fare), the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky buses ($1.50 for a one-way fare, $2 from the airport into downtown), and the Cincinnati Bell Connector electric streetcar ($1 for a two-hour fare).
  • For an outstanding bird’s-eye view of downtown Cincinnati, the Ohio River, and northern Kentucky, take the elevator to the 49th-floor observatory deck of the Carew Tower. The trip to the top of the tallest building in town is a mere $6.
  • Flashing your AAA or AARP card can often save you a few bucks on entrance to many Cincinnati attractions. Likewise, admission is always free to visit the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Contemporary Arts Center, and the 21c Museum Hotel public spaces. Or, take yourself on a free DIY tour of the city’s vibrant large-scale murals.

Read our helpful list of free things to do in Cincinnati for more ideas.

Article Sources
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  1. Ohio History Connection. "Cincinnati, Ohio."

  2. World Population Review. "Cincinnati, Ohio Population 2021."