Your Trip to Columbus: The Complete Guide

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Most people who’ve never visited Columbus know little about it other than the fact that it’s the capital of Ohio and the home of Ohio State University. But those who come for their first visit are consistently surprised by what a cool city it is. With a youthful, tolerant vibe, Columbus is also blessed with distinctive neighborhoods, lively arts and culture, strong fashion and culinary scenes, a wide array of sports, and eye-catching contemporary architecture. Now the 14th largest city in the U.S., Columbus is growing by leaps and bounds—go to one of the high points in the city and you’ll be greeted by a vista of construction cranes everywhere. Here’s a quick overview to direct you to the best of what the city has to offer.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: For those who want good weather as a backdrop for their visit, the months of May through October are the best bets. But the city's winters are noticeably less severe than other cities in the region, and with a year-long calendar of distinctive events and indoor attractions to visit of the highest caliber, there’s really never a bad time to pay a call on Columbus.

Getting Around: COTA (Central Ohio Transit Authority) offers a fleet of frequently running buses covering every corner of the city. Two special buses of note are the Cbus Circulator, a free shuttle service covering downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods, and Air Connect between downtown and the airport. Also, the CoGo Bike Share program offers 600 bikes at more than 70 locations throughout the city, and a wait for either Uber or Lyft seldom exceeds more than a few minutes.

Travel Tip: Most of Columbus’s distinctive neighborhoods of most interest to visitors lie like a string of pearls along High Street, one of the city’s main north-south thoroughfares. COTA’s Number 2 bus goes up and down High Street at frequent intervals, linking downtown to German Village and the Brewery District to the south and to the Short North Arts District and Ohio State University to the north, thus making it possible to quickly get from one of these neighborhoods to another for a mere $2. 

Things to Do

Not to be missed in Columbus is a visit to the Short North Arts District, an eclectic mix of art galleries, unique boutiques, and restaurants just north of downtown. Families will find themselves drawn to the nationally known Columbus Zoo and to COSI, the Center of Science and Industry, where the Dinosaur Gallery, with exhibits like a T. Rex walking in place, is especially amazing. And visitors in the fall will be struck by how the city goes wild during a home Ohio State football game. But there are many attractions not so prominent on visitors’ radar screens that also are well worth checking out.

Live Entertainment: A live music scene is thriving in Columbus with venues like Ace of Cups, the Rumba Cafe, Newport Music Hall, The Bluestone, and Express Live hosting both local and traveling musicians. The often bawdy and always bodacious Shadowbox Live is the country’s largest resident ensemble theater company presenting everything from cabaret-style revues to rock operas.

Art: In addition to the Short North’s art galleries, the recently expanded Columbus Museum of Art has a diverse trove of treasures—its Pizzuti Collection of contemporary art is housed in a separate building. And don’t miss the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, the largest collection of cartoon art in the world, displayed in frequently changing exhibits on the OSU campus.

Sports: It’s impossible to miss Columbus’s obsession with Ohio State football, but equally rabid fans pack in to watch the Columbus Blue Jackets, the city’s major-league hockey team, and the Columbus Crew, the local professional soccer team. Also popular is the minor-league baseball team, the Columbus Clippers.

What to Eat and Drink

The many innovative chefs in Columbus and the number of new restaurants popping up each year make the local culinary scene especially lively. Many of the best restaurants are clustered in the neighborhoods surrounding downtown, including German Village and the Short North, but top-notch dining experiences are available in any corner of the city. And with Ohio’s vast farmlands surrounding Columbus on every side, it’s not surprising that the farm-to-table movement in the city is especially strong.

Evidence of the dining excellence is the number of Columbus chefs who’ve been nominated or won the prestigious James Beard Award, including Spencer Budros, the baker of the to-die-for pastries at Pistacia Vera, and James Ray Anderson, creator of the delectable barbecue at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit. Local ice cream empress, Jeni Britton Bauer, proprietor of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, actually won the James Beard Award in 2012 for her ice cream cookbook.

With many immigrants from across the globe, it’s not surprising that international cuisine is also strong in Columbus. One favorite, Momo Ghar, a hole-in-the-wall place inside Saraga International Grocery, is popular for its Nepalese dumplings. And with one of the highest populations of Somali immigrants in the U.S., a variety of restaurants featuring the cuisine of that African country can be found, including Hoyo’s Kitchen in the northeast part of the city.

The “Alt Eat” tour offered by Columbus Food Adventures, is one way to get a quick sampling of Columbus’s many ethnically diverse restaurants, but the company also offers a variety of other tours focusing on desserts, breakfasts, coffee, meats, and taco trucks as well as visits focusing on specific neighborhoods like the Short North, Old Worthington, German Village, and Grandview Avenue.

The craft brewery scene is exploding in Columbus, as it is across the U.S. The Columbus Ale Trail offers a self-guided tour to nearly four dozen breweries, and a specialized beer tour also is offered by Columbus Food Adventures. Two local distillers, Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillers, not only make excellent vodkas, gins, and bourbons using local ingredients but also have sumptuous restaurants inside each location. At the Brothers Drake, patrons can listen to live music while sampling Ohio-made meads.

Where to Stay

Most of the city's hotels are centrally located downtown, near the Convention Center, and in the Short North Arts District, while others can be found near the Easton Town Center mall in the northeast part of the city not far from the airport and at Polaris Fashion Place Mall on the city’s northern fringes. A number of chain hotels and motels are located just to the west of the Ohio State campus. A cluster of bed-and-breakfasts and offerings by AirBnB also are mostly in the center city with some of them in the charming residential neighborhoods of Victorian Village and Italian Village near the Short North and in German Village just south of downtown. 

Both the downtown Hilton and the Joseph Hotel in the Short North make a strong focus on artwork in their public spaces, many by local artists. The decor at the Graduate Hotel, also in the Short North, focuses strongly on Ohio State University and the city of Columbus, not just in the public areas but also in individual rooms. The unique DogHouse Craft Beer Hotel in suburban Canal Winchester is the world’s first craft beer accommodation located inside a working brewery, BrewDog USA. Not only are your pooches welcome, but you can also drink beer from the private tap inside your room.

Getting There

John Glenn International Airport, just 6 miles east of downtown, is serviced by Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, Spirit, and United airlines. An Air Connect bus connects the airport to downtown, and taxis, Uber, and Lyft are readily available. Although it’s mostly a cargo airport, Rickenbacker International Airport south of the city also has passenger service by Alegiant Air and charter carriers.

Money Saving Tips

  • Many of the city’s top festivals, such as the Columbus Arts Festival held each June, are either free or have a very low cost. 
  • There are more than 350 city and regional metro parks around Franklin County, offering outstanding beauty and outdoor activities, from the renowned Topiary Park to the Park of Roses. 
  • The wildly popular Gallery Hop, held every first Saturday of the month in the Short North Arts District, is free and a great way to get a sense for Columbus’s arts scene.
  • After New York and Los Angeles, Columbus has recently ranked as being home to the third-highest number of employees in the fashion industry (it still ranks on the list), making it a great place to shop for stylish clothing at a fraction of the cost of cities on the coasts.
  • Many Columbus museums and cultural institutions have reciprocal agreements with museums in other cities. If you’re a member of your local organizations, check and see if they have such an agreement with attractions in Columbus.
  • Breakfast is a big deal in Columbus. Save a few bucks by combining breakfast and lunch for one big, delicious meal.

Culture and Customs

Midwesterners are notoriously friendly, so don’t be surprised if people walk up to you and initiate a conversation. Better yet, walk up to them first and ask them what their favorite local attractions and activities are. It’s a great way to learn about hidden gems—and to make a new friend!

Article Sources
TripSavvy uses only high-quality, trusted sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. United States Census Bureau. "Fastest-Growing Cities Primarily in the South and West." May 23, 2019

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Immigrant and Refugee Health: Population Movements."

  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Occupational Employment Statistics." May 2019

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