Settled by German immigrants at the southwestern corner of Ohio, Cincinnati’s contemporary skyline sparkles and shines in flowing Ohio River reflection as barges pass by. The hilly location and waterways that cut through the terrain create a scenic territory originally home to early American Indian tribes. Also known as the “Queen City” and sometimes nicknamed “Porkopolis” due to its successful 19th-century pork-packing industry, Cincinnati is no stranger to reinvention, emerging over and over again as historic districts like Over the Rhine and Fountain Square go through energizing renovations. Whatever you want to call it, Cincinnati is a booming modern metropolis home to leading companies like Kroger, Proctor & Gamble, and Fifth Third Bank; a thriving arts community; welcoming neighborhoods; national sports franchises; a diverse dining scene; and a wealth of family-friendly attractions. In short, something for everyone to enjoy.
See Four Museums in One Location
If the Cincinnati Museum Center looks familiar from the approach, it may be because it inspired the Hall of Justice depicted in the 1970s “Super Friends” cartoon series. In real life, the former Union Terminal train station, a National Historic Landmark, now contains multiple museums within its sprawling Art Deco shell. Plan to spend the better part of a full day exploring the Cincinnati History Museum, the Duke Energy Children’s Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center. There’s also an Omnimax theater on-site in addition to the Cincinnati History Library and Archives.
Experience Water Adventures on Dry Land at the Newport Aquarium
Across the river from downtown Cincinnati, the Newport Aquarium anchors the buzzy Newport on the Levee development, populated with restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues. This million-gallon attraction caters to fish fans and amphibian aficionados with exhibits of jellyfish, turtles, octopus, alligators, frogs, and other saltwater and freshwater creatures. The Penguin Palooza gallery is a popular perch, and if you can’t get enough of these fine-feathered friends, add on an up-close penguin encounter with petting and photo opportunities. Feeling particularly brave? Intrepid guests can reach into shallow tanks to touch stingrays and sharks.
Liberate Your Mind at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Many freedom seekers crossed the Ohio River on their journeys northward before and during the Civil War, helped by abolitionists who provided shelter, food, and aid along the way. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center educates and informs guests about the complex issues surrounding our modern freedoms. Go inside an early 1800s slave-holding pen recovered from Kentucky and challenge your own views with thought-provoking exhibits like “Invisible: Slavery Today,” “From Slavery to Freedom,” and “Open Your Mind: Understanding Implicit Bias.” Through solemn stories, immersive displays, and inspiring activities, this interpretative center leaves a lasting impression.
Appreciate Fine Art at the Cincinnati Art Museum
The handsome Cincinnati Art Museum has been an Eden Park neighborhood mainstay since 1886. Known early on as the “Art Palace of the West,” the encyclopedic facility has only grown in scale, size, and reputation through the years thanks to strong community support. More than 67,000 pieces strong, the museum’s permanent holdings include works by Botticelli, Cassatt, Cezanne, Chagall, O’Keefe, Picasso, Warhol, and other creative masters bridging styles, genres, centuries, and continents. Make sure to admire the gorgeous collection of locally produced Rookwood Pottery items. Bonus: general admission is always free.
Dive Deep Into Old-School Cincy
Great territory for a leisurely walk, meal, and shopping, Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine neighborhood—or “OTR” if you want to sound like a local—offers a winning blend of historical character and contemporary commerce. Germans settled the district back in the 1800s, bringing along culture and architecture that survives to this day thanks to extensive preservation and renovation efforts. Charming boutiques, eclectic dining options, nightlife, the expansive Findlay Market, Washington Park, Rhinegeist craft brewery, colorful large-scale murals, and public art keep visitors happily occupied. If you get tired of walking, hop a ride on the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar that loops through the district on its route back downtown.
Root, Root, Root for the Home Team at the Great American Ball Park
Cincinnatians bleed red and white for the hometown Red Stockings—the Reds for short. The city celebrates opening day each spring in a big way with a parade through downtown to kick off baseball season, followed by a months-long schedule of games at the riverfront Great American Ball Park. Can’t get there in time for a game to enjoy some popcorn and Cracker Jack? The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum stays open year-round with interesting baseball-themed exhibits, hands-on activities and a Hall of Fame Gallery honoring a roster of legendary players like Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Frank Robinson and Barry Larkin.
Taste the Local Flavors
Cincinnati’s known for several dishes, with Cincinnati-style chili leading the list, a cinnamon-laced meat sauce served over spaghetti or ladled onto hot dogs, buried under an avalanche of melty shredded cheese and sprinkled with chopped onion. Skyline Chili and Gold-Star Chili are the two main regional franchises, but you’ll also find the local delicacy on menus all over town. More required eating, goetta usually appears at breakfast, when the spicy meat-and-oat sausage is often ordered to accompany eggs and pancakes. And to cap off any meal, handcrafted Graeter’s ice cream is the Cincy dessert of choice, made in small batches using a French pot method that assures creamy, dreamy decadence. Taste-test a scoop or cone of the signature black raspberry chip flavor with hunky chocolate swirls, and you’ll quickly find out what all the fuss is about.
Immerse Yourself in True Americana at the American Sign Museum
The quirky final resting ground of neon signage from across the country, the American Sign Museum covers 100 years of glitz and glamour. Over the past two decades, museum founder Tod Swormstedt has amassed a flashy collection of signs, stamps, photos, art, brochures, and other nostalgic memorabilia to showcase in a 20,000 square-foot space that ushers visitors back to a gentler time when road trips and car culture reigned supreme.
Rise Above it All at Carew Tower
For a panoramic bird’s-eye view of downtown, the Ohio River, and the northern Kentucky landscape, take the elevator up to the 49th floor of Carew Tower for stunning vistas from the open-air observation deck. Elsewhere in the 1930 building, visitors can explore an arcade of shops and restaurants that feed into the gorgeous Art Deco Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza Hotel.
Find Out Where the Real Wild Things Are at the Cincinnati Zoo
With an omnipresent focus on conservation, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden has been a local landmark since its founding in 1875, making it the second oldest zoo in the country. Generations of visitors keep returning to admire the lions, tigers, and bears, along with elephants, orangutans, giraffes, penguins, manatees, rhinos, and other animals through a series of habitats. The most famous resident is Fiona in Hippo Cove, the zoo’s social media darling born in January 2017, although the new (kanga)Roo Valley walk-around section is quickly gaining ground.
Raise a Stein in Covington
Just across the river, charming Covington, Kentucky, still counts as greater Cincinnati, celebrating its German heritage through architecture, beer, and festivals. Lined with shops, pubs, and restaurants, the Mainstrasse (Main Street) district has been declared a National Historic District with a soaring 100-foot clock tower and glockenspiel centerpiece in Goebel Park. A walking food tour is one of the best ways to sample many of the town’s delectable culinary delights in one shot.
Roar Like a Tiger at Paul Brown Stadium
Who dey? Winter weather doesn't scare hardcore Cincinnati Bengals fans away from attending home games at the outdoor Paul Brown Stadium along the downtown riverfront. Even if you don’t have a ticket to the game (or you just prefer to watch the action somewhere warm and cozy), the Banks of Cincinnati mixed-use development next door to the stadium rolls out the red carpet to black-and-orange-clad fans with sports bars, restaurants, and other trendy hangouts.
Walk on Water Across the John A. Roebling Bridge
Linking downtown Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, the John A. Roebling Bridge is one of the most recognizable markers in town, designed by the same engineer who constructed the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Stretching 1,057 feet, the Roebling was the longest suspension bridge in the world when it officially opened on New Year’s Day in 1867. Now, pedestrians can walk over and back to enjoy the unique vantage points of the city skyline, Covington, and the Newport riverfront.
Get Some Thrills at Kings Island
Since 1972, Kings Island in nearby Mason on Cincinnati's northern outskirts has delivered summertime fun for generations of regional crowds. The largest amusement park in the Midwest, the beloved seasonal destination offers nine miles of roller coaster tracks to ride, along with lots of other thrill rides, shows, and family fun for all ages. The Orion, one of only seven giga-coasters in the world, joined the lineup in 2020, plunging passengers down a breathtaking 300-foot drop at speeds besting 90 miles an hour. If you need a break from the action, you can always cool down and relax in the Soak City Water Park slides and pools.
Stop and Smell the Flowers at the Krohn Conservatory
The Eden Park-based Krohn Conservatory, another outstanding example of Cincinnati’s Art Deco architecture, stays open year-round to observe the ongoing cycle of blooming seasons. Part of the Cincinnati Parks family, the verdant facility dates back to 1933 and includes several greenhouse climates housing ferns, palms, tropical foliage, cacti, and desert plants, and beautiful orchids. A bonsai gallery, seasonal floral displays, and a permanent citrus tree collection up the ante even more for hobbyist gardeners and envious green thumbs.