Cincinnati river front. Photo via Shutterstock.

Best Things to Do in Cincinnati

BY Matt Meltzer | June 20, 2021

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Cincinnati? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Cincinnati?”

In the midst of the Sun Belt boom and the Rust Belt revival, somehow America kinda forgot about Cincinnati. Once one of the richest cities in the country, it’s a place with painstaking architecture, classic culture and underground beer caverns that tell a deeper story, beyond the glass towers and restored relics. From stellar international food to modern art and literal underground nightclubs, Cincinnati has done well in making itself an altogether cool place to visit. And, yes, there’s also this chili everyone talks about…

 

Delve into Over-the-Rhine

One of the great neighborhood rehabilitation stories of the past decade is Cinicinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, a one-time German immigrant enclave that’s been restored to its former glory. It boasts the largest collection of Italianate architecture in the country, and walking its streets feels a little like Manhattan’s Lower East Side, minus the smells and grime. It’s now home to local restaurants, breweries and international markets, and the must-visit spot on any trip to the Queen City.

Cincinnati Food Tours in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Cincinnati style 5-way chili and spaghetti in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Cincinnati Food Tours

107 W Elder St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

The best and most delicious way to explore Over-the-Rhine is by sampling its bevvy of international food. Founder Barb Cooper takes you through some of its more eclectic eateries, from a Lebanese market to an old-school butcher shop, meeting the people who’ve made this neighborhood so special.

Exploring the caves under Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Exploring the caves under Over-the-Rhine in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Exploring the caves under Over-the-Rhine

1332 Vine St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

The German immigrants who began this neighborhood’s brewing tradition cooled their creations in a network of underground tunnels. The brick tunnels were recently rediscovered and are open to regular tours, which include underground crypts and an education in the city’s brewing history.

Findlay Market in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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CINCINNATI, OHIO - Findlay Market is a trendy farmer's marketplace in the historic Over the Rhine district in Cincinnati, Ohio. It attracts hundreds of visitors daily. Pic via Shutterstock.

Findlay Market

1801 Race St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

The oldest continually operating open air-market in Ohio is again one of the city’s busiest places, with a cool mix of international foods, sweets and traditional food sellers. It also recently added a sunny beer garden where you can enjoy a local beer once you’re done shopping.

Explore the city’s outdoors

For all its big city amenities, Cincinnati also sits along two large rivers, both of which offer fantastic ways to get some exercise while you’re in town.

Ohio River Recreation Trail in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Ohio River Recreation Trail in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Ohio River Recreation Trail

Ohio River Trail, Cincinnati, OH, USA

The water that fueled Cincinnati’s growth is still a major shipping route, but now it’s also the best place to get out on the water and bathe in southern Ohio nature. The  274-mile Ohio River recreation area runs from Portsmouth, Ohio, to Louisville, Ky., with ample opportunities for cycling and kayaking along the water.

Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Cincinnati, Ohio - Crowd of people around an art LED light bridge installation at Smale Riverfront Park at Blink 2019 event in Cincinnati. Pic via Shutterstock.

Smale Riverfront Park

166 West Mehring Way, Cincinnati, OH, USA

If you’d rather enjoy the river from the comfort of a swinging bench, take the afternoon and relax at this newly developed downtown destination. The 45-acre park near the baseball and football stadiums is dotted with giant sculptures, a bike path and plenty of places to relax with a bowl of chili.

Devou Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Built at the highest point of Devou Park the overlook features a breathtaking view of the Ohio River and the Cincinnati skyline. Pic via Shutterstock.

Devou Park

1201 Park Drive, Covington, KY, USA

The best view of the Cincinnati skyline is actually in another state, across the river in Covington, Ky. Hike to the top of Devou Park at the Memorial Outlook, then see a two-headed calf and a stuffed black bear in the Behringer-Crawford Museum.

Little Miami Scenic Trail in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Little Miami Scenic Trail in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Little Miami Scenic Trail

Little Miami Scenic Trail, Morrow, OH, USA

The best biking in Cincinnati is just over the hills along the Little Miami River. You can pick up the 78-mile Little Miami Scenic Trail at a number of spots along US-50, and if you rent a Red Bike downtown, you can ride it out here and escape into the woods along the river. 

 

Immerse yourself in art, culture, sports and science

Once upon a time, Cincinnati was one of the wealthiest cities in the country, an industrial paradise and home to shipping and manufacturing magnates. They contributed greatly to the city’s art and culture scene, which is why for a city of just over 300,000, it has some of the richest history and culture in America.      

Cincinnati Art Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Cincinnati Art Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Cincinnati Art Museum

953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Art enthusiasts could easily spend an entire day perusing this grand old two-level museum. It’s home to more than 67,000 pieces, ranging from renaissance to modern, with an especially large focus on American art from the 19th and 20th centuries. If you want a little exercise, take a walk up the Art Climb, a long stairway ascending the hill below the museum dotted with epic modern sculptures. Or just relax in the museum’s sunny courtyard and enjoy a drink from the café.

Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Contemporary Arts Center

44 East 6th Street, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Just across from the Aronoff Center, you’ll see a two-story robot glittering on a street corner. This is Metrobot, and he marks the entrance to the Zaha Hadid-designed Contemporary Arts Center. This four-story building has a constant rotation of modern works and installations, and if you’re into the contemporary stuff, it’s the first museum you should hit every time you’re in town.

Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Cincinnati, Ohio -- Close up of red mustache sculpture/bench with old fashioned Red Stockings branding for the 2015 All-Star Game with Great American Ballpark in background. Pic via Shutterstock.

Great American Ball Park

Great American Ball Park, 100 Joe Nuxhall Way, Cincinnati, OH, USA

The home of the Cincinnati Reds is one of the more underrated ballparks in the country, where you’ll find sweeping views of the Ohio River from the family level on the upper deck and plenty of beers on the mocked-up riverboat in center field. Outside the stadium, roam freely from bar to bar in a special entertainment zone running between Great American and the Bengals’ stadium.

National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center
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CINCINNATI, OH - Opened in 2004, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a museum in downtown Cincinnati paying tribute to efforts to abolish slavery. Pic via Shutterstock.

National Underground Railroad and Freedom Center

50 East Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Over 175 years ago, Cincinnati was a beacon of freedom for enslaved people escaping the South as they crossed the river into Ohio. You’ll learn the story of the Underground Railroad and all the people who made it work, as well as the appalling history of the Atlantic slave trade and how it persists today. Interactive exhibits also include a mock “escape,” where visitors choose their own adventure to escape to the free North.

Cincinnati Observatory in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.
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Cincinnati Observatory in Cincinnati, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Cincinnati Observatory

3489 Observatory Place, Cincinnati, OH, USA

The “birthplace of American astronomy” sits in a domed structure atop Mt. Lookout, outfitted with two original and still operative telescopes that date as far back as 1845. The first observatory open to the public in the Western Hemisphere is still anyone’s to visit, and even if you’re not into astronomy it’s one of the most unique sites in the city.

Experience the best in local beer

Cincinnati has a rich brewing heritage, which you can discover along the aptly named Brewing Heritage Trail. If you want to do more than drink beer on your trip, but still like to sample the local suds, here’s four not to miss.

Rhinegeist in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Cincinnati, Ohio - April 14, 2018: Visitors enjoy a Saturday afternoon at the Rhinegeist Brewery. Pic via Shutterstock.

Rhinegeist

1910 Elm St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

The grand poobah of Cincinnati breweries sits in an old bottling plant in Over-the-Rhine, a multistory spot with a sprawling beer hall that feels more like a small college gym. Sit among the industrial relics and enjoy their Cheetah Lager or Whiffle Witbier.

50 West In Cincinnati, Ohio.
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50 West In Cincinnati, Ohio.

50 West

7668 Wooster Pike, Cincinnati, OH, USA

If you’ve got kids in tow, nothing beats this brewery along the Little Miami River. Enjoy your drinks outside at a picnic table or between games of pickleball or beach volleyball on one of their riverside courts. The brewery also offers a superb burger bar with styles inspired by the states that host US-50, for which the 50 West is named.

Taft’s Ale House In Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Taft’s Ale House In Cincinnati, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Taft’s Ale House

1429 Race St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Set in a former Evangelical church built in 1850, Taft Ale House opened in 2015 and offers a rotating selection of 12-16 creative artisanal beers, plus more. Inside, the place is a trip: it offers 300 seats with an upper floor that offers open views to the one below, and you feel the throwback vibes with brick walls and vintage wallpaper. It’s an old-meets-new tribute in the heart of the Over-the-Rhine nabe.

Eat food from all over the world

Unfortunately, most people’s knowledge of the Cincinnati food scene doesn’t extend much past the ever-divisive Skyline Chili. And, OK, yes, you should try it once to see which camp you fall into. But after that, dig in and explore a city with some of the most diverse and delicious food offerings in America.

Bridges Nepali Cuisine in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Bridges Nepali Cuisine in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Bridges Nepali Cuisine

133 E Court St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Never tried Nepali food? No better place than Cincinnati to try it, right? And this former neighborhood hole-in-the-wall does it as well as anywhere at breathable elevation. Try the momos, a Nepali dumping that rivals anything from Hong Kong. Or grab a bowl filled with spicy hakku chuala, a ginger chicken served cold that’s unlike any flavor you’ve ever experienced.

The Arepa Place in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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The Arepa Place in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Arepa Place

131 W Elder St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Colombian immigrant Isis Arrieta-Dennis introduced Cincinnati to the steaming morsels of fried corn heaven that are arepas in 2016 and has changed the way locals see street food. The made-to-order, cheese-and-meat handheld delicacies have become a regular part of going to Findlay Market, and are as good as any you’ll find in Isis’ native country.

Taste of Belgium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Taste of Belgium in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Taste of Belgium

3825 Edwards Road, Cincinnati, OH, USA

When Jean-François Flechet moved to Cincinnati, he was dismayed when he couldn’t find a decent waffle anywhere. So he brought a cast-iron waffle iron maker from Belgium and opened this spot, specializing in sweet Blegian waffles, Belgian fries and, yes, Belgian beer. The diverse menu makes it great for meals other than breakfast too, but the waffles are definitely the stars of the show.

Sotto in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Sotto in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sotto

118 East 6th Street, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Eating in cool, underground Italian restaurants done up in brick and wood isn’t just for New Yorkers! This spot in downtown feels completely secluded from the world above, and serves up meaty, old-world Italian stuff like penne with lamb sausage and pecorino, shaved pork salad and grilled quail with agrodolce.

Other neighborhoods to know

While Over-the-Rhine gets much of the attention — rightfully so — Cincinnati is a traditional city of neighborhoods with bougie hilltop enclaves and bourbon-filled hipster suburbs.

Covington
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Covington photo via Shutterstock.

Covington

Covington, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Just across the Roebling Bridge (John Roebling’s model for his copycat bridge in Brooklyn) sits Covington, a historic small town and Cincinnati’s coolest suburb. Its historic downtown is home to one of the country’s best bourbon bars at the Wiseguy Lounge, but you can’t go wrong at the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar or Bourbon Haus 1841 either.

Mt. Adams
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Holy Cross Immaculata Church sits atop Mt Adams, as seen from across the Ohio River in Kentucky. Pic via Shutterstock.

Mt. Adams

Mt Adams, Cincinnati, OH, USA

This hilltop neighborhood looks a little like an old European village, or even San Francisco if you use your imagination, with tall, narrow buildings lining the steep city streets. It’s also got a seriously upscale feel, with bars and taverns like City View and Quincy’s alternating with boutiques and coffee shops. The neighborhood is also home to the Cincinnati Observatory, as well as the Cincinnati Art Museum and lush Krohn Conservatory.

Northside
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Northside neighborhood. Photo via Shutterstock.

Northside

Northside, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Looking for the neighborhood with all the vintage stores, record shops and coffeehouses? That’s Northside, where you can jam on classic video games at Arcade Legacy, then fuel back up for another round with coffee at Sidewinder. Discover Senegalese food at Darou Salam, then spend hours perusing the stacks at Shake It Records, Cincy’s pre-eminent spot for vinyl.

Catch a live show

Cincinnati’s no slouch for live music either, where you can catch local bands in some of the most unique venues in the country, from a converted church to an old beer cave.

Ghost Baby in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Ghost Baby in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Ghost Baby

1314 Republic St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

Look for a purple light next to a nondescript door on Republic Street, then descend down four stories to Ghost Baby, a 1930s-era nightclub set in old beer caves. The subterranean music den has booths surrounding a large stage, where live jazz and funk acts light up the night. Ghost Baby also has some fantastic cocktails to go with the show, as well as inexplicable underground cell service so you can still Instagram it all.

Southgate House Revival in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Southgate House Revival in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Southgate House Revival

111 East 6th Street, Newport, KY, USA

Across the river in Newport, Ky., the Grace Methodist Episcopal Church has turned into a three-room live music venue, where big acts play the sanctuary that’s still outfitted with the original pipe organ. The upstairs Revival Room boasts a pitched ceiling making for perfect acoustics, and the downstairs lounge has frequent open-mic nights if you want to get in the action yourself.

Where to stay

Cincinnati still has all the major hotel players, if you’re looking to rack up rewards points. But the city’s also home to some truly unique properties where you can add a dose of history or art to your trip.

21C Museum Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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21C Museum Hotel in Cincinnati, Ohio.

21C Museum Hotel

609 Walnut St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

The two-floor art gallery in this hotel next door to the Contemporary Arts Center is only the beginning of what makes it so cool. It’s also got a sweet rooftop bar where you can enjoy craft cocktails with a panoramic view of downtown, plus a rooftop spa with access to the bar.

ALSO SEE: For our full overview of the 21c, see our 21c hotel page.

Kinley Cincinnati Downtown
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Kinley Cincinnati Downtown

Kinley Cincinnati Downtown

636 Race St, Cincinnati, OH, USA

If you’re looking to explore downtown and the riverfront, the best-situated hotel is easily the Kinley, a downtown boutique done up in midcentury-modern elegance. Its agreement with the nearby 1628 Ltd. coworking space lets you get work done surrounded by colorful pieces by local artists. And Kinley’s onsite restaurant, Khoura, plates some of the most inventive, decadent dishes in the city.

Hotel Covington in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Hotel Covington in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Hotel Covington

638 Madison Ave, Covington, KY, USA

Don’t be fooled by its out-of-state address; the historic Hotel Covington sits less than two miles from downtown Cincy, smack in the middle of the action in this hip suburb. The ground floor restaurant, Coppin’s, is set in an old department store, and offers a sunny patio to enjoy drinks during the summer.