Topiary Garden

Best Things to Do in Columbus

BY Fifty Grande Editors | September 4, 2020

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” Columbus? 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 Columbus?”

Columbus isn’t just a university town and it’s not just “Ohio’s other big city.” This former buggy-manufacturing powerhouse has a personality all its own — the kind that keeps you guessing, but in a good way. Like, “I didn’t know you could make a burger that big,” or, “Judy Garland joined a frat here?” It’s one of the youngest cities in the United States (hi there, OSU) and a food and fashion tastemaker. Underneath that neighborly Midwestern exterior is a bold and offbeat attitude: weird art, inventive chefs and cool underground rock. When you’re ready to dive in, here are the top things to do in Columbus right now. 

 

You’re here for the food

Don’t let anyone tell you that Midwestern cuisine is all corn and ranch dressing. It’s hearty, but Columbus puts some cool twists on familiar dishes. 

Ray Ray’s Hog Pit
#1
Ray Ray’s Hog Pit

Ray Ray’s Hog Pit

2619 N High St, Columbus, Ohio, USA

One of the best racks of ribs you’ll taste in the Midwest. Owner James Anderson swears by the traditional “low and slow” pit BBQ philosophy, and it’s made him a 2020 semifinalist for the James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes award. There are four locations, including the original, a food truck in Old North Columbus.

Anthony Thomas Chocolates for Buckeyes
#2
Anthony Thomas Chocolates for Buckeyes

Anthony Thomas Chocolates for buckeyes

1777 Arlingate Lane, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Spheres of chocolate and peanut butter are the quintessential Columbus sweet treat. And no one makes them better (or in larger quantities) than Anthony Thomas. Buy them by the box, then resist the urge to finish the whole thing. 

Massey’s Pizza in Columbus.
#3
Massey’s Pizza in Columbus.

Massey’s Pizza for Columbus-style pizza

1951 E Dublin Granville Rd, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Columbus-style pizza has a super-thin, extra-crispy crust and toppings (usually pepperoni) that flirt with the pan’s edge. Massey’s claims to have pioneered the style in the ’50s, and they’re still one of the best doing it. 

Thurman’s Cafe in Columbus, Ohio.
#4
Thurman’s Cafe in Columbus, Ohio.

Thurman’s Cafe

183 Thurman Ave, Columbus, Ohio, USA

This is a stop for ambitious eaters (and/or OSU linemen after practice). The “Thurmanator” burger is no joke. A popular eating challenge, it’s stacked high with two 12-ounce patties, bacon, cheddar, sauteed onions and mushrooms, ham, mozzarella and American cheese, along with other standard burger fixings.

Jeni’s Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio.
#5
Jeni’s Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio.

Jeni’s Ice Cream

714 N High St, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Now a nationwide chain famous for unique flavors and perfect texture, Jeni’s got its start in Columbus.

The Lox Bagel Shop in Columbus, Ohio.
#6
The Lox Bagel Shop in Columbus, Ohio.

The Lox Bagel Shop

772 N High St #106, Columbus, OH

Their handmade bagels strike a balance between the styles of New York and Montreal. Get them plain or as a breakfast sandwich.

Where to Drink

High Bank Distillery in Columbus, Ohio.
#7
High Bank Distillery in Columbus, Ohio.

High Bank Distillery

1051 Goodale Blvd, Columbus, Ohio, USA

They pour craft vodka, gin and whiskey alongside elegant renditions of classic pub fare (and pizza!).

BrewDog in Columbus, Ohio.
#8
BrewDog in Columbus, Ohio.

BrewDog

463 W Town St, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Find their 48-tap Franklinton location inside a repurposed auto mechanic shop. They also have a behemoth brewery and two craft beer hotel locations if you’re looking for a cool place to stay.

Antiques on High in Columbus, Ohio.
#9
Antiques on High in Columbus, Ohio.

Antiques on High

714 S High St, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Tucked in the Brewery District, they specialize in wild ales and aged sours. 

Check out unusual art experiences

Virtual reality. Cartooning. A graffiti project slash potential interdimensional gateway. These are Columbus’ most unique artistic endeavors. 

Otherworld in Columbus, Ohio.
#10
Otherworld in Columbus, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Otherworld

5819 Chantry Dr, Columbus, Ohio, USA

It’s part light show, part sculpture, part walking tour and part something you can’t put your finger on. Inside a former Sports Authority resides 40 rooms of immersive art that are each, well, otherworldly. But this is no blood-splattered haunted house — rather, it’s whimsical and colorful, interweaving elements of virtual reality and loosely structured storytelling. Plus, everything is interactive, so go ahead and touch.

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus.
#11
Cartoon Art Library opening, Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Sullivant Hall Walker Gallery NOV-15-2013 The Ohio State University Photo by Kevin Fitzsimons. Pic via Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum website.

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

1813 N High St, Columbus, Ohio, USA

An on-campus collection that pays tribute to a humorous, often-overlooked section of American print media. It’s the world’s largest collection of printed cartoon art, including work from Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes) and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Nick Anderson.

Cool digs

Hotel Graduate in Columbus, Ohio.
#12
Hotel Graduate in Columbus, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Hotel Graduate

750 N High St, Columbus, Ohio, USA

University style has seeped into this Short North hotel, but not in a letterman jacket, kegstand kind of way. It’s more like midcentury lounge meets Ivy League dorm meets hipster living room (there’s a wall made of pencils and brass instruments that hang from the ceiling). 

Stroll High St. through Short North

Downtown Columbus and the University District breathe energy and style into Short North, a thriving terminal for art galleries, boutique shopping and nightlife. Head to Bodega for food specials (1-dollar grilled cheese!), then hit Oddfellows Liquor Bar for happy hour and, if you’ve still got some fuel in the tank, Two Truths for late-night entertainment.

Short North in Columbus. Pic via Shutterstock.
#13
Short North in Columbus. Pic via Shutterstock.

High St.

North High Street, Columbus, Ohio, USA

Neighborhood to see: German Village

By 1865, Columbus’ population was one-third German. This became their cultural enclave just south of downtown, a picturesque neighborhood rife with brick houses and traditional German fare.

Book Loft in Columbus.
#14
Book Loft in Columbus. Pic via Shutterstock.

Book Loft

631 S 3rd St, Columbus, Ohio, USA

A quaint European-style garden will welcome you into this cluster of converted pre-Civil War era buildings, where you can peruse a used book collection spanning 32 rooms. 

Pistacia Vera
#15
Pistacia Vera in Columbus.

Pistacia Vera

541 S 3rd St, Columbus, OH, USA

This bakery has macarons, flaky croissants and sidewalk seating that looks straight out of a Paris café. Pastry chef and co-owner Spencer Budros earned a 2020 nomination for Outstanding Baker from the James Beard Foundation.

Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in Columbus.
#16
Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in Columbus. Pic via Shutterstock.

Schmidt’s Sausage Haus

240 E Kossuth St, Columbus, Ohio, USA

What’s a German afternoon without sausage and a stein of lager? 126 years in the making, this family-owned business is your best bet for authentic German cuisine.

Brewery District in Columbus, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.
#17
Brewery District in Columbus, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Brewery District

Brewery District, Columbus, OH, USA

It’s fitting that fine beer isn’t far from German Village. Here, former Victorian breweries now live as gastropubs, venues, galleries and craft beer bars. 

Nature Walks

Columbus might not have soaring mountain peaks or beachfront vistas, and you’re probably not here for outdoor adventures, but the modest Midwestern nature might just surprise you.

Scioto Mile in Columbus, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.
#18
Scioto Mile in Columbus, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Scioto Mile

Scioto Mile Promenade, South Civic Center Drive, Columbus, OH, USA

An intersection of urban and natural beauty, Scioto Mile is a series of parks and trails that connect the city with the Scioto River, including the Scioto Audubon, which has tons of open space, an obstacle course, fishing spots and an outdoor climbing wall.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
#19
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Pic via Shutterstock.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

1777 E Broad St, Columbus, OH, USA

With 400 species of plants from biomes around the world, you can wander from the Himalayan Mountains to lush rainforests to a  bonsai courtyard. If you’re there at night, stop by the Palm House for a light show. 

Topiary Garden in Columbus, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.
#20
Topiary Garden in Columbus, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Topiary Garden

Topiary Park, East Town Street, Columbus, OH, USA

A collection of carefully trimmed shrubs that re-create Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (a Ferris Bueller favorite).

Zipline and kayak tours

Certain Columbus-based adventure companies let you relive your summer camp days by ziplining through central Ohio forests. These are guided excursions into the wilderness outside Columbus where you can take on canopy tours, high ropes courses and freefall experiences. Or jump on a kayak tour around Columbus’ waterways, like Big Darby Creek, the Scioto River and the Olentangy River.

Live shows

The ’90s saw punk rockers take over a burgeoning underground scene, and even though the city doesn’t attach itself to a particular genre anymore, it’s still got some great venues.

The Basement in Columbus, Ohio.
#21
The Basement in Columbus, Ohio.

The Basement

391 Neil Ave, Columbus, Ohio, USA

The Basement is a bastion of Columbus’ ’90s underground rock scene. And as the name suggests, it’s literally underground. They host a solid mix of local upstarts and national headliners.

Rumba Cafè in Columbus, Ohio.
#22
Rumba Cafè in Columbus, Ohio.

Rumba Cafè

2507 Summit St, Columbus, OH, USA

This isn’t the place to rage and jump around. Instead, enjoy the patio and funky vibes of local soul, reggae and alternative bands.

Woodlands Tavern in Columbus, Ohio.
#23
Woodlands Tavern in Columbus, Ohio.

Woodlands Tavern

1200 W 3rd Ave, Columbus, Ohio, USA

A just-big-enough neighborhood bar with a wide range of shows and 3-dollar drafts during happy hour. 

Visit Dublin

Cities usually have more going on than their suburbs, but Dublin has a unique charm. It’s steeped in Irish culture (surprise, surprise) and surrounded by some cool outdoor activities. 

Field of Corn in Columbus, Ohio.
#24
Field of Corn in Dublin, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Field of Corn

4995 Rings Rd, Dublin, Ohio, USA

You’ll see borderline too many cornfields driving around Ohio, but this isn’t one of them. Instead of stalks, you’ll find 109 concrete, human-height corn cobs.

Hayden Run Falls in Dublin, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.
#25
Hayden Run Falls in Dublin, Ohio. Pic via Shutterstock.

Hayden Run Falls

4460 Hayden Run Rd, Columbus, OH, USA

Despite the fact that it’s a stone’s throw from downtown Dublin, this 35-foot Scioto River waterfall makes you feel like you stumbled upon it while lost in the backwoods. 

Celtic Cocktail Trail in Dublin, Ohio.
#26
Celtic Cocktail Trail in Dublin, Ohio.

Celtic Cocktail Trail

9 South High Street, Columbus, OH, USA

It seems like every pub in Dublin has an Irish-inspired craft cocktail, but they’re all worth trying. Try Dublin Village Tavern for Irish imports or McClellan’s Pub for whiskey.

Something else to catch if you’re around: The Doo Dah Parade

Typically held on the Fourth of July, it’s a goofy political satire parade that encourages everyone to participate. There’s music, food, costumes and oh so many silly hats.