There are so many great attractions — cultural, historical, recreational, and otherwise — in Cincinnati that I decided to up the ante a bit. Instead of my favorite five, here are my favorite fifteen local attractions, including must-see parks, museums, spaces, and things to do in the greater Cincinnati area.
Added bonus: many of these are free, and most can double as gifts for birthdays or during the holiday season!
American Sign Museum
Hands down my favorite place in the city. Such a cool museum, featuring neon signs from yesteryear. A true treasure for anyone who likes history, pop culture, and/or typography. Sign up for a guided tour when you go. Admission is $15 for adults; $10 for children over 12, seniors, and anyone with a student or active duty military ID. Yearly membership is $35.
It can be convenient, sure, but there is something especially cool about the ability to park your car on a boat to get from A to B — A being Ohio and B being Kentucky. Operation began in 1817 and Anderson Ferry is on the National Register of Historic Places. Cost to be transported over the Ohio varies by ride numbers.
Cincinnati has a rich brewing history and robust beer scene, plus you can sign up to take brewery tours at most breweries. But you can also visit Queen City Underground, Cincinnati Brewery Tours, or even Cincy Brew Bus or Craft Connection to visit and tour local breweries. Cost of admission: varies.
Carew Tower Observation Deck
For only $4 ($2 for ages 6–11; free for ages 5 and under; cash only), you can make your way up to Carew Tower’s 49th floor observation deck to experience some of the best, most expansive views of the Queen City, its rolling hills, and beautiful topography. Don’t forget your camera!
Cincinnati Museum Center
Union Terminal is home to the Cincinnati Museum Center, which includes the Cincinnati History Museum, Duke Energy Children’s Museum, Museum of Natural History and Science, and the OMNIMAX® Theater. Tickets are available to any combination of the above museums. The mere beauty of Union Terminal, an Art Deco building constructed in 1933 and listed as a US National Historic Landmark, is worth the price of admission. Cost of admission: varies.
Contemporary Arts Center
Thanks to a generous donation from supporters of the CAC, admission to the museum is currently free (through February 2017). Visit the CAC for wonderful exhibitions, great events such as Drink & Draw, or for a coffee and light bites from Collective CAC (also serves beer and wine). Cost of admission: free.
Ohio’s oldest operating market is a true gem — beautiful architecture, lively atmosphere, great food options, fun events, a biergarten, dozens of vendors, plus streetcar accessibility. Did I mention there’s goetta from Eckerlin Meats? Cost of admission: free.
A great gathering place year round for seeing music, socializing, food truck patronizing, people watching, ice skating, and checking out Market on the Square in warmer months. Don’t miss Christkindlmarkt (12-10pm) and Macy’s Light Up the Square (5–11pm) on November 25. Cost of admission: free.
John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge
Another one of Cincinnati’s great landmarks, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge was completed in 1866 as the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge (1883). It is a US National Historic Landmark. Visit here to see many great photos of the Suspension Bridge. Cost of admission: free.
One of my favorite and one of the more underrated buildings in the city, the Hamilton County Memorial Building is a beautiful building located next to Washington Park and Music Hall, and was built as a memorial to the military of the city and county. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. It is truly beautiful and is used today for various functions, including choral festivals. Cost of admission: free.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
What better place to commemorate the Underground Railroad than in Cincinnati, which served as a primary gateway to freedom from slavery. Opened in 2004, the center pays tribute to all efforts to “abolish human enslavement and secure freedom for all people.” Cost of admission for adults is $15, $13 for ages 60+, $10.50 for children ages 3–12, and free for children under 3.
Painted Ladies of Columbia Tusculum
A “painted lady” is a term used for Victorian- and Edwardian-style architecture painted in three or more colors to embellish their architectural details. Though made famous by San Francisco (especially in the intro to Full House), Cincinnati is home to one of the largest collections of Painted Lady architecture in the country. Cost of admission: free.
Smale Riverfront Park
Cincinnati and Hamilton County have no shortage of great parks (no pun intended), and one of my favorites is Smale Riverfront Park, with its plentiful events throughout the year; fantastic scenery of the city skyline, river, and Suspension Bridge; walking paths; proximity to most things the city core has to offer, including the streetcar and The Banks; and water features and playgrounds for families. Cost of admission: free.
Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum
Spring Grove is more than just the second largest cemetery in the United States; it is also 400 acres of green space and and beautiful architecture. In 2007, the cemetery was designated a National Historic Landmark. Don’t forget your camera! Cost of admission: free.
Another one of Cincinnati’s — ahem — great parks, Washington Park features a grand stand for music, dog park, Music Hall backdrop, and proximity to streetcar stops; green space for urban flea markets, kickball games, and weddings; children’s playground, water fountains, and and concessions; plus plenty of parking. Cost of admission: free. (Parking is additional.)
Honorable Mention: Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati Observatory, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Devou Park, Kings Island, Krohn Conservatory, Music Hall, Purple People Bridge, Riverside Historic District, and Taft Museum of Art.