There are a number of things to see, do, and eat that you can only experience in Cincinnati, Ohio. From cinnamon and chocolate-laced chili to a unique neighborhood market and from a museum of neon signs to a ventriloquism collection, Cincinnati has many fascinating ways to entertain visitors.
1. Take in a game at the Great American Ball Park
When Major League Baseball’s Cincinnati Reds take the field for a home game, expect a sea of passionate fans in red jerseys in the stands. This ball park along the Ohio River has been the home for the city’s team since 2003 and holds 42,000 people. Adjacent to the ball park is the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum where the legends of past teams and accomplishments of standout players are displayed. Normal operating hours are Sunday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Check the website for updates.
2. Eat Cincinnati style chili
Skyline Chili has multiple locations, and Camp Washington Chili has only one, but they both have the Cincinnati chili experience in common. In Cincinnati, chili is served on top of a bed of spaghetti noodles then topped with shredded cheese. That is referred to as 3-way chili. For 4-way, a layer of chopped onions OR beans is added, and for a 5-way both onions AND beans go on top before the cheese. The meat mixture includes a hint of dark chocolate and cinnamon, giving it a very distinctive flavor. According to the Smithsonian Institution, this particular chili is on its list of the “20 Most Iconic Foods in America.”
3. See animals and flowers at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
In existence since 1875, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is the 5th oldest zoo in the United States. Some, however, claim that it is the 2nd oldest zoo, opening just a few months after the Philadelphia Zoo. Fiona the Hippo is the most famous of the zoo’s inhabitants, and many visitors plan their time on the grounds to coincide with her most active hours. In addition to more than 2,800 animals, there are also more than 3,000 plant species. The Zoo and Garden open 7 days a week at 10:00 a.m., only closing one day each year on December 25. Check the website for updates and coming events.
4. Attend a concert at the Cincinnati Music Hall
The Cincinnati Music Hall was built in 1878 and claims to have over a million red bricks. It is located in the historic Over-the-Rhine district and has presented such musical greats as Ella Fitzgerald, Yo-Yo Ma and Sergei Rachmaninoff in concert. The Hall underwent a major renovation in 2017 and is now gleaming and ready to welcome music lovers from miles around. In addition to offering tours of the building, the staff at Cincinnati Music Hall hosts a lecture series and educational visits for school groups. When you plan a visit to Cincinnati be sure to check the calendar on the website to find out if a concert is scheduled on one of the days of your trip.
5. Spend the night at the Symphony Hotel in the Over-the-Rhine district
Right around the corner and across the street from Cincinnati Music Hall is a boutique hotel with music composer-themed rooms, making it the perfect place to extend a lovely evening after a concert. A stay in one of the nine rooms includes breakfast the following morning, antique furnishings and an in-house restaurant. The restaurant is especially well-known for its five-course dinners before concerts at the Cincinnati Music Hall and the live jazz every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening.
6. Take the streetcar to Findlay Market
The Cincinnati Bell Connector is an electric streetcar system which was completed in 2016 and makes a 4-mile (6.4 km) loop from the riverfront to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood where Findlay Market is located. Rather than driving and trying to find a parking space, the Connector is a convenient and affordable mode of transportation. It only costs 2 USD for an all-day pass.
Findlay Market is the oldest continuously running public market in the state of Ohio, attracts over a million visitors each year, and is open year-round every day except Monday. One hundred and twenty merchants are listed on the website offering products from baked goods, meats, cheese, vegetables, fruits, desserts, olive oil, dog treats and chocolate to flowers and artisan gifts. The market is especially bustling on weekends between April and November.
7. Choose a favorite flavor at Graeter's Ice Cream
Graeter’s has been making ice cream for almost 150 years using a French pot method. Rather than give in to a mass production process, Graeter’s continues to use the original method of making batches of ice cream 2.5 gallons at a time. They started with four French pots and now have dozens running 24-hours a day. Graeter’s offers between 20-30 flavors to their customers, but the consistent favorite is Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip.
8. Take a stroll through downtown to see the street art up close
At least 50 murals and 50 sculptures are scattered through downtown Cincinnati, making it a delightful city to explore on foot. A public art program called ArtWorks created the platform to provide jobs for budding apprentices as well as professional artists. The subjects range from historical to political and from humorous to philosophical.
9. Sample goetta for breakfast
Goetta is a sausage and grain mixture created from German ingenuity and found predominantly in the Cincinnati area. The meat is either pork or beef, and the grains are generally pin-head oats. Both are combined with onions and spices such as rosemary, thyme and bay leaves. It is primarily served at breakfast after being browned in a skillet and tastes good with toast and a fried egg. It is a dish created by German immigrants who found a way to stretch their meat by adding these additional ingredients.
Glier’s Goetta is the best-selling producer today and sells over a million pounds a year.
10. Admire the colors and patterns at Rookwood Pottery Company Store
When Maria Longworth-Nichols founded her Cincinnati ceramics company in 1880, she made history by having the first large manufacturing company in the United States owned by a woman. Her company is said to have launched the art pottery movement in America, and from the beginning it attracted the attention of artists from around the world. Both the art pottery and the architectural tile produced by Rookwood Pottery is made directly in the facility using a meticulous process to assure that it is truly unique.
Guided tours are normally offered on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. and are given by local historian George Hibben. Check the company’s website for the latest updates.
11. Enhance your knowledge of history at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was started to preserve the stories and educate the public about the underground railroad system that developed during the Civil War in the United States. The location, along the banks of the Ohio River, is particularly significant since that river served as a natural division between the southern slave states and the northern free states. The center expands its focus to shed light on the existence of slavery today for 27 million people around the globe and inspires visitors to get involved in the abolition of all slavery.
One of the most striking objects on a large wall in the Freedom Center is the RagGonNon, a three-dimensional fabric painting created by Aminah Robinson. You will want to allow time to study its intricacies.
Normal hours for touring the center are Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday and Monday from noon until 5:00 p.m. Be sure to check the website for current information.
12. Feel nostalgic at the American Sign Museum
With over 20,000 square feet (1,858 square meters) of space and 100 years of American sign history, be prepared for an explosion of color and lights when you enter the American Sign Museum. You will find yourself saying, “I remember that” over and over while you stroll the vast collection. Teachers bring students to the museum for history and art lessons, and this is a wonderful location for photographers.
American Sign Museum is open to visitors Wednesday through Sunday. Be sure to check the website for updates.
13. See the wide variety of faces and characters at Vent Haven Museum
The Vent Haven Museum is technically in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, but its proximity to Cincinnati allows it to be included among Cincy’s attractions. Cincinnati is, after all, in the southeast corner of Ohio, practically rubbing shoulders with both Indiana and Kentucky. Vent Haven Museum is unique in that it is the world’s only museum dedicated to the entertainment form of ventriloquism, and it contains more than 900 ventriloquist figures and memorabilia.
The museum is open for tours from May 1 to September 30, and you will need to call ahead for an appointment.
14. Find the quirky Lucky Cat Museum
Imagine walking into a small space and finding over 2,000 waving cat figurines. These symbols of good luck in Japan have been collected by owner Micha Robinson for over 15 years. She is happy when people describe her as “the crazy cat lady.” She doesn’t expect to ever stop collecting.
Lucky Cat Museum is located in the Essex Studios building in Cincinnati and is open Tuesday through Saturday from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Most visitors spend at least 30 to 45 minutes admiring the amazing assembly.
15. Experience the stunning size and inner workings at Ark Encounter
The first thing you will notice about the ark, centerpiece of Ark Encounter, is its enormous size. In fact, it was built according to the specifications given in the Bible for the original ark built by Noah. Inside, there are three decks filled with interactive exhibits describing life on the ark during the period of the epic biblical flood. In addition to the ark, there are ziplines, a playground, a zoo and a restaurant on the property.
Similar to Vent Haven Museum, Ark Encounter is a short drive from Cincinnati and actually in the town of Williamstown, Kentucky. However, many visitors to this attraction will choose to spend the night and eat in Cincinnati. Summer hours are 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 8:00 p.m. on Sunday. During the fall, winter and spring, Ark Encounter closes earlier. Check the website for details.
From quirky to amazing, Cincinnati offers plenty of entertainment for visitors.
Whether you are visiting Cincinnati with a young family, with a partner, or with a group of adult friends, there are a wide range of attractions to suit every interest. In terms of food, if you want to “eat like the Cincinnatians do,” then be sure to taste goetta, cinnamon-laced chili and Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip ice cream. Attend a Reds game, visit the zoo, ride the Connector, stroll through Findlay Market and choose one or more of the fascinating museums. You’ll be sure to plan a longer visit for the future.
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