Expert Tips


Best Things to Do in Cincinnati

Cincinnati's Best Attractions Include Historical, Cultural and Recreational Gems

Cincinnati has a wealth of attractions to appeal to every type of traveler. Whether you’re interested in learning about the history of this river town, appreciating the arts, cheering on the sports teams or just having some fun, there’s something here for you.

The Cincinnati Museum Center houses three major museums, one of which covers local history. Since riverboats used to be the primary mode of travel here, a ride with BB Riverboats is another way to experience Cincinnati history. History buffs will also want to visit the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and learn about the courageous people who helped slaves escape to freedom.

Animal lovers find much to enjoy at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden along with the Newport Aquarium.

Sports fans will relish a visit to the Great American Ball Park to cheer on the Cincinnati Reds.

Cincinnati is fortunate to have several museums and galleries where art aficionados can get their fill. The Contemporary Arts Center has rotating exhibitions of vibrant modern art. The Cincinnati Art Museum is located in the picturesque Eden Park.

Cincinnati has many beautiful parks that just about everyone will enjoy. Among them are Eden Park and Smale Riverfront Park. Thrill seekers will want to take a trip to the suburb of Mason to visit Kings Island, a major theme park with top-notch rides, shows and a water park.


National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Photo courtesy of Farshid Assassi

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center sits on the banks of Cincinnati's Ohio River with clear views of Kentucky on the other side of the river, where slavery was once legal. This museum celebrates the heroes of that dark time – courageous people who risked their lives to help slaves escape to freedom. Viewing the films in the center's theater is an ideal way to start your visit. The museum houses both permanent and temporary exhibits about slavery and the abolition movement. Step inside an actual slave pen that was used by a Kentucky slave trader to temporarily hold people being moved to slave markets. Another exhibit teaches about the clever ways in which brave men and women escaped. Other exhibits encourage dialog about human rights and racial reconciliation. A permanent exhibition about modern-day slavery and human trafficking reminds visitors that slavery continues to exist and challenges them to become modern day abolitionists.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center tells our country's important story about the underground resistance to slavery and also educates about modern slavery.

Terri's expert tip: The Freedom Center is the perfect place to start your exploration of Cincinnati's Abolitionist and Underground Railroad activities. There are also many historic sites in Greater Cincinnati that were part of the Underground Railroad that you can view and visit.

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Contemporary Arts Center
Photo courtesy of Contemporary Arts Center

Cincinnati has a thriving arts scene with multiple art museums and galleries. A personal favorite is the Contemporary Arts Center which has rotating exhibits so there's always something new to see. Located in downtown Cincinnati, even the building it is housed in is a work of art. The Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art has been called "the most important American building to be completed since the end of the cold war." The first floor is the lobby and holds a café which doesn't require museum admission. The sixth floor has been dubbed the UnMuseum® and is a wonderful space for children to interact with art. The Contemporary Arts Center has a terrific education program--both for children and adults.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Contemporary Arts Center is housed in building noted for its contemporary architecture and contains constantly fresh exhibits of modern art that inspire creativity.

Terri's expert tip: Once a week, the Contemporary Arts Center has free admission, thanks to Macy's. It used to be on Monday nights, but recently was changed to Wednesday nights from 5 – 9 p.m.

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Mount Adams
Eden Park
Photo courtesy of Gary Kessler

Eden Park is a beloved city park located at the top of Mt. Adams. In addition to the scenic lakes, gardens and river vistas, it is home to three other attractions. The Cincinnati Art Museum houses a broad collection of art. Visitors can view more than 65,000 works that span 6,000 years, including paintings from well-known artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh and Monet. Krohn Conservatory is a year-round indoor oasis with more than 3,500 plant species from around the world. Visitors are instantly transported to the desert or a rainforest. Their seasonal displays, especially the annual Butterfly Show and the Holiday Floral Display, are very popular. The other notable attraction in Eden Park is the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. It offers professional musicals, dramas and comedies in two theaters.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Eden Park is filled with natural and artistic beauty and is a favorite place among locals.

Terri's expert tip: If you plan your visit to include lunch, the Terrace Café at the Cincinnati Art Museum is a great choice, plus you'll receive free parking. Eden Park offers a stunning view of the Ohio River from the viewpoint near the Twin Lakes.

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Early in Cincinnati's history, most visitors arrived by riverboat, so it is fitting to recommend that modern-day visitors get out and see the Queen City from the Ohio River. BB Riverboats offers sightseeing cruises that allow you to relax and enjoy the scenery while the captain points out landmarks and shares some of the history of the city. Longer dining cruises allow visitors to enjoy brunch, lunch, or dinner on the river. BB Riverboats knows how to entertain kids with several themes designed for little ones: Pirates of the Ohio, Super Hero and Princess cruises are perfect for preschool-aged kids. Families with kids of all ages enjoy Ice Cream Social Sundays. Specialty adult cruises offer beer or wine tastings. Themed holiday cruises are also offered.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's rare animals, education programs and beautiful gardens make it a favorite among zoo lovers.

Terri's expert tip: BB Riverboats does a great job of catering to different interests. From the Pirates of the Ohio Cruise for kids to the Craft Beer & BBQ cruise, there's something for everyone. Be sure to check out their website to find the perfect cruise for your group.

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Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
Photo courtesy of Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden has been welcoming visitors since 1875, making it the second oldest zoo in the US. Located on 75 acres in the Avondale neighborhood, it is home to almost 2000 animals of 500 different species. The zoo is known for its conservation efforts, education programs and for its rare animals, including the Sumatran Rhino, the most endangered large mammal on earth. In addition to the animal exhibits, be sure to check the program schedule. Put together your own itinerary to watch elephants get a bath, view animal feedings, chat about tigers, or watch the Cheetah Encounter show. While you're strolling around, admire the beautiful plants all around – there's a reason that Botanical Garden is part of the official name. View the butterfly gardens, pollinator garden, rain gardens and more. The zoo also offers train rides, a carousel and a 4-D Special F-X Theater.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden's rare animals, education programs and beautiful gardens make it a favorite among zoo lovers.

Terri's expert tip: Most of the animals are fed by the zookeepers, but the Cincinnati Zoo gives visitors a chance to feed the giraffes and camels. Don't miss this memorable experience. The new Africa exhibit is a must-see. Purchase your tickets online instead of at the gate for a better price.

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John G. & Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park
Photo courtesy of Terri Weeks

Cincinnati's John G. & Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park, originally opened in 2012, was expanded in the spring of 2015, and is a must-see for visitors and residents. The 45-acre park is located along the Ohio River between Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark. It straddles the Roebling Suspension Bridge and connects to the other riverfront parks. Parking is conveniently located at the Central Riverfront Garage at 124 E. Mehring Way. Recreation features include an indoor carousel with Cincinnati-themed characters, a playground, fountains, giant foot piano, interactive flying pig, and family-sized porch swings with a view of the river. Other spaces are dedicated to gardens, a labyrinth, public art, and a memorial to the Black Brigade of Cincinnati. A pavilion and esplanade provide space for private and community events such as banquets and farmers' markets.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Smale Riverfront Park offers recreational opportunities and colorful gardens in a beautiful setting on the Ohio River.

Terri's expert tip: Don't miss Carol Ann's Carousel, even if you think you're too old to ride it. The custom-designed carousel pays tribute to Cincinnati's heritage and architecture with meaningful details.

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Wear red and head to the Great American Ball Park to cheer on the Cincinnati Reds, the oldest professional baseball team, and hosts of the 2015 All-Star Game. Check the website for information about special promotional days like Thirsty Thursday, Fireworks Fridays, Super Saturdays and Family Sundays. Plan to spend a couple hours before or after the game visiting the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum, located onsite. You'll learn about the history of the Reds from 1869 to the present day and see several exhibits including the interactive Play Ball Gallery and broadcast booth. The Hall of Fame & Museum also conducts tours of the ball park.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Cincinnati Reds are an integral part of Cincinnati culture whether you're a baseball fan or not.

Terri's expert tip: If you're also planning to visit Kings Island or the Newport Aquarium, check the Reds' website for package prices. You'll also find special pricing for Family Sundays and other promotions.

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Kings Island
Photo courtesy of Kings Island

Kings Island is the Midwest's largest amusement and waterpark. Whether looking for high thrill rides or family fun, visitors will find it at Kings Island. Thrill-seekers will want to ride Banshee, the world's longest steel inverted roller coaster; The Beast, the world's longest wooden roller coaster; Diamondback, a steep coaster, along with several other coasters and thrill rides. Families with children appreciate Planet Snoopy, an award-winning kids' area with 19 rides and a petting farm. Dinosaurs Alive! features over 65 animatronic dinosaurs. Soak City is the attached waterpark and is included with admission. It offers more than 50 water activities including slides, wave pools, a lazy river, and a surfing ride. Kings Island also offers several shows and closes the park each day with a fireworks display.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Kings Island offers more than 100 rides and attractions for families and thrill seekers alike, plus an animatronic dinosaur park and a water park.

Terri's expert tip: Kings Island offers a Parent Swap Program that allows parents to take turns riding the big rides while the other watches the kids without having to wait in line twice. Visit Guest Services in order to participate.

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Newport Aquarium
Photo courtesy of Cincinnati USA

Cincinnati is far from the ocean, but Newport Aquarium provides visitors an opportunity to view the underwater world. Shark lovers are fascinated by several exhibits: a shark tunnel where sharks swim over your head, Shark Central where visitors pet small sharks and the Shark Bridge which traverses the top of the shark tank. Newport Aquarium is also home to four rare Shark Rays. Other exhibits show the diversity of aquatic habitats, including a coral reef, river environments and a fascinating jellyfish exhibit. The Tide Pool allows visitors to touch creatures like sea stars and crabs. Newport Aquarium is also home to several other species: the largest alligator in the US outside of Florida, 17 species of penguins, exotic frogs, and adorable otters. Visitors can touch turtles in the Turtle Corral. The aquarium also offers programs for an additional fee, such as backstage animal experiences and penguin encounters.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Newport Aquarium has a variety of underwater exhibits and interactive experiences with year-round appeal for all ages.

Terri's expert tip: Newport Aquarium often runs seasonal promotions that are a great value and some are available online only. Check the website before visiting. Currently they are offering two free kids' admission with each paying adult if you visit Sunday through Friday from 4 – 7 pm (online purchase only).

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The Cincinnati Museum Center is a complex of three museums housed inside Cincinnati Union Terminal. This 1933 train station was built in the Art Deco style and is one of Cincinnati's most recognized buildings as well as a national historic landmark. Inside the center are the Cincinnati History Museum, the Duke Energy Children's Museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science, and the Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater. The Center also has a space dedicated to traveling exhibits. Visitors can also tour the rotunda on weekends (Saturdays at Noon, 1, 2 and 3 pm; Sundays at 1, 2 and 3 pm) and explore Tower A, the former control tower for the train station which is now maintained by the Cincinnati Railroad Club (Daily, 11 am – 6 pm).

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Cincinnati Museum Center has top notch exhibits that allow visitors have fun while learning. There's something for everyone.

Terri's expert tip: If you visit more than one attraction, save money by purchasing a combination pass. Locals should consider getting an annual membership. Cincinnati Museum Center participates in the Association of Science & Technology Centers (ASTC) Passport Program, the Time Travelers History Network, and the Association of Children's Museums reciprocal program. Members of other museums should check to see if they receive free or discounted admission.

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Meet Terri Weeks

Terri Weeks, a Cincinnati mother of three, is a former mechanical engineer who became a travel writer quite accidentally. She and a friend started intentionally exploring attractions around...  More About Terri