Columbus, Ohio is one of the most underrated cities in the country, and it's been flying under the radar as a tourist destination for far too long. Yet, somehow, it’s quietly become the 4th fastest growing city, according to the 2018 U.S. Census. Business is booming.
There’s so much about the Buckeye State’s largest city that’s surprising and now is the time to visit. Here are 10 reasons why.
Restaurants worth raving about
Chef Avishar Barua is making magic – and amazing food – at Service Bar — Photo courtesy of Jon Adkins
Columbus has become a real foodie city, featuring big-name chefs and those likely to be big names soon – like Avishar Barua. His innovative menu at Service Bar (lamb wontons! cheesy brisket crunch!) is surprising, delightful and delicious.
Other good choices include Cameron Mitchell’s Harvey and Ed’s, where pastrami is king, and Basi Italia, serving authentic Italian food with a twist. Katalina’s Cafe – a former gas station – is a must for its pancake balls, and Fox in the Snow is the place to go for hand-poured drinks and sinful baked goods.
The Topiary Park
Can you recognize this famous painting at The Topiary Park? — Photo courtesy of Friends of the Topiary Park
This gorgeous spot, on the original site of the historic Ohio School for the Deaf, is home to a jaw-dropping living sculptural interpretation of Georges Seurat’s classic painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte (which was also turned into the Stephen Sondheim Broadway musical, Sunday in the Park With George).
The only known topiary adaptation of a painting, the garden features 54 human figures, eight boats, three dogs, a monkey and a cat. If you stand on the hill next to the bronze plaque, you can see the whole tableau from the artist’s point of view. The topiary version is as much of a work of art as the painting upon which it's based.
Columbus Museum of Art
"Back of Kelly" by Evan Penny at the Columbus Museum of Art — Photo courtesy of Columbus Museum of Art
This world-class museum is filled with masterpieces, but what makes it even more special is the innovative way it’s starting important conversations. Many of its exhibits feature thought-provoking questions and it's worth taking time to read the answers guests post – and add your own.
Be sure to spend time in the Wonder Room – a family-friendly space covered in sumptuous works of art by textile artists, including Jeila Gueramian’s ultimate blanket fort. You’ll feel compelled to touch everything, and will want to try all the hands-on activities, like weaving on the life-sized loom.
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
The Children's Garden is a beautiful addition to Franklin Park Conservatory — Photo courtesy of Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
For more than a century, the Franklin Park Conservatory has been attracting visitors to its award-winning gardens, Chihuly glass work and imaginative art exhibits.
More than 400 plant species are displayed in a variety of greenhouses, which are fascinating to explore as they represent environments from the desert to the rainforest. The two-acre Children’s Garden showcases lots of interactive experiences for connecting with nature, like building your own fairy house or taking in the view from the treetop hammock.
North Market is the perfect place to get an authentic taste of Columbus — Photo courtesy of Levi Ely
Since 1876, this public market has been home to butchers, bakers and candy makers (not to mention fishmongers, greengrocers, restaurateurs and ice cream artisans) serving up the freshest local dishes.
Dozens of "best in class" independent merchants make this special space an integral part of the city. Come hungry and get a real taste of Columbus, from Brezel’s Bavarian pretzels to Pistacia Vera’s hand-crafted pastries to the steaming dumplings at Momo Ghar Market.
Best Polish Boy in Ohio (10Best Readers' Choice Awards 2017)
Best Polish Boy in Ohio (10Best Readers' Choice Awards 2017)
You may never get to see the rest of German Village once you enter the 32 rooms of books in the Book Loft — Photo courtesy of Levi Ely
The best way to see this charming neighborhood is on a German Village Tours walking tour led by longtime residents and historians.
Learn the storied history of one of the oldest areas in Columbus as you admire the architectural details of the original brick houses built by German immigrants in the 19th century. If you’re lucky, a homeowner may even invite you inside.
Plan to spend time (and money) at Helen Winnemore’s, considered the oldest shop of its kind in the country, where you’ll be treated to tea or coffee along with eight rooms of American-made crafts. Then head to Book Loft, which covers an entire city block and features 32 rooms of new books at discount prices. It’s a book lover’s dream come true.
Columbus Food Adventures will take you on a delicious Taco Trucks tour — Photo courtesy of Columbus Food Adventures/Photo by Mike Beaumont
Granted, Columbus is not the first place that comes to mind when you think of taco trucks, but that just may change, thanks to Columbus Food Adventures, whose popular Taco Truck Tour introduces both travelers and local residents to some of the best, most authentic Mexican food in the city.
The tour visits half a dozen taco trucks, giving guests a chance to sample everything from tlayudas and spit-roasted al pastor to desserts including paletas and helados. Columbus is a surprisingly diverse city, and Columbus Food Adventures also offers a great Alt Eats Ethnic Food Tour.
Fox in the Snow is a hot spot on the Columbus Coffee Trail — Photo courtesy of Wendy Pramik
Of course, there are great places to hike around Columbus, but the city also boasts some really unique urban trails: there’s a coffee trail, an ale trail and even a Made in CBUS trail.
You can earn free gifts like T-shirts, travel mugs, glasses, key chains and pennants for simply trying out popular local coffee shops, breweries and boutiques, making your favorite activities a win-win. Head to ExperienceColumbus.com to find out where to pick up your passport-like guide, then hit the trail of your choice to start your stamp collection.
Short North Arts District
Custom-blend your own scent at The Candle Lab in the vibrant Short North Arts District — Photo courtesy of The Candle Lab
One of Columbus’ liveliest neighborhoods, the Short North Arts District is home to dozens of indie boutiques, galleries and restaurants.
Try to visit on the first Saturday of the month, when High Street hosts the popular Gallery Hop and you get to immerse yourself in all things art.
Once inspired, head over to The Candle Lab, where you can choose from more than 100 scents or custom-blend your own, then pour your own candle to take home. It’s an illuminating experience – and probably the only way you’ll get your house to smell like Mahogany Wasabi Rain or Baked Bread Ginger Ale Peppercorn.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
There's no place like Jeni's for Splendid Ice Creams — Photo courtesy of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
Talk about truth in advertising. Jeni’s ice creams are indeed splendid. Unbelievably smooth and creamy, the flavors are so creative and delicious, you’ll want to try them all, especially the brand's beloved Brambleberry Crisp and Brown Butter Almond Brittle.
Jeni's is a Columbus institution, and the city is rightfully proud to call it their own. With more than a dozen shops around the city, you’ll find a Jeni’s whenever a craving hits. And, when you go home, consider joining the Pint Club to get your favorite flavors delivered straight to your door.