For the past two years, travelers have flocked to nature spots for social-distance-style vacations. However, one of the biggest travel trends of 2022 is the return of urban holidays, with New York City reclaiming the top U.S. destination booked by travelers.
What if you also crave a big-city adventure but are low on funds? Take a look at Cincinnati, Ohio. The big, little city at the crossroads of America’s East, West, North, and South seemingly offers it all affordably. There are things to do in Cincinnati for just about any traveler.
“Cincinnati is a little city that feels much bigger than it is. It is an affordable vacation choice, and you won’t have to give up on city experiences like museums, zoos, and great food,” said Alicia, Founder of Travels with The Crew.
It’s Easy to Get To
Cincinnati is the largest metro area in Ohio and Kentucky, and its central Midwest location is within one day’s drive for half of all Americans. If you’ve returned to flying, its airport offers 50 or more non-flights on 11 airlines with the lowest airfares in the region.
It means you’ll spend less time traveling and more time exploring all the city has to offer.
It Checks All the City Vacation Boxes, Affordably
According to a Wallet Hub analysis, urban vacationers look at the level of travel hassles, costs, attractions, and activities more than other factors when planning trips to cities. In Cincy, whether you want to take in the arts, have good eats, or go out at night, you’ll find everything you’re looking for in a city vacation.
It’s racked up awards such as the 9th Best Metro Area to Visit in Summer and One of the Top Places to Visit in the U.S. by Travel & Leisure magazine. But unlike some of the other destinations on those ‘Best Of’ lists, this U.S. vacation spot is a fraction of the price of other U.S. cities.
According to Champion Travel, the average price of a weeklong trip to Cincinnati is $1,577 for a solo traveler, $2,832 for a couple, and $5,310 for a family of four. That’s 25 percent less than a trip to New York City and almost half as much as a trip to San Francisco.
Variety of Accommodations – From Budget to Historic to Utterly Cool
With over 150 places to stay, there’s a lot to choose from, including Bed and Breakfasts, large chain hotels, and family-friendly places that often include complimentary breakfast with your stay.
History lovers will appreciate The Cincinnatian Hotel, built in 1882 but renovated in 2018, or The AAA four-diamond National Historic landmark, The Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. Stepping into The Netherland is to be transported into The Great Gatsby movie with stunning restored French Art Deco in the lobby, public areas and massive first-floor bar.
If you love visiting museums, why not stay in one? Centrally located, 21C Museum Hotel is right next to the Contemporary Art Center, across the street from the Aronoff Center for the Arts, and one block from the city’s most coveted dinner spot, Boca. The redeveloped 100-year-old former Metropole Hotel is now a contemporary art museum, boutique hotel, restaurant, and bar all in one. Look for the yellow penguins on the awning roof for check-in.
Small on Price, Yet a Long List of City Activities and Attractions
If you’re craving a big-city getaway, take a look at the long list of things to do in Cincinnati. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
” It’s got it all: skyscrapers, walkable downtown, reputable restaurants, bars and coffee shops, a rich history, bustling present, and promising future,” said Mikkel of Sometimes Home.
Things to Do in Cincinnati: The Most Popular Attractions
If you’ve only got one or two days, check out this short list of the most popular things to do in Cincinnati so you can hit the ground running.
1. Fountain Square
This downtown restaurant and entertainment hub is a can’t-miss place for snacks, dinner, ice skating in the winter, or an afternoon hang-out spot year-round.
Located at Vine St. and 5th, it’s considered the epicenter of downtown and the city’s prime gathering space. When walking around the city, odds are there will be something different going on each time you pass! Check out their calendar for the long list of free concerts, events, and markets or just follow the sound of the live music!
2. Over-the-Rhine District
The country’s most extensive collection of Italianate Renaissance-Style architecture is now the new home to a bustling entertainment district of shops, top restaurants, craft bars & breweries. There’s so much to do here you could spend an entire day, or weekend, just in this section of town.
Check out the free events scheduled at Washington Park, get tickets to a show or concert at Music Hall, and check one or many of the breweries making Cincinnati a top beer destination once again.
3. Findlay Market
Also located in the Over-The-Rhine (OTR) district is one of the oldest public markets in the country. Its vendors represent generations of immigrants from central Europe, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East. This foodie haven is a perfect place to load up your picnic basket, cooler, or backpack for a day’s worth of adventures. Or hang out and enjoy the wide variety of fantastic food and snacks at one of their regular special events.
4. Cincinnati Art Museum
One of the many free or affordable activities found in the city, it’s a diverse, encyclopedic art collection of more than 67,000 works spanning 6,000 years. And your wallet will appreciate that this historical museum has no admission fee.
5. Cincinnati Zoo
Check out one of the best zoos in the world right outside the city. Make sure to meet Fiona, a baby hippopotamus born six weeks premature at the Cincinnati Zoo who has become a social media star.
6. Take a Tour
Recognized as offering the best historical tour in Cincinnati, American Legacy Tours offers 17 different walking tours and events. Consider their unique underground tours to learn about the city’s rich beer-making history before refrigeration with mind-blowing underground sites. Or pick one of their haunted or wine and dessert tours.
After a pandemic pause, additional beer tours are back, including the Cincinnati Brewing Heritage, the Cincy Brew Bus, and Craft Connection Brewery Tours.
7. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Located where the downtown meets the waterfront, this stunning building connects the lessons of the Underground Railroad to inspire a new generation to fight for freedom here in the U.S. and worldwide. It contains a mix of permanent and traveling exhibits that spur today’s necessary social justice conversations.
8. Explore the Waterfront
A 10-minute walk from the center of downtown puts you at the completely redeveloped waterfront park that’s now a 45-acre destination in itself. Adults and families alike will enjoy Smale Riverfront Park, Sawyer Point & Yeatman’s Cove’s world-class playground and spray park, and regular waterfront events.
If you’re looking for the perfect picnic spot, try the lawn in front of the Serpentine Wall. For adventures, it’s also the launching point for BB Riverboats, with many day and nighttime options.
9. Walk Across the Robeling Bridge To Kentucky
One of the showstoppers at The Waterfront is the Roebling Bridge, a smaller prototype version of the Brooklyn Bridge. Don’t miss the QR code on a small sign at the beginning that will play a free audio tour on your phone as you cross over The Ohio River and into Kentucky. It’s a flat, easy, 1/5 mile walk that is wheelchair accessible.
Things to Do in Cincinnati: Eating and Drinking
Who knew that Cincinnati is a foodie town? From James-Beard-nominated chefs to global cuisine and iconic fast food, one of the best things to do in Cincinnati is eat ( and wash it down deliciously!) Last year, 70 new places to eat opened up, adding to a long list of options.
Here’s my short list of places to consider for your trip!
10. Skyline Chili
Do you subscribe to the “when in Rome” mindset when traveling? If so, sample the iconic Cincinnati chili at one of Skyline’s four locations. This regional staple is not served in a bowl like other chilis but over spaghetti with tons of cheese. Or you’ll find it served over a hot dog.
With its special recipe that reflects its immigrant-friendly community, some describe it as a Greek meat sauce.
11. Maplewood Kitchen and Bar
It’s the weekend go-to brunch spot in downtown Cincinnati, and the line is often out the door, spilling onto the sidewalk. It also has a lunch menu, so pop in anytime for a delicious casual meal. But make sure to order a side of refreshing Lemon Ricotta pancakes!
The vibe is California cool, and the staff couldn’t be more friendly and welcoming. When the line is long, they serve mimosas right at the door as you wait.
12. Taste of Belgium
Whether you’re at Findlay Market or around town, grab a waffle, chicken & waffles, or other delicious items from one of Jean-Francois Flechet’s restaurants. Each location has a slightly different menu making it fun to stop into more than one during your time in Cincinnati.
13. Splurge at one of Jose Salazar’s world-class restaurants
Trained at the top restaurants in New York City, enjoy the same caliber dining experience at one of the James Beard award-nominated restaurants right in Cincinnati. Pick from Salazar, a New American farm-fresh outpost, or Mita’s with a tapas-like menu, killer cocktails, and a Spanish-based wine menu.
Three years after Salazar became a catalyst for Cincinnati’s new chef-driven dining scene, Chef David Falk amplified the city’s culinary culture. Appling French cooking techniques to Italian and French food, diners feel in love with his iconic Brussel sprouts and seared scallops.
Boca is housed in the lovingly renovated space of the city’s former, longest-standing fine dining restaurant, Maisonette. The large open two-floored space will wow you just as much as the food.
Italian for below, this casual basement restaurant should not be considered below Boca, even though that’s its location. Place this causal David Falk trattoria at the top of your list if Boca is out of your price range.
16. Ghost Baby
Word on the street is that over $1 million was spent to convert this centuries-old beer cave five stories underground into one of the hottest nightlife tickets in town. Make sure to make a reservation. If not, you’re not guaranteed to get in. Luckily we had one, but people in the line mentioned to us, “the line is long but totally worth it.”
There are two rooms in this one-of-a-kind space. The main bar, which you’ll walk through first, or the back room with booth or table seating with live jazz, pre-swing, or popular music from 1995 to 1935.
17. DORA District
Another one of the unique things to do in Cincinnati is to sample all the adult beverages and walk around The Bank’s DORA (Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area) District. From 11 am to 1 am, enjoy the 85-acre riverfront area’s public green spaces and 18 food and drink options.
18. Tiki Tiki Bang Bang
If you love speak easys, hidden bars, or tiki drinks, make sure you check out Tiki. Located behind a faux video store wall, you’ll find a funky, cool Hawaiian tiki-themed vibe and excellent cocktails.
19. Comfort Station
Right down the street from Tiki Tiki Bang Bang, the Comfort Station is in a 105-year-old former public restroom. Even more surprising is that it is an oasis in the middle of the city.
20. Tokyo Kitty Karaoke Bar
From the same fun-loving team as Tiki, this Tokyo-style karaoke bar with private rooms is centrally located downtown, not far from Maplewood Kitchen. There’s the main stage to belt out your favorite songs gratis, or you can rent one of their seven private rooms.
Dance to the DJs Friday and Saturdays from 11 pm to 2 am or book a private room online if you’re in town with friends or a bachelor or bachelorette party.
Things to Do in Cincinnati: Festivals
21. Taste of Cincinnati (May)
The nation’s longest-running culinary arts festival spread across five downtown acres is also free. This three-day celebration of Cincinnati’s diverse restaurants, food trucks, and Findlay Market vendors is mixed in with live entertainment in outdoor venues, carnival rides, and games.
22. Cincinnati Music Festival (July)
One of the top music festivals in the U.S. draws over 80,000 people in the Cincinnati Bengals stadium for two days of hip hop, R&B, jazz, and soul music performances. Headlined by the iconic Janet (Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty) in 2022, it draws top acts and global superstars.
Make sure to purchase your tickets and hotel rooms in advance, as it’s a very popular weekend to visit Cincinnati.
23. Cincinnati International Jazz Festival (September)
This two days festival takes place at Smale Riverfront park and combines music, food, art, and culture from around the world to close out the summer season.
24. Oktoberfest Zinnzinati (September)
German immigrants were among the earliest settlers of Ohio, and Cincinnati in particular. Starting in the 1830s, the OTR district was full of German bars and restaurants serving traditional food and beer they made themselves in underground caves.
So it’s not a surprise that the city is not just ranked as the #1 city for beer drinkers in the U.S. but is also home to the second largest Oktoberfest celebration worldwide. If you can’t travel to Germany, join the 500,000 people who flock to the city’s temporary biergartens, stages, and food tents along 2nd and 3rd streets in its riverfront district.
“If you’re visiting during September, you’ll want to attend Oktoberfest Zinnzinati,” said Alex Sumuel, Founder of Wander with Alex. “The streets are shoulder-to-shoulder with attendees eager to try new brews, eat delicious sausages, and celebrate the area’s rich German heritage.”
25. Enjoy a World Class Sports Game or Event
Cincinnati has MLB, MLS, NFL teams and world-class tennis and golf events. Or take your baseball fanatic to see a game of the first professional baseball team in the country – The Reds.
“If you are a sports fan, Cincinnati has three professional sports teams, the Bengals, the Reds, and FC Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Reds play at Great American Ballpark, one of the best MLB ballparks in America yet offers affordable tickets,” said Jason Butler, Founder of Money Chronicles.
Enjoy a day in the Over the Rhine district near the new FC soccer West End Stadium or at the Waterfront anchored by The Great American Ballpark or Paycor football stadium. Pick a hotel near the sporting event, and you can park your car for the entire stay.
“After football games, you can usually spot a football player or two at one of the city’s many bars, restaurants, or clubs celebrating! It’s a truly unique scene,” said former Ohio resident Alex Sumuel.
Golfers can watch the LPGA tournament at Kenwood Country Club outside of the city or watch globally ranked players at The Cincinnati Tennis Masters. It’s the second largest summer tennis event in the U.S., just one month before the U.S. Open
It’s Also One of America’s Top Arts Destination
Did you know that Cincinnati was named one of the top 20 most vibrant arts regions in the United States? It has some of the oldest, well-funded cultural institutions in America and over 200 public murals transforming historic architecture that’s seen better days into outdoor art galleries that anyone can enjoy.
It’s also one of only 13 cities in the U.S. with professional companies in all the arts – ballet, opera, symphony, theater, and fine & contemporary art museums.
Sarah Jessica Parker got her start in The Arts in the city and continues to praise it. The Sex and the City star once said that “Cincinnati, and I really mean this, is a great city.”
I couldn’t help but wonder how many people would love a vacation to Cincinnati if they gave it a try.