Cincinnati. Queen City. Once a hugely important river port and cultural hub of the Midwest, it has since faded mostly to obscurity. Nationally unimportant, it is, in a word, pleasant.
Cincinnati isn’t at the top of many tourist lists, and perhaps it shouldn’t be, but a few days here can provide for a truly delightful getaway. This guide will focus on some of my personal favorite spots here during my more than a dozen trips out to visit while my dad was living in the area.
Note: be sure to click on the links in this guide to read our other content on Cincinnati.
Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport lies just across the Ohio River from the city itself, in – you guessed it – Kentucky. (The Cincinnati metro area includes areas of Kentucky and Indiana, as well as Ohio.) Formerly Delta’s secondary hub to Atlanta until as recently as 2005, the airport is large, modern, easy to navigate, and fairly sparse given that it is no longer a major hub for the airline.
The airport partners with local museums on some awesome exhibits, from the riverboat models in the concourse between ticketing and A gates to the skeletons of ice-age creatures in the B gates. Take a look, explore, especially with kids.
From the airport, downtown is a 20-30 minute drive, depending on traffic going across the river, with other parts of the metro area being potentially further.
Downtown Cincinnati as seen from the top of the Carew Tower.
Cincinnati’s freeways are built with a ring beltway (I-275), and interstates 71, 74, and 75 bisecting it and meeting in the city itself. Freeway signs can be a bit confusing, with lanes splitting from both sides, especially going over the bridges. Unless you plan to stay downtown and not really leave, a car is handy.
Downtown is fairly easily walkable – pleasantly so given the abundance of cool architecture and street art, especially in the Over-the-Rhine district – and there is a small tram in addition to buses. However, mass transit spreading the metro area is limited at best.
Where to Stay
I’m going to be a bit less useful here, since I can’t recommend any specific hotels, having only stayed in one just across the Indiana line near my dad. So if that’s the part of town you want to be in, the Doubletree in Lawrenceburg, IN is lovely. However, if you want to actually see Cincinnati, I’d suggest staying downtown somewhere. Just make sure it is in one of the parts where you are ok walking around at night, as not all of downtown is especially safe after dark, Over-the-Rhine specifically, although it’s amazing during the day.
Findlay Market in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
What to Do
Cincinnati isn’t loaded with must-see sights. Downtown, go to the top of the Carew Tower for the best views of the city, and visit the historic Plum Street Synagogue and City Hall for their architecture before walking the streets of Over-the-Rhine for some cool buildings and fantastic street art and exploring Findlay Market.
The Cincinnati Art Museum is quite good, a leftover relic of the time the city was the cultural hub of the entire region. Jungle Jim’s is Trader Joe’s on steroids, and while it is a ways north of the city, it is worth the drive – and a couple of hours to explore. For history lovers, the monument to William Henry Harrison and his month as President is interesting.
However, my number one Cincinnati destination is Spring Grove Cemetery. You all know I love old cemeteries, and this is my favorite I’ve ever seen. The monuments are spectacular, the grounds are lovely, and there are even a few recognizable gravesites. Trust me, and go visit!
Spring Grove Cemetery is filled with incredible monuments like this one.
What to Eat
Cincinnati isn’t known for its culinary scene, outside of one addition to the food world: Cincinnati-style chili. If you come here, it is imperative you try it. Basically, it is chili without beans, sweetened with a bit of cinnamon and other spices. You’ll get a “3-way,” which is spaghetti topped with chili and a seriously unbelievable amount of shredded cheddar cheese. (A 4- or 5- way comes with either beans or onions, or both.) There are a ton of places serving it up, but my personal preference is Skyline, a large chain in the region. They also have a vegetarian black bean chili for those who don’t like the traditional variety.
Skyline Chili with a proper amount of cheese.
Other Useful Information
Cincinnati is named after the Roman general Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a man whose name became synonymous with civic virtue.
While there are four seasons here, and it does snow, winters are fairly mild in the Ohio Valley compared to other parts of the Midwest. Summers can be hot and humid.
The Cincinnati Zoo is incredibly well regarded, especially the past few years with its baby hippo drawing crowds.
Northern Kentucky is the start of the Bourbon Trail, extending down into that state.
If you have a car and a day free, drive about an hour and a half to Dayton and the Air Force Museum. It is phenomenal!
Cincinnati isn’t necessarily a place most people think of for a vacation spot. However, there are some pretty great things to do and see here, and if you either happen to be in the area or are looking for a good long weekend getaway, I hope this guide will help you plan your perfect Cincinnati trip!
Note: if you enjoyed this guide, please check out all of our other Ultimate Guides by clicking here.
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