12 unique things to do in and around Cincinnati

by Paul Joseph  |  Published August 21, 2018

Perched on the banks of the Ohio River, pretty Cincinnati is charm personified. From its resonant 19th century architecture to its European-style neighbourhoods to its vibrant foodie scene, the city’s appeal is no secret. Sport here is also a seriously big deal while an array of top class museums add a dash of high-brow culture to the fun and frivolity. For respite, many visitors choose to head across the river to the rolling bluegrass-covered hills of Kentucky.

A view of the Cincenatti cityscape by night (Photo: Cathy via Flickr)

To say that you’re not short of great – and often unusual – things to see and do in and around Cincinnati is an understatement. Quite simply, there’s enough here to keep even the most demanding of tourists busy and entertained for weeks, if not months. If you’re considering making the trip and want some help planning your itinerary, we’ve picked out 12 of the most unique sites and activities that you simply can’t leave out.

Be inspired by the stories of freedom’s heroes

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a museum of conscience, an education centre, a convener of dialogue, and a beacon of light for inclusive freedom around the globe. Since opening in August 2004, the Freedom Center has filled a substantial void in America’s cultural heritage. Rooted in the stories of the Underground Railroad, the venue illuminates the true meaning of freedom by presenting permanent and special exhibits that challenge visitors, public programming that provokes dialogue and action, and educational resources that equip and inspire modern abolitionists.

LOCATION 50 East Freedom Way HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun-Mon* 12pm-5pm (*closed on Mondays, Oct-Feb)

An interactive display at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Photo: Living-Learning Programs via Flickr)

Discover the city on foot

The Meet Cincinnati Tour is a great way to start any visit to Cincinnati. Hosted by Cincinnatis Best Walking Tours, the tour incorporates history, culture, stories about famous Cincinnatians, architecture, sports, and more. Guests get to explore the oldest neighborhood in the city, historic 4th Street, the river front park, Fountain Square, and an array of other landmarks and places of interest. You’ll find out everything you need to know to experience the city like a true Cincinnatian – including local food (you must try Cincinnati chilli), local traditions, and how to get around town. The friendly and knowledgeable company owner, a fifth-generation Cincinnatian, gives all the tours.

One of the sites visited during a Meet Cincinnati Tour (Photo: Chow Cincinnatis Best Walking Tours)

Let your hair down at Bunbury Music Festival

Taking place along the Ohio River in downtown Cincinnati, Bunbury Music Festival has grown to become one of the most eagerly awaited events on the city’s entertainment calendar. Renowned for hosting an exceptional mix of top alternative artists, the festival has evolved over the years to become a slick operation while retaining its authentic appeal through its thoughtfully selected musical acts and friendly, inclusive atmosphere. As well as the musical performances across two main stages and two side stages, there’s also a dedicated Craft Beer Village ensuring revellers remain well refreshed – and in fine spirits – throughout.

LOCATION Sawyer Point Park & Yeatman’s Cov DATES First weekend of June each year

A packed crowd watches a stage performance at Bunbury Music Festival (Photo: Bunbury Music Festival)

Visit Cincinnati’s most original themed cocktail bar

The flagship bar of Jacob Trevino, brainchild behind The Video Archive and Tokyo Kitty nightspots in Cincinnati, The Overlook Lodge could be mistaken from the outside as being nothing out of the ordinary. Venture inside, however, and that perception is swiftly debunked. Themed around the 1980s movie The Shining, this rustic bar is full of clever details and touches that offer a nod to the classic flick. The theme even extends to the hugely popular speciality craft cocktails menu, which boast memorable names such as Writer’s Block. Live music on Friday nights draws big crowds too.

LOCATION 6083 Montgomery Road HOURS Tues-Thurs 4pm-12pm; Fri 4pm-2am; Sat 3pm-2am; Sun 2pm-10pm; Mon 4pm-10pm

Explore a turn-of-the-century fire hall

Home to America’s oldest fully paid professional fire department, for anyone with an interest in the vital public service of firefighting, the city of Cincinnati is the place to visit. Celebrating this honourable heritage is the Cincinnati Fire Museum, which features fascinating exhibits (including some of the oldest examples of firefighting equipment), audio-visual presentations and scale model dioramas. Designed with families in mind, visitors can practice life-saving fire safety skills, run the lights and sirens in a replica fire engine, and slide down an authentic firehouse pole.

LOCATION 315 West Court Street HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-4pm Closed Sun-Mon

Unearth Cincinnati’s spooky side

Like most metropolises, Cincinnati has an underbelly of mystery and intrigue that’s steeped in the city’s folklore. Haunted Cincinnati Tours offers unique ghost tours and overnight events in the Cincinnati area – but with a major twist. Unlike most guided ghost tours, on these the guests are the designated ghost hunters, putting the responsibility for tracking down the city’s ethereal inhabitants firmly on your shoulders. You’re even given special detection tools to help you along the way. During the tour your guide will regale you with eerie stories of paranormal claims dating back centuries. The tour company also offers overnight ghost hunt events inside haunted locations.

Haunted Cincinnati Tours

Built over an abandoned cemetery, Washington Park holds the remains of some inhabitants who have never left (Photo: Haunted Cincinnati Tours)

Visit the world’s Only Ventriloquism Museum

If you’re a fan of unusual museums, a 15-minute drive south of central Cincinnati lies what is said to be the world’s only museum dedicated to the time-honoured art of ventriloquism. Van Haven museum houses an incredible assortment of ventriloquism-related memorabilia, including dummies, puppets, photos, scripts, memorabilia, playbills, posters, recordings, and more, some of which dates back to the 19th century. From May to September each year, the museum opens its doors to the public by offering guided tours, although these are by appointment only.

LOCATION 33 West Maple Avenue, Fort Mitchell HOURS By appointment only

Feel the blues at Buckeye BBQ Festival

The sweet aroma of barbecue mixes with the dulcet tones of the blues at this action-packed annual festival. Held over two days, the event features some 16 BBQ vendors, plus an array of other foodie offerings, a beer garden serving up craft beers and your national favorite brews. The Rotary Club of West Chester Liberty and the Cincy Blues Society join forces to bring blues bands from the region and around the country. For the little ones, there’s a petting zoo and a dedicated Kid Zone featuring a 25-foot climbing wall, inflatable bouncy rides, games, face painting, caricature drawings and a fire safety house.

LOCATION The Square at Union Center, West Chester DATES May each year

SC Reggae Jerk Wine Festival

A blues performance at the Buckeye BBQ Festival (Photo: Buckeye BBQ Festival)

Look around one of America’s oldest art museums

Located in scenic Eden Park, the Cincinnati Art Museum features a diverse, encyclopedic art collection of more than 67,000 works spanning 6,000 years. In addition to displaying its own broad collection, the museum also hosts several national and international traveling exhibitions each year. Visitors can enjoy the exhibitions or participate in the museum’s wide range of art-related programs, activities and special events. General admission is always free for all. Museum members receive additional benefits. The museum is open every day except Mondays, making greater Cincinnati’s most treasured cultural asset accessible to everyone.

LOCATION 953 Eden Park Drive HOURS Tues-Wed & Fri-Sun 11am-5pm; Thurs 11am-8pm; Closed Mon

Cincinnati Art Museum

Children and their parents listen to a talk at Cincinnati Art Museum (Photo: Cincinnati Art Museum)

Board a riverboat on the Ohio River

Way back in the 1800s, Cincinnati’s waterways were the main routes of traffic dividing the city from the great ports of the Deep South. Today the Ohio River is mainly frequented by riverboat tour companies offering relaxing trips on classic steamers. Visitors can choose between sightseeing cruises by day or dining cruises by night, while the options also include special themed cruises including ones that cater for small children.

Taste the flavours of Cincinnati at a vintage bar

Situated in the Gateway Quarter neighbourhood of Over the Rhine, The Lackman is housed on the first floor of a historic building built by turn-of-the-century Cincinnati brewery Herman Lackman, and features several nods to its distinguished past, including its signage which reflects the labels Lackman used on his original beer bottles. The beautiful art deco bar offers a diverse range of drinks, including some 30 craft beers, plus wine, bourbon and cocktails too, while a vintage, wood-paneled Jameson whisky dispenser invites patrons to pour their own wee dram.

LOCATION 1237 Vine Street HOURS Mon-Thurs 4pm-2am; Fri 3pm-2am; Sat 12pm-2am; Sun 12pm-12am


A view of the vintage bar at The Lackman (Photo: The Lackman)

Get the adrenaline pumping on Kings Island

The largest amusement and waterpark in the Midwest, Kings Island offers a fun-packed day out for the family. Located a 40-minute drive northeast of Cincinnati, the park features more than 100 rides, shows and attractions, including The Beast, officially the world’s longest wooden roller coaster, as well as the world’s longest inverted roller coaster that reaches speeds of up to 68 mph. Other highlights include the award-winning Planet Snoopy kids’ area, and a chance to step back millions of years at Dinosaurs Alive!, an animatronic dinosaur themed area.

LOCATION 6300 Kings Island Drive, Kings Island HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-8pm