10 Unique Things to Do in Columbus

by Paul Joseph  |  Published April 20, 2016

With 50,000 university students inhabiting the city for much of the year, it is little wonder that Columbus pulsates with energy and excitement. Moreover, an economy based on state-funded sectors means the city has remained protected from the fluxes of the market. As a result, Columbus has thrived in recent years.

A view of downtown Columbus

A view of downtown Columbus (Photo: Donnie Shackleford via Flickr)

The boom times have also contributed to an upswing in the city’s cultural endeavours. The Columbus Museum of Art has been expanded while the Scioto Mile project has placed 33 acres of new riverfront parkland in the heart of downtown.

For nocturnal pursuits, distilleries work together with brewers, coffee roasters, high-end cocktail bars, black box stages, music halls and dive bars to deliver exceptional nightlife, while neighborhoods are bursting with new shops and places to eat, and artists are shaping new areas of the city into dynamic spaces to explore.

1. Zip line Adventure

For those looking to rise about the rat race and see life from a different perspective, Hocking Hills Canopy Tours could be just the ticket. Set in the foothills of Appalachia, the zip line canopy tour offers a breathtaking adventure as you soar through some of North America’s most magnificent scenery. The main tour is made up of 10 ziplines and 4 sky bridges, plus there’s also a dual racing zip (the longest of its kind in the US) and even a special ‘Dragonfly’ tour for kids aged 5 and over. With excellent environmental credentials and highly trained, professional guides, this is a great way for even the biggest of kids to get a grown-up appreciation of nature.

Hocking Hills Canopy Tours

A thrill-seeker strikes a mid-air pose (Photo: Hocking Hills Canopy Tours)

2. The Book Loft

We’ve all experienced the pleasure that comes from getting lost in a really good book – but getting lost in a really good bookstore? These days, they tend to be either big or good but The Book Loft of German Village in Columbus Ohio charmingly combines both. One of the largest independent bookstores in the US (spanning an entire block) it occupies a pre-Civil War building that was once home to general stores, a saloon and a nickelodeon cinema. Today, its 32 rooms house bargain books, cards, posters, CDs, DVDs and much more. And if you’re really worried about getting lost, remember what you learned from reading Hansel & Gretel as a kid, and take some breadcrumbs.

The Bookloft

The exterior of the Book Loft store (Photo: The Book Loft)

3. Franklin Park Conservatory

Situated in a 90-acre urban park, this impressive homage to Victorian era botanical gardens (it was modelled on the Glass Palace at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago) houses a treasure trove of noteworthy collections for anyone with an interest in the natural world. Exotic plant life, water features, seasonal floral displays, nature-themed art exhibitions and glass-enclosed gardens are enough to keep the most green-fingered visitor entertained. Adding an educational flavour, the venue also hosts family activities every weekend, as well as special events and entertainment throughout the year, while classes and workshops in gardening, cooking, art and wellness are available for children and adults alike.

Franklin Park Conservatory

A shot of the Franklin Park botanical garden and conservatory (Photo: Franklin Park Conservatory)

4. BalletMet

Aspiring Darcey Bussells will be in their element in Columbus thanks to its highly regarded ballet institution, BalletMet. Spread across an entire city block, the not-for-profit organisation’s main venue comprises a black box theatre performance space, seven dance studios and a costume and scene shop, and plays host to an array of professional productions throughout the year as well as classes for people of all ages and abilities. Shows are normally re-workings of contemporary masterpieces and are popular enough to attract audiences of nearly 126,000 every year. For those seeking to improve their twinkle toed talents, there are regular classes in a range of genres including ballet, tap and theatre dance.

Ballet Met

A performance at BalletMet (Photo: Ballet Met)

5. Shadowbox Live

Don’t be fooled by the name – there are no pugilists involved at Shadow Box Live, though there are plenty of heavyweight performers. The largest resident theatre company in America, Shadow Box’s performing arts venue produces a richly diverse range of entertainment including original sketch comedy, live rock ‘n’ roll, dance theatre, original rock operas, musicals and fine art exhibitions, all blended with new media to create interactive and immersive experiences. With productions staged on a weekly basis throughout the year, visitors to Columbus are almost guaranteed the chance to catch a show during their stay – and they’re unlikely to regret it.

Shadow Box Live

A Shadowbox production in full flow (Photo: Shadow Box Live)

6. Ohio State House

One of the oldest working statehouses in the United States, the Ohio Statehouse is a veritable goldmine of historical interest. Housed in a striking example of neoclassical architecture, it is visual masterpiece, boasting magnificent, palatial rooms and a sweeping grand staircase in the adjoining Senate Building that was modelled on the Paris Opera House. It is also filled with priceless art, including a marble bust of Abraham Lincoln – the only one the President posed for during his lifetime – plus an interactive mini museum to learn about state government and historical figures. Even the expansive grounds have a history, as Civil War Union soldiers frequently camped there. Free tours are available every day.

Ohio State House

A shot of the Ohio State House overlooking the lawn (Photo: Capitol Square Review and Advisory Board)

7. Jazz Arts Group

In Columbus, Jazz is taken seriously. Throughout the year, performances and events are hosted by the Jazz Arts Group of Columbus, America’s oldest not-for-profit arts organisation dedicated to producing, performing and promoting jazz. Led by trumpet virtuoso Byron Stripling, over twenty concerts take place each season at the historic Southern Theatre, while there’s also an outdoor summer concert series, JazZoo!, at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. All this means that whenever you’re visiting, there’s a fair chance of catching some local improvised sounds during your stay. Furthermore, with their stated belief in the power of music to transform lives, there’s also a strong altruistic focus to the Jazz Arts Group’s activities, with lifelong-learning opportunities offered to individuals of all ages, interests, backgrounds and abilities.

8. The Actors’ Theatre

When it comes to treading the boards, Columbus has a rich and diverse heritage. At the heart of the city’s contemporary performing arts scene is The Actors’ Theatre, which puts on regular outdoor productions of classical works by Shakespeare and other distinguished playwrights. Plays are free and take place on the amphitheatre stage in historic Schiller Park, with patrons invited to make themselves at home by bringing blankets or lawn chairs. Picnics and snacks are also allowed, although there’s a variety of dining options in surrounding German Village for pre- or post-show sustenance. As well as staging full productions, The Actors’ Theatre also hosts an educational programmes in schools and acting camps in local city parks.

The Actors’ Theatre

Thespians tread the boards at The Actors’ Theatre (Photo: The Actors’ Theatre)

9. North Market

It has been said that to know a city, you must eat its food. In Columbus, there can be few better places to do just that than North Market. Established in 1876, North Market features more than 30 merchants selling a wide variety of food, both locally sourced and from across the world. On Saturdays the market takes places on the outdoor plaza, while the summer months sees local artisans, vintage sellers, furniture makers and jewellers converge on the site to sell their wares at Market Flea. Seasonal events, including the Ohio Wine Festival and Ohio Craft Brew Festival, also take place here.

10. Catco Theater

Whatever the time of year, there’s always something going on at CATCO Theatre. The only resident, professional theatre in Columbus. CATCO creates theatrical events designed to “delight, challenge and transport” its audiences. Since its foundation in 1985, it has produced more than 200 plays including world premieres, contemporary American and international productions and classics. Recent initiatives have included celebrating local artistry and reaching new audience members by casting artists beyond those found in the theatre community. The theatre also puts on numerous kids’ productions, making it an attractive proposition for families visiting Columbus.