What to See and Do in Cincinnati, Ohio
A 24-hour guide to the Queen City.
Cincinnati is a city that believes in itself — because, for years, if it didn’t, no one would. The city has worked hard to prove its worth, humble riverport that it is, and that’s why crowds still turn out to greet exciting new bars, restaurants, and, for that matter, public parks that wouldn’t even register with the jaded residents of other, hipper, cities. Even now that the rest of the world is finally applauding our lively downtown, our abundance of breweries and the unexpected beauty of a river valley that straddles the mountains and the wide-open heartland, locals are quick with the aw-shucks disclaimer that we still have a long way to go.
Here’s where you can see for yourself, in just one day, what makes our city so special:
8:30 a.m.: Find breakfast at Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine
Ohio’s oldest farmer’s market has witnessed a century and a half of change, from the rise and fall of its nineteenth-century neighborhood to the working-class enclave’s recent rebirth as a fine-dining destination. All along, it’s hosted butchers, bakers and farmers, as well as food vendors who, today, sell everything from pastries and waffles to barbecue and pho.
9:30 a.m.: See the city from the top of the Carew Tower
Forty-nine stories up the 1930 tower that was supposedly a prototype for the Empire State Building, you can take in panoramic views of downtown Cincinnati and the muddy Ohio River — including the 1866 John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, a dead ringer for the Brooklyn Bridge, finished by Roebling in 1883.
10:30 a.m.: Take a walk through Smale Riverfront Park
Cincinnati is a river town, and a stroll through this shiny new forty-five-acre waterfront park is your best opportunity for an up-close view of the Ohio.
11:30 a.m.: Head up Mt. Adams to Eden Park
Just outside downtown, Eden Park is home to some of Cincinnati’s best Ohio River overlooks — and its greatest cold-weather oasis, the perpetually tropical 1933 Krohn Conservatory. If you have time to spare, visit the Cincinnati Art Museum, which has a collection of 67,000 pieces spanning 6,000 years, from Ancient Egypt to impressionist France to the modern day.
1:00 p.m.: Eat lunch at Camp Washington Chili
Cincinnati has dozens of chili parlors — including two major chains, Skyline and Gold Star — but your best introduction to the city’s favorite dish is Camp Washington Chili, a West Side stalwart since 1940. Order a three-way, a perfect trinity of spaghetti, chili and fluffy orange cheese. Sprinkle your packet of Cincinnati-made Shur-Good oyster crackers on top.
2:00 p.m.: Tour the American Sign Museum
Most Cincinnatians don’t know that America’s number one sign museum — where dozens of rehabilitated roadside advertisements buzz in unison — is down a nondescript street in Camp Washington. The signs alone are a marvel, but, to make the most of your admission fee, you should time your visit to coincide with a free guided tour (11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays, or 2 p.m. on Sundays).
3:00 p.m.: Order a flight at Urban Artifact
Cincinnati can claim more than fifty regional breweries. The most interesting of the bunch is Urban Artifact, which specializes in sours. It likely has the most unique tap room space, too: the basement of the former St. Pius X Catholic Church, which was serving a Northside congregation until 2015. You’ll have to try the latest release in the Midwest Fruit Sour series, made with seasonal fruits including blueberries, peaches and plums, but you’ll likely leave with a six-pack of the easy-drinking Glimmer, a tart IPA brewed with Ohio grain.
4:00 p.m.: Head back downtown for a drink at Rhinegeist
Urban Artifact is the most experimental of the Queen City breweries, but Rhinegeist is Cincinnati’s common language when it comes to beer — rivaled only by MadTree, which operates out of an enormous facility in suburban Oakley.
Rhinegeist is in the downtown Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, where German-Americans operated dozens of breweries in the mid-to-late 1800s. In 1895, the cavernous space on Elm Street where, today, bearded twentysomethings sip flights and play cornhole was the Christian Moerlein Brewing Company’s bottling plant. Take the stairs up to the roof for an afternoon view of the Cincinnati skyline.
5:00 p.m.: Stroll around Over-the-Rhine
(This is assuming, of course, that the Reds aren’t playing at the Great American Ballpark, and there isn’t anything worth seeing at the ornate Cincinnati Music Hall, on the edge of Over-the-Rhine’s Washington Park. In that case, you might want to adjust your schedule.)
Over-the-Rhine will have come to life by late afternoon. Spend an hour walking around the historic neighborhood — once shorthand for urban crime and decay, despite its abundance of stunning nineteenth-century brick buildings. It’s enjoying a revival as a food and arts district with more options than you could explore in a day. With an hour or so to spare, you might want to indulge your sweet tooth with the creative pastries at Holtman’s Donuts, stop for a cocktail at Longfellow, snack on a hot dog at Senate, or play arcade games at 16-Bit.
Or, if you’re not tired of craft beer yet, you can try a flight at Taft’s Ale House, named after native son William Howard Taft and built inside, alright, another historic church: the 1850 St. Paul’s German Evangelical Protestant, which sat abandoned from the 1980s until 2015.
6:30 p.m.: Discover local flavor at Please
You’d be happy with the New American food at Salazar, the French at Sartre, or the Italian at A Tavola — but you’re only in Cincinnati for a day, so you’re going to have Ohioan at Please, chef Ryan Santos’s thirty-seat living room of a restaurant.
Santos focuses on ingredients farmed and foraged in the area, working them into dishes such as preserved corn fritters with beet mole, pork with charred ramps and green garlic yogurt and an inspired riff on local chili parlor tradition that involves warm apple butter aebleskivers and a heap of caramel-like gjetost cheese. Opt for the tasting menu, a steal at under sixty dollars per person, and pair it with an inventive cocktail or a selection from the expertly curated wine and beer lists, which tend toward the natural and unfiltered.
9:00 p.m.: Have a beer — or two — at Arnold's
Arnold’s is the oldest bar in town — open since 1861, in brick buildings that date back to the 1830s. It’s legendary, but it’s also a functioning neighborhood watering hole. Find a seat at the nineteenth-century bar if you can, or, on a nice night, head out to the patio.
10:00 p.m.: Finish your night with a scoop of Cincinnati's finest
Still hungry? No? Well, there’s one more stop you can’t miss. Graeter’s has been scooping the best ice cream in town since 1870 — rich, high-quality, and, often, studded with soft, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate chunks, not chips. Its Fountain Square parlor is only open until 10 on weeknights, but 11 on Friday and Saturday. Order the Black Raspberry Chip.