A local’s ultimate guide to visiting Cincinnati

View of the Ohio River and Cincinnati skyline with blue skies
Cincinnati. Rudy Balasko/Shuttershock

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • As a local, I’ve created a guide of the best things to do, see, and eat in Cincinnati.
  • Visitors should see a concert at Music Hall or a baseball game at the Great American Ball Park.
  • Grab a bite to eat at Skyline Chili, Graeter’s ice cream, or Findlay Market.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Perhaps best known for its professional sports teams – like the Reds and the Bengals – Cincinnati boasts a bustling downtown bursting with the rich history of the city’s role as an early transportation hub along the beautiful Ohio River.

But the city also offers a thriving craft-beer scene and unique local eats.

As a Cincinnati native, I’ve compiled a list of some of the city’s visit-worthy restaurants, attractions, and places to stay, as well as a few insider tips.

Things to know before you go

  • COVID-19 PROTOCOL: As of August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated Hamilton County, Ohio, an area of high transmission. Although there is not a statewide mask mandate, many local businesses require or advise customers to wear masks. They are also mandatory on city and regional Metro buses and the Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar.
  • WEATHER: Cincinnati enjoys four distinct seasons, though unpredictable weather is not uncommon. Although spring and fall temperatures are typically mild, summers can range from the 60s to 90s Fahrenheit and are often humid. The city’s winters are relatively mild, with average lows in the 20s and highs in the 40s.
  • CURRENCY: The area uses US dollars, and many businesses accept credit cards, Apple Pay, and Square payments.
  • WALKABILITY: If you stick to the central areas – the Banks, downtown, and Over-the-Rhine – you can make use of the city’s free streetcar, which travels north and south. To explore outside of downtown, you’ll need a car, as the regional Metro bus service is quite limited.

Where to stay

21c Museum Hotel combines modern art and luxury in a prime downtown location

If you’re looking for a unique place to stay downtown within walking distance of the streetcar and bustling Fountain Square, 21c Museum Hotel should be on your short list.

It has 156 rooms, ranging from about $US175 ($AU239) to $US500 ($AU683) a night.

The hotel’s rotating museum exhibits are free to the public and often feature internationally acclaimed pieces from trending names in the art world.

Tip: Don’t miss the Contemporary Art Center, another Cincinnati landmark, right next door.

Interior silver art display in 21C Museum Hotel
21c Museum Hotel. Sarah Bricker Hunt

Best Western’s Mariemont Inn is quintessentially quaint

Mariemont, a small village a few miles east of Cincinnati, has streets lined with cottages. The quaint downtown looks like it’s been plucked from an idyllic English countryside.

The tiny Mariemont Inn sits in the center, surrounded by specialty restaurants, shops, and tree-lined streets.

The 45-room hotel is priced at about $US175 ($AU239) a night and up.

Tip: Reserve your room early since the Mariemont Inn is often booked to capacity.

The Lytle Park Hotel offers a boutique experience that’s a stone’s throw from the riverfront

Lytle Park is tucked into the southeast corner of downtown, but it feels like a world away from the frenetic energy.

It’s a quiet, tree-filled urban utopia, and the Lytle Park Hotel reflects this peaceful energy.

It offers spacious luxury rooms starting at about $US249 ($AU340) a night, many with views of the Ohio River and Lytle Park.

Tip: Don’t worry about being too far from the action downtown: The nearest streetcar stop is only a few blocks away, and rideshares are readily available.

Hotel Covington is a hidden gem on the other side of the Ohio River

One of the best places to take a photo of Cincinnati’s iconic skyline is actually outside of the state.

Historic Covington, Kentucky, is a short walk across the Ohio River via the impressive Roebling Suspension Bridge.

Covington offers an extensive list of unique entertainment and accommodations, including Hotel Covington, an architecturally rich boutique with 114 rooms and luxury suites priced from about $US249 ($AU340) and up.

Tip: Don’t miss Coppin’s Restaurant and Bar, located just off the lobby. This highly rated gastropub is a great spot to start or end your evening.

A view of Covington, Kentucky  with water and buildings
Covington, Kentucky. Sarah Bricker Hunt

Everything old is brand-new again at Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown Cincinnati

This Hilton property, which opened inside the former Cincinnati Enquirer building, offers guests an affordable price and unique experience, with 144 rooms starting at about $US149 ($AU204).

This opulent, remodeled space is worth a visit even if you’re just on your way to one of the many nearby restaurants or bars.

Tip: The Aronoff Center for the Arts is a short walk from the hotel, so you can catch an off-Broadway show or concert.

Things to do and see

Union Terminal houses three of Cincinnati’s best museums in an iconic rail station

Head to the Cincinnati Museum Center, where you can watch an Omnimax movie and visit the Museum of Natural History and Science, the children’s museum, and the history museum, all at the same stop.

Still a working Amtrak station, Union Terminal is an iconic Cincinnati landmark that comic-book lovers are sure to recognize. The building served as the model for DC’s Hall of Justice, headquarters of the Super Friends.

Tip: If you have an interest in more than one museum, you should buy multi-attraction tickets, which are steeply discounted over individual admission prices.

The Banks is a lively entertainment complex on the riverfront

The Banks features several bars and restaurants, two hotels, an urban park and playground, shops, and apartment buildings, all situated on the riverfront between the Great American Ball Park and Paul Brown Stadium.

Since these spots are home to the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals, respectively, pre- and postgame revelry draws big, lively crowds to this energetic spot.

Tip: Save on parking by using the inexpensive garage beneath Washington Park and take the free Cincinnati Bell Connector streetcar to the heart of the Banks.

A view of the banks, with colorful builds and streets
The Banks. Sarah Bricker Hunt

The Great American Ball Park is home to the Cincinnati Reds

You’d be hard-pressed to find a town as into its baseball team as Cincinnati is about the Reds.

Expect a lively crowd and arrive hungry – Great American offers a long list of food options, including the new s’mores fry box, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Tip: Don’t miss the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, located just outside the main stadium gates. The two-story exhibit features scores of Reds memorabilia and honors many of the team’s standout players.

A side by side photo. On the left, a view of the city.On the right, a view of the stadium, filled with people wearing red shirts
The Great American Ball Park. Sarah Bricker Hunt

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center explores a key part of the city’s history

Cincinnati and other towns along the Ohio River served as important crossings for the Underground Railroad system, a network that helped deliver enslaved people to free states during the early- to mid-19th century.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center honors the people who played a role in this critical historical era.

Tip: Extremely powerful and well worth a visit, some exhibits are better suited for older children and teens, so be sure to check out the museum’s website when planning your trip.

Loveland Castle took five decades to build by hand

Located near Cincinnati, Loveland Castle has a fascinating history.

The World War I veteran Harry Andrews constructed Château Laroche – named for a military hospital in France where he was stationed – over the course of 50 years, pulling stones from the nearby Little Miami River and handcrafting bricks from cement and milk cartons.

Visit the castle’s museum to find out why Andrews never married and how the Knights of the Golden Trail are still working today to complete his vision.

Tip: A daytime visit to the castle’s museum is a worthwhile stop, but be sure to check for evening events as well. There’s nothing quite like Loveland Castle under a starry night sky.

On the left, someone in a sign saying Loveland Castle. On the right, a view of the castle.
Loveland Castle. Sarah Bricker Hunt

Music Hall is a great place to enjoy world-class fine-arts performances

Designed by prolific Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford, Music Hall is as functional as it is beautiful.

The beloved venue is home to several of Cincinnati’s widely acclaimed fine-arts organizations, including the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops, Cincinnati Opera, and Cincinnati Ballet.

Tip: Music Hall is routinely included on lists of the world’s best concert halls because of its outstanding acoustics.

Street view of Music Hall, which is brown and elaborate
Music Hall. Sarah Bricker Hunt

Cincinnati’s award-winning parks are perfect for an afternoon stroll

Cincinnati has more than 5,000 acres of parkland within its city limits.

Whether you’re looking for an urban oasis, a neighborhood swimming hole, a forest hike, or a towering natural overlook, you’re sure to find something.

Several outdoor spots, including the popular Washington Park, are on or near the streetcar line.

Tip: Great Parks of Hamilton County offers an extensive list of parks that take advantage of Cincinnati’s unique natural features, including a few public golf courses. Many of these are located just outside of the city limits.

Washington park with colorful water features
Washington Park. Sarah Bricker Hunt

A BB Riverboats tour is a fun way to explore the Ohio River in style

Long ago, traders reached Cincinnati primarily by riverboat.

Although the city’s riverfront is now mostly a spot for leisure, BB Riverboats keeps that past alive with its fleet of historically accurate paddleboats.

Hop aboard for a dinner or lunch cruise along the Ohio River in the warm-weather months.

Tip: BB Riverboats is across the river from Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky.

The Cincinnati Zoo is popular with families and kids of all ages

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden is internationally famous for its exotic animal-breeding programs and for being one of the nation’s largest collections of plants and animals.

These days, it’s perhaps best known as the home to Fiona, a hippo born six weeks premature at the zoo in 2017.

Tip: The zoo is quite hilly, so consider bringing along a stroller for smaller kids and wear good walking shoes.

An elephant at the Cincinnati Zoo
Cincinnati Zoo. Sarah Bricker Hunt

You can ride one of the world’s longest wooden roller coasters at Kings Island

If you’re a coaster lover, you’re in the right place. Ohio has several high-profile amusement parks, including Cedar Fair’s Kings Island and Cedar Point in Sandusky along Lake Erie.

Kings Island features a long list of attractions, including several roller coasters, classic fair rides, a large water park, a Peanuts-themed kids area, and plenty of food, drink, and live-entertainment options.

Tip: The park puts on a fireworks display every night at closing time. You’ll find locals taking in the show in parking lots throughout the surrounding area.

View of a rollercoaster in front of a sunset at Kings Island
Kings Island. Sarah Bricker Hunt

Where you should go to eat and drink

Skyline Chili is a Cincinnati staple

Whether you’re a first-timer or a frequent traveler, no visit is complete without a stop at one of Cincinnati’s famous chili parlors.

Skyline Chili is a great option since it’s a local chain with a dedicated fan base.

Stop in to try Cincinnati’s unique take on what we locals call chili – yes, there’s cinnamon in there.

Tip: Skyline’s cheese coneys and “ways” are topped with mounds of sharp Tillamook cheddar, but opt for spicy habanero cheese if you’re feeling brave.

A person eating a dish from Skyline Chili inside
Skyline Chili. Sarah Bricker Hunt

Graeter’s ice cream is a local and national favorite

Oprah Winfrey described Graeter’s as “absolutely the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted” in 2002, according to the New York Post.

Stop into one of the dozens of locations to try the perennial favorite black raspberry-chocolate chip or one of Graeter’s limited seasonal flavors, like Elena’s blueberry pie.

Tip: Follow Graeter’s on Twitter for sundae-topping suggestions and to learn more about the brand’s French-pot small-batch process.

Osaka Ramen House offers authentic Japanese fare in an unexpected location

Head east to Anderson Township for a steaming bowl of authentic noodle soup at Osaka Ramen House, including the wildly popular tonkotsu and tan tan flavors.

Locals rave about this suburban outpost, with many Yelp reviewers ranking it among the best Japanese food in or around Cincinnati.

Tip: Ramen reigns supreme here, but explore the rest of the menu as well, like the karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and takoyaki (fried octopus balls).

Japp’s is the best spot to try a cocktail straight out of the 1700s

Take a break from the energetic Over-the-Rhine bar scene for a history lesson in cocktail making dating back hundreds of years.

The mixologist Molly Wellmann is the beating heart of this warm, eclectic space that still features historical reminders of the building’s original purpose – a toupee and wig store opened by the Japp family in 1879.

Wellmann’s inspired menu includes historical cocktail recipes from the 1700s to the 1950s.

Tip: Don’t be shy about asking your mixologist for recommendations. Japp’s staff is always happy to share the stories behind the drinks.

Two cocktails, one pink and one yellow, at Japp's
Japp’s. Sarah Bricker Hunt

Sotto is an underground Italian paradise

Sotto is the prime example of how Cincinnati gets fine dining right with incredible food by the renowned executive chef Danny Combs, served by a staff that exudes Midwestern friendliness.

There are more on-trend places to try in the city, but Sotto manages to deliver on the promise of an unforgettable meal in a fabulous space, all without an ounce of pretense.

Tip: Save room for dessert. The ricotta doughnuts, affogato, chocolate budino, olive-oil cake, and homemade sorbetti are all worth the full stomach.

Findlay Market will delight foodies and people watchers alike

You could spend an entire day at Findlay Market.

Ohio’s oldest continuously operating public market, Findlay is where locals go for specialty meats and treats, fresh local produce, and strolls around the bright, welcoming space.

Buy a copy of the local paper Streetvibes and stay awhile.

Tip: Don’t miss the rocky-road cookie at Like Mom’s Only Vegan, and buy more than one to save yourself the guaranteed trip back.

The Taste of Cincinnati festival has something for everyone

Each summer, more than half a million visitors trek to the Taste of Cincinnati, a three-day eating and drinking bash where attendees can sample regional favorites, like goetta (a local sausage and oats dish).

Dozens of local restaurants, breweries, and bakeries line 5th Street for this family-friendly food lover’s paradise.

Tip: Families with young children will love the small selection of fair rides and booths offering special kid-friendly activities.

A view of the packed streets during Taste of Cincinnati festival
Taste of Cincinnati. Sarah Bricker Hunt

Taft’s Ale House pays homage to Cincinnati’s rich brewing history in a renovated 19th-century church

History and beer lovers would be remiss to pass up an opportunity to grab a drink and bite at Taft’s Ale House.

Cincinnati is well known for its thriving (and literally) underground bootleg network during Prohibition, and Taft’s honors that heritage in a raucous, communal setting.

Tip: The logo, which features an old-fashioned bathtub, is a reference to the time the Cincinnati native President William Howard Taft supposedly got stuck in a bathtub.

Senate will make you rethink hot dogs

If you think you’re not a hot-dog person, you probably haven’t been to Senate.

One of Over-the-Rhine’s most popular places to grab a quick bite, this pub manages to elevate the hot-dog experience to something transcendent.

Saddle up to the counter and find out why Food & Wine magazine nominated Senate as for best hot dog in 2017.

Tip: Go full Cincinnati with the Trailer Park dog, topped with bacon, American cheese, coleslaw, and a sprinkling of local favorite Grippos barbecue chips.

Sweets and Meats captures the unique Cincinnati barbecue scene

It seems like you can’t swing a Louisville Slugger around Cincinnati without hitting a barbecue restaurant.

Sweets and Meats BBQ is a family affair managed by the local Kristin Bailey and Anton Gaffney in the heart of Cincinnati’s Mount Washington neighborhood.

You’ll find a long list of hand-smoked meat options and homemade sides, like sweet-potato casserole and collard greens with turkey.

Tip: Plan to visit early – when the meat runs out (as it often does), that’s it for the day.

Final tips before your trip

  • Cincinnati is humid and hilly. If you’re planning to do some exploring on foot in the summer months, pack some good walking shoes and a generously sized water bottle.
  • It can get cold. Cincinnati doesn’t usually experience big snowfalls, but it does get icy, which doesn’t pair well with hills. The city seems to totally shut down when a winter storm is on the way, so make sure to check the forecast.
  • It can be challenging to find your way around. It’s a good idea to plan routes ahead of time, lest your GPS lead you through a gantlet of one-way streets, San Francisco-style cliffsides, and alleys. It’s worth your time to become familiar with the main arteries and freeway systems in case you get turned around.
  • Public transportation is lacking outside of downtown. Although you shouldn’t rely on the Metro bus system, which is more focused on daily commuters than ferrying locals and tourists around, it’s entirely possible to leave your car in the garage if you stay downtown and take advantage of the free streetcar service.