Ohio Adventures: How to Spend 48 Hours in Cincinnati, Ohio

Things to do in Cincinnati, Ohio
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It's a conversation I often have when I'm traveling: the “so where are you from?” conversation. And, weirdly, when I tell people that I'm from Ohio, there always seems to be a good chance that the person I'm talking to will respond with, “Oh, I went to Cincinnati once!

This always used to baffle me. Of all the places that I know and love in Ohio, the southern city of Cincinnati was never in my top 5 – maybe not even in my top 10!

But if so many people from outside of Ohio (and outside of the US, even) were visiting Cincinnati, I felt like maybe I was missing something.

A quick history lesson

The city of Cincinnati sits at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, right across the state line from Kentucky. The city was settled in 1788, and quickly became a “boom town,” growing rapidly in both population and wealth. In fact, by the mid-1800s, Cincinnati was one of the largest and most prosperous cities in America thanks to the steamboat trade and the pork processing it became known for.

The city has a few other notable claims to fame, too, like…

  • Cincinnati is home to the first professional baseball team: The Cincinnati Red Stockings (later the Reds) were formed in 1869.
  • The first man to walk on the moon, Neil Armstrong, is a Cincinnati native. (And so is George Clooney.)
  • Cincinnati was also home to 5 US presidents: William Howard Taft, Rutherford B. Hayes, Ulysses S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, and Benjamin Harrison.
  • The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden opened in 1875 and is the second-oldest zoo in America.

Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati

The boom years of Cincinnati faded after the Civil War, and the economic downturn that affected many other rust belt cities 100+ years later hit Cincinnati hard, too.

But, just as cities like Pittsburgh and Cleveland and Indianapolis have been turning the tides of their city narratives in recent years, so too is Cincinnati.

48 hours in Cincinnati

After admitting that there *must* be something about Cincinnati that I was completely missing, I decided to head down to Ohio's southwestern corner for a long weekend.

And the verdict? There's definitely more to Cincinnati than I originally realized!

Here are just a sampling of what there is to do there over a weekend:

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

During the Civil War (and in the years leading up to it), Cincinnati was a border town in Ohio (a free state) across from Kentucky (a slave state). The city unsurprisingly played a huge role in both abolitionism and the Underground Railroad.

The story of slavery in America is told at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which is a fantastic museum right on the river in downtown Cincinnati. The museum doesn't just focus on the early days of America, though. According to its mission statement, the museum's goal is to “reveal stories about freedom's heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary time, challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps to freedom today.”

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Along with large exhibits on the slave trade in the Americas and the Underground Railroad, the museum also has exhibits on modern-day slavery and the fights for freedom that are ongoing in our world today.

Findlay Market

Findlay Market in Cincinnati

No visit to Cincinnati would be complete without spending some time in the city's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, where you can experience the city's German influences. My favorite stop in this part of the city is the Findlay Market, which is the city's oldest open-air public market, dating back to 1852. The market building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and inside you'll find fresh produce, meats, and pastries year-round.

Spot the murals

Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon mural in Cincinnati

“Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon”

I'm a huge fan of street art, and it turns out that Cincinnati is a great city for murals. An organization called ArtWorks was tasked by Cincinnati's mayor about a decade ago to create a mural in each of Cincinnati's 52 neighborhoods – and they are well on their way to doing that and more. Even just around the downtown area, you can find all sorts of cool and colorful murals.

Fresh Harvest mural in Cincinnati, Ohio

“Fresh Harvest”

ArtWorks has a map of all its murals you can download if you want to see them on your own, or you can join them on a mural walking tour on weekends.

John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge

If you think the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge looks familiar, that's because it was designed by the same guy who would go on to build the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Cincinnati's Roebling bridge was completed in 1867 and at the time was the longest of its kind anywhere in the world. Today, the bridge connects Cincinnati to the city of Covington, Kentucky.

American Sign Museum

A museum of signs might not immediately sound exciting, but I promise that the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati is worth the time and the admission fee. The museum takes visitors through 5 decades of sign-making, from the gold leaf signs of the early 1900s, to the neon signs of the '30s and '40s, to the funky plastic signs of the 1950s.

One large room in the museum is set up to look like a 1950s-era main street, completely decked out in all manner of colorful, blinking, and spinning signs.

The museum offers free tours Wednesday-Sunday, and even has a working neon shop inside. This was one of my favorite places in Cincinnati!

Other museums worth visiting in Cincinnati include:

  • Cincinnati Art Museum (one of the oldest art museums in America)
  • Duke Energy Children's Museum (located in the Cincinnati Museum Center, which is in the city's former Union Terminal)

If you have one more day

Making a long weekend out of your visit to Cincinnati? Then I would suggest driving a little north of the city to Butler County, where you can find some other really unique things:

The Donut Trail

Donut Trail in Butler County, Ohio

In 2016, Butler County officially launched the Donut Trail. This “trail” features 10 independent, family-owned donut businesses spread throughout the county. I LOVE this concept – not only does it allow you to eat some delicious donuts that don't come from Dunkin, but it's a fantastic way to promote and support local businesses, some of which have been around for generations.

Head up in the morning and hit up a few stops on the trail (I really liked Kelly's Bakery and Jupiter Coffee and Donuts), but just be aware that many of these shops do close as soon as they sell out of fresh donuts!

Jungle Jim's

Weird soda flavors at Jungle Jim's

The weird soda aisle was my favorite!

Google Jungle Jim's, and you'll be told that it's a grocery store. But I'm here to tell you that this 6-acre behemoth is so much more than just a grocery store! Jungle Jim's is a tourist attraction in its own right, with its funky decorations, giant cheese tower, and more than 180,000 food items from around the world. Go for the spectacle, and stay to fill up a shopping cart!

The original Jungle Jim's is in Fairfield, north of Cincinnati. But they recently opened up a second store in Eastgate, much closer to downtown.

READ MORE: A Butler County Bucket List

Where to stay in Cincinnati

Looking for a great place to rest your head for your trip to Cincinnati? Here are the hotels I would recommend:

Hampton Inn & Suites Cincinnati-Downtown

Not only is this hotel located smack dab in the middle of downtown (within walking distance of many local attractions and restaurants), but it's also located in an historic building that used to be home to the Cincinnati Enquirer. If you like historic touches along with large and comfortable hotel rooms, then this is the place for you.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here

Hampton Inn Cincinnati Downtown

The entrance and elevators at the Hampton Inn

Aloft Newport on the Levee

If you're looking for a more budget-friendly option, head across the river into Kentucky. I love the Aloft Newport of the Levee. Aloft hotels in general are modern and a little funky, and this one is also within a few steps of dining, shopping, and the Newport Aquarium.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor | Book a room here

Have you ever considered Cincinnati as a tourist destination? If not, will you now?

 

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Things to do in Cincinnati, Ohio

 

30 Comments

  • Wow! To be honest I’ve never thought of heading to Cincinnati, but that museum looks worth the trip alone!
    Brooklyn Murtaugh recently posted..I’m Back!

    • Amanda says:

      Not gonna lie – the museum was the only thing my to-do list when I first planned the trip! It’s a very good museum; definitely worth visiting!

  • Ijana Loss says:

    I’m always surprised by your Ohio posts! I would love to check out that National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, that is an important time in America’s history and important for people to learn about. And how awesome that it’s so close to the Donut Trail! XD I would love to do this as a long weekend someday

    • Amanda says:

      I’ve been recommending that museum to everyone now – it’s very well done and I appreciate that they focus on both historical slavery and the “invisible” slavery that still exists today!

  • Anthony says:

    Also, don’t forget Union Terminal (Cincinnati Museum Center) is the inspiration behind the Justice League.

  • Juliann says:

    As a native Cincinnatian, I always love to draw people’s attention to all our city has to offer. You hit the highlights, but there’s SO MUCH MORE! 🙂 I think you need to go back, Amanda. 48 hours is not enough.
    Juliann recently posted..Samantha is Back!

  • Anne S says:

    Also, cool historic fact about Cincinnati (that the first mural alludes to), the Cincinnati zoo housed the last known passenger pigeon in the world before (with her death) the species went extinct. There’s also a small exhibit about it at the zoo.

  • Dominique says:

    I have never considered visiting Cincinnati simply because there are still so many places I need to visit in the US. National Parks come before most cities for me 🙂 It does look like a lovely city though, and I wouldn’t purposely avoid it!
    Dominique recently posted..Peebles – A Day Trip

    • Amanda says:

      I totally get it! And, as an Ohioan, I feel like it’s so easy to overlook things that are close by – there are many cities in my state that I haven’t visited yet!

  • Hayley says:

    I never thought of visiting Cincinnati before, but the neon sign museum looks so cool! Your Ohio posts have got me thinking I should make the trip south one of the times I’m visiting family in Michigan.

    • Amanda says:

      Definitely! Ohio really does have some cool things hiding everywhere. 🙂 (And the sign museum is SO COOL! I highly recommend a visit if you’re ever in Cincinnati.)

  • I’ve only ever been to Columbus and also Hocking Hills, but I really would love to go to Cincy! Mainly because there’s a 21c there 😉

  • Natalie says:

    Newport Aquarium is cool, though it’s across the river in Kentucky. I’ve not spent a lot of time in Cincinnati, but I did finally go to Kings island for the first time about 2 years ago. I’ll have to check out the other things you’ve mentioned. I have family there, so it would be fun to visit them and see more of Cincy!
    Natalie recently posted..What’s It Really Like to Travel with Kids?

    • Amanda says:

      Ah yes King’s Island! I went there once or twice as a kid (we used to do family amusement park trips every summer). Highly recommend checking out more of the city next time!

  • Cincinnati is one of the best cities I’ve ever lived in! You’re making me want to move back! Love this post, but I do have to point out that that Armstrong was actually from Wapakoneta, Ohio, though he lived in Cincinnati later in his life and actually taught at UC. (Wapak is a great small-town Ohio experience, if you’re interested. They have an Armstrong museum, an adorable downtown, and this guy built a gigantic rock garden in his backyard called the Temple of Tolerance.)

    • Amanda says:

      Ohhh thanks for pointing that out! I obviously got some wrong info somewhere! And I’ve actually been to Wapak – I went to school in Ada and worked in Findlay for a couple years. 🙂

  • Janette Hart says:

    We traveled from Vermont to visit the Ark Experience and the Creation Museum and our hotel staff told us to go to Jungle Jims a we really enjoyed it. Had never heard of it before but it was great!

  • Fritz says:

    I want to go to Cincinnati to check out their famous zoo. Coming from Florida the plane tickets are fairly cheap so it’s definitely going to be an epic trip to end the year off. I’m a museum lover as well so I’ll definitely be stopping by the American Sign Museum.

    • Amanda says:

      Very cool! Cincinnati has quite a few good museums (the Freedom Center is also very good), but the Sign Museum I think is my favorite!

  • I don’t really know much about Cincinnati except that it’s a radio city. I think! However, the Sign Museum looks pretty interesting.

    Why not!
    Victoria @The British Berliner recently posted..How I went on the radio for the BBC & was featured in Germany’s biggest Sunday newspaper!

  • I haven’t been to Cincinnati since I was in college so this time around I am looking for new things to do and I definitely think that I will be hitting up that Donut Trail!
    Chanel | Cultural Xplorer recently posted..Food in Your Face: 11 Must-Try Japanese Foods

  • Cincinnati is actually the first place I lived in when my family moved to the US, and I went to university in nearby Oxford, Ohio.

    It’s actually a really nice town and one that, I hear from friends who still live there, that has only improved in the 20 years since I left.

    I’d recommend anyone visit. People are friendly, the food is good (especially the chili 🙂 ), and there is a lot to see. Nice post btw, and lovely photos. And yes, my vote for Jungle Jim’s. Used to love that place!!

    • Amanda says:

      Great to hear more positive votes for Cincinnati! It’s definitely changed quite a bit in the last years, but I’d argue that it’s been for the better!

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