Ohio Adventures: How to Spend 2 Days 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.

Findlay Market in Cincinnati, Ohio
Findlay Market

A quick Cincinnati history lesson

The city of Cincinnati sits at the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, right across the state line from Kentucky in southwest Ohio. 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, lived in Cincinnati. (And George Clooney is also a native.)
  • 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.

Things to do in Cincinnati in 48 hours

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 things to do in Cincinnati than I originally realized!

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

1. 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
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.

This is a must-visit in Ohio!

2. Findlay Market

Findlay Market in Cincinnati
Inside Findlay Market

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.

You can even take a tour of Findlay Market while you're there.

3. 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” 3-D mural

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.

4. John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge

Roebling Suspension Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio

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.

5. American Sign Museum

American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio
Inside the 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.

American Sign Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio

The museum offers free tours Wednesday-Sunday, and even has a working neon shop inside. Of all the things to do in Cincinnati, this is probably my favorite!

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)

Cool tours to take in Cincinnati

Looking for a more guided look at the history and food of Cincinnati? Here are a few tours to consider:

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 13 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 also 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:

1. 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

2. 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

3. Book an Airbnb

There are plenty of cool Airbnb options around Cincinnati to choose from, whether you want to stay right downtown or even across the river in Kentucky.

Some of my favorite Airbnb options in Cincinnati include this condo in Over-the-Rhine with free parking, this house with a swing inside, and this loft across the river in Kentucky.

Search for more Cincinnati Airbnb options here:

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

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"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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51 Comments on “Ohio Adventures: How to Spend 2 Days in Cincinnati, Ohio

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  1. Wow! To be honest I’ve never thought of heading to Cincinnati, but that museum looks worth the trip alone!

      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!

    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

      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!

        Two other cool things at the Freedom Center are the eternal flame and the segment of the For Berlin Wall.

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

    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.

      Oh I definitely agree that I need to go back! What are some other things you’d recommend for a second or third trip?

        Pyramid Park in Hamilton Ohio.
        Large outdoor sculptures placed in Nature. You can tour in a rented golf cart….so fun!

          I went there and wrote about it in a separate post all about Butler County! 🙂

    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.

      Ah yes! I did go and look up whether Cincinnati had ties to the passenger pigeon because of that mural!

    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!

      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!

    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.

      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 😉

      You’re not that far, either! You should totally make a trip. 🙂

    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!

      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.)

      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. 🙂

    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!

      Jungle Jim’s is so fun, isn’t it? We spent more than an hour in there.

    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.

      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!

      Haha yes! You’re probably thinking of the “WKRP in Cincinnati” sitcom! But Cincinnati really has been a huge radio city forever. Just north of there in Butler county was one of the largest relay stations for Voice of America for decades, too!

    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!

      It’s delicious! And I love it as a way to bring attention to some cool local businesses.

    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!!

      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!

    I have not been over for a couple years now, but I used to drive over to Cincinnati and spend a weekend often. It has a much more comfortable downtown feeling than many large cities. But, my main reason for commenting is the time of year. Cincinnati, or Zinzinnati, has what is claimed to be the second largest Oktoberfest in the world, after Munich of course. It starts on September 15 this year. Every time I attended, it was a wildly entertaining time.

      Yes, their Oktoberfest is supposed to be very good!

    Ha! Not only have I been to Cincinnati once, I actually used to live there. It’s been a long time since I’ve been back though and I know a lot has changed. Thanks for the update on what’s going on! I might have to go back and visit some old friends sometime soon 🙂

      Like many Ohio cities, Cincinnati has changed quite a bit in recent years!

    Cincinnati has many craft breweries. There is an underground tour where you see and learn how beer was made in the 1800s. There are other types of tours as well. There is a casino, a major league football and baseball team. A new stadium is being built for a major league soccer team also. There are so many great restaurants. There is always some kind of event or festival going on. We moved here 20 years ago and love it.

    Lohhve it!! I live here and you just made me feel like a child. I walk by these places once or twice a week, and you just showed me around my own town. I’m so proud of this city, and to be from here, but like our chili, I thought it’s beauty an acquired taste. It makes me feel so happy that even though we have awesome amusement parks, colleges, dining, casinos, nature reserves, ya ya ya, you pointed out OTR! Just can’t stop smiling. No tourist just hangs out in OTR, luuvs it, then .. i mean your pictures … jus.. thank you. .. and Bravo!

      Thanks so much for this lovely comment! I feel like most of Ohio’s cities are severely underrated – Cincinnati is awesome if you take some time to dig into it a little bit!

    If it hasn’t been mentioned already, beer fanatics should do the underground tour of how the beer industry started here back in the 1800’s. Their Oktoberfest celebration in September is 2nd in size behind the one celebrated in Germany. It’s a great time!
    Jungle Jim’s is a must see. You can find many products that are sold in other countries in this place. I’m from Massachusetts, but have Canada roots and they had many of my favorite items from Quebec. The cheese area is HUGE!
    Skyline Chili and Holtman’s Donuts are Cincinnati spots not to be missed.

      I really should go to Oktoberfest in Cincinnati one of these years!

    Bringing a group of high schoolers to visit Creation Museum/Ark Encounter during the day but they close at 5. Any suggestions on fun unique restaurants and things to do for the evening time?

      I don’t know that area well, I’m afraid. When in doubt, I usually consult Google maps to see what’s nearby – Google reviews are usually pretty reliable too!

        Great article. I live in Tampa, but Cincy is my hometown. Most of my family still lives there. I would say some of our parks are second to none; and there are a lot of them. The most picturesque are probably Alms, Adult and Mt Eden Park because they all are on hills and have great views and are very peaceful. So many great restaurants and for dessert no one who loves ice cream should go without Graeter’s. It’s over 100 years old and one of Oprah Winfrey’s favorites that she talked about on her show once.

    Loved your tips about Cincinnati.
    Thank you!

    I have now lived in Cincinnati for over 20 years, and it is a great city. Thank you for writing about The Queen City, but I have to take exception with your “notable claims to fame”. President Hayes was born in Delaware, Ohio and is most closely associated with Fremont, Ohio where his grave is located. Hayes was a city solicitor for Cincy for only about 4 years. President Grant was born at Pleasant Point, Ohio about 30 miles east of Cincinnati and he is most closely associated with New York City where his tomb is located. Benjamin Harrison was born at North Bend, Ohio about a dozen miles to the west of Cincy and could be considered part of the metropolitan area today. However, he spent much of his life in Indiana. These men and many others had ties with Cincinnati but I doubt we should consider it their “home”; most people do not think of them in connection with Porkopolis. Taft is the only President truly associated with Cincinnati and his longtime home is a National Park site here (which worth seeing if visiting). Also, Cincinnati is known for having the first paid professional fire department and the there is a fire fighting museum located downtown (also worth a visit, especially for children). I could go on but this will suffice to show that you need to do a bit more research before putting ’facts’ before the reading public. Your opinions and observations are fine but Please be more careful with history in the future. Thank you.

    Why censor my comments? I thought journalists were interested in truth.

      I haven’t touched any of your comments, Frank. I moderate comments on my site from people who have never commented before, because 99% of the time those comments end up being spam. If you want to go rag on journalists, please take your comments elsewhere. This is a privately-owned website, and technically I don’t *have* to publish any comments at all!

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