Destinations: Surprising Cincinnati

By B.C. Rausch

There’s always something going on in The ‘Nati.

When a preeminent magazine like Travel + Leisure calls Cincinnati “a town of best-kept secrets, where the thrill of a new discovery lies around every corner,” I’m intrigued.

It’s also close: Within a one-hour flight or a day’s drive of 60 percent of the U.S. population, and downtown is just 15 minutes from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. So perfect for a long weekend of surprises.

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
Duration: 1 hour, 36 minutes

As to that airport, yes, technically it’s in Kentucky, but getting there takes you across one of the area’s more historic attractions, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, which spans the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky. When the bridge opened in 1866, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at 1,057 feet. (It was overtaken by Roebling’s most famous design — the Brooklyn Bridge, 1,595.5 feet long, in 1883.)

Once in Ohio, get your bearings and enjoy the panoramic views from the Carew Tower, the second tallest in the city. From its 49th floor you can see for miles; at ground level, it’s home to multiple shops and restaurants. 

Looking for a selfie stop? The Genius of Water Statue, originally built for King Ludwig of Germany, is famous from the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati. 

Many museums and attractions are close by. The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Gardens, home to many endangered species, has been dubbed the “world’s sexiest zoo” because of its successful breeding programs. 

The National Underground Freedom Center tells the story of slavery in America, so its location along the banks of the Ohio River is fitting,, as the river was crossed by many escaping slaves. It features three centuries of exhibits, including a deep dive into the Civil War.

Just 10 minutes away is the Cincinnati Museum Center. The grand art deco structure still functions as Union Terminal, but it’s also where you’ll find the Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science, The Children’s Museum, an Omnimax movies theater and special events. 

In a city rich with museums, don’t miss the American Sign Museum. Brightly lit with neon and flashing lights, exhibits trace 100 years of sign history and feature vintage signs from world-famous companies. 

Cincinnati offers many green spaces to explore, including Ault Park and the Ohio River Trail, a great spot for a morning run.

Smale Riverfront Park is a relatively new addition to the city (2015) that covers 45 acres over split levels. Activities include rock climbing, jungle gyms, a water splash area, a carousel, waterfront paths, play areas and picnic benches. 

Don’t miss 186-acre Eden Park, located in the Mount Adams neighborhood, with lawns, groves of trees, lakes, a magnolia garden, walking paths and scenic views. It’s also where you’ll find Krohn Conservatory, which houses more than 3,500 plant and butterfly species from across the globe. It’s particularly well-known for rare orchids and a rainforest waterfall.

All that sightseeing is sure to work up a thirst. Luckily Cincinnati ranks among the country’s top towns for local brews. One favorite is Rhinegeist Brewery, where an IPA called “Truth” packs a punch. 

Is caffeine your preference? Head to the Price Hill neighborhood on the western edge of the city for BLOC Coffee Company. A different sort of brewing rules here, including Chemed coffee and Hario V60s, along with French presses, chai lattes and the usual range of espressos and Americanos.

If you think food in Cincinnati is just five-way chili, you need a culinary update. There are new restaurants and food purveyors all over town. One way to find them is on one of Barb Cooper’s Cincinnati Food Tours, which gives you the back story behind the city’s culinary evolution.

Findlay Market opened in 1855, making it Ohio’s oldest, continually operating open-air outdoor market. It’s where 30-plus merchants sell meat, cheese, produce and souvenirs. Be sure to try Dojo gelato, made with fresh ingredients in a variety of unusual flavors. 

And don’t leave Cincinnati without trying its local favorite, Graeter’s ice cream. There are locations all over town, so no excuses. LL

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