Downtown Cincinnati is a concentrated cluster of skyscrapers fronted by a broad sweep of the Ohio River and backed by the district’s urbanized lowland areas. Once explored, Downtown Cincinnati soon loses its superficial appearance of modernity revealing an 18th-century heart and German heritage.
Travellers who love draft ale and are in the district in September are in for a treat as Downtown Cincinnati hosts the second biggest Oktoberfest in the world. If your visit doesn’t coincide, don’t worry, there’s much more to do in Downtown Cincinnati than swimming in beer and feasting on wieners.
Cruise the Ohio River for great views of the Downtown Cincinnati skyline, take to the air in a helicopter or have a sky-high ride on a Ferris wheel. Opt to visit eye-opening museums, take an informative history-oriented guided walk or experience the thrills of an amusement park. There’s no shortage of diversion on offer in this Ohio state city, but check out these fifteen of the best things to do in Downtown Cincinnati, and it’ll save you time searching for them.
1. Skystar Wheel
The Skystar Wheel is a fifteen story-high Ferris wheel on East Freedom Way in Downtown Cincinnati.
Board one of the wheel’s thirty-six, climate-controlled gondolas to see the Downtown Cincinnati skyline, the JA Roebling suspension bridge and the Smale Riverfront Park from a dizzying height.
The Skystar makes several revolutions during the ten to fifteen-minute ride. It’s fun by day but incredible by night when the city and the bridge are illuminated.
2. The Banks
The Banks is a waterside development in Downtown Cincinnati with great bars and eateries, a professional baseball park at one end, an events stadium at the other, plus a forty-five-acre public-use green space facing onto the Ohio River.
The Banks is a bustling social hub day and night and the place to see and be seen in Downtown Cincinnati. Take a stroll or cycle through the Riverfront Park before stopping off for drinks on the terrace of the Holy Grail sports bar or the trendy brewpub, the Moerlein Lager House. Dine out in the evening on the sumptuous food at the Galla Park or chill with a cocktail on the patio of The Stretch.
3. American Legacy Tour
Go deep into the history of Downtown Cincinnati on an American Legacy Tour. Meet the guide on Race Street in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood to explore the historic Findlay Market then head underground into a labyrinth of brewery tunnels to see Downtown Cincinnati from a different perspective.
American Legacy Tours also offer a Newport Gangster Tour, a Bourbon, and Spirits Distillery Tour and for those with a sweet tooth, a Cincinnati Wine and Dessert Tour. The walking tours usually last between ninety minutes and two hours.
Related tour: The Nati in a Nutshell Cincinnati Food Tour Including Carew Tower Entrance Fee
4. Cincinnati Skyline Tour
Take to the skies in a Stratus Helicopter for an exhilarating flight over Downtown Cincinnati.
The fifteen-minute helicopter rides take off from Lunken Airport then fly along the Ohio River, over Downtown Cincy’s sports stadiums and past all of the breathtaking Downtown Cincinnati skyline.
To see more of the district from above, try the Cincinnati Scenic Tour or the River View flight. Don’t forget to take a camera. The views on any one of them will leave you speechless.
5. Cincinnati Museum Center
The Cincinnati Museum Center on Downtown’s Western Avenue is an impressive art deco building housing several different museums plus a theater and library.
The Cincinnati History Museum has exhibitions relating the story of the city from its founding to the present day, a full-scale vintage street with soundscapes and a boardable replica steamboat.
The Museum Of Natural History And Science has a dinosaur hall full of fossils and skeletons, a replica limestone cavern and lots of educational interactive exhibits.
The Robert D. Lindner theater is used for presenting films on wildlife, space and the natural world.
6. Ohio Riverboat Cruise
Go for a leisurely dinner cruise along the Ohio River and through Downtown Cincinnati on the Spirit of Cincinnati paddle-wheeler.
The riverboat’s moorings are on the far side of the river at O’Fallon Avenue in Dayton, Kentucky. Yes, it is a different state, but it’s just ten minutes away from DT Cincy.
Take a table on the lower deck to enjoy a three-course dinner served while navigating the river then head up onto the open top deck to see the Downtown Cincinnati skyline under the stars.
7. Fountain Square
Fountain Square in Downtown Cincinnati is much more than a plaza with a decorative statue spurting water.
While Fountain Square does have the iconic four-figure, bronze Tyler Davidson fountain at its center, the square is also a bustling social hub and meeting point.
Surrounded by shops, restaurants, and cafeterias, the square hosts frequent events and festivals throughout the year including Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. During the Christmas festivities, there is a German-style market and an ice rink in Fountain Square.
Another great tour for beer lovers: Cincinnati Original Craft Brewery Tour
8. Great American Ball Park
The Great American Ball Park is one of Downtown Cincinnati’s major sports arenas and home to the Cincinnati Reds baseball team.
The open-air stadium, which also hosts music concerts by American and international artists, has a seating capacity for over forty thousand spectators, several game fields and various concessionary restaurants and bars.
The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame Museum is located at the ballpark and displays in-depth information about more than eighty honored inductees plus exhibitions of memorabilia dating from the late 19th century,.
9. Ohio River Trail
The Ohio River Trail is a five-mile-long paved pathway which runs through Downtown Cincinnati adjacent to the river.
The trail passes through several of DT Cincy’s public parks and is on a level all the way so perfect for either walking, jogging or cycling. There are fantastic views of the river and Downtown Cincinnati from the trail as well as neighboring Kentucky across the water.
Cycles can be hired from the Cincinnati Red Bike scheme which has numerous bike hubs throughout the downtown district.
10. O’Malley’s In The Alley
Drop in at O’Malley’s In The Alley at Ogden Place for a spot of true Irish hospitality in the heart of Downtown Cincinnati.
O’Malley’s has been providing liquid refreshment to DT Cincy residents for over a hundred years and rightfully lays claim to being the city’s second oldest bar.
Renowned for their first class Irish stout, they also have some crafted IPAs and amber ales on the drinks list. O’Malley’s present a basic but tasty pub grub menu offering sandwiches, wraps, and wings.
11. Coney Island Amusement Park
Enjoy all the fun of the fair and make a splash too at the Coney Island Amusement Park. The park is situated just ten minutes outside of Downtown Cincinnati over the Combs-Hehl Bridge on Kellogg Avenue.
The theme park has two distinct sections: one wet and one dry. The waterpark side has aquatic slides over a hundred foot long, a Typhoon Tower and a Tiki bar. The amusement park contains several high-thrill rides including a Scream Machine, Wipeout, and Scrambler.
12. National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is an insightful museum dedicated to the history of the Underground Railway and abolishment of slavery past and present both in the US and worldwide.
The museum on Freedom Way in Downtown Cincinnati has exhibits pertinent to the slave era in America plus interactive displays which allows visitors to participate in an escape attempt. The museum has a large multi-media collection and informative films about the struggles of the times are shown daily.
13. Pleasant Ridge Chili
It wouldn’t be possible to visit Downtown Cincinnati without tasting the city’s trademark dish. To do just that, pop into the Pleasant Ridge Chili restaurant on Montgomery Road and order a plate of chili-topped spaghetti.
The restaurant, which has a dated but pleasant seventies diner-style look, is state renowned for their best selling dish which comes in combination of ways. The basic 3-way is spaghetti smothered with chili sauce and topped with a mountain of cheddar cheese. Take it up a notch to a 4-way and beans or onions will be added. A 5-way means it’ll all be piled on the plate.
Don’t expect fine dining, but do go hungry. Cincinnati’s chili spaghetti is certified comfort food.
Related tour: Best Bites and Sites Tour of Cincinnati-Streetcar Included
14. Cincinnati Art Museum
The Cincinnati Art Museum on Eden Park Drive in Downtown Cincinnati houses almost seventy thousand examples of artwork in multiple genres.
The museum opened in the late 19th century and is one of the oldest in the US. Its permanent collections include works from famous artists like Picasso, Monet, and Renoir as well as too many American painters and sculptors to name.
There is a coffee shop serving gourmet coffees, a terrace cafe with an outdoor patio and an art-related gift shop in the museum building.
15. Top of the Park At The Phelps
The Top of the Park is a sophisticated rooftop bar in the Phelps Hotel on East 4th Street in Downtown Cincinnati.
The bar has stunning panoramic views of DT Cincy and is the ideal place for stylish sundowners or posh cocktails. The bar offers a small but very up-market tapas menu and presents frequent live entertainment from local musicians.
The Top of the Park At The Phelps is the epitome of Downtown Cincinnati. Smart, modern and seriously classy.