25 Best Things to Do in Columbus (Ohio)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Columbus is the capital of Ohio with an approximate population of 900,000, as of 2015. Its first inhabitants were tribes known as the Mound Builders, who, over a period of 5,000 years, constructed earthen mounds of various styles for religious, ceremonial and burial purposes. The first permanent white settlers moved into the Midwest around the 1700s and elected to name the capital after the famous explorer Christopher Columbus.

Columbus is famous for rather a lot; firstly for having one of the largest universities and (famous) football schools in North America, as well as being home to one of the country’s top zoos. It is also known for its best municipal park systems in the country, comprising of 16 parks spread over an area of 24,000.

There’s a lot more to find out about this interesting city so let’s read on and learn about the best things to do in Columbus!

1. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical GardensSource: aceshot1 / shutterstock
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

The staff of these colorful gardens and beautiful conservatory work very hard to bring to life its 88 acres of landscaped grounds. They are especially glorious to visit in the spring when you will see hundreds of vibrantly hued bulbs start to show their pretty heads to the world.

No season is without its own advantages though, and in the winter an evergreen tree display and lush winter foliage are the name of the game. This is a super place for all the family to enjoy having a stroll around.

The kids will love seeing the pretty resident butterflies and fish pond. There is also a nice café on the grounds too, together with a gift shop for you to buy some mementoes of your visit.

2. North Market Farmer’s Market

North MarketSource: aceshot1 / shutterstock
North Market

This is one of the largest Farmer’s Markets in Central Ohio and also one of its oldest!

The array of fresh produce that the local growers put out on display is absolutely awesome, with over 20 farmers selling their appetizing home cultivated fruit and vegetables, plants, flowers, honey and aromatic herbs.

There are also amazing cuisine options if you and your family want to stop for a bite to eat and drink which cover food selections from various global regions, and all delicious!

3. Ohio Theatre

Ohio TheatreSource: aceshot1 / shutterstock
Ohio Theatre

This wonderful, 1928 historic theatre was luckily saved from demolition and completely restored to its old glory in the 1980s, with the theatre’s stage modernized to allow for the fabulous performances it now puts on, which include anything from musicals to ballet and opera, and from lectures to fun presentations like the summer Movie Series and Broadway Series held every year.

Whether you and your family adore the symphony (with concerts by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra), love seeing the Nutcracker performances at Christmas, or relaxing over an evening of old movies, a visit here should tick all the boxes for everyone!

4. Ohio Stadium

Ohio StadiumSource: Eric Glenn / shutterstock
Ohio Stadium

Ohio Stadium fondly referred to as The Horseshoe or “The House that Harley built” or “The Shoe”, is Ohio State University’s football stadium and home to Ohio State Buckeyes football team as well as the Ohio State University Marching Band.

Besides all of that, it is also a popular concert venue, with famous bands like Metallica and The Rolling Stones drawing in the crowds with their exuberant performances. With a seating capacity of just under 105,000 it’s the third largest football stadium in the United States.

The Stadium really is a landmark and worth a visit just to soak up the atmosphere alone! The food and beverages are good enough to deserve a mention too!

5. Short North Arts District

Short North Arts DistrictSource: aceshot1 / shutterstock
Short North Arts District

This is a really interesting neighborhood to visit, take a stroll and stop for a coffee or a bite to eat. Because of the university influence the area is often described as offbeat and just that little bit out of the ordinary, with lots of quirky specialty shops, pubs, art galleries and cafés to explore.

The architecture of the buildings is worthy of note too, most of the brick buildings dating back to the early 20th century which blend nicely with the colorful murals painted on their side walls.

The area is all within easy walking distance and very close to downtown. A great way to spend an afternoon!

6. German Village

German Village of ColumbusSource: arthurgphotography / shutterstock
German Village of Columbus

German Village is named as such because of the large number of German immigrants who moved to the area in the mid 19th century and seemingly brought a piece of home with them! In fact at one time it was made up of a third of the city’s population.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974 and draws an abundance of visitors who relish the taste of something a little ‘European’ from one of the area’s many coffee shops, confectionaries, groceries and restaurants such as Sausage Haus and Katz’s Deli.

As you wander through the narrow streets with the feel of cobblestones under your feet you’re sure to feel you’re in some interesting far flung destination!

7. ZipZone Canopy Tours

Zip LineSource: RossHelen / shutterstock
Zip Line

This is an amazing opportunity to come into contact with the city’s natural beauty, with a choice of two tours, one lasting an hour and a half and the other, two hours.

The newest shorter tour features two zip lines, two sky bridges and the choice of either a free fall quick jump experience, or a rappel. The longer tour is made up of smaller groups in which you’ll enjoy zipping along enjoying unparalleled views of wildlife and flowers and fauna.

The company is very strong on safety and you’ll be taken care of all the way by efficient guides who manage your safety gear, give you all the necessary instructions and also operate the braking system.

8. Center of Science and Industry (COSI)

Center of Science and IndustrySource: Eric Glenn / shutterstock
Center of Science and Industry

The COSI is really popular with families in particular, as the interactive exhibits, awesome planetarium shows and lots more have been devised to inspire the little ones’ interest in science and technology.

New exhibits are rotated on a regular basis so there’s always something new and of interest to see. The entire top floor is dedicated for ages “Birth to First Grade” with plenty of room to run around in.

And don’t worry, your older kids will find plenty to occupy themselves with as well, with plenty of hands on activities aimed at all levels of learning.

9. Whetstone Park / Park of Roses

Whetstone Park of RosesSource: arthurgphotography / shutterstock
Whetstone Park of Roses

This renowned park has been in existence for over 60 years, its aromatic 13 acre Park of Roses displaying over 11,000 roses, and showcasing an amazing 350 different assortment of beautiful varieties of this splendid flower.

The best time to appreciate these glorious flowers is mid June through to mid September, when the roses are in full bloom. But there is still plenty to see at other times of the year too, of course; there are lots of trails to walk and run through as well as plenty of space for your kids to kick a few soccer balls around as well as a nice playground for your little ones.

A lovely touch are the many benches that are placed throughout the park in honor of deceased loved ones.

10. Easton Town Center

Easton Town CenterSource: arthurgphotography / shutterstock
Easton Town Center

This shopping complex is a shopping center with a difference! The main buildings and streets have been constructed to look like the early American cities and towns of early to mid 20th century and include fountains with streets cleverly laid out in a continuous loop (getting you easily to why you’re there in the first place, to enjoy some shopping!).

As well as regular shops, the center features a cinema complex with dine in movies, and plenty of shops to keep the whole family busy, from Macys for mom, Golf Galaxy for dad and American Girl, Lego Store and Justice for the kids.

There are lots of terrific restaurants and cafes too, including perennial favorite, The Cheesecake Factory. You’ll be able to see why Easton attracts over 25 million visitors a year!

11. Scioto Mile

Scioto MileSource: aceshot1 / shutterstock
Scioto Mile

Scioto Mile is 145 acres of gorgeous flourishing parkland, and popular with locals and visitors alike for strolling or biking along its integrated system which connects down to the Scioto River.

Making a lovely afternoon for all the family, along the way you’ll be able to enjoy the city’s fantastic 15,000 sq ft interactive fountain in which your kids can have great fun splashing around, the country’s biggest outdoors climbing wall, and the 120 acre Scioto Audubon, from where you’ll be able to spot a multitude of shore birds.

There are also events including free concerts in the summer to enjoy, making this a super place for a family picnic!

12. Kelton House Museum & Garden

Kelton House Museum & GardenSource: DrBob317 / Flickr | CC BY-SA
Kelton House Museum & Garden

A visit to Kelton House will be a fascinating step back into time as you tour through this beautiful mansion. It was built by Fernando Cortez Kelton, a well to do wholesaler of pharmaceuticals and dry goods whose family remained as the continuous residents for about 120 years, through the Victorian era.

The house itself is of architecturally interest with the docents happy to fill you in on the family’s involvement with the abolitionist movement. The basement has also very good information all about the Underground Railroad.

The gardens are of particular beauty with well maintained hedges, lattice work and interesting plants. During the holiday season the museum is decorated with traditional Victorian ornaments.

13. Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & MuseumSource: Maria Rimmel / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

This is one of the most interesting and unusual attractions, guaranteed to keep the family highly interested! Once known as the Cartoon Research Library and Museum and now named after the popular cartoonist Billy Ireland.

The Museum houses the world’s largest academic research facility showcasing printed and original comic strips, cartoon art and also editorial cartoons.

Covering everything from daily and Sunday strips to comic books, magazine cartoons and sports cartoons, the venue houses at least 450,000 original cartoons along with 51,000 serial titles and 36.000 books, so there is bound to be something to appeal to everyone. Dads in particular will no doubt enjoy the WWII comic collection.

14. Columbus Museum of Art

Columbus Museum of ArtSource: Eric Glenn / shutterstock
Columbus Museum of Art

The Columbus Museum of Art is a wonderful attraction for the whole family to enjoy. There is a fabulous children’s area, and free admission on Sundays. The kids can get busy with the Lego exhibits and other toys designed specifically for creative play, while the rest of the family can appreciate the wonderful works of art on display.

There is also a vast range of locally handmade objects together with unusual delights from around the world to look through. The café is of particular popularity so treat the family to a meal after your explorations!

15. Topiary Park

Topiary ParkSource: matteo_it / shutterstock
Topiary Park

This is such a clever and pretty little park, and certainly worth a stop! Both clever and pretty at the same time, because it has managed to put together nature and art, all in its own magical way.

The theme of the park is the living sculptural interpretation of Georges Seurat’s Post-Impressionist Painting ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatte’ and is the only known topiary representation of a painting.

As you walk through the garden you can see the 54 human figures, eight boats, a monkey, three dogs and a cat, each 12ft tall and made of yew. Besides the amazing topiary display the park also houses over 220 trees and carefully tended flowerbeds. There are plenty of – real live! – ducks around for the kids to feed, too.

16. Graeter’s Ice Cream

Graeter's Ice CreamSource: Eric Glenn / shutterstock
Graeter’s Ice Cream

It would be very hard to imagine anyone not being interested in ice cream, be it eating it, making it or just counting the choice of flavors available!

Graeter’s Ice Cream Factory began its ice cream journey in 1868 in Cincinnati and is famous not only for its delicious ice cream but also because it is the only commercial ice cream maker in the world that uses French Pot freezers, with its two gallon batches being the smallest in the industry.

Sadly, tours of this famous factory have finished but the ice cream is still wonderful and when you drop by to savor one of the yummy offerings (black raspberry chocolate chip is still a major favorite).

17. American Whistle Corp

American Whistle CorpSource: American Whistle Corporation / Facebook
American Whistle Corp

Have fun with the family taking a tour with a difference; a whistle tour. (I could have gone a bit corny on you and said whistle stop tour, but thought better of it!).

Often taken for granted, whistles are used in so many different areas of life from police officers to sports coaches, and by taking a tour of the American Whistle Corp you will learn how and why whistles were made thousands of years ago and also find out how a medieval version was used to alert of imminent attacks during the Crusades.

The modern era of whistle use started in 1878 and you’ll be told more about this too as you are shown around by the very knowledgeable guides. Tours last around 45 minutes.

18. Huntington Park

Huntington ParkSource: aceshot1 / shutterstock
Huntington Park

If you’re more Josh Donaldson than Tom Brady, why not drop into Huntington Park, baseball stadium home to the Columbus Clippers, Triple A minor league partners of the Cleveland Indians.

This pleasant little ballpark is a super area and very reasonable for families, offering both free entry on Wednesdays and free membership at any time for your kids. Also, the games here are interactive enough to keep your toddlers entertained.

Have a picnic on the lawns or, if your kids are busy having fun playing ball, enjoy some time in the lively upstairs bar area.

19. The Southern Theatre

Southern TheatreSource: Eric Glenn / shutterstock
Southern Theatre

This historic theater opened in September, 1896 and is the oldest surviving theater in Central Ohio. It is also one of the oldest in the state of Ohio and, since its restoration in 1998 has become of the most popular venues in the city.

It now provides an air of warmth and intimacy for its audience. The architecture and decorations are absolutely gorgeous, with ornate decorations everywhere.

There is everything from jazz concerts to drama, and certainly worth an evening out. If you choose to sit in the mezzanine level you will be treated to the extra special view, which encompasses the entire theatre.

20. Glass Axis

Glass BlowingSource: kim chul hyun / shutterstock
Glass Blowing

Glass Axis is an absorbing glass art studio that now has over 100 members who are dedicated to teaching and education. Helping many youths with an interest in glass art creation, the studio is the perfect outlet for your teenagers to fashion a lovely ornament, and learning all about the art of glass blowing.

Purchase a beginners class and watch your kids learning from one of the patient and competent instructors. Rest assured, they will keep everyone safe while working with the molten glass and blast furnaces.

21. Hayden Falls Park

Hayden Falls ParkSource: A-Team Photography / shutterstock
Hayden Falls Park

This is a lovely spot to enjoy the striking 35ft waterfall as well as the surrounding endangered and protected plants. It’s a lot easier to get to these days too with steps, a boardwalk and an overlook. There are also some picnic tables available on the upper level.

Just 100 yards from the Scioto River, you and your family really won’t want to miss this great photo opportunity! The park only takes about 15 minutes to see everything but it’s certainly worth the time! Please be aware there are quite a few steps to climb.

22. The Book Loft

The Book LoftSource: aceshot1 / shutterstock
The Book Loft

If you’re visiting German Village or simply looking for something to read, a stop here is really a must! You’ll have the choice of 32 rooms of books at bargain prices as well as posters, greeting cards, music CDs, DVDs and puzzles.

Originally a house before being converted to a bookstore, it has now turned into a reader’s paradise! And if that wasn’t enough, the store also have some interesting book themed T shirts, which make perfect souvenirs.

The surrounding grounds are very nice too, with plenty of benches in the courtyard from which to look through all your purchases!

25 Best Things to Do in Columbus (Ohio):

  • Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
  • North Market Farmer's Market
  • Ohio Theatre
  • Ohio Stadium
  • Short North Arts District
  • German Village
  • ZipZone Canopy Tours
  • Center of Science and Industry (COSI)
  • Whetstone Park / Park of Roses
  • Easton Town Center
  • Scioto Mile
  • Kelton House Museum & Garden
  • Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
  • Columbus Museum of Art
  • Topiary Park
  • Graeter's Ice Cream
  • American Whistle Corp
  • Huntington Park
  • The Southern Theatre
  • Glass Axis
  • Hayden Falls Park
  • The Book Loft