Cincinnati, Ohio, is a city rich in history, culture, and innovation, offering a variety of unique attractions. Whether you’re an art enthusiast, a history buff, a food lover, or simply looking for an offbeat adventure, the Queen City has something to captivate your imagination. Here are some of the most intriguing and lesser-known attractions that make Cincinnati a destination worth exploring.
1. American Sign Museum
If you’re looking for a unique and offbeat attraction in Cincinnati, the American Sign Museum is an absolute must-visit. When you step inside the American Sign Museum, the largest public museum in the United States dedicated solely to signs, mesmerizing displays of vintage signage transport you to a colorful world. From charming, pre-electric signs that once adorned storefronts to the iconic Art-Deco neon signs that have become synonymous with American culture, the American Sign Museum will captivate your imagination.
2. Samuel And Sally Wilson House
During the heartbreaking period when slavery was legal in the United States, the Ohio River served as the epicenter of the Underground Railroad. And with its location just across the river from the slave state of Kentucky, Cincinnati was a critical stop on an enslaved person’s search for freedom and a chance for a new life. While it is a private residence and not open to the public, the Greek Revival home at 1502 Aster Place in Cincinnati’s College Hill neighborhood was built by Samuel and Sally Wilson and served as a station on the Underground Railroad until at least 1852.
3. Harriet Beecher Stowe House
Located at 2950 Gilbert Avenue, the Harriet Beecher Stowe House is a testament to the author’s profound impact on the anti-slavery movement. Stowe witnessed the horrors of slavery firsthand, particularly during her tours in neighboring Kentucky. Her interactions with abolitionists and interviews with escaped enslaved people inspired her to pen the groundbreaking novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin with characters based on real-life enslaved people seeking freedom. The house is open to the public, offering a glimpse into the life and work of a woman who played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s consciousness about slavery.
4. Cincinnati Lagering Tunnels
As German immigrants flocked to the Queen City in the 1800s, they brought their beer-brewing know-how. By the mid-1800s, Cincinnati made and consumed so much beer that it was named the Beer Capital of the World. Tap into this fascinating piece of Cincinnati’s history by touring original brewery buildings, exploring underground lagering tunnels, and tasting freshly brewed beer.
5. Cincinnati Dinner Train
For another one-of-a-kind experience, hop aboard the Cincinnati Dinner Train and be whisked away to the glamorous 1940s. You’ll enjoy a 3-hour journey on a vintage train while indulging in a delicious meal and immersing yourself in the nostalgia of yesteryear. The Cincinnati Dinner Train is one of a handful of dinner trains still operating in the United States, so this hidden gem is truly a unique experience.
6. Cincinnati’s Murals
If there’s one thing Cincinnati knows how to do, it’s public art. With hundreds of impressive murals scattered throughout town, Cincinnati is a premier destination for street-art enthusiasts. From downtown Cincinnati to the trendy neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, you’ll find these stunning murals in unexpected places, brightening up alleys, parking lots, and even the sides of buildings. Each mural tells its own unique story, reflecting the diverse backgrounds and styles of the artists involved. Choose your own adventure by either using a self-guided map or taking an expert-led tour, allowing you to explore at your own pace or dive deep with a knowledgeable guide.
7. Art-Deco Architecture
If your art interests lean more toward architecture than large-scale public-work paintings, the Queen City also has you covered. Cincinnati Union Terminal, now home to the Cincinnati Museum Center, is a stunning example of Art-Deco architecture. This place is an absolute dream for those who appreciate the sleek lines, geometric shapes, and glamorous details of the Art-Deco style. Be sure to take a free tour to learn more about the movement and how it influenced the creation of the Cincinnati Union Terminal.
8. Cincinnati Museum Center
While at the Cincinnati Museum Center, or Cincinnati Union Terminal, you can’t miss the Rotunda. This architectural marvel is the largest half-dome in the Western Hemisphere. And, if it looks vaguely familiar, that’s because it inspired the iconic “Hall of Justice” in the animated series Super Friends. So, not only is it a stunning feat of engineering, but it’s also a piece of pop culture.
Before you leave the Cincinnati Union Terminal, be sure to check out the Whispering Fountains. If you and a travel companion stand at the drinking fountains at opposite ends of the Rotunda and speak to the wall, the acoustics of the dome will allow you to have a conversation from 180 feet apart.
9. Elsinore Arch
Another architectural gem in Cincinnati is the Elsinore Arch. Also known as Elsinore Tower, this historic landmark was built in 1883 as a valve house to help control water from the reservoir at Eden Park. Although the elaborate stone facade is now little more than a grand entrance to a parking lot, next to WCPO-TV at the intersection of Gilbert Avenue and Elsinore Place, the 140-year-old stone structure is a testament to the craftsmanship of yesteryear.
10. Purple People Bridge
Connecting Cincinnati to Newport, Kentucky, over the Ohio River, the Purple People Bridge is a 2,670-foot-long pedestrian bridge that serves as a historic landmark, recreational trail, and event space. Stroll across the 150-year-old bridge to take in impressive views of the Cincinnati skyline and earn bragging rights that you’ve experienced the longest connector of its kind in the U.S.
11. Smale Riverfront Park
When you return to the Ohio side of the river, head to Smale Riverfront Park, where you can recreate a Midwestern version of the iconic scene from the movie Big. Whether you tap out “Heart and Soul” or the last song you remember from piano lessons as a child, you can enjoy a moment in the spotlight.
12. Cincinnati Chili Trail
Cincinnati is known for its chili. But unlike a typical Tex-Mex-style chili, Cincinnati-style chili is made with Mediterranean spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and unsweetened dark chocolate. And it’s typically served over spaghetti with a generous amount of shredded cheese. The queen of the Queen City’s chili scene is Skyline Chili, and it’s relatively easy to find a location in Cincinnati, elsewhere in Ohio, and in the neighboring states of Kentucky and Indiana. But you can experience a wide variety of other chili parlors along the Cincinnati Chili Trail.
13. Stanley M. Rowe Arboretum
Looking for a hidden gem that involves nature? Head to the Stanley M. Rowe Arboretum, a 9-acre oasis of gravel pathways winding past well-maintained gardens and through an impressive collection of trees and shrubs. What’s even better is that this Cincinnati attraction is free. However, if you wish to make a donation, the arboretum will gladly accept your tax-deductible gift in a locked box at the garage door of the Arboretum Center.
14. Krohn Conservatory
Located in Eden Park, a short, winding drive from the beautiful Elsinore Arch, the Krohn Conservatory is a botanical wonderland. The conservatory holds an impressive array of climate-controlled environments that cater to a wide variety of flora, including a magnificent rainforest and a desert exhibit.
15. Cincinnati Observatory
In service since 1842, the Cincinnati Observatory proudly holds the title of the oldest operating professional observatory in the U.S. Tucked away in a historic residential neighborhood of Cincinnati, the observatory is a National Historic Landmark that houses two historic telescopes.
Part of Cincinnati’s charm lies in its ability to blend the old with the new, the historical with the contemporary, and the cultural with the culinary. Each attraction, whether it’s the architectural marvel of the Cincinnati Union Terminal or the distinctive taste of Cincinnati-style chili, tells a uniquely Cincinnati story. Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, these hidden gems are waiting to be discovered, offering a fresh perspective on a city that continues to inspire and enchant.