You don’t have to travel far from home to see and experience the amazing offerings of our world! My hometown of Cincinnati has a plethora of offerings for those young and old. While each city has its own special set of memorable attractions and allure, discover what makes the Queen city so extraordinary with this guide to unique things to do in Cincinnati.
Rotunda Tours at Union Terminal
The crown jewel of architecture and history in Cincinnati is none other than Union Terminal. Once a bustling train station that saw soldiers to war, vacationers, and businessmen, it currently, sees a different stream of visitors. Now a lone Amtrak train picks up its weary passengers in the dead of the night, leaving an eerie silence haunting the empty building. That is until day breaks and art deco station opens its doors to visitors of the National History Museum and the Children’s Museum, which call Union Terminal home. Walking into the Rotunda will leave you breathless and awestruck. Once you take it all in, be sure to enjoy the mosaic murals, visit Tower A for a view of the train yard and discover the secret of the whispering fountains.
There are a few tours that can make your visit to Union Terminal one that will leave a lasting impression (as if the rotunda isn’t enough). The museum offers free rotunda tours on the weekends. Call ahead to check the times. These tours give visitors a glimpse into some areas not accessible to the public and provide insight into the history behind this great building.
High Steel Tour
My favorite tour and one of the most unique things I have had the opportunity to do in Cincinnati, it is the High Steel Tour. This tour is usually only offered once a year through their heritage program and will often sell out fast. This tour will take you up into the actual dome of the Rotunda to see the steel and structure of the building. The tour will then take you everywhere from the old train platform to behind the giant clock that is greeting when you pull in. If you are looking for a truly uniquely Cincy experience, this is it. The heritage programs take guests on historical tours not offered elsewhere. Read more about their great programs.
*Note that during the time of this post the museum is undergoing renovations and is not open to the public. Call ahead to ensure the museum is open before making a trip!*
Abandoned Subway Tour
Cincinnati is a proud home the United States largest abandoned subway tunnel system. Construction began 1918 and came to halt during the great depression. After years of trying to revive the system, all plans fell through and the tunnels now are home to a water main line. However, there is an escape clause in Ordinance No. 154-1956 that states, “in the event said the section of the rapid transit subway is, at some future date, needed for rapid transit purposes, the Water Works shall remove said main at its sole cost.” Therefore, with the chances of the subway revival being as high as a snowball’s chance in hell exploring the tunnels make for a unique thing to do in Cincinnati. Many urban explorers and homeless frequent the tunnels so I recommend taking a guided tour. They will provide you with the insight and guidance you need to navigate the tunnels and the history behind them. The Cincinnati Heritage program sponsors these tours. Once again they are only a few times a year and are often fill up quickly.
American Sign Museum
Take in all the neon glory as you step back in time and admire classic signs of the past. Even if you weren’t alive during the era of particular signs, you can revel in the nostalgia of years gone by. The American Sign Museum is the largest public museum dedicated to signs in the United States. Not all signs are neon as the collection includes classics like Burma Shave and even an entire reassembled mail pouch barn sign. I would highly recommend doing the tour of the American Sign Museum on the weekdays so you can see a demonstration of how neon signs are made at the onsite neon shop, NeonWorks of Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Art Museum- Art after Dark
Cincinnati is home to a pretty phenomenal art museum. Being one of the oldest art institutions in the United States it is fair to say that they have acquired a pretty extensive collection of art. Few folks realize that the museum does house works of art from Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Claude Monet to name a few. Admission to the museum is free, but there may be a charge for special exhibits. The Art Museum offers tons of programs to engage visitors with opportunities to explore art spanning the globe. One of my favorite programs is the Art after Dark which is on the last Friday of the month. It is when the museum opens up to adults only and has a cash bar, live music and showcases a special exhibit or theme. Once again admission is free and it is a great way to meet locals and see the art museum. Read more about Art After Dark. Even if you can’t make it to a program I highly recommend all visitors add this to their itinerary of unique things to do in Cincinnati.
Late Night, Date Night at the Observatory
Take a step back in time and space as you tour this remarkable landmark. The observatory is still fully functioning and is a
favorite among stargazers and astronomers. Tours are offered during the day and the observatory is open for public stargazing more Thurs
days and Fridays. If you are lucky and the sky is clear you will get to look through one of the oldest telescopes in the world to see a few of the galaxies secret. If you want a special treat sign up the late night, date night. It is an adults-only program and offers a romantic evening under the stars. Get a behind the scene tour, learn a little something, and see what the observatory is like at night.
Butler County Donut Trail
Yes, there is a donut trail and yes it is glorious as it sounds. Break out the sweatpants and prepare to get diabetes if you don’t already have it. Get your passport and have it stamped as you go into each bakery. Once your passport is full you can turn it in for a free T-Shirt and live forever in donut glory! It’s like your own version of Man v. Food, only you can take the donuts home. There are a few tricks to make your journey successful.
- Start early! Most of these bakeries are locally owned and make a damn good donut. Therefore, supplies tend to run out so don’t expect some signature favorites to be there if you come strolling in at a few hours before closing.
- Don’t forget to tailgate! That’s right, bring those mimosa’s and bloody mary’s and make it a group event. We set up a mimosa station outside while others went in to get donuts.
- Bring Tupperware to store donuts in. Unless you are planning on devouring a dozen donuts in a few hours, bring something to keep your donuts fresh. If you do eat the dozen, no shame, we are proud.
- Don’t plan on showering or doing anything else for the rest of the day. You will be in a sugar-induced coma, but it was worth it!
A Truly Unique Cincinnati Find: Jungle Jim’s
A truly unique thing to do in Cincinnati is going to Jungle Jim’s. This is unlike any grocery you have ever been in or will be in again. You will find more bizarre and outlandish food, drink and decor then you could have thought possible. Be sure to check out their award-winning restrooms (for real…check them out) and get some free samples. From the moment you step foot into the jungle you start filling your cart with stuff you never knew you needed! Chocolate from Switzerland, of course! Jam from England, well naturally. Before you know it you have a cart full of exotic food and big plans to learn how to cook all these international dishes. It might be the fact you can have a drink while you shop that gives you beer goggles for food and high ambitions. Jungle Jim’s hosts a variety of foodie events every month. Be sure to check out their website for upcoming beer and wine tasting, food festivals, and of cooking classes. If you want the full Jungle Jim experience go on a tour or a scavenger hunt to see all that the store has to offer.
A Unique Thing To Do In Cincinnati is The Police Museum
Tucked away in downtown Cincinnati is the Greater Cincinnati Police Museum. This is truly a hidden gem and does not get nearly the recognition that it should. What makes this museum remarkable is not the artifacts and photos, but the volunteers. They take visitors through the museum and make history come to life through their stories and passion. We had a retired cop take us on our tour and he could bring what would appear to be everyday objects into a fascinating new light. My favorite exhibit was full of murder weapons that have been acquired through the years and the stories behind them. The museum is free, but don’t be cheap. Bring a donation to help keep this marvelous museum running. Parking is also free for museum patrons so now you have no reason not to go. Learn more here.
Cincinnati has rapidly become well known for its abundance of local craft breweries that are popping up all over the city. The city is embracing its German drinking heritage with force and pride making it any beer fanatics top destination. I will be covering all the breweries in an upcoming post. In the meantime, a few craft breweries that are my favorites are Rhinegeist, Mad Tree, and 50 West. I may have to do a little more research and sample just a few more beers to make sure I cover all the bases. One thing I can tell you is this. Rent the redneck party bus and put together a custom brewery tour to the breweries that you want to go to. You can always buy tickets to a brew tour as well, but for a truly unique experience rent Jimmy’s Redneck Party bus.
Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park
Tucked away far to the west of Cincinnati is this amazing Sculpture Park. With over 300 acres and over 60 sculptures, this park is an art lover’s dream. The park is also home to an ancient sculpture museum that features sculptures dating from 1550 B.C. There are tons of hiking trails, picnic areas, and lakes. My advice would be to bring a picnic and plan to make a day trip out of your visit. You can rent golf carts to get you around the park, but we opted to hike it. The park offers tons of special events and programs so be sure to check the calendar and schedule your visit. This is one unique thing to do in Cincinnati that you don’t want to miss.
Rent a Bike and Hit The Loveland Bike Trail
The little town of Loveland is full of charm and character. The city is a central hub for those looking to access the Loveland Bike Trail/ Little Miami State Park. The trail used to be the old Pennsylvania Railroad and dedicated bikers can follow the trail all the way up to Lake Erie! Since that lifestyle isn’t for me, I rent my bike and go for about an hour and then break for ice cream. There are tons of cute shops, restaurants and things to do around off the bike trail. Check out the map and plan your trip today!
Looking for a fun date night in Cincinnati? Check out our 25 Date Night Ideas!
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