things to do in Cincinnati during the winter months
Things To Do In Cincinnati,  Travel

Free Things To Do In Cincinnati During The Winter

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Have you noticed that attractions and activities have gotten expensive these days? That is why I went on a quest to find the best free things to do in Cincinnati this winter. These budget-friendly ideas will help ease the strain on your pocketbook while discovering some of the best, well-kept secrets in the Cincinnati area.

Cincinnati Art Museum

My top free thing to do in Cincinnati over winter is visiting the Cincinnati Art Museum. Not only do they have beautiful exhibitions for guests to stroll through, but they also have a top-notch art center for the kids. The REC (Rosenthal Education Center) is a creative space where children can create, play, and be inspired.

REC at Cincinnati Art Museum
REC at Cincinnati Art Museum

Many family-friendly free programs take place at the Cincinnati Art Museum, such as:

  • Free Baby Art Tours -Third Fridays at 11 am, 2 pm, or 3 pm Reservations required
  •  CAM Kids Day– This takes place once a quarter to celebrate a new exhibition in the museum with themed activities.
  •  REC Reads– A free storytime for toddlers and preschools on the First & Third Wednesdays, 11:30 am–12 pm.
  •  Art After Dark- Need a budget-friendly date night idea? Visit the museum after hours for a special night full of live music, performances, and fabulous art. Food and drink are available for purchase. Art After Dark is typically held on the last Friday of the month from 5 to 9 pm.
  •  Meditate With Art-Check the calendar for dates.
  •  Sensory Saturday- This program is designed for families with children with autism or other developmental disabilities, allowing them to explore the museum’s galleries in a less crowded environment. Typically, it happens on the fourth Saturday of the month, 9:30–11:30 am. 
top free things to do in Cincinnati this winter
Entrance to Cincinnati Art Museum

Contemporary Arts Center

Free admission is always in style at the Contemporary Arts Center. Famous architect Zara Hadid designed the intriguing building. After greeting the iconic Metrobot, guests head inside for galleries of splendid artworks bound to inspire lively conversations.

The Creativity Center and Unmuseum is a family favorite, offering immersive and interactive works by having guests engage by pressing buttons, mixing beats, drawing characters, building sculptures, dancing, and more.

Looking into the infinity lights at the Unmuseum
Contemporary Arts Center

Discover these free events happening at the CAC:

  • Thursday Art Play– 10:30 am- This family program uses hands-on art-making activities and yoga to excite and educate our youngest visitors.
  •  Young Adult Lab– Thursdays from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm is a free drop-in art marking program in the Creative Learning Center on the 6th floor of the CAC.
  •  The CAC will offer a variety of special events throughout the year. 

Take A Winter Hike

The winter season may not seem like the best time to get outdoors, but on the contrary, it can be one of the most magical times to hike. A few benefits of winter hiking are that there are no crowds and no bugs, and you can take in the quiet, calming serenity of the winter landscape. Add in a dusting of snow, and it becomes a winter wonderland.

Winter Hikes in Cincinnati
Eden Park

Cincinnati Parks are always free to visit; this includes scenic Eden Park, Ault Park, Alms Park, and many others. Stroll along the riverfront at Smale Riverfront Park, and even splurge to ride the Carol Ann’s Carousel. I recommend checking out a park you have never been to. Get the complete list of Cincinnati Park here. There are even free Cincy hiking groups you can join to encourage you to get out and stay active.

Cincinnati Parks offers great free events for the entire family as well:

Outdoor Winter Events For kids in Cincinnati
Art, Play, Hike

Nature Encounters– Every Saturday at the Trailside Nature Center at Burnett Woods, families can come to join a free nature theme program! Each week is a different topic, which you can find on their website.

Art, Play, Hike– This is an outdoor educational series in partnership with the Cincinnati Parks and the Contemporary Arts Center. Each month, you visit one of Cincinnati’s amazing parks and participate in hands-on art-making activities and nature exploration. Art Play Hike happens the first Tuesday of the month from 10:30 am to 11:30 am.

Washington Park

I love to view Washington Park as the cozy living room of Cincinnati. It is a gathering spot often of a flurry of activity regardless of season. From markets to live music, something always happens around Washington Park. Kids will love the playground of warmer winter days or use it as a home base to board the street car for a scenic tour of the city.

Popular winter events such as Mittenfest do happen at Washington Park, but there is an admission fee. Check the calendar of events to see what is happening.

Go For A Ride On The Connector

The Connector (street car) is free public transport that travels a 3.6-mile loop that connects the city’s riverfront at The Banks, Downtown, and Over-the-Rhine. Kids often love just hopping aboard for the ride alone, but it is a great way to see the city.

Put together your free tour of the downtown area with stops at the Contemporary Art Museum, Findlay Market, and Washington Park.

The Connector downtown
The Connector downtown

Findlay Market

Cincinnati’s oldest public market is free to visit; however, it will be hard to leave without purchasing some local fare. There are over 50 full-time merchants selling everything from fish to home goods. For those with extreme self-control, this could be an excellent free activity to browse all the shops and merchants.

best places for a date in Cincy
Findlay Market

Drive The Art Murals

Hop in the car for a self-guided tour of the exquisite Art Murals throughout Cincinnati. Download the murals map from ArtWorks and plan a fun outing exploring the Cincinnati Art Scene.

Your Local Library

Our public library is one of my favorite spots to venture out when the weather turns bad. Some local libraries have a tiny children’s section; others have a full-out play area, complete with train tables, playhouses, and kitchens. In addition, the public library offers free programs for kids of all ages throughout the week. There is something for everyone, from a baby storytime class to teen clubs.

Take advantage of MakerSpace, where you can use free 3D printers, software, laser cutters, and other tools to help you create anything you can imagine.

Best free things to do indoors in Cincinnati
Best free things to do indoors in Cincinnati

Take advantage of MakerSpace, where you can use free 3D printers, software, laser cutters, and other tools that will help you create pretty much anything you can imagine.

Use A Discovery Pass

Discovery Pass is a program for cardholders of Cincinnati & Hamilton County Public Library. Using their library card, customers can reserve a pass and get free admission to cultural institutions: museums, parks, and more.

Make your reservation and print or download your pass shortly before your visit. Remember that you cannot cancel your reservation once you print or download your pass.

Use the Discovery Pass to visit Pyramid Hill for Free
Use the Discovery Pass to visit Pyramid Hill for free.

Here are a few places where you can use your Discovery Pass to get FREE Admission:

  • Taft Museum of Art
  •  Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum
  •  The Harriet Beecher Stowe House 
  •  Great Parks of Hamilton County
  •  Cincinnati Museum Center 
  •  American Sign Museum 
  •  Cincinnati Art Museum 

21c Museum Hotel Art Galleries

Right across from the Aronoff Center for the Arts, the 21c Museum Hotel has two floors of art galleries that are always free to explore. They are open 24 hours a day unless closed for a private event. The galleries change, so head to their website to check out their current exhibition.

Free Concerts

Take in a free concert at the Christ Church Cathedral downtown for their weekly “Music Live at Lunch” series. Guests can bring their own lunch or buy one at the cathedral while listening to various music each week.

Self-Guided Tour of Hilton Netherlands

The Hilton Netherlands is an iconic hotel in downtown Cincinnati. It has a lively nightlife and food scene, but the history and architecture behind the Hilton Netherlands are hard to beat. For example, did you know there was once an ice skating rink in the middle of their main dining room?

take a self guided tour of the Hilton Netherlands
Self-Guided Tour of Hilton Netherland Plaza

Pick up a self-guided walking tour of the hotel at the front desk and go on your own mini adventure. Then, pull up a chair at the Bar in Palm Court to listen to live music while sipping on a martini or glass of wine. (Not free, but worth it!)

The Hilton is only steps away from Fountain Square, which hosts ice skating in the winter, along with many events throughout the year.

Tour The Lucky Cat Museum

Many may have yet to hear of the tiny little Lucky Cat Museum in Essex Studios. This fun museum is jam-packed with more lucky cats than you could imagine. Good fortune is bound to be with you as you take in endless displays of lucky cats from around the world.

The museum is small, but get a fun souvenir on your way out! 

Lucky Cat Museum In Cincinnati
Lucky Cat Museum in Cincinnati

Take A Winter Walk Through Spring Grove Cemetery

Spring Grove Cemetery is known as the ‘Museum without Walls.’ As one of the oldest cemeteries in the county, Spring Grove is full of elaborate tombstones, chapels, and monuments. Guests can download a free self-guided walking tour packet to learn more about the cemetery and those who are laid to rest here.

free things to do in Cincinnati this winter
Walking tour of Spring Grove Cemetery

Take A Tour Of City Hall

Ever wanted to take a peek inside Cincinnati’s historic City Hall? Set up a tour to learn about the rich culture of Cincinnati through the images in the beautifully detailed stained glass windows. You may also request a basic tour and the opportunity to sit in on an actual council meeting. You will have to call to schedule your tour of City Hall.

Explore Free Historic Sites In Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati

The Queen City is full of rich historical sites that are free to visitors. From a national historic landmark to a statue tour, history buffs will love these free activities.

Riverside Drive Statue Tour

Seven bronze statues of historical figures along Riverside Drive are scattered throughout the Northern Kentucky riverfront. Statues include Daniel Carter Beard, founder of the Boy Scouts, and John A. Roebling, architect and namesake of the iconic Roebling Suspension Bridge. The walk provides sweeping views of the Ohio River, along with fun statue photo opts.

William Howard Taft National Historic Site 

Tour the house where the former president and chief justice were born and learn about his life, career, and family. Between the middle of November through the middle of February, operating days and hours during the winter season are Thursday through Sunday from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm. The visitor center and the Taft Family home are closed to the visiting public from Monday through Wednesday when winter season hours are in effect.

Big Bone Lick State Historic Site

Big Bone Lick State Park in Union, Kentucky, allows visitors to view bison completely free! Remains of ancient mammoths and Pleistocene megafauna have been found in the area, making it known as the Big Bone Lick State Historic Site.

Big Bone Lick State Historical Site
Big Bone Lick State Historic Site

With plenty of hiking trails, a family-friendly campground, educational exhibits, a visitor center, and a museum, Big Bone Lick is the perfect Kentucky day trip or weekend getaway.

Free Indoor Play Areas For Kids In Cincinnati

Wintertime often results in a lot of pent-up energy from the kids! That is when we hunt for a great indoor play area where they can run off some of that stink. While Cincinnati has many great play areas you can pay to play, we have found a few free ones throughout the city.

The Dungeon at King Arthur’s Court

Step into times of yore at the most fantastic toy store in Cincinnati for a day full of play, adventure, and maybe a little shopping. King Arthurs has been selling unique gifts and toys in the heart of Oakley for decades.

The Dungeon inside King Arthur's
The Dungeon inside King Arthur’s

They live true to their motto, “Where Play is King,” by encouraging play and allowing imaginations to go wild. Their recent addition, The Dungeon, is located in the store’s basement. Descend the medieval stairs to a magical play area where you can practice your archery, climb a rope bridge or relax in one of their hanging hugglepods.

Big, comfy couches are located in the dungeon and throughout the store for parents to enjoy. Not to mention complimentary popcorn and coffee. You heard me right: coffee and popcorn are free! Why would I ever pay to go to a play cafe again?

Cincinnati Children’s Discovery Center

This flying pig-themed play area is located inside Liberty Center near the food court. Climb inside a giant flying pig, let the balls fly while creating a magnetic ball maze, or hunker down with a book from the library right next door

Cincinnati Children’s Discovery Center
Cincinnati Children’s Discovery Center

My daughter enjoyed the whack-a-pig game the best, in which you could race an opponent on who could hit the most lite-up pigs.

The playground is aimed at children 2-12; however, I saw quite a few parents take advantage of a baby area where the littlest family member can stretch and kick.

Mirrors and sensory boards are scattered throughout, making this a great spot to visit with multiple children in tow. During our most recent visit, it was starting to look a little worn.

We love that a local library branch is located directly across from the play area. If your little ones get bored, head over there.

Graeter’s Indoor Play Areas

Graeter’s Indoor Play Areas

From Liberty Center, I am taking your clear across town to give you the scoop on one of the sweetest free indoor play areas to hit the Cincinnati scene.

Graeter's Play Area in Kenwood
Graeter’s Play Area in Kenwood

The sweetest ice cream playgrounds are inside the Graeters’s of Anderson and Kenwood. Tedder-totter on a banana, serve sundaes from the truck or slide down an ice cream cone. They even have a little section under the big structure designed just for tinier tots who might not entirely be ready for the giant slide.

Chick-Fil-A Play Areas

Many families flock to Chick-fil-A during bad weather because they have small indoor play places for the kids to explore. Multiple Chick-fil-A locations throughout Cincinnati offer indoor play places.

McDonald’s Play Area

What once was a thing of the past is still going strong in a few local McDonalds. McDonald’s Play places are an excellent way to have kids jump, climb, and play. You can snag great deals on the McDonald’s App for a budget-friendly lunch and playdate.

Bass Pro Shop

Another great store that kids love exploring is the Bass Pro Shop. This outdoor wonderland is full of things for your little naturalist to take in. During the holidays, they put on a fabulous display with pictures of Santa, arts and crafts, and more.

Kid- City in Crossroads Church Oakley

Crossroads is a church that offers a free place for anyone to meet for coffee. They have a small play structure inside the church with a slide that allows parents to sit and chat while the little ones play.

Jungle Jims

Jungle Jim’s is a feast for the eyes in itself, but inside each location is a darling toy store. Noodle around while little ones enjoy playing on the play table. The toy store has lots of unique and fun items. 

foodie date ideas in Cincinnati
Jungle Jims

After you have corralled everyone out of the toy store, the rest of Jungle Jims is a foodie paradise with many interactive displays. On average, we spend two hours exploring and $75 bucks on novelty groceries. This trip could go from free to pricy real fast if you let it!

Eastgate Mall Play Area

Inside the Eastgate Mall is a tiny play area great for having little ones burn off some pent-up energy. A big steamboat and plastic animal statues make up this indoor playground. Little ones tend to tire of it after 10-15 minutes, and it has seen better days. The mall is quite empty, so it allows plenty of space for those little legs to run!

Eastgate play area

While visits to local attractions such as the Newport Aquarium, the Cincinnati Zoo, and Kings Island are nice, they can easily break the bank, especially for a big family. We hope that this article helps you find budget-friendly activities and has inspired you to try out a few new places this winter!

Did you enjoy this article? Here are a few others that you might be interested in:

23 Indoor Date Night Ideas in Cincinnati 

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery In Dayton 

40 Weekend Getaways From Cincinnati 

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