Explore Cincinnati,  Travel

Ultimate Guide of Free Things to Do in Cincinnati This Summer

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Cincinnati, Ohio, is a vibrant city with a plethora of activities and events to offer, especially during the summer months. While some activities can be costly, there are plenty of options for those on a budget or looking for free things to do. From outdoor concerts to art exhibitions, there is no shortage of free and almost free activities in Cincinnati.

Discover the best free things to do in Cincinnati this summer
Discover the best free things to do in Cincinnati this summer

This ultimate guide will walk you through the best ways to enjoy everything the city has to offer without breaking the bank. Whether you’re a local or just visiting, there is something for everyone in Cincinnati this summer.

Take Advantage of Free Things to do in Cincinnati

As the vibrant summer season unfolds in Cincinnati, exploring free activities not only allows you to experience the city’s culture and charm but also helps you make the most of your time without straining your budget. Engaging in these cost-free experiences enables you to immerse yourself in the local community, appreciate art, music, and nature, and create lasting memories without worrying about expenses.

Free storytime at the Cincinnati Art Museum
Free storytime at the Cincinnati Art Museum

Whether you’re a Cincinnati resident seeking new adventures or a visitor looking to explore the city’s offerings, the array of complimentary activities available this summer promises a rewarding and enriching experience for all. Embrace the opportunity to discover hidden gems and embrace the spirit of this dynamic city without spending a dime.

Discovering Hidden Gems in Cincinnati

While exploring free activities in Cincinnati this summer, don’t miss out on discovering the city’s hidden gems. From quaint parks tucked away in the bustling urban landscape to off-the-beaten-path art galleries and historical sites, Cincinnati boasts a treasure trove of unique and charming spots waiting to be explored.

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.

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.

Exploring Outdoor Activities and Parks

Exploring outdoor activities and parks in Cincinnati is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy the sunny weather this summer. From sprawling green spaces like Eden Park and Ault Park to charming neighborhood parks such as Washington Park and Smale Riverfront Park, there’s no shortage of places to unwind and connect with the great outdoors.

Smale Riverfront Park

Take in the beauty of the Ohio River and the majestic Cincinnati skyline as you stroll the walkways in Smale Riverfront Park.  This gorgeous 45-acres of urban greenspace situated alongside the Ohio River features playful fountains, lush gardens, creative playgrounds, restaurants, and event lawns.

With sweeping views of the Roebling Suspension Bridge and the Ohio River, this park is a favorite among locals and visitors alike. Families will fall in love with multiple playgrounds and splash areas.  It even contains one of the world’s largest outdoor chime foot pianos.

Cincinnati Parks

Get outdoors this summer by exploring all the different Cincinnati Parks! Cincinnati Parks consists of 5 regional parks, 70 neighborhood parks, and 34 natural areas. Pack a picnic to take to Ault Park, discover the scenic views from Alms Park, or hop in the creek at California Woods Nature Preserve.

Mt. Airy Forest includes miles of hiking trails and multi-use mountain biking trails; take the kids to Caldwell Nature Preserve & Center or discover Burnet Woods & Trailside Nature Center.

Eden Park pairs perfectly with a visit to the Cincinnati Art Museum. They have a network of trails, playgrounds, and one of the city’s best views of the Ohio River!

A Creeking Adventure in Cincinnati

Cincinnati is the perfect place to explore creeks, as many lead to the nearby Little Miami River or the Ohio River. While many of the Cincinnati Parks are free to enjoy, a few parks require a fee or permit. Our guide breaks down the best spots throughout Cincinnati to go creeking.

Here are a few of our favorite free creeking spots:

  • French Park in Amberly
  • Pioneer Park in Montgomery
  • Gower Park in Sharonville
  • California Woods off Kellogg Ave
  • Storybook Woods in Delhi
French Park has a great creek for kids to explore
French Park has a great creek for kids to explore

Art Play Hike

Cincinnati Parks offers a free outdoor series, Art Play Hike. The Contemporary Art Museum, in partnership with Cincinnati Parks, brings this series to life. The group meets at different Cincinnati parks to create art, go on a nature hike, and try some yoga and movement activities. The program is for children 2-7 years old, and registration is not required.

Art Play Hike : Activities For Toddlers In Cincinnati
Art Play Hike Program

Trammel Fossil Park

Trammel Fossil Park in Sharonville, Ohio, is a park that the whole family will dig. This 10-acre fossil park is one of few places in Cincinnati where visitors can safely dig for fossils and keep what they find! Round up the archeologists in your family for a day of adventure at Trammel Fossil Park. 

Come prepared by checking out our guide to Trammel Fossil Park before you go!

trammel fossil park
Trammel Fossil Park

Take A Walk Through Spring Grove Cemetery

Spring Grove Cemetery is known as the ‘Museum without Walls.’ As one of the oldest cemeteries in the county, It 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 the people who are laid to rest there.

Taking advantage of free events and festivals

Summer in Cincinnati is not just about outdoor activities and parks; it’s also about the vibrant community events and festivals that bring the city to life. From music festivals to food fairs and cultural celebrations, there’s always something exciting happening for everyone to enjoy. Keep an eye out for free events like the Bunbury Music Festival, the Cincinnati Street Food Festival, or the Taste of Cincinnati. These events offer a unique opportunity to experience the city’s diverse culture and showcase local talent.

Fountain Square

Downtown’s main gathering space always has fun events and experiences. Enjoy Salsa on the square, trivia nights, jazz on the square, and more. The full list of events is on Fountain Squares website.

Fountain Square is a great gathering spot full of free events

Summit Park

In the heart of Blue Ash, Summit Park is full of adventure. Whether you’re taking the kids to explore the Naturescape or strolling on one of their many trails, there is plenty to explore. Summit Park is host to a variety of free events throughout the summer, including free fitness classes. Classes feature diverse, enjoyable workouts, including yoga, Zumba, and line dancing.

Get the full lineup of free fitness classes here.

Summit Park in Blue Ash has tons of free events happening all summer long

Summit Cinema

Summit Cinema is back at Summit Park for the 2024 season! It is a great free movie night filled with popcorn and fun movies for the whole family! Bring a blanket and head to the Great Lawn for a wonderful evening.

The 2024 season will start on June 6 with a new release, Wonka (PG), followed by the family-friendly, Elemental (PG), on June 20. Movies will continue on July 11 with the nostalgic-throwback, The Princess Bride (PG). The summer movies will wrap up with the popular, Barbie (PG-13), on July 25.

Shakespeare in the Park

Catch live theater throughout Cincinnati this summer with Shakespeare in the Park. Performances will start on July 12, 2024.

Rockin’ The Roebling Summer Concert Series

Head down to Schmidlapp Lawn for a free concert series!

Rockin’ The Roebling Summer Concert Series is returning for 2024. The concerts take place on the Schmidlapp Lawn (next to Moerlein Lager House) from 6 to 10pm on select Thursdays starting May 16, 2024.

Utilizing Free Museum and Cultural Experiences

In addition to the bustling events and festivals, Cincinnati also offers a plethora of free museum and cultural experiences that are worth exploring this summer. Immerse yourself in the rich history and artistry of the city by visiting renowned museums and free cultural events.

Cincinnati Art Museum

With free admission and the fun of family events, the Cincinnati Art Museum is one of the top things to do in Cincinnati for free! 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.

Cincinnati Art Museum
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. 

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.

Metrobot in Cincinnati
Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati

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.

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 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.

Taft Museum of Art

Every Sunday and Monday, guests can get into the Taft Museum of Art for free. Housed in a historic 200-year-old home, the museum is home to European and American master paintings and sculptures, 17th- through 19th-century European watches, Chinese porcelains, French Renaissance enamels, and 19th-century American furniture through digital highlights.

Local Tip: Don’t miss the beautiful outdoor garden!

Incorporating Free Family-Friendly Activities

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.

Cincinnati Public Library
Local Library

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.

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.

Touch-a-Truck Events

All throughout the summer, there will be Touch-A-Truck events that the kids will love! They can hop inside an ambulance, see the inside of a fire truck, and more!

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

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

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!

Staying Cool This Summer

Staying cool this summer, means taking advantage of all the FREE splash pads and spray parks throughout the city. For the most comprehensive list check out One Little Small Blog’s Ultimate Guide to Splash Pads in Cincinnati.

For a few of our favorite FREE Splash Pads:

  • Juilfs Park
  • Smale Riverfront Park
  • Washington Park OTR Splash Pad
  • Otto Armleder Memorial Aquatic Sprayground
Otto Armleder Memorial Aquatic Sprayground
Otto Armleder Memorial Aquatic Sprayground

Making the most of your summer in Cincinnati without breaking the bank

In conclusion, Cincinnati offers many free and exciting activities for you and your family to enjoy this summer. From strolling the art galleries to picnics at scenic parks like Eden Park and Smale Riverfront Park, there is no shortage of budget-friendly options to create cherished memories. Stay tuned for more tips and recommendations on how to experience the best of Cincinnati without spending a fortune.

Looking For More Free Things To Do In Cincinnati? Check out these related articles:

Three Reasons To Visit Caldwell Nature Preserve

Discover the Beauty of Rowe Arboretum

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