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When my husband suggested we take a vacation to Cincinnati, Ohio, I was doubtful. I identified this midwestern city with business and industry, not activities for families. But what I discovered is a vibrant city full of culture, history, and fun. Gorgeous parks, expansive museums, and quaint European neighborhoods are just a taste of what Cincinnati has to offer. Here are the top kid-friendly things we found to do on our family vacation to Cincinnati, the “Queen City.”
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The eclectic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood is heavily influenced by the European immigrants who settled in the area. We loved seeing the beautiful houses and churches that revealed the strong German heritage of the architecture. A centerpiece of Over-the-Rhine is Findlay Market, a European-style food market filled inside and out with sandwich shops, produce vendors, bakeries, and restaurants. Grab a seat and enjoy eating at one of the outdoor cafes, or venture inside for a bustling look at thousands of food options. The market gets quite crowded at lunchtime, but we still enjoyed our experience there. (It’s a great place to find Ohio’s signature sweet, Buckeyes!)
Washington Park is one of my favorite parts of Cincinnati. It’s a beautiful green space located in Over-the-Rhine, and it’s a great place for families with children. There’s a huge sprayground where you’ll find dozens of squealing kids, and just beyond the fountain you’ll see a huge, castle-themed play area tucked among the trees. Keep an eye on the events calendar for festivals, live music, baseball watch parties, and exercise classes held in the park. While you’re there, check out Cincinnati’s gorgeous Music Hall, which is a National Historic Landmark and is home to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Opera, and the Cincinnati Ballet.
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
We love the Cincinnati Zoo, which is home to internet-famous animals like Fiona the Hippo. One of the best parts of our visit was the Cheetah Encounter, a show which gives cheetahs a chance to show off their speed and hunting skills. And definitely don’t miss the insect building, which features ants traversing tubes throughout the exhibit. Consider buying your zoo tickets online and paying attention to the surge pricing on the zoo’s admission page. The cheaper the tickets, the smaller the crowds.
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Cincinnati’s Riverfront is a beautiful area, with fantastic gardens and wonderful views of the Ohio River. Smale Riverfront Park has plenty of activities for kids to enjoy, including a sprayground, a small labyrinth, picnic areas, and a playground with climbing equipment. There’s also Carol Ann’s Carousel, which is indoors and can operate year round. If you have older kids, walk across the John A. Roebling Bridge, which opened in 1867 and is a precursor to the Brooklyn Bridge (my young engineers/Lego builders loved it, and it’s a great way to get a view of Cincinnati’s skyline!).
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The Ohio River marked freedom for escaped slaves who were traveling the Underground Railroad. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center shares the stories of the Underground Railroad to continue to promote justice for all. There are films, exhibits, and events dedicated to educating visitors on slavery in the past and the present. This is definitely a stop for older kids and teens.
Gorgeous parks, expansive museums, and quaint European neighborhoods are just a taste of what Cincinnati has to offer families. Here are the top kid-friendly things we found to do in the Queen City.
Sports on the River
Cincinnati baseball inspires a loyalty like no other. Take time to visit the Great American Ball Park and catch a Cincinnati Reds baseball game. There’s a family zone with kid-friendly activities at the park, like a mini-baseball field and a giant slide, and there’s even a sensory room to provide a safe location for children with special needs. Pete Rose fans will want to pay a visit to the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.
A short distance away is Paul Brown Stadium, home to the Cincinnati Bengals. While the Bengals don’t usually offer kid-specific activities, this is still a great time to watch a game. After all, the Bengals are playing entertaining football for the first time in decades. (Don’t hate, Bengals fans! You know it’s true.)
The Newport Aquarium
Take the Purple People Bridge across the river to Newport, Kentucky, and you’ll find the Newport Aquarium. More than just an educational spot for fish fans, the aquarium offers interactive activities like a stingray touch tank and Shark Bridge, where guests walk across a rope bridge just inches above a tank filled with sharks. You’ll also see penguins, alligators, and eels. The aquarium is part of the Newport on the Levee entertainment complex, which means shops, restaurants, and even more activities are just a few steps away.
Cincinnati Museum Center
The Cincinnati Museum Center is housed in Union Terminal, the building once home to Cincinnati’s art deco train station. With three museums, an Omnimax theater, and several other educational organizations, the Cincinnati Museum Center has something for everyone. Families with kids will want to check out The Children’s Museum, which has interactive exhibits and places for kids to explore, create, climb, and learn. And don’t miss Dinosaur Hall in the Museum of Natural History & Science! Paying for general admission gives you access to all three museums.
If you walk across the Roebling Bridge you’ll land right in the heart of historic Covington, Kentucky. The city has preserved a small-town feel with its Mainstrasse Village, an area filled with small shops and quirky restaurants. Find George Steinford Park to see the famous goose girl fountain, then keep following the green space until you see Goebel Park with its clock tower and playground. At the top of every hour, mechanical puppets emerge from the clock tower as the bells ring.
And More Fun For Kids In Cincinnati!
Still need more to do? Coney Island water park is just a short distance from downtown, while world-famous amusement park Kings Island is only 30 minutes away. Mt. Airy Forest is a public park that features a wheelchair-accessible treehouse. The Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park offers free admission and tours made especially for little ones under the age of 2. The Cincinnati Nature Center has hiking trails and special nature programs. And the Cincinnati Fire Museum gives kids a chance to learn about fire safety and slide down a real firehouse pole! (Did you know that Cincinnati was home to the first professional fire department in the United States?)
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When You Go
To get to Cincinnati, you’ll fly into the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). Nonstop flights are available on Delta, Frontier, and Allegiant airlines. Use the best-kept secret, Kiwi to find the best flight deal!
If you stay in downtown Cincinnati, much of the city will be accessible by foot or with the modern, electric streetcars that connect Cincinnati and Covington. You’ll need to rent a car or use a rideshare service to get to more distant attractions like King’s Island, Mt. Airy Forest, or the Cincinnati Zoo.
Where to Stay
The Hampton Inn Downtown is set in the lavish, art deco building that once housed Cincinnati’s newspaper. However, we found it to be one of the most affordable hotels in the area.
For a luxury experience, try Hotel Covington, a boutique hotel located just across the river from Cincinnati.
Local Airbnbs range from budget to luxury options, with the most affordable units located a short drive from the city. The Tres House is one of Covington’s historic houses and a beautiful place to stay, although a friend who visited says the steps to the second floor are a little steep for young children. Use this handy map to see where the locations of the houses will be so you can be where you want.
Where to Eat
Try Skyline Chili for the Cincinnati experience. (Hint: It involves spaghetti in the bottom of the chili bowl.) We found amazing, small-batch ice cream at Hello Honey, including a vegan Coconut Milk Ice Cream that was mind-blowing. In Covington, Frida offers delicious Latin street food (and they have picnic tables outside, which is great for families with kids).
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