A Perfect Weekend in Cincinnati

downtown Cincinnati

This question has come up in conversation and, when I’ve had the pleasure of hosting first-time visitors to Cincinnati, I’ve faced this challenge myself: how best to introduce an outsider to the Queen City? Here is my ideal itinerary for a weekend visit.

Let’s assume arrival late afternoon on a Friday. After settling in, we would head out for a taste of old-school Cincinnati goodness either at Price Hill Chili or Pleasant Ridge Chili. If my friend is a vegetarian, we would probably hit up Myra’s Dionysus in Clifton, and then head over to nearby Bellevue Hill Park to watch the sun set over the city:

Just to mix things up a bit and show a different side of old-school Cincinnati, we would end the evening with a nightcap at the Netherland Hilton in Carew Tower downtown:

Carew Tower in Downtown Cincinnati

Saturday morning, we would head over to Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, feasting on pastries and coffee at Skirtz & Johnston [hello, goetta danish!]. I’m more of a weekday shopper, but it’s fun to check out the market in all its competitive shopping glory:

Findlay Market in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati

Afterward, we would meander through OTR, with me pointing out some of the awesome ghost signs and ghost graffiti, and then we’d check out VL work at two of my favorite neighborhood stores: Park+Vine and MiCA 12/v.

Continuing our walk downtown, I would point out some of my favorite ArtWorks murals, we’d stop for an obligatory photo-op in front of the Hustler Store, and I would show off the stark façade of the Contemporary Arts Center by Zaha Hadid:

Contemporary Arts Center in downtown Cincinnati

We’d peer into the John Weld Peck Federal Building for a glimpse at Charley Harper’s awesome mosaic mural and then stop by Fabulous Frames & Art to admire his prints:

I would point out the Rookwood Pottery tile on the façade of the old Gidding-Jenny department store and the Dixie Terminal Building:

We would explore the detailed Art Deco interior of Carew Tower and take in a view of the area from its observation deck:

view from the Carew Tower observation deck in downtown Cincinnati

In nice weather, we would continue down to the riverfront and maybe even walk across the Roebling Bridge to explore Covington:

Roebling Bridge from downtown Cincinnati

On a cold day, we would take a free, docent-led tour of Cincinnati Union Terminal, admiring the gorgeous Art Deco architecture and the glass mosaic murals in the rotunda:

Cincinnati Union Terminal

Then we’d go up to the top of Tower A to check out the train tracks:

Tower A at Cincinnati Union Terminal

For dinner, we would head over to Mayberry, because I really like chef Josh’s creative, Midwest-inspired food.

On a warm evening, we would then head to Arnold’s, the oldest bar in Cincinnati, and hang out on the patio, hopefully listening to a fun band like Lagniappe or the Dancing Pigs. On a cool evening, we’d swank it up at Music Hall [tickets start at $10, so the symphony is a fancy evening without a fancy price tag]:

Music Hall in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati

Sunday brunch is the most important meal of the week, and I’m rather partial to Honey and its yummy Binkle fries. Afterward, we’d walk off our meal with a leisurely walk around Northside, checking out all the CoSign signs and doing a bit of shopping at Fabricate, Shake It Records, and other cool independent businesses in the neighborhood:

CoSign Signage in Cincinnati's Northside

We would end with a visit to the awesome American Sign Museum in Camp Washington:

American Sign Museum in Cincinnati

And that concludes the romp through Cincinnati at its Cincinnatiest! Fellow Queen City dwellers, what would you put on your must-do list? Where do you always take your guests?

15 thoughts on “A Perfect Weekend in Cincinnati

  1. One day I took my sister, visiting from Pasadena, CA, to Park Chili for breakfast & in the evening I dragged her to a Northside Community Council meeting.
    I imagine she would have liked your tour better (altho she really liked the breakfast & unwittingly confused the hell out of people when she talked about issues in California)

  2. Oooh, a Community Council meeting is actually a pretty unique introduction to Cincinnati’s territorial politics. Maybe not the most fun outing, though…

  3. Love this post! What great ideas…
    These are my additions:
    Graeters – must introduce all foreigners to the luxury of Graeters.
    Brazee Street Studios – though not downtown, great place to see amazing art (and create amazing art).
    Blue Manatee books – same deal. Though not downtown, perfect place for any book lover (especially those under 4 feet).
    Friendship park – absolutely beautiful all year long.

  4. Jungle Jims : This always blows minds. As well it should.
    Duck Creek Antique Mall : Fun shopping (Disclaimer, my mom works there)
    Cigar Tastings : Every Tuesday (Newport on the Levee, sponsored by Party Source) 10 bucks, three cigars, 5 dollar burgers

  5. Thanks for your suggestions!

    Chris, a cigar tasting is great for some guests [although not on a weekend]. Duck Creek is awesome and, although I find Jungle Jim’s thoroughly overwhelming, you’re absolutely right that it’s an unique experience. In fact, I’ve had friends ostensibly visit me with coolers, just so they can stop by there to pick up their favorite cheeses and whatnot.

    Jen, I completely agree about Friendship Park! I should have mentioned that as part of the riverfront exploration. Blue Manatee is a really fun place to visit, even without kids. I know this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I actually prefer Aglamesis Bros. over Graeters, although I guess Graeters is a more iconic Cincinnati brand.

    While we’re at it, I suppose that a bourbon tasting should be part of checking out Northern Kentucky. Maybe a stop at the OKBB?

  6. Your itinerary covers a lot of the same ground as mine. I would focus heavily on OTR but won’t delve too deeply into that here. In addition to your list, I might add:

    Tucker’s: Home fries, grits, goetta

    Saunter around Propsect Hill and enjoy the view from Milton Street Park.

    MOTR: for the music, food, and courtyard

    Outside of OTR:

    Taft Museum: On a Sunday when it’s free. Enjoy the building’s history and its rooms as much as the collection and exhibits.

    From there we’d walk up the Mt. Adams steps, take in some of the views up there, and go to…

    The Blind Lemon: A bar in Mt. Adams that is worth visiting. I can thank Danny Klingler of OTR ADOPT for turning me onto this place. Opened in 1963, the Blind Lemon led Mt. Adams’ renaissance. It’s kind of hidden which is nice. The bar is cozy and full of character. Its cove-like patio situated amidst Mt. Adams’ density is very pleasant – especially with live, acoustic guitar in the summer.

    From there, we’d take Columbia Parkway and visit Terry’s Turf Club or Eli’s BBQ. I’d show off the vista from Larz Anderson Park then take the parkway out to the Frisch’s Mainliner. If something interesting was showing, I’d take them to the Mariemont Theatre and visit the overlook/concourse that has a beautiful view of the Little Miami River valley.

    The drive from Mariemont to downtown on Columbia Parkway is a worthy Cincinnati experience in its own right. Maybe tell a story about Cincinnati’s history of planning and transit on the way back to the basin.

    Miscellaneous: A sunrise at Ault Park, DeSales Corner, Clifton and Mt. Storm’s Temple of Love, and Hyde Park’s Mushroom House.

  7. Wow, even more suggestions! Thanks, everyone!

    In terms of parks, Devou Park offers an amazing view of Cincinnati [as does Bellevue Hill Park from the other direction]. I should have mentioned that as well.

    MOTR and the Blind Lemon are both great but, if I’m picking just one bar, I think I have to go with Arnold’s. And if I have to choose just one museum, it’s got to be the American Sign Museum, even though the Taft is cool, the CAC is fun [especially the Unmuseum], and the CAM is definitely worth a visit. There are plenty of art museums out there, but there’s only one museum devoted to signs.

    I hope I don’t get flogged for this, but I have no warm spot in my heart for Frisch’s. None. Cincinnati chili and goetta may not be for everyone, but I gladly encourage visitors to try them. Frisch’s, on the other hand, just doesn’t seem that special to me.

    I haven’t been to either Terry’s or Eli’s, though I’ve heard great things about both. My one comment, though, is that no one comes to Cincinnati for BBQ or a burger, so those wouldn’t be my top priorities [if they were, I’d probably go with a burger at Zola in Covington and ribs at the BBQ Revue on Madison].

    Lastly, though Tucker’s is great, I don’t think I’ll ever go there on a weekend again. I made the mistake of taking a couple of out-of-towners there on a Saturday for breakfast and, after twiddling our thumbs for over an hour, we left hungry and cranky, and I was more than a bit embarrassed about it. I’d take someone there on a weekday instead.

  8. Definitely a Graeter’s ice cream cone in the beautiful Hyde Park Square…..then take them up to Ault Park. It’s extra beautiful in the spring when the pink willow trees are blossoming on the hills as you enter the park. A nice playground for kids at the park as well. No one mentioned Montgomery Inn….got to have some ribs! My parents request to go there every time they visit. Now there is an adorable little soft serve ice cream shop across the street from the Montgomery Inn in downtown Montgomery – Walker Bros. Ice Cream. Love hitting a Reds game too if they happen to be playing at home. Breakfast at the Echo Diner in Hyde Park, The Original Pancake House in Montgomery or First Watch is always a treat. If you want a unique & casual family style dinner……try the Schoolhouse restaurant in Camp Dennison. Built in 1863, the original schoolhouse was converted into a restaurant in 1962. You eat at round tables w/ lazy susans & red/white checkered tablecloths in the original classrooms w/ the menu on the chalkboards. The restaurant has been in the Miller family for generations and we had fun talking to the owners about the history.

  9. Julie, I’m biased because I live in Over-the-Rhine, so my suggestions are mostly OTR- and downtown-focused. Thanks so much for broadening the possibilities for area excursions!

  10. Valid points all around, Maya. I think you really did nail all the best and Cincinnatiest spots – places you can only find here. My suggests were kinda second-string additions. Even somewhere like Schwartz Point Jazz Club – while a favorite local haunt – is still just a jazz club and in the jazz world there is no such as a “Cincinnati sound”.

    As for Frisch’s, I love it due to some childhood nostalgia and think it’s tasty. Although it’s from Cincinnati – it’s not particularly unique like Cincinnati chili or goetta. It’s pretty standard American fare except for the Brawny Lad… http://www.team188.com/features/brawny/

    Too bad the public can’t regularly visit the abandoned subway – that would be a uniquely Cincinnati destination.

  11. This is a great list! Everyone has added most of the other things on my list for visitors (Graeter’s/Aglamesis, MOTR, Jungle Jim’s, Ault Park, the mushroom house). Going to tack up the rest of these ideas for the next batch of visitors we have.

    One thing I’d add that is totally mainstream guidebook but is still a winner: firework night at Great American Ballpark. Not everyone is into baseball, but this is a very Cincinnati experience (the Reds! fireworks! river views!) and well worth doing when there’s good weather.

    Rainy day alternative: Madison Bowl. (You can head there after Duck Creek!) Bowling might not feel like a uniquely Cincinnati thing to do, but I like that this place is a total throwback to the late 70s, full of great locals, and has a bar in the middle of it. That’s a lot of midwestern culture in one place. Plus: it’s open 24/7. For all your 3am bowling needs.

  12. Thanks so much for weighing in, Zan! That’s a good point about a Reds game. I’ve never paid more than $10/ticket, which is an added bonus.

    I’ll take Madison Bowl under advisement, and it’s great to have something to add to my short list of 24/7 places in Cincinnati. The place sounds cool from your description, so I might have to get over my hatred of bowling alleys and check it out sometime, with or without out-of-town guests.

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