As the leaves start to float lazily from the trees, creating haphazard pools of color throughout the streets, and you’re cherishing your final weeks of long days in the sun, it’s time to plan a mental break—for your own sanity. I think I can accurately say that we all deserve a change from routine right now, wouldn’t you? And while travel slowly bounces back—we’re talking sloooooowly, timidly and with a lot of caution—I’m looking forward to planning getaways that are outside of the obvious, trips like another long weekend in Cincinnati where I can safely explore, get that much-needed mental vacation, and simultaneously support the tourism and hospitality industries.
Cincinnati may be a large city—so sprawling, in fact, that the metro area spills into Northern Kentucky—but it’s also relatively spread out, making it the perfect urban weekend getaway during these distanced times. The population exceeds a million people, and while it’s easy to get around, you need a solid four days to make a dent; thus, we culled the best of our two long-weekends in Cincinnati last year to create this road map, with your safety and the safety of others at the forefront of every item we recommend.
The best part? If you’re located in our area, it’s an easy drive at just four hours by car from Nashville or Knoxville, and under two from both Lexington and Louisville. With a little bit of planning, you can take a day or weekend trip to Cincinnati, like soon, safely with the family in tow.
Where to Stay in Cincinnati
I’m an uber-fangirl of all 21c Museum Hotels, and the Cincinnati property follows suit. Its centrally located just off of East 6th Street, one of downtown’s major thoroughfares, and a few blocks south (i.e. easy walking distance) of Over-the-Rhine, my favorite Cincy neighborhood. Not only are all the common areas works of art, but so are the rooms.
To keep its guests healthy, 21c is following protocols developed with the guidance of the WHO, CDC & PHAC, AHLA, USTA, and state and local health officials. Masks are required, as are temperature checks. With things in flux all over the world right now, you can visit the Stay Well section of the hotel group’s website to learn about any updates in real time.
last year’s Dress Up, Speak Up: Regalia and Resistance exhibit at the 21c Cincinnati
If you’re not staying on property but would like to see the 21c exhibits, which are always free and open to the outside public, you can book your free experience, whether as an individual, couple or family to ensure optimal safety. You can also reserve a free ticket for the Contemporary Arts Center next door and pop in to see the Vhils exhibit, one of our favorite Portuguese street artists whose work is on display through February.
The Contemporary Arts Center is Cincy’s first contemporary art museum and one of the oldest contemporary arts institutions in the United States. The Zaha Hadid-designed building—hailed by the New York Times as “the most important American building to be completed since the Cold War”—hosts major exhibits that provoke and educate. Can’t make it to the CAC in time? This innovative center offers virtual 3D tours of its space and exhibits that you can take from home.
If you prefer the convenience of your own place to that of a hotel, Mark deJong’s Swing House at 1373 Avon Place may be just the spot for you. Born in Holland but raised in Cincy, Mark moved to Camp Washington when he was a child and grew up on Avon Place; he currently lives in the warehouse his mother used for her pottery studio when he was growing up and builds what he refers to as “art houses,” immersive residences that put to use his artistry while also creating a unique and interactive lodging option.
The greater Cincy area has no dearth of green space; in fact, it boasts more than 20,000 acres that span 80 parks and 40 nature preserves. For those who don’t feel comfortable visiting indoor attractions, you can easily spend a long weekend in Cincinnati only exploring the outdoors, from visiting Krohn Conservatory and the Cincinnati Zoo to making use of all the mountain biking trails and canoe, kayak and SUP facilities.
The new Ohio River Recreational Trail, in particular, is worthy of an afternoon. Spanning 274 miles of adventure on and along the Ohio River between Portsmouth, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky, it was almost like it was created with social distancing in mind, with hundreds of miles of paths for cyclists, mountain bikers, hikers and trail runners.
Some Ohio and North Kentucky trails and parks to check out include:
Take a self-guided tour of Cincy’s street art scene
Starting in downtown, it’s easy to create your own self-guided mural tour as some of the biggest and best are located along West Central Parkway and between Liberty and Seventh. This handy Cincinnati mural map will help you figure out where to start, and you could literally kill an entire day tracking down the 150 murals located in the city’s downtown core.
For even more public art, venture up to the Brewery District around Findlay Market where a slew of massive new art from some internationally-acclaimed muralists went up for BLINK last fall.
Many of the murals around town were created by ArtWorks. This nonprofit that has been transforming people and places through creativity for 25 years uses art as a vehicle to employ youth, cultivate professional talent and impact the community along the way.
ArtWorks has hired more than 3,300 youth and 2,900 professional artists who have completed a staggering amount of more than 12,000 public and private art projects. One of our favorite new pieces is this Saya Woolfalk mural that was painted by a team of ArtWorks youth apprentices and teaching assistants last year just before we traveled to Cincy for BLINK.
ArtWorks is currently offering its guided Heart of Pendleton and Spirit of OTR tours only on Saturday. Be sure and book a spot in advance, as this is one of Cincinnati’s more popular tours, especially now.
There are also numerous other outdoor sculptures and activations positioned throughout the city, as well as attractions that can be enjoyed safely, including the Cincinnati Art Museum’s new Art Climb at Eden Park Drive and Gilbert Avenue.
Meander through Over-the-Rhine
On our past two trips in Cincinnati, we spent much of our time in the revitalized Over-the-Rhine. It’s as if Brooklyn and East Nashville combined forces in a German-flavored architectural landscape and spat out this gem of a neighborhood that’s in the top tier of intact historical communities in the United States, comparable to New Orleans and Savannah. It’s the city’s historically working class neighborhood and is a thrilling mish-mash of Italianate, Queen Anne and Greek Revival, brimming with interesting businesses, unique homes and quirky art studios.
You can kill hours just wandering the streets, camping out at Washington Park and grabbing a bite at local favorites like Taste of Belgium, Pepp and Dolores, Bakersfield or The Eagle.
Stroll through Findlay Market
Ohio’s oldest continually operating public market is free to visit and currently operating with one-way traffic for crowd control. Masks are heavily encouraged—and honestly, need I even tell you that it’s just the respectful thing to do to wear PPE anytime you’re in public right now?—and with more than 50 full-time merchants and numerous popup businesses throughout the year, there’s plenty to keep you and the kids interested here.
Eat and drink your way through Cincy
Cincy’s food scene is nothing to take lightly; in fact, you’ll want to pack your stretchy pants as you dig into Belgian waffles, chili five-way and Goetta, a true local staple that’s not to be missed (unless, of course, you’re vegetarian in which case sorry, you’re missing out!).
One thing you absolutely can’t miss is trying true Cincinnati chili, and Camp Washington Chili has our favorite. It’s been in operation since 1940 and has garnered many national accolades, such as one of “The 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America” by Smithsonian Magazine.
As is the case in many cities, Cincinnati’s restaurants have pivoted to offer more takeout and al-fresco dining experiences. If you’re nervous about not knowing where to go, you can book a Cincinnati Food Tour, which will guide you by foot to experience iconic Cincy cuisine through picnics, outdoor dining and takeaway food.
Cincinnati’s history is deep-rooted in German culture; in fact, in the mid-1800s, more than half the population comprised German-born immigrants. You know what Germany does particularly well? Food. You know what they do even better? That’s right—BEER.
The city is home to more than 50 breweries, and we did the hard work and wrote a roundup of our favorite breweries in Cincinnati as a jump-off point for you. Report back and let us know any favorites you unearthed during your time in Ohio.
Head over the river to Northern Kentucky
Did you know you can walk from Ohio to Kentucky? In actuality, it will only take you about 15 minutes from downtown—less if you’re a speed-walker—to walk the bridge from Smale Riverfront Park in Cincinnati to the fringe of Covington, Kentucky and then on into Newport.
On top of just being downright charming, this section of Northern Kentucky is home to a few of our favorite local restaurants like Baker’s Table, which offers a phenomenal brunch, and Bouquet in Covington with a first-come, first-served patio seating and a generous six-page bourbon menu (now you see why we prefer to walk to Kentucky…).
It’s also got a beer scene all its own with great rooftop taprooms and beer gardens at breweries such as Braxton Brewing Company. Another outdoor spot that I’m dying to try on our next return trip is Yonder by Commonwealth, a treetop-esque rooftop bar inspired by Kentucky State Parks.
As if you need another reason to cross the river? Northern Kentucky is home to the B-Line, five Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour distilleries you can visit in one fell swoop: Second Sight Spirits, New Riff Distilling, Boone County Distilling Co., The Old Pogue Distillery, and Neeley Family Distillery. Just don’t forget your DD and to check and see if reservations are required first. Traveling during these times can be intimidating, but most of your fears can be alleviated with just a bit of advanced planning (and let’s be honest, a snort of whiskey at the destination.)
For more safe Cincinnati travel tips and experiences, start here:
- 23 Reasons We’re Completely Captivated by Cincinnati
- From Projection Mapping to Murals, the Cincinnati Art Scene Is Red Hot
- There’s Something Brewing: Exploring the Beer Scene in Cincinnati
- The Many, Many Movies of Cincinnati
This post is part of a long-term partnership with Source Cincinnati. All opinions are our own. This information was accurate the time of publication, but with things in flux throughout the country, we suggest calling or checking each business’ website for updated hours or procedures before you go.