Cincinnati sits in a curve of the Ohio River, the metro area spilling south into Kentucky. Though paddleboats and barges are no longer the city's lifeline, the river remains a focal point. Downtown, you'll find the Bengals' and Reds' new stadiums, as well as the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a powerful reminder that for escaping slaves, the river marked the entry to freedom.
But many of Cincinnati's other big attractions, such as the art museum, zoo and Union Terminal, are scattered around the city (population: 333,350). That means you'll spend some time in your car, but don't worry. Cincinnati offers pretty urban neighborhoods. Once you've oriented yourself, put away the map and wander a bit.
One of the country's prettiest zoos boasts 85 acres of flower-fringed exhibits. More than 500 animals live here, but it's the gorgeous landscaping -- especially during spring tulip season -- that makes the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden a pleasure for adults as well as children. (800) 944-4776; cincinnatizoo.org 
The Cincinnati Art Museum has a wing dedicated to the Queen City's rich artistic heritage, with more than 400 works including furniture, painting, sculpture, ceramics and pottery, most by artists born or trained in Cincinnati. Free. (877) 472-4226; cincinnatiartmuseum.org 
Even from the outside, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is stirring. Its wavy architecture mirrors the Ohio River, which slaves crossed to enter the North. One of the most powerful of the center's state-of-the-art exhibits is a slave pen moved here from a Kentucky farm. (877) 648-4838; freedomcenter.org 
The Great American Ball Park (left) is home of the Cincinnati Reds, baseball's first professional franchise. The riverfront stadium pays homage to old-time baseball shrines with the Reds Hall of Fame Museum that features player appearances and interactive exhibits. (513) 765-7000; cincinnati.reds.mlb.com 
The NFL Bengals, meanwhile, play at the sleek Paul Brown Stadium; tours are available April through July. (513) 455-4800; bengals.com 
Sports fans, history buffs, garden-lovers and foodies all flock to the Queen City to explore destinations such as the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Union Terminal, the Freedom Center, Eden Park, and the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.
Peer through telescopes and take a historical tour of the Cincinnati Observatory on the hills of Mount Lookout. Check the calendar for special events throughout the year; stargaze on most Thursdays and Fridays. (513) 321-5186; cincinnatiobservatory.org 
The striking 1933 Union Terminal houses history, science and children's museums. Costumed interpreters help visitors make a connection with the past at the Cincinnati History Museum; kids can explore areas such as the Energy Zone, Little Sprouts Farm and Kid's Town at Duke Energy Children's Museum; and you can step back 19,000 years into the Ice Age of the Ohio Valley at the Museum of Natural History and Science. (513) 287-7000; cincymuseum.org 
This acclaimed Contemporary Arts Center downtown explores the art world's leading edge with temporary exhibits and an interactive UnMuseum for kids, which introduces the young audience to contemporary art. (513) 345-8400; contemporaryartscenter.org 
Just north of Cincinnati on Interstate-71, this gigantic amusement park claims a landmark Eiffel Tower replica. Fun recent additions to Kings Island include Diamondback, a 230-foot-tall, 80-mph coaster with 10 vertical drops; and Planet Snoopy, with Peanuts-theme rides. (513) 754-5700; visitkingsisland.com 
Walk across this pedestrian bridge to Newport, Kentucky, where a splashy indoor-outdoor entertainment complex called Newport on the Levee includes the top-notch Newport Aquarium. (866) 538-3359; purplepeoplebridge.com 
A renovated 1820s mansion holds some 700 works from a once-private collection. The Taft Museum of Art's home is a National Historic Landmark. Take one of several self-guided family tours, pick up an audio guide, or join a docent-led group tour. (513) 241-0343; taftmuseum.org 
Taft Museum of Art 
In this bustling public market built in the mid-19th century, browsers find crafts and fresh produce from April to November. About two dozen indoor merchants sell year-round. Findlay Market is in Over-the-Rhine, a historic downtown neighborhood. (513) 665-4839; findlaymarket.org 
The upscale shopping and dining center on the 1896 Hyde Park Square (7 miles northeast of downtown) includes large homes, unique shops and creative restaurants offering French pastries, crab cakes and create-your-own pizzas. hydeparksquare.org 
Trainiacs will flip for the 25,000 square feet of indoor, highly detailed model train displays at Entertrainment Junction. Kids can head for an interactive children's area to climb play structures, run trains or ride a miniature train. In West Chester, about 30 minutes north of downtown Cincinnati. (877) 898-4656; entertrainmentjunction.com 
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