36 Hours in Cincinnati
The Queen City wears its history with pride from a lofty perch on the Ohio River. Here, traditional mingles with trendy, 19th-century neighborhoods have been renovated with respect and a cultural mindset encourages art and creativity. Nowhere is this more evident than in the revitalization of the once-forsaken neighborhood Over-the-Rhine, where you can now hit a craft brewery before attending the ballet.
Artsy check-in @ 4 p.m.
Cincinnati's 21c Museum Hotel displays a rotating selection of cutting-edge, contemporary art throughout-even in the elevators. Equally modern: the rooms, where white fabrics and ultramodern designs deliver a clean, crisp look. Don't be surprised if you see large plastic penguins hanging around; they're the hotel's mascots, and they turn up in the most unexpected places!
Hotel art tour @ 5 p.m.
To get a better understanding of the art you're bunking with for the next two nights, take the docent-guided tour through the museum, generally held Fridays at 5 p.m. (Check website to verify tour dates.)
Take me to the river @ 6 p.m.
Transportation along the Ohio River was key to the growth of Cincinnati in the 1800s, and the river continues to be a major factor in the development of the city, with two major league sports stadiums and entertainment complex The Banks drawing crowds to the riverfront. A walk to the river won't take long in this pedestrian-friendly downtown, but a quick, easy and affordable alternative is the Cincinnati Bell Connector, a streetcar that hits most major attractions.
At Smale Riverfront Park, you'll find fountains, a landscaped labyrinth and trellis-sheltered porch swings—and, if you'd like a brew stop, the Moerlein Lager House. From here, walk onto the iconic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, a National Historic Landmark built in 1867 that offers incredible, Instagram-ready, above-the-river city views.
Chic dinner @ 8 p.m.
Head to Boca, where chef-owner David Falk creates seasonal menus showcasing French and Italian flavors. Entrees might include Icelandic cod or pork with duck foie gras. Chandeliers and wood paneling set the tone for an elegant meal.
Related: Top Things to Do in Cincinnati
Big city breakfast @ 8:30 a.m.
Maplewood Kitchen and Bar earned its reputation as the "in" place for brunch by emphasizing local and organic ingredients served in a rustic-contemporary atmosphere. Order at the counter (clipboard menus line the entry hall), and your food is brought to your table as it comes out of the kitchen. This is a great spot to sample goetta, a sausage-like Cincinnati staple made with ground beef, pork, onions and oats. We especially love the berry-topped lemon ricotta pancakes and the locally-roasted La Terra coffees.
Murals tour @ 10:30 a.m.
Nowhere is Cincinnati's support of the arts more visible than the sides of its buildings. ArtWorks, a non-profit that trains young artists and supports public art, teamed with the city to create 132 outdoor murals in 44 neighborhoods. Check out tour options with Soul of Downtown.
Over-the-Rhine by streetcar @ noon
Exploring the historic and newly redeveloped Over-the-Rhine neighborhood got a lot easier when the Cincinnati Bell Connector opened several years ago. The streetcar line runs through the heart of OTR, making it a cinch to navigate stops at the trendy shops, chef-driven restaurants, popular breweries and historic Findlay Market without the hassle of parking.
Shops worth a peek include Mica 12/v for artisan-made gifts and goods and Switch, where ultra-contemporary lighting and furniture trigger decorating ideas.
Market munchies @ 1 p.m.
An Over-the-Rhine fixture since 1855, Findlay Market still sells meats, cheeses, spices, just-baked bread, fresh produce and flowers. A lunch-time graze gives you the chance to sample diverse foods like a bowl of Vietnamese pho at Pho Lang Tang or hickory-smoked ribs from Eli's BBQ. And for a sweet finish—a Belgian waffle from Taste of Belgium.
Beer hop trio @ 3:00 p.m.
Over-the-Rhine is home to three of the best spots in Cincinnati's booming craft beer scene. Whether you choose one or hit all three, you'll be drinking in history—literally.
Taft's Ale House—named for Cincinnati native and the nation's 27th president, William Howard Taft—operates out of a renovated circa 1850 church where you can consume your Cherrywood red ale in a choir loft.
Enjoy an OTR ale in one of the most unique spaces in the beer world at the Christian Moerlein Malt House Taproom: an underground "lagering cellar" where this classic Cincinnati brand was born in 1853.
Popular doesn't begin to describe Rhinegeist Brewery. Housed in a former 1895 bottling plant, the huge warehouse-like taproom offers games (ping pong, cornhole, darts) and boasts one of the city's best rooftop bars, where you can enjoy your Truth IPA while marveling at the view.
Nature and culture break @ 5 p.m.
Stop by Washington Park to see its towering trees, outdoor stage and 7,000-square-foot interactive water feature. Adjacent to the park is the stately Music Hall, the recently renovated home to the Cincinnati symphony, ballet and opera. Music Hall tours run at various times through the week and give a fascinating peek at this newly-polished architectural gem. (Check the website for tour times as well as for performances on the date of your visit.)
Haute hot dog dinner @ 7 p.m.
It may be the home of the fancy hot dog, but there's a lot more to bark about at Senate, where the close quarters and three-deep bar crowd just add to the high energy. Chef Dan Wright puts his considerable talent and quirky spin on dishes like mussels charmoula and a lobster BLT. But you know you're going to order a hot dog, so go with the Trailer Park—an all-beef dog topped with bacon, American cheese, coleslaw and crushed Grippos (Cincinnati-made potato chips)—and a side of duck fat fries.
Jazz Age night cap @ 10 p.m.
Stroll into the pages of The Great Gatsby as you walk into the Bar at Palm Court in the downtown Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel, a marvel of French art deco design filled with tuxedo-clad jazz musicians and a stylish, well-heeled crowd. Perfectly crafted cocktails include the Doris Day (a Cincinnati native): sage-infused Stolichnaya vodka, barrel-aged maple syrup and fresh lemon.
"Bee" treats @ 9 a.m.
Sleepy Bee Cafe merges its owners' passion for sustainability as well as the arts. Dine on locally sourced foods like The Queen City Bee (a breakfast sandwich with goetta, apple, arugula, broken yolk egg and "nectar" sauce on milk bun) in a setting that highlights the work of local artists. It's a fitting prelude to your next stop.
Art and culture @ 11 a.m.
A quick drive northeast of downtown, the Cincinnati Art Museum sits serenely tucked away in the lush greenery of Eden Park. Housed in a majestic Romanesque revival structure dating back to 1886, the museum holds a collection of over 67,000 works spanning 6,000 years. Pick up a self-guide map at the reception desk and get lost in a maze of exhibit spaces and galleries. Admission and parking are free.
Museum lunch @ 12:30 p.m.
Maximize your time at the museum with lunch on-site. The Terrace Cafe dishes up some excellent fare in a modern, sunlit space surrounded by art. If the weather cooperates, take your Cobb salad or bacon-jam grilled cheese and a nitro cold brew coffee out onto the courtyard terrace where nature and art mingle beautifully.