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Cincinnati is one of those “flyover cities.” That means people on the coasts fly over rather than stop in. But what many don’t know is that it is home to a number of fun things to see and do, including the historic Coney Island, the largest amusement park in the midwest, an interactive UnMuseum, and even a zoo where you can stay the night with giraffes. Read on as a local mom shares her favorite kid-friendly things to do in Cincinnati that will make it your next “go-to” versus “fly-through” destination.
If you’ve read much on TravelingMom, you probably, well, like to travel. We love travel so much that for a long time in my life, I really struggled with the times I had to stay home in Cincinnati. I found myself always looking ahead to the next big trip, and missing the moments in between.
The past several years, I’ve made it a point to really explore our city. There are so many things to do in Cincinnati! It’s a great stop on a Midwest road trip. Here are some of our favorites; they’re in alphabetical order, because I couldn’t otherwise decide. Each place has its own charm, and you can’t go wrong with whichever appeals to your family! And for family fun on the cheap, check out free things to do in Cincinnati.
American Sign Museum
The American Sign Museum is one of the best hidden gems in the city. Opened in 2005, it features recreated scenes and streetscapes throughout the ages. Beginning with store fronts where someone “hung out a shingle” and ending with the flashy neon lights of today, it’s really a ton of fun for everyone. Kids get a kick out of the visuals, and older guests enjoy reminiscing about companies long gone, old logos, and other bits of nostalgia.
Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center
The Contemporary Arts Center hosts traveling exhibits year-round, so there’s always something new to see – and never an admission fee. What truly differentiates it most from a normal art museum is the “UnMuseum.” The UnMuseum floor welcomes families and kids to hear, touch, and even smell the art. The gallery is kid-friendly and interactive, and everyone is welcome to visit the Art Lab to create their own art!
Read More: Free Things to Do in Cincinnati with Kids
Cincinnati Fire Museum
Cincinnati is the birthplace of professional firefighting, and the Cincinnati Fire Museum shares the exciting history of the industry. Kids can interact with exhibits that share history of firefighting, along with fire safety. They can even check out fire engines from many different eras. I’ll admit – my kids didn’t have much interest in firefighting when they first had to go to the Cincinnati Fire Museum for a school project; we’ve been back since though, because we all enjoyed it so much!
Cincinnati Museum Center & Union Terminal
Opened in 1933, Cincinnati’s Union Terminal was an incredibly important transportation hub as railroad travel expanded. Gorgeous, gigantic mosaics cover the rotunda, built as part of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
Union Terminal is home to several museums and attractions, but the center is currently undergoing a massive restoration project; be sure to check what will be open during your visit.
Cincinnati Reds Game
As the home of the first professional baseball team in the country, Cincinnati celebrates Opening Day like a major holiday. Great American Ballpark is a great place for families to experience a Major League Baseball game.
The Cincinnati Zoo has a number of great events year-round; it always tops any list I make about the city. Ranking highly on many lists of US Zoos, there is always something special going on at the zoo – no matter when you visit. You can even stay overnight with the giraffes or manatees!
Coney Island is a small amusement park and water park on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati. It has been open since 1886! It’s definitely a (much) littler sister to Kings Island amusement park, so if you’re looking for big thrills, it may not be your first choice. It’s charming though, and has plenty for the whole family. The shining star of the park has to be Sunlight Pool – the world’s largest recirculating pool, holding more than 3 million gallons of water!
Eden Park – including the Cincinnati Art Museum Krohn Conservatory
Eden Park is one of Cincinnati’s most popular outdoor destinations. Walk through the Magnolia Garden and to Mirror Lake, or check out several playgrounds and sculpture parks. The park also provides great views of the city.
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Inside Eden Park, you’ll find a modern playhouse theater, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Krohn Conservatory, and more. The art museum features free admission, special exhibits and activities for kids. The Krohn conservatory has a world-renowned butterfly exhibit each year; even if you’re traveling after the Butterfly Show has ended, it’s a beautiful stop for the whole family.
FC Cincinnati Soccer Game
My kids enjoy going to baseball games, but they actually prefer the electric atmosphere at an FC Cincinnati soccer match. The club is making major waves in US soccer, advancing past several Major League Soccer teams in last year’s Open Cup tournament and consistently breaking attendance records. Attending a match in person is fun for everyone. We usually play in the Kids Zone before the games start, and sit close to the field so we can be right next to the action.
Findlay Market, the oldest continuously operated market in Ohio, is open Tuesday-Sunday year round. It truly is a favorite place among locals to just go and take in the atmosphere. Our family always finds something to talk (or learn!) about, between the produce options, ethnic food markets, and street performers.
Great Wolf Lodge
The Great Wolf Lodge in Cincinnati is actually located north of the city in Mason, Ohio, adjacent to Kings Island! In addition to the world famous indoor water park you’d expect at a Great Wolf Lodge hotel, there are countless things to do inside and out of the hotel. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Great Wolf Lodge!
Kings Island is the largest amusement and waterpark in the Midwest. The kids’ area has won 16 consecutive awards as the Best Kids Area in the World. We’ve spent countless hours riding the rides, enjoying blue ice cream, and trying to spot our house from the Eiffel Tower. Check out these tips before you visit!
In 1925, Cincinnati’s Lunken Airport was the largest municipal airport in the world. My kids find that baffling, having been in other commercial airports and then visiting this hidden gem.
It’s hard to imagine a time when Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart would’ve flown through here, but Lunken is still a family-favorite spot to hang out. We often eat lunch at the Sky Galley restaurant, but you don’t have to in order to visit. We love to walk right alongside of airplanes and helicopters, often talking to the owners and pilots.
If you want some exercise, there’s a loop around the airport where you can walk as you watch planes come and go. And you never know, you just may spot a VIP or celebrity arriving to Cincinnati on a charter plane!
Loveland Bike Trail
The “Loveland” Bike Trail actually runs 70 miles through the towns of Loveland, Milford, Newtown, Miami Township, and Lebanon. Any number of places along the trail offer free parking, picnic areas and restrooms, playgrounds, and entertainment. Many also have restaurants and local ice cream shops, if you want to grab a treat before or after hitting the trail.
Over-the-Rhine is believed to be one of the largest, most intact historic urban districts in the United States. It was settled by German immigrants as a bustling working-class neighborhood in the mid-19th century. In the more recent past it has undergone a lot of change, including a period of unrest. Today, it is one of the trendiest places to visit in Cincinnati.
The New York Times praised Over-the-Rhine’s architectural significance. Several new restaurants open each year making it a foodie paradise. A number of breweries welcome the craft beer enthusiast. And still, there are plenty of things for families to do together. TravelingMom Judy Antell has 5 Great Reasons Over-the-Rhine is a great Cincinnati staycation destination.
Queen City Underground Tour
There are several cool tours in Cincinnati. We’ve done the Segway Tour a few times, but the one we’re most interested in trying this year is the Queen City Underground Tour. One such tour leads guests to a hidden crypt where famous Cincinnatians were buried, and into “beer tunnels” used by historic local breweries.
Riverwalk and the Riverfront Parks
I could have listed a number of Riverfront parks individually, from the historic Sawyer Point & Yeatman’s Cove to the brand new Smale Riverfront Park. The Ohio River Trail connects many free Cincinnati Parks together, providing spectacular views along the way. Find “porch” swings and water play features, rose gardens and landscaped labyrinths, dancing fountains, playgrounds with rock walls, replica canal locks and flying pigs, mosaics and so much more along the Riverwalk.
Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum
A cemetery may seem like a strange place to visit, but this one is so beautiful we’ve actually attended a wedding on its grounds. In fact, there are weddings held at Spring Grove nearly every weekend! This spring, visitors can take a bird-watching walk, learn about the plants and award-winning trees on a guided tour, or even attend a seminar on maple syrup tapping or proper pruning for your garden. I’m looking forward to taking my kids to such a unique place. We can simultaneously discover Cincinnati history, see a variety of architecture, and take pictures of gorgeous trees and plants.