CincySkylineIf someone asked you to name a few of the things that made Cincinnati famous, one might mention Cincinnati style chili (sweeter seasonings and you eat it over a plate of spaghetti-locals prefer Gold Star or Skyline brands), or its sports teams the Reds and the Bengals, or maybe some of its more infamous characters–think former Mayor Jerry Springer or ballplayer Pete Rose. But in general, Cincinnati, or Cincy for short, keeps it low-key.

So when I had to travel there recently, I set out to learn a bit more about some of the secrets of the city and its close environs, figuring there was more than meets the eye for those traveling through.

airportinfoBefore even leaving the airport I was greeted not only by a lovely community volunteer at the airport information booth, but also with a pop of culture in the form of an African dance troupe dancing and playing instruments right by baggage claim. And as I grabbed a shuttle to get to the downtown area, my shuttle driver, Mike, acted as an instant and knowledgeable tour guide. (He told me there’d be no extra fee required for his version of the “WKRP” view of the town.)

Bridge Anyone?

suspensionbridgeThere are nine bridges crossing the Ohio River, allowing people to easily get from Northern Kentucky into Cincinnati. Two, in particular, stand out. The first being “The Suspension Bridge”-as deemed by the locals. Designed by John Roebling, the bridge opened to pedestrians in 1866, and at the time, had the longest span in the world. Learning from his work on the Suspension Bridge, Roebling would go on to design the Brooklyn Bridge a short time later. Look similar? (Not only that, but Cincinnati also has the Ingall’s Building, built in 1903, the first high rise concrete and steel frame skyscraper in the U.S. So move over New York.) The second–the Purple People Bridge is newer and for pedestrian traffic only, (bikers and inline skaters are okay as well) and at 17 feet wide and about a 20-minute walk from one side of the bridge to another, it’s a fun way to view the river and skyline as well as get to attractions on either side of the bridge. Another cheap option of getting around is the Southbank Shuttle-a bargain at a dollar.

The Queen City

JamesAudobonSome sources say it was the citizens themselves that began calling Cincinnati the Queen City, referring to it as the “Queen of the West.” Mike, my temporary tour guide said the locals call it that because of seven hills that surround the city—equating it to the seven points on a Queen’s Crown. Queen City Tours allows you to find out more for yourself via trolley. A potentially good way to explore some of the city’s many small parks, in areas such as the German-influenced Covington District and Riverside District where you’ll see life-sized and life-like sculptures along the Riverwalk –including one of John James Audubon—who appears to be recording nature right then and there. For walkers, the American Legacy Tours offers a series of trips that include the Newport Gangster tour and “haunted city” tours lead by lantern light for any interested ghost hunters.

The German influence found in the architecture and the food in Cincinnati is apparent. The city boasts the second largest Oktoberfest in the world, as well a popular food treat called goetta, that plays a part at several festivals during the year. During the good weather, Mike mentioned that weekend antiquing had become a popular pastime in many of the areas of town. And, for music fans, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra plays a number of outdoor summer concerts to take in as well.

Rainy Day (or not) Museum Options

A number of museums allow for a wide range of interests for adults and kids alike, including the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, the Newport Aquarium, The Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and the impressive, relatively new National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. If you visit the aquarium, you may want to also check out the Peace Bell, also nearby. It’s described as the “largest free-swinging bell in the world.” It’s only rung once a year, on “World Peace Day,” so if you want to hear it, plan ahead!

President Taft

recycledartHistory buffs can visit the home of former U.S. President William Howard Taft. Taft was the 27th President, and the only President to be both a President and a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. His home has been “restored to its original appearance,” and exhibits highlight his life, family and career.

The Art Part

There’s art to be seen all over town, from artists ranging from Frank Duveneck to muralist Charley Harper, to up-and-comers on display in the city square as part of a contemporary display showcasing litter that’s been recycled into different sculptures. During summer 2012, the city is playing host to the World Choir Games—where real life “Glee” can be witnessed from around the world.

What better way to end a day exploring than with a sweet treat—easily found at the popular spot, Graeter’s Ice Cream. While indulging, the company encourages you to ask about “the traditions behind the five generations who’ve worked to master their ‘French Pot Process’,” making ice cream.

There are plenty more hidden gems to be found in the area. If you’re leaving town, there’s also a wonderful children’s toy store called “Creative Kids Stuff” located in the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport, available for those last-minute gifts for kids to look forward to playing with upon your return home.