You may have heard that Cincinnati is home to top amusement parks, world class tennis tournaments, and spectacular seasonal festivals. Wayfinding Travelingmom Jennifer Kaufman – along with her husband and three kids – enjoys those things. But it’s really the hidden gems that have grown on her as she’s lived in the Queen City. Read on to find her top free things to do in Cincinnati that your family can enjoy the whole year long!
Cincinnati is home to one of the world’s largest Oktoberfest celebrations, second only to the original in Munich, Germany. It also hosts the best fireworks display I have ever seen (and I’m a huge Disney Parks fangirl), every Labor Day weekend. Each summer we see some of the biggest names in tennis, directly across the street from King’s Island amusement park.
Even as someone who has had to work to love the Queen City, I’m very aware of the reasons millions of people visit each year. That said, many of those events are seasonal; others come with a hefty price tag. What’s a family to do the rest of the year, if they don’t want to spend a fortune? Here is our list of top free things to do in Cincinnati, starting with Number 10 and counting down to our Number 1 favorite!
Top Year-Round, FREE Cincinnati Activities for Families
10. Cincinnati Library
I know, I know. A library might not seem like the best family activity, as you’re imagining librarians shushing your kiddos at every turn. Cincinnati has a pretty cool library, though. In 2013, former first lady Michelle Obama presented the city with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service (which I’ll admit, I didn’t know was a thing – but it’s a very cool thing).
The original building – called the “most magnificent public library in the country” by the History channel – was built in 1874; unfortunately, the original library was later torn down. There are still some really neat exhibits though, including many first editions of famous literature and resource books, and the incredible Children’s Learning Center and outdoor Children’s Garden.
9. 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. When it is open, visitors can take free rotunda tours and go up to “Tower A”, the old railroad control tower. Here, train lovers can get a birds eye view of the tracks, switches, and locomotives that use the railway today, and history buffs can check out artifacts from the pinnacle of rail travel through the area.
8. Findlay Market
Findlay Market, the oldest continuously operated market in Ohio, is open Tuesday-Sunday year round. Of course this could quickly fall outside of the “free” price range if you can’t resist a good deal on great products and foods. But 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.
7. Washington Park
Washington Park has been the focus of restoration projects and upgrades for several years, and the result is spectacular. Lots of green space, performance bandstands, and beautiful landscaping make it fun to visit. There’s a dog park for dogs (and their owners) and a unique playground – with a boardwalk, stage, canal, and climbing walls. When it’s warmer, there are water fountains to splash in. It’s fun on its own, but there is almost always something fun (and free!) happening in the park, from storytime and yoga to dance parties and holiday events.
6. Artworks Murals and Bike Rack Sculptures
Since 1996, a non-profit organization called Artworks has been adding visual art throughout Cincinnati and the surrounding communities. Artworks “apprentices” ages 14-21, from diverse educational and socio-economic backgrounds, learn from professional artists and make a difference in the city.
You can learn more about it here. But the best way to experience the art is to visit; they have completed 132 works, and counting! Guided tours are available, but we like to take the free, self-guided tour/map when we’re in a new neighborhood (get the map here), to see what we can find.
5. Riverwalk and 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.
4. Eden Park and the Cincinnati Art Museum
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.
Inside Eden Park you’ll also find a theater, a conservatory, and the Cincinnati Art Museum. The art museum houses more than 65,000 pieces. It also hosts traveling exhibits each year. Admission to the museum is always free, and there are a number of different family resources including scavenger hunts that can be turned in for a prize.
3. 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 differentiates it most from a normal art museum though, 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!
2. 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.
This wide, paved path is a favorite for runners, cyclists, walkers, kids, adults, athletes, and families alike. My favorite time of year to visit is definitely in the fall when the leaves have changed, but it’s equally beautiful running alongside a frozen river or beautiful fields of flowers.
And finally, our vote for the best free, year-round activity in Cincinnati —
1. Lunken Airport
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!