Cincinnati, Ohio may not be on your radar in terms of luxury travel destinations–but it should be! It was just written up in Saveur magazine as being the next big food city and this is something I have been saying for years! And you can enjoy a very luxurious trip for less than other major cities. Luxury for less indeed! And Cincinnati has so much to offer–there are some amazing art museums, the Cincinnati Zoo, terrific restaurants and so much in terms of booze and spirits! Oh and don’t even get me started on the Western and Southern Tennis Open. Here are my top ten things to do in Cincinnati, Ohio. And just to be completely up front with y’all, as is common, I was hosted on a blog trip to experience all of these things for free. But you can’t buy the love here! I am offered trips on a weekly basis (I’m not bragging) and choose only ones that seem worthy since I too (like most of you) have limited time to travel. Without further ado…
Explore the world-class Cincinnati Art Scene
The public art in Cincinnati, OH blew me away. If you’ve been to Philadelphia, you’ll understand the role that public art can play in revitalizing a city. To date there are 100 completed murals that ArtWorks Cincinnati has created to decorate its wonderful city amongst other impressive art projects. But the best part of this non-profit organization is that it utilizes young artists to work as apprentices for established artists. It teaches teamwork, respect and artistic skills to these young kids and inspires the creative community to transform the city. The program has also infused back over $1 Million in wages to local artists. The results are absolutely stunning. I could do an entire post just on the gorgeous murals that we saw during our stay. I recommend taking a self-guided walking tour. Check out this map.
In addition to the public art, there are also world-class Cincinnati art museums: the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and the Taft Museum of Art, which reminds me of the Frick Collection in New York. And just for good measure, here’s another fabulous mural based on Cincinnati legend, Henry Holtgrewe who supposedly lifted the entire Cincinnati Reds team on the bench.
Oh and you simply MUST stay at 21c, which houses its own art museum with rotating exhibits open to the public free of charge 24/7, 365 days a year! Grab a glass of wine in their restaurant Metropole and explore the amazing exhibits. This one is a responsive map that scars each time someone walks over it and then heals.
They are really impressive too, very high caliber art and so much thought goes into curating each item on display. And wait till you meet their penguins!
You may not think of shopping when you think of Cincinnati, Ohio but there are plenty of treasures to be discovered. Donna Salyer’s Fabulous Furs for example, which Oprah features every year on her list of Oprah’s Favorite Things is the world’s finest faux fur. You can take a short taxi ride to Covington, KY and check out the world headquarters of this family-owned shop. The brand has become a worldwide symbol for responsible luxury and style celebrities like Oprah and many of the Real Housewives are often seen sporting the brand. You can purchase the goods at Neiman Marcus or Saks but it’s more fun to see the showroom and learn about the history–the brand started out in Ms. Salyer’s basement and has grown into quite a furry empire!
There are of course luxury shops like Tiffany & Co. and Saks downtown but the good stuff is located in Over-the-Rhine. There are tons of unique stores like Sloane and Mica 12/v, which sells sweet gifts made by local artists amongst other things.
Eat Your Heart Out
I don’t even know where to begin to tell you to eat. There are so many fabulous spots and a thriving culinary scene. First, the must have Cincinnati classics: Graeter’s Ice cream, Skyline Chili and Montgomery Inn BBQ.
Then for some of the finer dining options, I would recommend:
Boca: Kelly Clarkson raved about this place’s beet and goat cheese salad, which I tried first hand and can corroborate her testimony! Also, the tuna tartare and bolognese pasta were to die for. And the restaurant is just stunning. I had a chance to meet the chef–and not because I was a visiting journalist. Funny enough, my dad was taking some photos for me and they thought he was trying to photograph the restaurant to steal their concept LOL. He obviously warmed up when he realized I was actually in town for research.
Sotto: Incredible handmade pastas. A wonderful subterranean Italian Trattoria. Serena Williams and Drake were just spotted here when they were in town for the Western and Southern Tennis Open! Good enough for them, good enough for me!
Jeff Ruby’s steakhouse is a high-energy, upscale dining establishment. It is modeled after the 1940’s-era French Art-Deco steakhouses of New York City. The cocktails are designed by local mixologist Molly Wellman especially for Jeff Ruby’s and they are perfectly balanced concoctions of bliss. The food is out of this world. Probably my favorite steakhouse I have ever been to. Get the bone-in filet mignon and the bacon onion jam–you’ll have to go to the gym for 2 hours the next day but it’ll be worth it! The raw seafood offerings are spectacular as is the macaroni and cheese and homemade ice cream. I promise this place is worth a splurge! I can’t wait to try their other locations–coming soon to Nashville!
Oh and foodies can’t miss a trip to Findlay Market–Ohio’s oldest continuously operating market. There are dozens of merchants selling meat, produce, flowers, cheese and ethnic delights. There’s also a fabulous Biergarten here!
The Bourbon Trail
The Bourbon Trail is a group of distilleries that start over the Ohio River where visitors can explore each one by doing tours and tastings of “America’s National Spirit.” You can either take a car service or drive (as long as you have a designated driver!) and check out one or as many as you’d like.
If your stay in Cincinnati is short, I recommend visiting the northernmost distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (and closest to Cincinnati), New Riff Distillery (it’s only a 7 minute cab ride from downtown Cincy). You can try the bourbons (which still have a couple years to go before maturity) and gins that are already making the distillery famous.
When you’re done, I recommend visiting Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar for an education in bourbon. The staff here is so educated it’s ridiculous. They know everything there is to know about the over 350 bourbons they have on hand (which is always changing). You can come in and do a personalized tasting or mixology lesson with their master bartenders. There’s also a newly opened back patio to enjoy. While you’re over here be sure to explore Mainstrasse Village. This originally German town is today a national historic district and home to unique shops, restaurants and unique Victorian and Classic Italianate architecture.
Over the Rhine
This historic downtown neighborhood is where you’ll find all the hipsters hanging out. Not long ago this area was one of the worst neighborhoods in Cincinnati. Over the past decade though, after undergoing a drastic revitalization, it is one of the coolest in town. There are tons of unique shops (as I mentioned above) and even more cool restaurants and bars. I recommend stopping by the craft coffee shops and just wandering the streets to find a restaurant that suits you. There are so many! Some of my personal recommendations for your own personal food walking tour:
The Eagle (housed in the historic post office building) offers visitors amazing fried chicken if you can stand the 2 hour waits. It’s legendary! And don’t forget the spoonbread.
Pontiac Bourbon and BBQ– This modern take on the American diner serves up Texas-style brisket and luau-inspired drinks. They also own Senate and Abigail Street, which are great as well.
Holtman’s Donuts– Get the maple bacon donut!
Kaze- Japanese gastropub with a landscaped beer garden.
Lachey’s Bar– This gem is owned by Nick and brother Drew Lachey of 98 degree and MTV fame. As Cincinnati natives, they made their hometown proud with a fun bar serving up cocktails and bar food.
16-Bit Bar– Play videogames while you drink delicious beer and cocktails. Fun!
This park in Over-the-Rhine is beautiful and home to the city’s fabulous Music Center. There are always festivals and fun events going on here. Definitely stop by for a stroll. You can sit and have a beer in its garden or watch the kids run through its musical fountain.
Given Cincinnati’s huge German population it probably comes as no surprise that it’s got some great beer! And the city has amazing history with its breweries.
If you’re into this kind of thing (like I am) take a tour with a Queen City Underground Tour and enjoy a stroll through the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. You’ll visit buildings that were once home to saloons, beer gardens and more. Then you’ll go underground to explore the tunnels that were once vital to Cincinnati’s brewery heritage. This tour was ranked one of the top five underground tours in the U.S. by National Geographic.
If you don’t have enough time to squeeze that in or just wnat to sample some of the city’s best I recommend visiting Rhinegeist (they have a new rooftop event space) or Taft’s Ale House.
See a Sporting Event
Cincinnati is actually home to more professional sports teams than you might think for a town of its size. Though it is small, it be mighty! It has the Cincinnati Reds, which is actually the first team to have a fully rostered professional team. It also has the Bengel’s if football is your thing (not mine!). The crowds are tons of fun though and they have plenty of team spirit.
My favorite sport to watch in Cincinnati is the Western and Southern Tennis Open, which Cincinnati hosts every year. All the tennis greats like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and the Williams sisters come to town. It brings in over 200,000 fans and after attending this year, I can see why. It has all the luxury amenities you’d expect like at the U.S. Open but it is somehow more intimate and special. Or maybe that’s just because I got to sit in the Tournament Suite. I’ll be coming back next year for sure! This year my tennis idol, Serena and Federer took the trophies. Can’t wait to come back to see if they’ll hold these titles!
Relax and Luxuriate
21c is one of the coolest hotels I have ever stayed in. Period. In between food tastings and beer guzzling stop by the spa for a relaxing treatment. The hotel treated me to its Rub a Dub Dub treatment, which features a foot soak, a body scrub followed by a steam shower and finishing off with a massage. The massage was one of the best I have ever had. Very solid and quite affordable for a 2-hour treatment it was only $225.
For another taste of the high life visit the Top of the Park at the Residence Inn. I know what you’re probably thinking–the Residence Inn? But this rooftop bar is the hottest ticket in town. The panoramic views are unparalleled. You can see Lytle Park, the Ohio River and Mount Adams in addition to the beautiful skyline of downtown Cincinnati. Quite a luxe experience. And the rooms are quite nice for the brand (though 21c’s are considerably better and actually about the same price!)
For the ultimate views though take a helicopter tour with Stratus Helicopter tours. Prices start at just $50! Is that crazy or what?
Oh and for the ultimate in Cincinnati Brunch you have to head to the Orchids at Palm Court. It’s located in the Hilton Cincinnati’s Netherland Plaza. Its brunches offer live music, freshly carved meats, a raw seafood bar, made-to-order omelets and waffles, a twenty foot dessert table and a make your own Bloody Mary bar! Oh and it’s just $29.99! Crazy, right?
Cincinnati Zoo and Aquarium
This one is pretty self-explanatory but the Cincinnati Zoo and the Newport Aquarium are both famous in their own right. If you love wildlife, these spots are both guaranteed to get you pretty excited. Oh and you also have to go out and check out the gorgeous bridges–one was the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge, New Yawkers!
As I said in the first paragraph of my article, I was a guest of the Cincinnati Tourism Board in order to procure this coverage and share my experiences with y’all. As you know you can’t buy the love and I think it’s clear that my love for Cincinnati is genuine!