Situated on the banks of the Ohio River, the Cincinnati metropolitan area spans both Ohio to the north and Kentucky to the south. Always at the heart of the city, the Ohio River has overcome generations of industry. Now, parks and bike trails line both side of the river affording scenic view of Cincinnati’s beautiful skyline. The city hosts parks and fountains for play, ballparks for cheering on the home team, an aquarium, and many museums. Cincinnati is the perfect destination for a Midwest family vacation. Here’s Trekaroo’s list of our top 10 fun things to do in Cincinnati with kids!
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Fun Things to Do in Cincinnati with Kids
10. Enjoy Graeter’s Ice Cream at Fountain Square
Fountain Square is where the families of Cincinnati come to ice skate in the winter and listen to live music in the summer. “The Lady” is a prominent bronze statue atop the fountain. She sits high above a granite platform overlooking Fountain Square. Streams of water flow from her hands symbolic of Cincinnati’s connection with the Ohio River nearby. While you’re at Fountain Square, don’t forget to make a visit to Graeter’s Ice Cream just across the street. Be sure to order a flavor with chocolate chips; according to many locals, those are the best!
Also in Fountain Square is a smaller fountain with an excerpt from Longfellow’s famous 1854 poem honoring Cincinnati, the Queen of the West, written on its walls:
And this Song of the Vine, This greeting of mine, The winds and the birds shall deliver, To the Queen of the West, In her garlands dressed, On the banks of the Beautiful River.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
9. Cross the Purple People Bridge to Kentucky
The Cincinnati metro area actually spans two states! Cross the Purple People Bridge to go from Ohio into Kentucky. Used as a rail bridge for decades, the pedestrian Purple People Bridge is now the most easiest way for families to walk or bike across the Ohio River. The bridge, painted purple in 2001, connects Cincinnati’s recently revitalized riverfront parks to the Newport on the Levee shopping complex in Kentucky. Don’t forget to stop to snap a photo with one foot in Kentucky and the other in Ohio!
8. Appreciate Art at Cincinnati’s Art Museums
Photo Courtesy of the Cincinnati USA CVB
Cincy loves it museums. Both the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Taft Museum of Art are filled with masterpieces from the great European artists to present day. The Cincinnati Museum of Art offers free admission every day, the Rosenthal Education Center for hands-on fun, and special family programming. At the Taft Museum of Art, families enjoy 3rd Sunday Funday, where the museum offers free admission as well as special themed family programming.
7. Take the Elevator 49 Stories Up to the Carew Tower Observation Deck
For the best views in all of Cincinnati, go up to the open-air observation deck high atop the Carew Tower in the heart of the city. The 360-degree view from 49 stories up seems limitless on a clear day. Completed in 1930 and designated as a National Historic Landmark in the 1990s, visitors get the sense that they are standing atop a piece of the nation’s history as they view the beautiful city skyline and colorful bridges over the Ohio River.
6. Check out the Murals and Playgrounds in Cincinnati’s Neighborhoods
A decade or two ago, Cincinnati’s riverfront was dominated by cement, parking lots, ball parks, and remnants of an industrial past. With the recent addition of the Smale Riverfront Park and Ohio River Trial, Cincinnati’s riverfront is now a place for families to play. Take a bike ride along the Ohio River Trail from the stadiums to TM Berry International Friendship Park. Or simply play in one of the numerous fountains at Smale Riverfront Park. They all look so inviting on a hot day!
The riverfront is not the only Cincinnati neighborhood that has been revitalized. The Over-the-Rhine neighborhood features a modern playground and play fountains at Washington Park, trendy eateries, and intricately painted murals. Take a walk through the neighborhood past historic buildings, stopping at Over-The-Rhine’s own Graeter’s Ice Cream Shop for a special treat. Continue to downtown to find more colorful murals. In these two neighborhoods alone, ArtWorks has painted more than 30 murals.
5. Play at Duke Energy Children’s Museum in the Cincinnati Museum Center
The Duke Energy Children’s Museum is located in the basement of the impressive Cincinnati Museum Center. At the children’s museum kids can role play in several fun-themed areas in Kids Town. Older children will most enjoy climbing around in The Woods designed to educate them about Ohio’s various ecosystems. Tots ages 4 and under have the Little Sprouts Farm all to themselves.
Families can also look forward to the re-opening of the rest of the Cincinnati Museum Center in 2019. The Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Cincinnati History Museum will reopen with many new exhibits as well as some old favorites.
4. See the Cheetahs Run at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Kids always love a visit to the zoo where they can watch the animals play. At the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden children can watch cheetahs run at top speed, see the polar bears play in the water, feed giraffes, and pet the goats. Go inside to check-out the manatees as they float slowly by and then learn where these peaceful animals have been successfully re-released on a map of Florida. On a sunny day, escape to the Jungle Trail to visit with the chimps. And, be sure to go visit Fiona the baby hippo, one of the current stars of the zoo, before your day at the zoo is done!
3. Cheer on the Reds at Great American Ballpark
Cincinnati natives love their ball games, and you’ll find packed stadiums when it comes to their top teams! The Cincinnati Bengals play at Paul Brown Stadium right on the Ohio River, and the Cincinnati Reds call the Great American Ball Park their home.
If you can’t make it to a game, it’s still possible to feel the love for the Cincinnati Reds. Adjacent to the stadium, the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum is open on game days and weekends. Inside you can see Reds uniforms across the years, practice your pitching and tots can dress up like their favorite players.
The Reds Hall of Fame also offers fully-guided, behind-the-scenes tours of the Great American Ballpark. These 90-minute tours are in high demand taking fans to the Great American Ball Park’s press box and Club level seats. Little ball players will be inspired standing on the warning track at field level right behind home plate and sitting on the bench in the dugout.
2. Walk Over a Shark Tank at the Newport Aquarium
Have you ever touched a shark? You can at the Newport Aquarium. The Newport aquarium has multiple touch tank experiences were kids can interact with tide pool invertebrates, like horseshoe crabs and starfish, and also touch friendly, slimy-smooth rays. Visitors feel as if they’re walking on the bottom of the ocean when they walk through various tunnels. Turtles, sharks, and large fish cross overhead. At the aquarium’s exit, kids have the opportunity to cross a rope bridge directly over the shark tank. What a thrill!
1. Learn about American Slavery at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The immersive National Underground Railroad Freedom Center not only educates visitors on slavery in the United States, but also touches on present slavery conditions around the world. Here kids can learn about the Underground Railroad and how Cincinnati played a prominent role in the freedom of many slaves.
The museum added a short virtual-reality experience featuring Rosa Parks in 2018. Museum visitors can experience that historic day when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat firsthand from the perspective of Rosa Parks herself. This use of virtual-reality is impactful and aims to reach the next generation of technology-minded children.
Look for the best hotel prices in Cincinnati
Cincinnati’s eating style and culinary offerings range from international delights to pasta dishes with a twist. No matter what your family is craving, there’s a restaurant for it! If your kids love spaghetti, a trip to Camp Washington Chili is a must. Camp Washington’s special chili recipe tops large plates of spaghetti at this historic diner.
Looking for a special breakfast treat? Taste of Belgium is the place to indulge your sweet tooth. They offer dense, cake-like waffles topped with fruit and piles of whipped cream.
For a heartier meal in a fun location, try Americano Burger Bar downtown. Families can play foosball or other games while they wait for their burger. Or, head to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood for a “chita,” chicken pita, at Revolution Rotisserie and Bar.
If you’re exploring beyond Cincinnati, check out Trekaroo’s Top 10 Things for Families to Do in Ohio.
Trekaroo families like to stay downtown when visiting Cincy. In downtown, parents can park the car and families can walk to the Carew Tower and Fountain Square, the ballparks, and the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. A walk around downtown allows families to stop and play at the playgrounds by the Ohio River. They can also appreciate more than thirty murals within walking distance of the heart of the city as they stroll back to their hotel.
➟ First stop, check for deals the top family-friendly hotels in Cincinnati
Families looking for a good amount of space to spread out, should consider the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites Cincinnati Downtown. It has an indoor pool, convenient parking garage and suites available. It’s a great fit for families spending a couple of days in the city.
The Hyatt Regency Cincinnati’s location in the heart of downtown lets families park the car and walk around the city. Afterwards, take a dip in the spacious pool underneath a glass enclosure.
Cincinnati Day Trips
Continue your family vacation in the Cincinnati area with some of Trekaroo’s favorite southwestern Ohio day trips within 50 miles of Downtown Cincinnati.
Kings Island – 25 miles Northeast of Cincinnati
Photo Courtesy of the Cincinnati USA CVB
Families from Cincinnati and all over the Midwest flock to Kings Island during open season. Its thrill rides and kid-friendly (Planet Snoopy) make the entire family happy. Peanuts fans will be happy to know that Snoopy and his pals are in the forefront of this park. The adjacent Soak City Waterpark cools off families during the hot, summer months.
Hamilton, OH – 30 miles Northwest of Cincinnati
Photo Courtesy of the Cincinnati USA CVB
Giant contemporary sculptures fill this 10,000-square-foot educational spot. Even if you don’t know a lot about contemporary art and sculpture, your family can still have a great visit to Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park. Be sure to check out the Ancient Sculpture Museum featuring Roman, Greek, and Egyptian pieces.
Another half hour down the road from Hamilton, Hueston Woods State Park offers lots of outdoor fun for families. Families can mountain bike on beginner trails or go kayaking on Acton Lake. For a fun family getaway, consider staying at the lodge.
Dayton, OH – 50 miles Northeast of Cincinnati
Dayton is all about aviation. The National Museum of the United States Air Force allows families to delve into aviation with fun demonstrations and hands-on activities. Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park is the spot to visit if you want to learn more about the Wright Brothers and their famous flight.
Many thanks to Karyn Locke who originally wrote the first version of this article.
Cincinnati USA CVB was more than gracious in hosting my son and I on our recent visit. I was not asked to state a particular point of view and, as always, my opinions are my own!