12 free or affordable things to do in Cincinnati


Nestled alongside the Ohio River, Cincinnati is one of the midwestern state’s most vibrant cities. Dotted with charming 19th century buildings and with some of the best food you’ll find anywhere in the region, the city attracts large numbers of visitor every year. For sports enthusiasts, Cincinnati is a dream too, while culture vultures will love the myriad of exceptional museums. To escape the city’s hustle and bustle, you can duck across the river to the verdant hills of Kentucky.

A misty view over Cincinnati (Photo: MoToMo via Flickr)

There are a huge amount of things to see and do in Cincinnati, whether you’re staying for a week, a fortnight, or even longer. Some activities will inevitably hit you in the pocket, but others need not do so. If you’re coming to Cincinnati on a budget, we’ve picked out 12 of the best free or affordable things that you’re sure to love.

Mushroom House

Perched in Cincinnati’s Hyde Park neighbourhood, this unique home was the brainchild of architecture professor Terry Brown, who decided to transform his bungalow into a fairytale-like creation that bears a distinct resemblance to fungus. In the 1990s, Brown used warped shingles and oddly wrapping staircases to give the one-bedroom home its highly distinctive appearance that catches the eye of all who see it.

LOCATION 3518 Tarpis Avenue

The fungus-resembling Mushroom House (Photo: krooooop via Flickr)

Findlay Market

Dating back to 1855, this is Ohio’s oldest operational public market and offers a veritable smorgasbord of sights, smells and sounds, not to mention plenty of free food samples to tuck into. Located in in the city’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighbourhood, a huge assortment of produce can be found here, including meat, fish, poultry fruit, vegetables, cheese and flowers, while street performers and special events help keep visitors entertained.

LOCATION 1801 Race Street HOURS Tues-Fri 9am-6pm Sat 8am-6pm Sun 10am-4pm

An overhead shot of Findlay Market (Photo: 5chw4r7z via Flickr)

Cincinnati Art Museum

Exploring Cincinnati’s rich arts scene is a great cheap or free activity and one of the best places to do just this is at Cincinnati Art Museum. Located in scenic Eden Park, the museum features a hugely impressive collection of more than 67,000 works spanning 6,000 years. In addition to displaying its own broad collection, the museum also hosts several national and international traveling exhibitions each year. Visitors can enjoy the exhibitions or participate in the museum’s wide range of art-related programs, activities and special events. General admission is free for all.

LOCATION 953 Eden Park Drive HOURS Tues-Weds & Fri-Sun 11am-5pm Thurs 11am-8pm Mon Closed

A view of the impressive Cincinnati Art Museum (Photo: 5chw4r7z via Flickr)

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is at once a museum of conscience, an education centre, a convener of dialogue, and a beacon of light for inclusive freedom around the globe. Since opening its doors in 2004, the Center has filled a significant void in America’s cultural heritage. Rooted in the tales of the Underground Railroad, the venue illuminates the true meaning of “freedom” through fascinating permanent and special exhibits that both challenge and educate visitors, along with public programming that provokes dialogue and action, and educational resources that equip and inspire modern abolitionists.

LOCATION 50 East Freedom Way HOURS Tues-Sat 10am-5pm; Sun-Mon* 12pm-5pm (*closed on Mondays, Oct-Feb)

An interactive exhibit at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Photo: Living-Learning Programs via Flickr)

Contemporary Arts Center

At the heart of Cincinnati’s cultural life is the Contemporary Arts Center, housed within an internationally renowned building that was designed by the late iconic architect Zaha Hadid – making it the first US museum designed by a woman, no less. As for its contents, the museum features a diverse range of rotating exhibitions of contemporary art, with works by both acclaimed and lesser known artists from the local community and far beyond.

LOCATION 44 East 6th Street HOURS Weds-Fri 10am-9pm Sat-Mon 10am-4pm

An art exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center (Photo: The Pug Father via Flickr)

Covington Historic Walking Tour

Located a few miles outside of Cincinnati, the city of Covington has a proud history that can be discovered on a free walking tour hosted every Wednesday by a member of the Local History and Genealogy Department. The walk is around a mile in length and takes guests through neighbourhoods surrounding Covington Library, exploring the area’s architecture and commercial heritage, including many of the forgotten and lost buildings that once stood here.

Oktoberfest Zinzinnati Festival

First held in 1976, Cincinnati’s contribution to the global phenomenon of Oktoberfest is about as big as they get. Held over a full weekend, the event draws hundreds and thousands of visitors each year to the city’s downtown district, with its array of German-themed food, beer, gifts and live entertainment. Highlights include a dachshund race, a brat eating competition and the world’s largest “chicken dance”.

LOCATION Downtown Cincinnati DATES September each year

A band on stage at Oktoberfest Zinzinnati (Photo: Chris Breeze via Flickr)

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

For a bit of peace and quiet, there’s nowhere better than a library. And while they may not be on every tourist’s ‘to do’ list, the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County is certainly worth a visit. You can enjoy a relaxing, uninterrupted read in the urban library’s Walnut Street Garden, where lush plants and a bubbling fountain provide a soothing backdrop, or view one of the regular rotating art exhibits that take place here. There are also frequent free events held throughout the year.

LOCATION 800 Vine Street DATES Thurs-Sat 9am-6pm Mon-Weds 9am-9pm Sun 1pm-5pm

Bunbury Music Festival

Held along the picturesque setting of the Ohio River in the city’s downtown district, this hugely popular music festival is one of the most anticipated events on the city’s cultural calendar. Acclaimed for its superb line-up of performers each year, the festival has evolved down since the inaugural edition many years ago, but without ever losing its sense of authenticity thanks to its focus on creating a friendly and inviting atmosphere where everyone is welcome. In addition to the fantastic music that takes place across two main stages and two side stages, there’s also a Craft Beer Village where revellers can stay refreshed throughout.

LOCATION Sawyer Point Park & Yeatman’s Cove DATES 31 May-2 June 2019

Crowds watching a performance at Bunbury Music Festival (Photo: Bunbury Music Festival)

Cincinnati Ghost Tour

Like most major cities, Cincinnati’s history is steeped in curiosity and intrigue. Haunted Cincinnati Tours provide unique ghost tours in and around Cincinnati – but with a twist. Unlike other tours of this kind, guests with Haunted Cincinnati Tours are the designated ghost hunters, placing the responsibility for tracking down the city’s ghoulish inhabitants firmly on your shoulders. You’re even given special detection tools to help you complete your task. Along the way your guide will entertain you with spooky stories of paranormal activities stretching back hundreds of years. As well as standard ghost tours, there are also overnight events that take place inside supposedly haunted locations.

One of the sites that is passed during a Haunted Cincinnati Tour (Photo: Haunted Cincinnati Tours)

The Overlook Lodge

The flagship watering hole of Jacob Trevino, mastermind behind The Video Archive and Tokyo Kitty nightspots in Cincinnati, The Overlook Lodge could be assumed from outside to be just another conventional bar. Take a peek inside, however, and that assumption is rapidly blown apart. Themed around the 1980s silver screen classic “The Shining”, this rustic bar is scattered with inventive design details and flourishes that provide a nod to the much-loved movie. The theme even stretches to the venue’s acclaimed speciality craft cocktails menu, which is sprinkled with names such as Writer’s Block that recall plot lines from the famous 80s flick. Live music every Friday attracts large crowds too.

6083 Montgomery Road HOURS Tues-Thurs 4pm-12pm; Fri 4pm-2am; Sat 3pm-2am; Sun 2pm-10pm; Mon 4pm-10pm

Mouth-watering festive drinks at The Overlook Lodge (Photo: The Overlook Lodge)

Hauck Botanical Gardens

One of the most scenic spots anywhere in Cincinnati is this eight-acre Botanical Garden, located in the former estate of Cornelius J. Hauck, an avid horticulturist and one of the city’s most famous sons, whom the garden is named after. Found here are some 900 types of trees, shrubs and evergreens, many of which were originally planted by Hauck himself. He donated the park site to the city after his death in 1967, and it quickly grew to become one of its most popular attractions.

LOCATION 2625 Reading Road HOURS Mon-Fri 9am-5pm Sat 9am-4pm Closed Sun

By Paul Joseph