Perched on the banks of the Ohio River, pretty Cincinnati is charm personified, and pleasingly packed full of inexpensive family-friendly sights and attractions.
To say that you’re not short of options for how to spend your time in and around Cincinnati is an understatement, with enough here to keep even the most demanding of visitors entertained for weeks, if not months. If you’re considering making the trip with kids and want some help planning a fun-filled itinerary that won’t break the bank, here are 10 of the best affordable things to see and do in the city and its surroundings.
Mount Airy Forest
Cincinnati’s largest park, Mount Airy Forest spans some 1,459 acres and offers almost every outdoor recreation activity you can think of. Established back in 1911, the man-made forest is jam-packed full of fun and adventure for kids of all ages, ranging from miles of hiking and mountain bike trails to a beautiful arboretum, picnic areas, a playground and a lake. For older children accompanied by adults, there’s also a disc golf course complete with mature trees and distinct fairways.
5083 Colerain Avenue, Cincinnati / Mon-Sun 6am-10pm
The Children’s Museum
Seeking a museum catering for children? The Children’s Museum does what it says on the tin with its assortment of hands-on exhibits and displays spread across eight themed play zones. Kids can climb, crawl, explore and learn about both themselves and the world around them in areas such as The Woods, a wilderness adventure that leads you through verdant woodland; become part of a complex machine in the Energy Zone; or explore a miniature neighbourhood in Kids’ Town. Admission is $17.50 for adults, $13.50 for children.
1301 Western Avenue, Cincinnati / Thurs-Mon 10am-5pm
Self-Guided Food Tasting Tour at Findlay Market
Cincinnati has a vibrant culinary scene and one of the best ways to discover it for yourself is by booking onto a food tour. Cincinnati Food Tours is an acclaimed local company that operates several themed tours around the city. Among the most family-friendly is the Taste the World at Findlay Market tour, a self-guided audio tour at the historic Findlay Market. As you explore the famous public marketplace, working your way from one tasting sample to another, audio commentary will regale you with fascinating stories and facts about Cincinnati’s foodie heritage and the market itself. The price of $25 includes audio download to your smartphone, a map of the market, a guide booklet, and tokens to redeem for samples at market merchants.
Cincinnati Fire Museum
Home to America’s oldest fully paid professional fire department, for anyone with an interest in the vital public service of firefighting, the city of Cincinnati is the place to visit. Celebrating this honourable heritage is the Cincinnati Fire Museum, which features fascinating exhibits (including some of the oldest examples of firefighting equipment), audio-visual presentations and scale model dioramas. Designed with families in mind, visitors can practice life-saving fire safety skills, run the lights and sirens in a replica fire engine, and slide down an authentic firehouse pole. Entrance is $8 for adults, $6 for children.
315 West Court Street / Tues-Sat 10am-4pm Closed Sun-Mon
Cincinnati Art Museum
Located in Eden Park, Cincinnati Art Museum attracts large numbers of families with its encyclopedic art collection of more than 67,000 works spanning 6,000 years. In addition to displaying its own broad collection, the museum also hosts 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 – many of which are tailored towards kids. General admission is free, although special exhibitions must be paid for.
953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati / Tues-Weds & Fri-Sun 11am-5pm Thurs 11am-8pm Closed Mon
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
A day out at the zoo is always a sure-fire winner with kids, and in Cincinnati visitors can enjoy what is considered one of the finest zoos anywhere in the country. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is best known for housing several endangered species as well as its birthing programmes that are designed to preserve and propagate certain animals at risk of extinction, including gorillas and white tigers. General admission is affordable too, starting at $11 for adults and $8 for children. Entrance also gains you access to the venue’s botanic garden with its array of plant life.
3400 Vine Street, Cincinnati / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
Another family attraction that’s almost guaranteed to excite little ones is a trip to an aquarium. Situated just across the river from Cincinnati, Newport Aquarium is home to thousands of animals who reside in a million gallons of water. Visitors can meet rare white alligators, come face-to-face stingrays, and walk across 75-foot suspended rope bridge that dangles just inches above a tank filled with sharks. There’s also a tide pool touch tank, scavenger hunt, penguin encounter zone, and a play area for some hard-earned parental respite. Admission starts at $22.99 for adults, $14.99 for kids.
1 Levee Wy, Newport / Mon-Weds & Fri 10am-5pm Thurs 10am-4.30pm Sat 9am-6.30pm Sun 9am-8pm
Loveland Castle Museum
With its comparatively recent history compared to its European cousins, the US isn’t particularly known for its castles, but located around 20 miles northwest of Cincinnati can be found a fascinating pastiche of these ancient fortresses. Designed to look like a 10th-century French Norman castle, Loveland Castle was built in the 1920s and features a game room (with checkers, chess and puzzles), a French ballroom, a chapel, an armory and a watchtower. Throughout the castle, visitors can also see armour, swords, shields, coats of arms and pictures. Admission is $5 per person and kids aged 5 and under go free.
12025 Shore Drive, Loveland / Fri-Sun 11am-5pm Closed Mon-Thurs
Van Haven Museum
If you’re a fan of unusual museums, a 15-minute drive south of central Cincinnati lies what is said to be the world’s only museum dedicated to the time-honoured art of ventriloquism. Van Haven Museum houses an incredible assortment of ventriloquism-related memorabilia, including dummies, puppets, photos, scripts, memorabilia, playbills, posters, recordings, and more, some of which dates back to the 19th century. Tours of the museum are $15 per person and must be scheduled in advance.
33 West Maple Avenue, Fort Mitchell / By appointment only
There are few kids who don’t get a thrill out of peering through a telescope and enjoying a close encounter with the star-specked night sky. The oldest operating professional observatory in America, the Cincinnati Observatory Center is an officially designated National Historic Landmark and houses two telescopes of global importance. One of them is what is believed could be the oldest continually-used telescope in the world, while the other, newer contraption also provides wonderful views of the stars, planets and the moon. Admission to the observatory starts at $15 for adults and $7 for children.
3489 Observatory Place, Cincinnati
The largest amusement and waterpark in the Midwest, Kings Island offers a fun-packed day out for the family. Located a 40-minute drive northeast of Cincinnati, the park features more than 100 rides, shows and attractions, including The Beast, officially the world’s longest wooden roller coaster, as well as the world’s longest inverted roller coaster that reaches speeds of up to 68 mph. Other highlights include the award-winning Planet Snoopy kids’ area, and a chance to step back millions of years at Dinosaurs Alive!, an animatronic dinosaur-themed area. Daily admission tickets start at $39 per person.
6300 Kings Island Drive, Kings Island, Mason / Mon-Sun 10am-8pm
Cincinnati Nature Center
Most parents are keen to get their kids off a screen and connect with nature – and there are few better places to do just that than the Cincinnati Nature Center. Brimming with activities for children, the centre is best known for its myriad of hiking trails, with some more arduous than others. If your children aren’t quite old enough for the travails of a trek, then the venue also hosts regular outdoor programmes in the Nature PlayScape area, including fire building, creating a bug hotel, and flower painting. Admission is $10 for adults, $6 for kids.
4949 Tealtown Road, Milford / Mon-Sun 8am-7.30pm
By Paul Joseph