On the banks of of the Ohio River, the history-steeped Queen City has risen from its postindustrial doldrums. For an ideal weekend in Cincinnati — which was named one of Travel + Leisure’s Best Places to Travel in 2017 — spend each day in a different neighborhood, each with its own draw.
Cincinnati’s CVG International airport is actually across state lines in neighboring Covington, Kentucky, a 20-minute taxi ride from downtown. Anyone with an eye for art should book a room at the 21C Museum Hotel: The former landmark Metropole Hotel is now an art-centric hotel with its own collection, as well as rotating installations and exhibits.
Stick with the creative theme and head next door to the spectacular Zaha Hadid-designed Contemporary Arts Center. Then stroll over to the spiritual heart of the city, Fountain Square, where there might be an open-air concert in full swing. For a treat, there’s an outpost of Graeter’s on the square. Try the traditionally made black raspberry or chocolate chip ice cream here — the company has been around since the 1870s.
To see Cincinnati’s surprising wealth of Art Deco architecture, visit the Hilton Netherland Plaza. Take a seat at its French Art Deco Lobby Bar, with its mirrors, murals and rosewood panels, for a pre-dinner drink. Then go to Mita’s, owned by James Beard-nominated chef and Per Se alumnus, Jose Salazar, for sharing plates, tapas, charcuterie, and ceviche from Spain and Latin America. If you want to prolong the evening, 21C’s rooftop terrace has killer views of the city skyline.
Devote today to exploring one of the city’s most compelling districts, Over-the-Rhine. It has one of the biggest concentrations of 19th-century architecture in the country. The formerly sketchy neighborhood has seen an influx of new investments, and has become a hip enclave. Findlay Market first opened on OTRs northern fringes in 1855. It’s a hub of gourmet shops, stalls, cafés, and restaurants, and on the weekends, the adjacent outdoor farmers’ market is flooded with producers from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.
For a more substantial meal, head to the diminutive and delicious Eli’s BBQ, where the hickory-smoked ribs are the star attraction. Then pick up souvenirs at the bean to bar Maverick Chocolate Company — its Prohibition bar mixes milk chocolate with Kentucky Bourbon.
Take a ride on the Cincinnati Bell Connector, the city’s tram, a few blocks south to the regenerated Washington Square. OTR’s Vine Street is home to a burgeoning retail scene where you can browse independent stores like Mica/12. Satisfy any lingering sugar cravings with a trip to Cincinnati institution Holtman’s Donuts.
Thanks to its Germanic roots, brewing was one of the mainstays of OTR in the 19th century. Before Prohibition, 15 of Cincinnati’s 26 breweries were located here, and there’s been a recent boom in openings. Cincinnati Brewery Tours takes visitors underground for a glimpse of the pre-Prohibition tunnels under the city streets. Afterward, sample a local brew at Taft’s Ale House. Named in honor of local boy and former president William Howard Taft, it’s housed in the former St. Paul’s Evangelical Church, and retains the soaring ceilings from 1850.
For dinner, put your name on the list for a table at Bakersfield, a cool Mexican joint for margaritas, tacos, tortas, and tequila, or cross the street to Senate for gourmet upgrades on hot dogs, poutine, and fries (made with bacon fat).
Breakfast at the Maplewood Kitchen & Bar has a cheery West Coast vibe. Order goetta, a local breakfast staple, to go with your entrée. The dish, a mix of steel-cut oats and pork or beef, is a sausage-patty-like side introduced by German immigrants.
Cincinnati’s public green spaces, particularly along the river bank, are popular attractions when the weather is nice out. Pick up a Cincy Red Bike near Smale Riverfront Park and freewheel along the riverside cycle lane. You’ll pass the Great American Ball Park, the retro-charm of Carol Ann’s Carousel and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Architecture lovers should cross the river into Covington via the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge. It was the longest bridge of its kind in the world when it was built in 1867, until it was surpassed by Roebling’s more famous creation, New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, in 1883.
Spend the afternoon exploring the bosky expanse of the hilltop Eden Park. Wander the galleries of the Cincinnati Art Museum, visit the Art Deco Krohn Conservatory, or stop at the Twin Lakes for fine panoramas out over the river over Kentucky.
Sunday evening dining can be a bit of a challenge in Cincinnati, as many restaurants are closed. Snag an early table at Italian restaurant Sotto — this crowd-pleasing subterranean space has roughly hewn walls and dim lighting, and must-eats include the black kale Caesar salad and any of its house-made pasta