In all of my life, I never would have expected these four words to come out of my mouth, “I love Cincinnati, Ohio”. Sounds weird, I mean, who actually says that? But for some reason, I always assumed Ohio was boring, ugly, and brutally cold. That last statement might be true, I’ve never been in the winter. But what is it not? Boring or ugly! Cincinnati, also known as the Queen City, has a diverse cultural scene and so many things to see and do!
What to See & Do in Cincinnati
- Visit the “Over the Rhine” Neighborhood
- Explore Downtown Cincinnati
- Spend the afternoon at the River Walk
- Eat and drink your way around Cincinnati
Where to Eat in Cincinnati
- Coffee at Lola’s
- Moerlein Lager House
- Mecklenburg Gardens
- Pontiac BBQ
- Bru Burger Bar (great veggie burger)
- Nada (Mexican)
Cincinnati’s German “Over the Rhine” Neighborhood
I went to Cincinnati for a work conference last spring and had some time to explore the city. I fell in love with the city’s rich German past, which is very present to this day. Ohio has one of the highest populations of Germans in the States. In fact, Cincinnati is home to the largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich! Road-trip, anyone?
My favorite neighborhood in Cincinnati is the “Over the Rhine” (OTR) neighborhood. It’s filled with beautiful Greek Revival and Victorian architecture. German immigrates settled in the area just north of the Miami Canal – near downtown Cincinnati. They began to call their new neighborhood “Over the Rhine” because the canal reminded them of the Rhine River back home in Germany. And in case you didn’t know, I love my German heritage – so I was automatically drawn to this area. OTR is full of unique local restaurants and boutiques. I spent a substantial amount of time wandering around.
Beers & Stammtisch at Mecklenburg Gardens
One night I decided to check out the oldest German bar in town, Mecklenburg Gardens. I called an uber and endured a 15 minute-ride full of forced conversation (anyone else prefer to skip the small talk and ride in silence?). When we pulled up, the place looked closed. I was bummed, but the driver offered to wait while I checked it out. Once I walked into the courtyard, I realized they were open. I waved the Uber driver off and took a seat on the patio. Their menu is full of authentic German beers and food (hello, spaetzle!). I ordered a König Ludwig beer and settled in.
A short while after I got there, I noticed the waiters setting up for the local Stammtisch (an informal, reoccurring, locals meet-up). After a couple of Ludwig’s, I worked up the nerve to ask the waitress if she thought they’d mind if I joined their group. Note: This is VERY unlike me (I literally just complained about talking to the Uber driver for 15 minutes), but something about the German beer and atmosphere had me feeling all warm & fuzzy.
She assured me they’d be happy to welcome me to the group, so I picked up my beer and headed over. They were an incredibly welcoming and friendly bunch! I spent about three hours hanging out with them, listening intently as they spoke German over spilled beers and laughter (cheesy, but true). If you’re ever in Cincinnati, head to Mecklenburg Gardens and join the local Stammtisch! Prost!
Cincinnati’s Downtown and River Walk Area
The downtown area is a hot spot for lunch and dinner. There are so many great restaurants and patios – or grab food to-go and sit in Fountain Square and soak up the sun. For breakfast, stop by Coffee at Lola’s (a few blocks from Fountain Square). The staff are super friendly and they make an awesome latte!
Cincinnati has a great entertainment district along the Ohio River. On either side, are the Bengals and Red’s Stadiums. The river walk runs along the Smale Riverfront Park, where the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge connects Cincinnati to Kentucky. Across from the park, you’ll find the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. This whole area is a great spot to spend the day.
My favorite thing about the river walk is the riverside swings! There is a row of bench-swings lining the sidewalk facing the river. I spent a good hour swinging and people watching. It’s a serene spot, yet close to all the action. Grab a spot on a swing and watch the sun set behind the Roebling Suspension Bridge.
Cincinnati really impressed me. Before arrival, I was expecting disappointment, but was pleasantly surprised to find the extensive German heritage, lovely outdoor spaces, and plenty of spaetzle around the city! The people are so friendly and it’s definitely a place I will visit again!
What cities did you think you would hate but ended up loving?