Many of Cincinnati's top museums offer free admission daily or on special weekly or monthly free days, with some of the nation's largest annual free festivals held each year in the city's downtown district. Free outdoor recreation opportunities abound. For lower-cost transportation options, many of the city's top attractions are accessible via the city's SORTA transit system, which offers bus, paratransit, and streetcar service lines. Some attractions are free only on certain days – please check before you go.
1.Smale Riverfront Park
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Smale Riverfront Park has been widely praised as one of the most beautiful new additions to Cincinnati's landscape, opened to the public in its first phase in 2012, with additional features added through 2015. The 45-acre park, which was designed by Sasaki Associates and KZF, is operated by the Cincinnati Park Board and connects the city's downtown riverfront with existing riverfront parks along its east end, with floodplain terraces developed to accommodate seasonal flooding in the region. Eye-catching landscape features abound, including the lighted water jets of Fath and Main Street Fountains, the oversized swings and shade pergolas of the Duke Energy Garden, and the unique P&G Vibrantscape playspace, which features talking tubes, a giant foot piano, and other interactive activities for visitors of all ages. Public special events are held at Anderson Pavilion and the Schmidlapp Event Lawn, with gardens, children's playgrounds, and environmentally-friendly features scattered throughout the park.
166 W Mehring Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-352-6180
2.Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum
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Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum is the United States' second-largest cemetery, established in 1845 on a 200-acre plot of farmland. Today, the cemetery and arboretum is a designated National Historic Landmark and spans more than 730 acres, combining burial, arboretum, and outdoor museum elements to create a truly unique civic and botanical facility. 44 miles of picturesque roads are offered throughout the facility for vehicle exploration, showcasing more than 1,200 species of native and exotic trees, shrubs, and plants that are used for study by nearby universities and nurseries. A 10-acre woodland preserve is located on site at the cemetery, along with more than 15 beautiful lakes and streams. Tours of the cemetery are offered between April and October by the Spring Grove Heritage Foundation. Free visitor parking is offered throughout the cemetery at a number of visitor parking lots, with street parking also permitted on many roads.
4521 Spring Grove Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45232, Phone: 513-681-7526
3.The Taft Museum of Art
© The Taft Museum of Art
The Taft Museum of Art is an historic living history and art museum housed within the former residence of Charles Phelps and Anna Taft, the half-brother and half-sister-in-law of United States President William Howard Taft, who resided in the house between 1873 and 1929. The Greek Revival-style home is best known as the site where Taft accepted his presidential nomination in 1908 and has been a designated National Historic Landmark since 1976. Since 1952, it has been open to the public as a living history museum, showcasing the fine art collections of the Tafts, including European master works and 19th-century American paintings by artists such as Thomas Gainsborough, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and Adriaen van Ostade. Significant collections of Chinese ceramics, European decorative arts, and historic watches are also on display and may be viewed as part of free-admission self-guided tours on the third Sunday of each month. Children under 18 are also admitted free daily with paying adult admission. Public special events hosted at the facility throughout the year include lectures, gallery talks, and live music performances.
316 Pike St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-241-0343
4.Rookwood Factory Tours
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Rookwood Factory Tours offer a chance to explore the 88,000-square-foot production facility of the Rookwood Pottery Company, located within Cincinnati's historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. The company has been in operation for over a century, originally founded by Cincinnati artist Maria Longworth-Nicholas. Over the past century, the company has developed into a world-renowned ceramics studio, producing high-quality ceramics goods and architectural tiles. Free guided tours showcase the company's production process, with all participants required to register online prior to tours to reserve spots. Holiday-themed Open House Tours are also offered during the winter months, featuring an opportunity to shop for Rookwood holiday gifts.
1920 Race St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-381-2510
5.The William Howard Taft National Historic Site
© NPS Photo
The William Howard Taft National Historic Site preserves the childhood home of 27th United States President William Howard Taft, located approximately one mile north of Cincinnati's downtown district within the Mount Auburn Historic District. The Greek Revival-style home was originally constructed in 1835 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Three years later, it was transferred to the care of the National Park Service following substantial renovations allowing the home to be operated as a living history museum. Visitors may explore Taft's childhood home and the adjacent Taft Educational Center for free, with exhibits on display at the Center detailing the president's life and career. Guided tours of Taft's childhood home are offered, showcasing restored furnishings and original artifacts belonging to the Taft family.
2038 Auburn Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45219, Phone: 513-684-3262
6.21c Museum Hotel
© 21c Museum Hotel
21c Museum Hotel is a unique hotel concept overseen by French hotelier AccorHotels, offering eight boutique hotel locations throughout the United States that feature free-admission contemporary art museums. Cincinnati's 21c Hotel was named the top hotel in the world by a 2013 Conde Nast Traveler survey and is located within the renovated century-old Metropole Building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Its art museum is open to the public 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, showcasing more than 8,000 square feet of exhibition space featuring site-specific installations and rotating temporary exhibits by top international contemporary artists. Docent-led tours are available for free each Wednesday and Friday evening at 5:00pm, with free cultural event programming offered periodically.
609 Walnut St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-578-6600
7.The Cincinnati Art Museum
© The Cincinnati Art Museum
The Cincinnati Art Museum was America's first dedicated art museum constructed west of the Allegheny Mountains at its 1881 founding and is one of the oldest extant art museums in the nation today. The museum is housed within an 1886 Romanesque Revival building designed by architect James W. McLaughlin and offers free admission daily, showcasing a collection of more than 67,000 fine artworks created over more than 6,000 years of human history. The museum's 18,000-square-foot Cincinnati Wing, opened in 2003, showcases a permanent collection of works by Cincinnati regional artists or produced for Cincinnati locales, including the Odoardo Fantacchiotti angels, created for the city's St. Peter in Chains Cathedral. Free parking is offered on site daily, with free tours available for individuals and small groups at select times throughout the day.
953 Eden Park Dr, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-639-2995
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Eden Park is a 186-acre urban park spanning areas of Cincinnati's Mt. Adams and Walnut Hills neighborhoods, known for its spectacular overlook views of the Ohio River Valley. It was originally developed as a vineyard in 1869 by Cincinnati horticulturist Nicholas Longworth, named "The Garden of Eden" for its beautiful, luxurious landscape. Following the city's acquisition of Longworth's lands, the Eden name was retained as the area was developed into a public park by landscape architect Adolph Strauch. Today, it is home to many of the city's top cultural attractions, including the Cincinnati Art Museum and the famed seasonal Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park theatrical company and venue. Other prominent landmarks within the park include the Hinkle Magnolia Garden, the 1883 Elsinore Arch, and the Bettman Fountain.
950 Eden Park Dr, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-352-4080
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Findlay Market is the oldest continually-operating public market in Ohio, welcoming over a million annual visitors. The famed market is located in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. More than 40 traditional vendors and merchants sell meats, dairy products, produce, and local foods Tuesdays through Sundays year-round, with a seasonal outdoor farmer's market held each year on weekends between April and November. Free 30-minute public tours of the market are offered on select days every other month, with a variety of public special events hosted at the market throughout the year, including live music performances and festivals.
1801 Race St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-665-4839
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Fleischmann Gardens is a four-acre public park located on the former homestead of Fleischmann Yeast Company founder Charles Fleischmann, the father of Cincinnati Mayor Julius Fleischmann. The park's lands were donated to the City of Cincinnati in 1925 and was significantly expanded in 1976 with the purchase of adjacent lands owned by the Salvation Army. Today, they showcase botanical attractions such as the state's largest gingko tree, accessible via a stone path leading down into an evergreen maze area. The park is accessible from an entrance on Washington Avenue that is flanked by ornate iron gates topped by a traditional gaslight fixture. A children's playground is also offered on site for young visitors.
524 Forest Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45229, Phone: 513-352-4080
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Fountain Square is the central public square fixture of Cincinnati's downtown, constructed in 1871 on the site of a former butcher's market facility. The plaza was extensively renovated in 1971 and 2005 and is centered around a bronze allegorical fountain designed by Ferdinand von Miller, entitled The Genius of Water. It was prominently featured in the opening credits of the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati and is the center of the Fountain Square District, which features a wide variety of prominent shops, restaurants, and hotels. Public events are hosted at the square throughout the year, including film screenings, concerts, and festivals. During the winter months, the square is home to the O'Keeffe's Ice Rink, open to skaters of all ages with ticketed admission.
520 Vine St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-621-4400
12.The Contemporary Arts Center
© The Contemporary Arts Center
The Contemporary Arts Center was one of the United States' first contemporary art museums at its founding in 1939 as the Modern Art Society. Since 2002, it has been housed within the Lois and Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid. The non-collecting museum showcases rotating exhibits of emerging and established contemporary artists working in a variety of mediums, including painting, photography, sculpture, architecture, and multimedia and performance art. Past exhibitions have featured internationally-renowned contemporary and modern artists such as Andy Warhol. The center is open to the public Wednesdays through Mondays, offering free admission for all visitors. Though some of the museum's main exhibits may not be appropriate for visitors of all ages, visitors should note that the UnMuseum section features year-round family-friendly exhibits. To avoid paid museum parking, visitors can take several SORTA public transit lines to the museum.
44 E 6th St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-345-8400
13.The Public Library of Cincinnati
© The Public Library of Cincinnati
The Public Library of Cincinnati is Cincinnati's main public library system, offering 42 branches throughout the Hamilton County region, including a downtown central library building that has been hailed as one of the most beautiful public library branches in the United States. The library system has been in operation since 1802 and circulates over nine million volumes, making it one of the United States' largest library systems. More than one million visitors explore the system's central library building each year, with attractions such as the 9,200-square-foot Children's Learning Center accessible for free to visitors of all ages. Significant permanent collections of sculptures may also be viewed at the library, including one of the few intact remaining replicas of John James Audubon's Birds of America.
800 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH, 45202, Phone: 513-369-6900
14.The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge
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The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge is one of the most renowned bridges in the United States, designed by iconic suspension bridge designer John A. Roebling, best known as the architect behind the famed Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge was opened to the public in December of 1866 and was the world's longest suspension bridge for over 15 years, spanning a length of 1,057 feet. It connects the cities of Cincinnati and Covington, Kentucky, crossing over the Ohio River, and remains a major vehicle and pedestrian thoroughfare in the city today. Visitors can cross the bridge on foot for amazing views of the city's skyline both day and night. Several special events are held on the bridge each year, including an annual RoeblingFest in June celebrating the legendary architect's life and career.
15.The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal
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The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal preserves Cincinnati's historic Union Terminal building, constructed in 1933 as a passenger train station and considered to be one of the United States' finest preserved examples of Art Deco architecture. The terminal was preserved as a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and was saved from demolition in 1986 after a vote to convert the building into a museum center for Cincinnati families to enjoy. Today, the terminal houses a number of family-friendly science and cultural museums, including the Cincinnati History Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science, and the Duke Energy Children's Museum. It is also home to the Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX Theater, which presents large-screen and 3D film showings. Visitors should note that while the historic terminal building is open to the public for free for exploration of its historic architecture, many museum center attractions require a ticketed upcharge.
1301 Western Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45203, Phone: 513-287-7000
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Washington Park is a six-acre public park in Cincinnati's Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, originally operated as a cemetery site for regional Presbyterian and Episcopal Church congregations until its acquisition by the city in 1863. It served as the site of the Centennial Exposition of the Ohio Valley in 1888 and showcases historic structures such as an old-fashioned bandstand and preserved cannons used in the American Civil War. Prominent features include a half-acre children's playground with interactive elements and the 3,000-square-foot Southwest Porch, which offers public seating, a concession area, and giant lawn games such as chess, cornhole, and Connect Four. During the summer months, a 7,000-square-foot interactive water park features synchronized water jets and cascading water play elements.
1230 Elm St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-621-4400
17.ArtWorks Public Art and Murals
© ArtWorks Public Art and Murals
ArtWorks Public Art and Murals is a citywide Cincinnati program that strives to transform the Hamilton County community through the implementation of public art murals, sculptures, and bike racks. As the region's largest visual arts employer, the program hires professional artists to create large-scale visual arts works throughout more than 36 of Cincinnati's neighborhoods. To date, the program has completed more than 100 public murals throughout the city, including a series of site-specific works in the city's historic Pendleton neighborhood commissioned as part of a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 2012. Other projects include 24 downtown bus shelters redecorated as part of the Metro Art Shelters program and 24 cars, trucks, and vans turned into mobile artworks as part of the ArtCars series.
20 E. Central Parkway, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-333-0388
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Ault Park is Cincinnati's fourth-largest park, spanning over 223 acres throughout the city's Mount Lookout neighborhood. The park is named in honor of prominent Cincinnati parks developers Ida May and Levi Addison Ault and offers beautiful panoramic views of the Little Miami River Valley from a hilltop on the city's eastern side. Park landmarks include a 1930 Italian Renaissance-style pavilion used for public and private special events and a 1980 public garden known for sparking the national trend of adopt-a-plot garden programs. Nature trails are also offered, along with a soccer field, children's playground, and public picnic facilities. Each year, the park is the host of an annual Fourth of July celebration and fireworks show, as well as a nationally-renowned Concours d'Elegance antique car show.
5090 Observatory Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45208, Phone: 513-321-9876
19.The Loveland Bike Trail
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The Loveland Bike Trail is a 70-mile bicycle trail that is part of the larger Little Miami Scenic Trail, constructed along the route of the abandoned Little Miami Railroad near the Little Miami River. The two-lane trail is predominantly shaded and spans mostly flat paved trail throughout the Cincinnati-area suburbs of Loveland, Lebanon, Milford, Newtown, and Miami Township, making it a perfect route for inexperienced cyclists or families riding with children in tow. Free parking is offered at several sites along the trail, with public picnic tables and restrooms provided for visitor use. Along the way, visitors can observe Canadian geese, ducks, bald eagles, and other native southwestern Ohio wildlife.
20.The Mount Airy Forest
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The Mount Airy Forest was one of the first urban reforestation projects in America, originally established to protect native forest areas near Cincinnati in 1911. Today, the forest spans nearly 1,500 acres and is Cincinnati's largest urban park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. Visitor amenities have been added to the forest since the 1930s, offering ample opportunity for outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding, and wildlife watching. The forest is home to the Midwest's only ADA-accessible public treehouse, along with an 18-hole disc golf course, a two-acre enclosed dog park, and a spacious arboretum facility that was originally constructed in 1953 by architect Carl Freund, inspired by the work of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. 23 picnic areas are available for day use, along with two lodges and three larger picnic pavilions that may be reserved for special events.
5083 Colerain Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45223, Phone: 513-357-2604
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Oktoberfest Zinzinnati is the United States' largest Oktoberfest celebration, held over two weekend days each year in late September. The festival, which was first held in 1976, attracts more than 500,000 annual visitors and spans an area of six blocks throughout the city's downtown, centered on 3rd Street. In 1994, the festival set the Guinness World Record for the largest Chicken Dance, engaging more than 48,000 participants. Over 160,000 bratwursts and mettwursts are served each year, along with unique German-themed delicacies such as spectacular six-pound pretzels served by Servatii Pastry Shop. An extensive selection of domestic and international beers are also served, including American craft and macrobrew favorites and imported German beers. Live entertainment is showcased throughout the weekend, including musicians, dancers, and an annual Running of the Wieners dachshund race.
116 E 3rd St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-579-3187
22.The Weston Art Gallery
© The Weston Art Gallery
The Weston Art Gallery is Cincinnati's premiere visual arts museum showcasing local and regional artists, showcasing a variety of rotating exhibitions by emerging and prominent contemporary artists throughout the Midwest. The museum offers a unique opportunity for patrons to meet artists on display in person and learn directly about their creative process, both during exhibition tenure and as part of public special events. Events held throughout the year include a public gallery talk series, individual and group gallery tours, and Saturday morning Families Create! Workshops. The museum is open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays, with free admission offered daily. Free and low-cost public transit options stop at the nearby Aronoff Center, including the city's Bell Connector and Southbank Shuttle.
650 Walnut St, Cincinnati, OH 45202, Phone: 513-977-4165
23.Taste of Cincinnati
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Taste of Cincinnati is the United States' longest continually-running culinary arts festival, held each Memorial Day weekend in downtown Cincinnati at Fifth Street near Fountain Square. The event was originally founded in 1979 by Frisch's vice president Karen Maier and attracts over 550,000 attendees, making it one of the largest annual street festivals in the nation. More than 50 restaurants and food trucks participate in the festival, serving up signature dishes and special menu items. Live music performances throughout the weekend highlight regional and national acts, with more than 45 acts taking to the stage in a variety of genres. Other event highlights include the GoVibrant! Veggie Races, which engage local celebrities in soapbox derby-style racing in vegetable-powered vehicles, and a judged Best of Taste Awards competition among food vendors.
24.WEBN Fireworks at the Cincinnati Riverfest
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WEBN Fireworks at the Cincinnati Riverfest offer a chance to watch one of the largest fireworks festivals in the Midwest, presented each Labor Day weekend as part of the Cincinnati Riverfest event. The fireworks display begins at approximately 9:05pm on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, held at Cincinnati's Sawyer Park. It has been held each year for over 40 years, originally established as part of radio station WEBN's 10th-anniversary celebration. More than 500,000 visitors attend the fireworks show annually, with more than 2,500 boats docking along the Ohio River for waterfront views. Other ticketed events held as part of Riverfest include a Rubber Duck Regatta, a family-friendly activity zone, and live music performances by regional and national rock and pop artists.
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AFK Geocaching is a unique way to explore the Cincinnati area as part of self-guided scavenger hunt tours highlighting area landmarks. The scavenger hunt uses geocaching technologies, which allow participants to use their smartphones and handheld GPS devices to locate physical containers that are hidden at sites throughout Cincinnati's downtown and suburban areas. It serves as a great way to explore the area's top cultural and historical sites and engage in real-life structured activity with small groups of friends and family. A printable PDF brochure guide to geocaching is offered at the Cincinnati Visitor's Center at Fountain Square and online at AFK's website. Though the guide is designed for use with iPhone and Android devices, it is also compatible with Magellan eXplorist GC devices.
P. O. Box 43272, Cincinnati, OH 45243, Phone: 513-235-2436
25 Best Free Things to Do in Cincinnati Year Round
- Smale Riverfront Park, Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hinkle - Fotolia.com
- Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, Photo: Courtesy of Anne Kitzman - Fotolia.com
- The Taft Museum of Art, Photo: The Taft Museum of Art
- Rookwood Factory Tours, Photo: Courtesy of mari1408 - Fotolia.com
- The William Howard Taft National Historic Site, Photo: NPS Photo
- 21c Museum Hotel, Photo: 21c Museum Hotel
- The Cincinnati Art Museum, Photo: The Cincinnati Art Museum
- Eden Park, Photo: Courtesy of nat693 - Fotolia.com
- Findlay Market, Photo: Courtesy of Mandy - Fotolia.com
- Fleischmann Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of Rawich Liwlucksaneey - Fotolia.com
- Fountain Square, Photo: Courtesy of Sherman Cahal - Fotolia.com
- The Contemporary Arts Center, Photo: The Contemporary Arts Center
- The Public Library of Cincinnati, Photo: The Public Library of Cincinnati
- The John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, Photo: Courtesy of aceshot - Fotolia.com
- The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, Photo: Courtesy of mistyautumn - Fotolia.com
- Washington Park, Photo: Courtesy of tiagosdp - Fotolia.com
- ArtWorks Public Art and Murals, Photo: ArtWorks Public Art and Murals
- Ault Park, Photo: Courtesy of Paul Lemke - Fotolia.com
- The Loveland Bike Trail, Photo: Courtesy of Michael Kachalov - Fotolia.com
- The Mount Airy Forest, Photo: Courtesy of mitgirl - Fotolia.com
- Oktoberfest Zinzinnati, Photo: Courtesy of Kzenon - Fotolia.com
- The Weston Art Gallery, Photo: The Weston Art Gallery
- Taste of Cincinnati, Photo: Courtesy of Tina - Fotolia.com
- WEBN Fireworks at the Cincinnati Riverfest, Photo: Courtesy of Paul Lemke - Fotolia.com
- AFK Geocaching, Photo: Courtesy of kaninstudio - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hinkle - Fotolia.com