Located along the Ohio River, Downtown Cincinnati is home to the city’s largest corporations, several apartment complexes, dozens of restaurants, a plethora of bars and coffee shops, and two professional sports stadiums.
Rich with culture and history, the downtown area acts as the economic hub of the city as well as the home for many festivals, marathons, and other public events.
Bridges from Downtown Cincinnati span across the Ohio River to the popular Northern Kentucky cities of Newport and Covington as well, which makes it a central connecting point between Ohio and Kentucky.
Many locals will tell you that if you only have time to visit the city for a weekend, the three most interesting places to check out would be:
- The Over-The-Rhine neighborhood (shown in blue)
- Downtown Cincinnati (shown in purple)
- The Banks (shown in red)
In this post we share a basic layout of Downtown Cincinnati, the best things to do and see in the area, along with some tips on how to get around.
Basic Layout of Downtown Cincinnati
Wedged between Over-The-Rhine to the north and The Banks to the south, Downtown Cincinnati has a grid-style layout where Fountain Square (the star in the map below) is generally perceived as the center point of downtown, with Vine street dividing the area into an east and west side.
Check out the video below for a neat drone tour of Downtown Cincinnati, including several shots of The Banks along with the two professional sports stadiums.
The Best Things to Do & See
The map below shows the locations of our favorite things to do and see in Downtown Cincinnati.
Fountain Square: One interesting place to check out is Fountain Square, a place that many deem to be the center of Downtown. This is a public square where concerts, festivals, and other events take place throughout the year. During the holiday season, an ice rink and a large Christmas tree are set up in the square which attracts many visitors. In the warmer months, food trucks are located in and around the square as well.
Carew Tower Observation Deck: An observation deck on the 49th-floor of Carew Tower across from Fountain Square that offers incredible views of the city. The price for admission is $6 for adults (12+), $3 for children (6-11), and free for ages five and under.
21c Museum Hotel: A boutique hotel, a contemporary art museum, a cultural civic center, and a restaurant all wrapped into one. Located inside of the building is a secret elevator that takes you to the 21c Cocktail Terrace offering a total of 75 seats where you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city while you sip a pop-tail, cocktail, or boozy slushie. There is also plenty of free art to enjoy in the galleries on the first and second story of the building.
Aronoff Center: Downtown Cincinnati’s premier performing arts venue. Events include plays, ballets, concerts, and musicals. Check out their website to view upcoming events.
Taft Theatre: A 2,500-seat theater that hosts Broadway shows, concerts, comedy performances, and other events. Check out their site to view upcoming events.
Cheapside Cafe: One of the most aesthetically-pleasing coffee shops in the Queen City. This is a great place to grab a coffee, latte, or a light snack. There’s plenty of seating both inside and outside, the atmosphere is inviting, and the staff is friendly and knowledgeable.
Queen City Exchange: A spacious bar with plenty of seating that features a craft beer menu with beer prices that rise and fall based on customer demand, inspired by the stock market.
JACK Casino: One obvious place to check out Downtown is JACK Casino, which is open 24 hours every day of the week. Whether you’re looking to play the slot machines, try your hand at poker, or check out a variety of restaurants, JACK Casino is the place to go.
Knockback Nats: A bar that offers some of the most delicious and flavorful smoked wings that you can find anywhere in the city.
Maplewood Kitchen and Bar: Spacious restaurant that offers American cuisine for breakfast through dinner amid wooden tables & greenery.
The Blind Pig / O’Malley’s in the Alley: Located just five minutes from the Cincinnati Reds Stadium, The Blind Pig (connected to the bar O’Malley’s in the Alley) is a self-designated “modern speakeasy” that offers an outdoor patio where you can enjoy jumbo wings, tacos, and flatbreads along with craft beers and cocktails. The seating area offers some nice views of the Queen City and the Ohio River that you can enjoy with your food and drinks.
Dixie Terminal: A set of buildings that were completed in 1921 and served as a streetcar terminal, stock exchange, and office building in the city’s downtown business district. Today the terminal is no longer in use but it offers some beautiful architecture inside the terminal to observe and walk through.
Contemporary Arts Center: A non-collecting museum that features new pieces of work in sculpture, painting, photography, drawings, architecture, performance art and media.
Sotto: A basement dining spot with an austere brick-&-wood interior that serves some of the best Italian dishes that you can find anywhere in the city.
Nada: A Mexican restaurant that offers both indoor and outdoor seating and is one of the most popular places to grab tacos in the city. Their menu has an impressive variety of meats that you can add to your tacos including grilled mahi, carne asada, baja fish, pork belly, and more. Along with their variety of dishes, they offer several different margaritas and cocktails, which nicely complement the tacos.
Taqueria Mercado: Another excellent place to stop for some tacos and margaritas. Our personal favorite is the barbacoa taco, but be sure to try the fried pork and shredded chicken as well if you get the chance. Along with their amazing dishes, the service is fast, friendly and efficient. The interior is also spacious so it’s usually not a problem getting a seat even when it’s busy.
The Mercantile Library: A true hidden gem in the Downtown area, The Mercantile Library is a library located on the 11th floor of The Mercantile Library Building and is one of only a handful of surviving membership libraries in the United States. Check out their Instagram to see what the library looks like on the inside.
Arnold’s Bar and Grill: The oldest continuously operated bar in Cincinnati, and one that locals absolutely love. It offers a classic bar vibe with friendly staff, a great selection of drafts, and a good kitchen menu that’s open late.
Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse: An upscale steakhouse that offers some of the best food and service that you can find anywhere in the city. This is a perfect place to check out for special occasions like anniversaries or special birthday parties.
The View at Shires’ Garden: An upscale restaurant with a rooftop bar that offers incredible views of the city along with a wide selection of craft beers, wines, and American-based dishes.
Top of the Park: A spacious rooftop bar that offers some incredible views of the city that can be enjoyed with a variety of craft beers, cocktails, and delicious handmade tapas
Getting Around Downtown
There are a few different ways to get around the Downtown area:
Car: The most obvious way to get around the city is via car. There is street parking nearly everywhere in the city and several parking garages sprinkled throughout the Downtown area.
Walk: Downtown Cincinnati is highly walkable. You can easily walk all the way from the Banks to Over-The-Rhine and anywhere in between.
Electric Scooters: There are several different scooter brands around the city like Bird and Lime that you can use to navigate through the city if you have their corresponding apps.
Cincy Red Bike: Cincy Red Bike is Cincinnati’s bike sharing program. Check out their website for details and a map with over 50 bike rental locations throughout downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Clifton, and in Kentucky in Covington, Bellevue and Newport. Check out www.oki.org to see the bike routes.
Metro Bus: Metro is Cincinnati’s fixed route bus service. Check out go-metro.com to view routes and fares.
Streetcar System: The Cincinnati Bell Connector, the city’s streetcar system, connects The Banks to Over-the-Rhine, through the Central Business District. There are a total of 18 stops along the 3.6-mile route. Check out the route and station stops here.