520 Vine Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202
Fountain Square is, essentially, the center of Cincinnati. From the fountain it’s named after, to the tons of restaurants in the area and always-happening events in the plaza, Fountain Square is a spectacle to behold. Not much else really needs to be said. If you haven’t been here yet, what are you waiting for?
Cincinnati, OH 45202
OTR is easily the coolest district in Cincinnati. There are tons of interesting buildings and shops, and Washington Park is a perfect place to sit back and relax. It is also unquestionably the absolute best place to go in the entire city if you’re hungry. Findlay Market is a one-of-a-kind experience that everyone in the area should visit at least once, and there are plenty of unique restaurants and breweries in the district that have their own special Cincinnati flavor.
Covington, KY 41011
Mainstrasse Village is a faux-19th century German village neighbor right in the heart of Covington. It’s got plenty of great restaurants, like Dee Felice—a café that serves New Orleans cuisine as a live band plays jazz—or the popular Strasse Haus pub. It’s also home to Covington’s famous Carroll Chimes Bell Tower, which chimes every two hours from morning to night as mechanical figures act out the story of the Pied Piper.
Monmouth and York Street
Newport, KY 41071
Monmouth Street and York Street are home to many of Newport’s most famous or most popular attractions. Ebert’s Meats has some of the best goetta in the Greater Cincinnati area. The famous Pepper Pod diner (which was recently seen in Netflix’s Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile) is just right up the road. Plenty of other bars, shops, and historic restaurants line the street. Go north and you’ll reach the shopping center Newport on the Levee.
Downtown Fort Thomas
Fort Thomas, KY 41075
Fort Thomas, the largest city in Campbell County, is just a quick five minute drive from campus. Check out Tower Park for some great hiking trails, the Fort Thomas Museum to see some interesting Civil War memorabilia or the Fort Thomas Farmer’s Market for some fresh produce.
Cincinnati Art Museum
953 Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45202
Pretty much every “what to do in Cincinnati for free” list is going to have the Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center (as mentioned below) and the Cincinnati Art Museum at the top of the list. There’s good reason for that. The Cincinnati Art Museum leans more on the historical side of art, compared to the CAC, which is thoroughly modern; however, this isn’t always the case, as at the time of publication their biggest exhibit is dedicated to showcasing art from the legendary Burning Man festival in Nevada.
Cincinnati Museum Center
1301 Western Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45203
The Cincinnati Museum Center is located inside Union Terminal, which just finished a massive renovation last year. There are actually several different museums inside, including the Cincinnati History Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science, the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center and the Duke Energy Children’s Museum. There’s also the Robert D. Lindner OMNIMAX Theater, which shows educational films on its five-stories-tall screen. The CMC’s current main exhibit is Egypt: The Time of Pharaohs, which NKU actually assisted in putting together; you can read The Northerner’s coverage about that here.
1028 Scott Blvd., Covington, KY 41011
The Carnegie simultaneously has a theatre/concert hall with constant performances and an art gallery with frequent exhibitions under its roof. If you’re a patron of the arts, there’s no better place to be on this side of the river.
210 Pike St. Covington, KY 41011
Pique is an art gallery bed and breakfast. Yes, you read that correctly—you can literally book the gallery on AirBNB. In addition to the art on display, they have art workshops for all ages and a boutique where you can buy art that’s been shown in the past. Check their Facebook for exhibition details and hours – all of their events start at the thirteenth minute of the hour, as a tribute to Cincinnati area code 513.
Frank Duveneck Arts & Cultural Center
1232 Greenup St. Covington, KY
Frank Duveneck, the famous American artist, is from Covington—seriously, look it up if you don’t believe this—and this center aims to carry on his legacy of teaching art to students. The center, once the home of the renowned artist, is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and teaches free art, writing and drama classes to everyone in the community.
320 Ludlow Ave. Cincinnati, OH 45220
Wanting to see a movie in the area? Skip the Newport AMC; the Esquire Theatre can’t be beat. Esquire gives you a movie-going experience that is much superior than your run-of-the-mill theater and shows the latest blockbusters in tandem with cinema classics that you wouldn’t be able to normally see on a big screen.
2621 Vine St, Cincinnati, OH 45219
Bogart’s is pretty much the only name in town when it comes to having a mix of nationally known artists and lesser-known local groups. If you’re trying to see a concert on any given weekend, there’s a very high chance Bogart’s is hosting one. Past artists include everyone from hip-hop artists like Cardi B and Chief Keef to indie-pop acts like Carly Rae Jepsen or modern rock acts like Panic! At The Disco and The Neighbourhood.
Southgate House Revival
111 E 6th St, Newport, KY 41071
If country or folk rock is more your jam, you’ll want to head down to Southgate in Newport. The venue often features more local or lesser-known acts, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the time. Tickets are often $5 or $10—much cheaper when compared to venues like Bogart’s.
The Footlighters, Inc
802 York St, Newport, KY 41071
The Footlighters, inc. was established in 1963 by volunteers who had a desire to bring theatre to the west side of Cincinnati. In 1987, they moved into their permanent home—the Stained Glass Theatre, a former church that was designed in 1882 by the same man who designed Cincinnati’s City Hall and Music Hall buildings. This season, the venue is performing well-loved stories and adaptations like Mamma Mia!, The Spitfire Grill, Of Mice and Men and Annie Get Your Gun.
636 Monmouth St, Newport, KY 41071
Falcon Theatre is a small performing arts theatre—think the stage size of NKU’s Henry Konstantinow, but with much more seating—with more unconventional plays than you’d see at any of the traditional theatres you’d see on this list. Plays on the list for this season include a stage adaption of the Alfred Hitchcock classic “The 39 Steps”, a Black Mirror-esque play about erasing memory, a play based on the true story of the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass and another about the story of 19th-century female astronomer Henrietta Leavitt.
John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, Covington, KY 41011
You might not know the name, but you definitely know the color: Roebling Bridge is the blue bridge you’ve been seeing all over social media in pictures this summer. Roebling Bridge was, at one point, the longest bridge in the world; the record was later set by John A. Roebling’s other famous project you may have heard of in New York titled the Brooklyn Bridge. Nowadays, it serves as a popular photo op spot or a way to walk from one side of the river to the other.
Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
ArtWorks has created over a hundred murals all over Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky throughout the years. Some are rather small; some are gargantuan. No matter the size, their photographic potential doesn’t change—check out their website for a full map and see how many of them you can capture in a day.
Newport on the Levee
1 Levee Way, Newport, KY 41071
While Newport on the Levee isn’t as popular as it once was, it’s still a fantastic place to grab some pictures. Whether you’re snapping some shots of aquatic life in Newport Aquarium or just walking around at the river, don’t overlook the Levee for your next photo shoot.
Contemporary Arts Center
44 E. 6th Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202
Follow pretty much any college student in the Greater Cincinnati area on Instagram and they’ll have several pictures taken in the Contemporary Arts Center. This free museum has a bevy of strange art on display, as well as the popular UnMuseum on the sixth floor, which has a variety of free-to-use art materials for everyone.
American Sign Museum
1330 Monmouth Avenue, Cincinnati, OH 45225
20,000 square feet of flashing neon signs. That’s what you’ll find in the American Sign Museum, the only one of its kind in the entire world. In addition to being a pretty cool museum, it’s also the perfect place to take some pictures to look like you just stepped out of a dimly-lit thriller where the main character never talks.
3600 Observatory Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45208
If you have any interest in nature at all, Ault Park is the place to be. Picnic areas, hiking trails, children’s play areas, botanical gardens, fountains, public art displays and constant events; this 224-acre park has everything you’d want out of a city park. Get to Ault Park as soon as possible—breathtaking views await you.
1201 Park Dr, Covington, KY 41011
A good number of the pictures you see of the Cincinnati skyline are taken from Memorial Overlook in Devou Park. This park is perfect for a picnic with a scenic view; you can see all of Cincinnati and Covington from the highest point. But that’s not all there is to Devou Park—far from it, actually. The park holds several fishing spots, hiking trails, biking areas, a bar & grill and an 18-hole golf course.
Spring Grove Cemetery
4521 Spring Grove Ave, Cincinnati, OH 45232
While the addition of a cemetery on this list might seem strange, Spring Grove is also home to one of the largest arboretums in the area. Several different kinds of oak, cedar and birch trees reside in Spring Grove, along with a diverse assortment of small and medium sized plants.
Big Bone Lick State Park
3380 Beaver Rd, Union, KY 41091
Ever seen a bison in person before? If not, travel south to Union, where you’ll see more bison than you could even imagine residing with various other animals. Big Bone Lick is also a popular spot for bird-watching and camping in the area.
Fort Thomas Landmark Tree Trail
Tower Park (900 S Ft Thomas Ave, Fort Thomas, KY 41075)
Located just a few minutes away from campus in Tower Park, these trails take you throughout several hiking areas. The main 1.7-mile long trail extends down to the Ohio River, and is a perfect way to escape from the noise and clutter of the city.
Lucky Cat Museum
2511 Essex Pl, Cincinnati, OH 45206
Ever been to a Chinese or Japanese restaurant and seen a statue of a cat holding up its paw at the door? Want to see over a thousand of these statues in the same place? Journey to Essex Studios, a clothing factory turned art space in Walnut Hills that holds this one-of-a-kind museum. The gift shop in the museum features art from local Cincinnati creatives and t-shirts that are made and crafted in the former clothing factory.
Cincinnati Mercantile Library
414 Walnut St. #1100, Cincinnati, OH 45202
The Mercantile Library is one of Cincinnati’s oldest institutions, having occupied the 11th and 12th floor of its building since 1840. It’s less than a block away from Fountain Square, which normally would automatically disqualify it as a hidden gem, but the Mercantile Library’s archives aren’t to be missed. Where else can books from the 1600’s be found?
USS Sachem Ruins
Anchored in a Boone County tributary is one of America’s least-known artifacts. Taylor Creek holds the ruins of the USS Sachem, a boat that was used in both World War I and II, then a famous party boat. Thomas Edison conducted experiments on the ship, and President Ronald Reagan traveled in it. Madonna later filmed the music video for “Papa Don’t Preach”, the single from her third album, on the Sachem. It was reportedly scrapped in 1984, but turned up abandoned in its current location. Now, it is rumored to be haunted, and is simply known by most locals as the “Ghost Ship.” Take a kayak down the river to see it, if you dare.
Seventh Street Gifts
114 East 7th Street, Newport, KY 41071
If you’re at all interested in natural health remedies, like essential oils or herbal tinctures, take a trip to Seventh Street Gifts in Newport for an extravaganza of herbs, teas, oils, soaps and salt. Many of the products are crafted naturally, on-site. The store also hosts DIY workshops, where you can learn to make your own versions of many of the products sold in the store.
NKU Anthropology Museum
Northern Kentucky University, Landrum Academic Center
Most students have no idea that NKU has its own museum hidden away in Landrum 200 curated by the Department of Anthropology. There are several Native American artifacts on display, in addition to folk art from world cultures in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and New Guinea. It’s not always open to the public, but take an anthropology class or check their Facebook for special times when you can get a peek at one of NKU’s best-kept secrets.
Billy Keeney contributed to this article.