If you want to understand The Banks in downtown Cincinnati, you first have to take a little trip back in time. While the development of this district is a new part of the Cincy Region’s history, the banks of the Ohio River are certainly not. The city was first settled in the late 1700s by folks that arrived via the same river that anchors the Banks development, today. Throughout the history of the city, the flowing river was a vital part of the city itself. It runs strong, and fast and often shows its mighty power by also flooding from time to time. It was these floods that moved development further north, uphill, over time. It separated the beautiful city of Cincinnati from the river over time.
By the time the 70s and 80s arrived, the city had been all but cut off from the river itself. In 1997, a new master plan was drawn up to bring those ties back together. The city was in the middle of one of the worst floods in its history, and a plan was drafted to not only help Cincinnati manage the mighty Ohio's temper–but to bring the people back to her shores, again.
View of Roebling Bridge from Smale Riverfront Park
The district, today, is a work of art. There is so much to do that you’ll have trouble choosing how to squeeze as much into your day as possible. At one side of The Banks is Great American Ball Park, home to the Cincinnati Reds, and at the other is Paycor Stadium where you’ll find the Cincinnati Bengals. In between the stadiums are the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame. These great family-friendly attractions are supported by a 45-acre park, a hotel, and a variety of bars and restaurants.
From great places to have a sit-down meal, to live music venues of all sizes, a park that will keep your kids entertained for hours, and a view that will make you fall in love with the city of Cincinnati over and over, again, you'll find everything in this local guide to The Banks in Cincinnati.
Things to do at The Banks Cincinnati
It’s probably tempting to jump right in with the food and drink scene, but there are a lot of other things to do in The Banks. For the sports fans, definitely catch a Cincinnati Reds game at Great American Ball Park or a Bengals game at Paycor Stadium. There are great sporting events happening all year round and you’ll love the way the city rallies around its teams.
For an educational and inspiring activity, check out the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center with your family. You can even see some of the latest, hottest music acts at the Andrew J Brady Music Center. That’s assuming that you don’t spend too much time trying to work your way out of the escape rooms at ‘The Escape Game’.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Photo: @jpatrickwise)
As of July 2023, you’ll be able to visit Cincinnati’s newest attraction, the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame. Nestled in between the Ohio River and the Andrew J. Brady Music Center, walk among stars like Bootsy Collins and Midnight Star in an immersive experience that highlights some of the biggest black musical legends to call Cincinnati home. Every July you can attend the annual induction ceremony, where new stars are added to the Walk of Fame.
Enjoy the urban oasis, Smale Riverfront Park
Smale Riverfront Park has to be one of the best parks in Cincinnati for the whole family to enjoy. The big park is home to everything from an extension of the Ohio Riverwalk for a relaxing stroll, to a series of family swings that overlook the Ohio River if you need to catch a rest. There are rose gardens, illuminated multi-story fountains to enjoy the sound of running water, and a splash pad to run through when you need to cool off. Mixed throughout the park are a series of adventure-style play areas and gardens to explore and keep your kids (and your) imaginations firing on all cylinders.
One of the highlights that you definitely won’t want to miss (any kids in your group won’t let you, either) is Carol Ann’s Carousel. Not only is it a great shaded place to take a little break, you’ll also be able to hop on the back of one of the region’s famous cicadas.
Where to eat at The Banks
With all the activities that you'll be doing, you're probably wondering about the restaurants at the Banks, Cincinnati. If you haven't caught on, there's plenty of variety in that regard, as well. Taste of Belgium is always a hit, offering up traditional Belgian waffles and hosting one of the best brunch spots in Cincinnati–get the chicken and waffles! If something a little more low-key is in your wheelhouse Jefferson Social has some excellent burritos in a relaxed, family-friendly sports bar vibe right on the main drag.
Taste of Belgium (photo: Wendy Pramik)
The Filson sits right in the heart of The Banks with a 10,000-foot restaurant that offers up an eclectic new American menu with creative burgers, pizza, and tasty shareables. The interactive mural dubbed "The Wall of Wonder" is a must-see that guides you through the city's history via various pieces of local memorabilia.
E + O kitchen is a vibey and hip spot, offering fresh sushi, rice, and sashimi bowls.
There are burger spots, taco spots, and even a high-end steakhouse with Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. There is a little bit of everything and no matter what mood you find yourself in after a long day of exploring, you'll find a place to wet your whistle and fill your belly!
Where to drink at The Banks
Let’s not forget about the drinks at the Banks. With a large DORA district (Ohio's designated outdoor refreshment area) covering the area, one of the most popular things to do here is to sip a tasty beverage while exploring the culture of our city. Thanks to our German heritage, Cincinnati is a great beer-drinking city. Drink a local craft beer at Great American Ball Park while you cheer on the Reds or enjoy a beer flight with a view at Moerlein Lager House.
Drinks in The Banks
No matter your vibe, there's something for everyone. If you're looking for a cold beer at a sports bar, Holy Grail next to the Great American Ballpark is a classic. If a glass of wine is more of your speed, the AC Upper Deck's rooftop bar is hard to beat. How about a classic cocktail in a bar with a wonderful breezy atmosphere? You might want to check out The Stretch. If you and your friends are looking to keep the party going, grab a fishbowl cocktail at The Fishbowl.
Where to stay in The Banks
If you want to be near all the action, check out the AC Hotel by Marriott right in the heart of the action along Joe Nuxhall Way. The hotel has 171 rooms and is steps from Great American Ball Park. It’s bright, clean, and modern, and keeps you right in the heart of The Banks.
Balcony view of AC Hotel overlooking Great American Ballpark
The Cincinnati Streetcar ties the Banks to the rest of downtown with a fast, free ride. In just a few moments you can journey to any of the hotels in downtown, Cincinnati. From the award-winning 21C hotel that makes you feel like you're staying in a museum to the historic Hilton Netherland Plaza that will make you feel like you've traveled back in time–you’ll find the perfect hotel for your travel style.
There’s so much to see and do at The Banks in Cincinnati. Start planning your trip!