Best things to do in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky
The universities in the Cincy Region are gearing up for another semester as hundreds of new students of all ages move in at the University of Cincinnati, Xavier University, Thomas More University, Northern Kentucky University, and Mount St. Joseph University.
Whether you’re a parent dropping off your freshmen at the dorms or you’re a new grad student, it’s an exciting time to be living in Cincy. So take a minute from unpacking or unloading and take a look around. You won’t have to go far to find some fun.
There’s so much to experience on campus, but why not branch out and explore other parts of Cincy? Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and the surrounding area have just about something for everyone–history, art, nature, sports, and don’t forget the area’s exceptional culinary scene.
Here’s an insider look at a few things to do near Cincy's university campuses and throughout the region.
Discover Cincy’s art and cultural experiences
With its own ballet, fine art galleries and museums, opera, symphony, and theatre companies–Cincinnati is an exciting cultural hub.
People looking at artwork inside the Cincinnati Art Museum (photo: Cincinnati Art Museum)
The Cincinnati Art Museum, located in Eden Park, is home to a diverse collection of more than 60,000 artworks, including paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, fashion, photography, and prints. Special exhibits are featured throughout the year and currently Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds is featured through October 15, 2023. Admission is free to the permanent collection and exhibition pricing varies. Designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid, the Contemporary Arts Center is a free museum in downtown Cincinnati with a celebrated permanent collection and offers a unique hands-on art lab for creatives of all ages. Since 1932, the Taft Museum of Art has offered a uniquely diverse collection in a historical landmark with its own rich, diverse past.
In The Banks District, explore Cincinnati’s music heritage at Cincinnati’s newest free attraction Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame. While you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center on the banks of the Ohio River. This must-visit museum explores the history and stories of the Underground Railroad and helps visitors understand the meaning of inclusive freedom. For an electric and once-in-a-lifetime experience, check out the American Sign Museum, housing the nation’s largest collection of commercial signs while learning all about the art of sign making.
Cheer on Cincy’s home teams
Cincy is home to a wide variety of sports teams. The Cincinnati Reds, the nation’s first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Bengals, FC Cincinnati, Florence Y’alls, and the Cincinnati Cyclones. Check out their schedules and take your pick. If you’re interested in horseracing, check out Turfway Park in nearby Florence, KY, the region’s premiere horse racing facility operated by Churchill Downs.
Explore Cincinnati’s food and drink scene
Cincy’s culinary scene is as diverse and eclectic as the region. From local, black-owned restaurants to farm-to-table restaurants, Cincinnati and the nearby Northern Kentucky area are quickly becoming a foodie favorite destination. Check out some of the most popular restaurants the region has to offer in this must-visit restaurant guide.
Cincy is famous for a few foodie favorites. For more than a century, Cincy has been serving up its world-famous chili. There are lots of chili parlors in Cincy but, Skyline Chili is a classic. Coincidentally, the oldest standing location is actually located on the UC campus. It wouldn’t be a trip to Cincy without having a 3-way, 4-way, or whatever-way but please note, it’s served over spaghetti or on a coney hot dog and never eaten with a spoon. Skyline isn’t the only place for Cincinnati chili and every local has their personal favorite. Check out our full list of Cincinnati chili parlors to find a bowl or coney near you.
Skyline 3 Way with Coney (photo: Skyline Chili)
You gotta try some goetta while you’re in town. This scrapple-style meat is another local favorite with German roots. It’s so popular in Cincy that there’s an entire festival dedicated to this delicious patty. Historic Findlay Market is a must-see destination in and of itself and a great place to shop and eat goetta amongst other Cincinnati delicacies.
For something sweet, try Cincinnati’s favorite ice cream, Graeter’s–a family-owned ice creamery featuring small batch ice cream flavors crafted in French pots 2 ½ gallons at a time. While there are more than 50 locations around the region, there’s one near campus on Ludlow Avenue in the nearby Clifton neighborhood.
Get a taste of the Cincinnati and NKY craft beer scene by visiting one of the more than 80 breweries across the region. Rhinegeist Brewery try and play some of your favorite games in the kid-friendly taproom or get a rooftop view of downtown Covington, KY, at Braxton Brewing. Just over the Ohio River is bourbon country. Go on a self-guided bourbon discovery on The B-Line® and enjoy Kentucky’s home spirit, featuring the area’s bourbon distilleries, bars, and restaurants.
Popular restaurants near Cincy’s universities
If you’re looking for a quick bite near campus check out these restaurants.
Restaurants near the University of Cincinnati:
- HangOverEasy - Quick breakfast and brunch
- Richies - Southern soul food on the go
- Fortune Noodle House - hand-pulled noodles and stir fry
- Good Plates Eatery - sandwiches and salads
Restaurants near Xavier University
- Emery - Seasonal new American cuisine
- Listermann Brewing Company / Tickle Pickle Restaurant - Craft beer and burgers
- Arthur’s - Classic burger joint circa 1947
- The Echo - Old-school diner with a full bar
Restaurants near Mount Joseph University
- Habesha Ethiopian Restaurant
- Wild Mikes - Wings and other pub fare
- Incline Public House - Gastropub with excellent skyline views
Restaurants near Northern Kentucky University
- Nittha Siam Kitchen - Sushi and Thai cuisine
- Mac’s Pizza Pub - Local favorite for pizza and burgers
- Knotty Pine On the Bayou - Cajun & Creole fare
- Walt’s Hitching Post - Legendary ribs and steaks
Family fun things to do near the University of Cincinnati
Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine
Not far from the University of Cincinnati campus (within walking distance) is Burnet Woods and Trailside Nature Center, This fabulous 90-acre park with hiking trails, a fishing lake, a historic bandstand, playgrounds, shelters, picnic areas, and even a disc golf course is a perfect spot for a relaxing stroll, a picnic lunch, or birdwatching.
Celebrating 150 years in 2023, the Cincinnati Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States. It’s also home to some pretty famous hippos, Fiona, and her little brother, Fritz, who is also celebrating his first birthday. Don’t miss the local mural project featuring local artist Cedric M. Cox.
Washington Park is a newly renovated park across from the historic Music Hall in the OTR district. There’s a play park with interactive water features for a cool-down splash pad, and a 12,000-square-foot dog park complete with a doggy water fountain. Check out the American Classical Music Walk of Fame and a variety of activities at this vibrant park.
Another noteworthy park to explore is located between the scenic Mt. Adams neighborhood and Walnut Hills. Eden Park provides beautiful breathtaking overlooks of the Ohio River valley and is home to the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Krohn Conservatory, Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park, and has miles and miles of hiking trails and green space.
Newport Aquarium (Photo: @raising.laurens.littles)
And just across the river in Newport, KY, is the Newport Aquarium, which is home to thousands of animals in millions of gallons of water. Voted one of the best aquariums in the U.S., this is a must-visit destination.
Looking for even more things to do in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky during your visit? Check out our full Cincy events calendar for an updated and complete list of everything happening in the area. Start planning your visit to Cincy now!