Overview

Located in the heartland of the Midwest on the Ohio River, Cincinnati, Ohio, and the Greater Cincinnati area in northern Kentucky are beautiful and serene spots for a vacation in the southwest Ohio area.

Cincinnati manages to maintain its small, old-world charm through its outgoing people and impressive variety of historic buildings. But Cincinnati is also a modern, cultured city with ethnically diverse neighborhoods and a rich array of performing-arts venues, museums and galleries, festivals, professional sports teams such as the Cincinnati Bengals and Cincinnati Reds, fine dining and shopping. The Cincinnati Zoo provides additional diversion for visitors.

As you drive into Cincinnati, Ohio, from the south, the view of the city skyline is striking, especially at night. You can see the Great American Ballpark, where the Cincinnati Reds baseball team plays home games, and the Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals football team. In addition, the art-deco-style Carew Tower is the tallest building in Cincinnati, the 100-year-old Ingalls Building is the world's first reinforced-concrete skyscraper and the impressive Procter & Gamble Twin Towers resemble a gateway into the city.

Visitors to Cincinnati will also get an eyefull of the bridges that link Ohio and Kentucky—the Brent Spence Bridge, Clay Wade Bailey Bridge, C&O Bridge, Roebling Suspension Bridge, Central Bridge, L&N Bridge and the Dan Carter Beard Bridge.

It is Cincinnati's diversity that makes it a worthy travel destination. For a medium-sized city, it maintains an impressive amount of historical, contemporary and cultural attractions—explaining why millions visit Cincinnati, Ohio, each year.

Geography

Rome. Istanbul. Cincinnati? Like those ancient centers of civilization, Cincinnati is built on seven sloping hills, giving this city in southwestern Ohio a certain rolling charm. The Ohio River forms the city's southern boundary and separates the state of Ohio from neighboring Kentucky and Indiana. The city is relatively easy to navigate, so long as you understand that some streets go over the hills and some go around them. The exceptions are the interstates—I-75, I-74 and I-71—that bisect the city. Circling Cincinnati is I-275, which links parts of Ohio, Indiana and northern Kentucky.

Areas of town are known by their neighborhood names—Mount Adams is east of the city along the Ohio River; Price Hill is west along the Ohio. To the north are Over-the-Rhine, Clifton and Mount Auburn. Northeast are Mount Lookout and Hyde Park. Even farther north are the suburbs of Indian Hill, Wyoming and Kenwood. Across the river in Kentucky are a slew of small towns—the best known is Newport. In recent years, Newport has grown into an entertainment hub for Greater Cincinnati, offering a wide array of activities in what is now called Newport on the Levee.

History

That the Ohio River always has taken center stage is only proper: The Queen City (as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow immortalized Cincinnati) owes its existence and fortunes to the river. The city was founded in 1788 as Losantiville and was rechristened Cincinnati two years later. But it was the creation of the Miami-Erie canals that fully established the city's importance in the shipping of regional farm products (particularly pork) to northeastern cities. An influx of German, Italian and Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s brought the city a new ethnic mix and provided the labor to build its port operations and other industries.

Its strategic location on the Mason-Dixon Line made Cincinnati a stop on the Underground Railroad for slaves seeking freedom before the Civil War. By the end of the 19th century, railroads began replacing barges as the primary transporters of grain and meat products. The city's central location and good transportation led to its growth as an industrial center and as the headquarters of large companies such as Procter & Gamble.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the city was one of the first in the country to begin cleaning up its riverfront, choosing to build its new baseball and football stadiums there. The city's urban renewal efforts spread north to the old German immigrant neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine, where stately, redbrick buildings were refurbished for shops and nightclubs.

The city has become diversified: Many major corporations call Cincinnati home. Among them are Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Federated Department Stores, GE Aircraft Engines, The Andrew Jergens Company, Chiquita Brands International, US Playing Card Company and Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America (in Erlanger, Kentucky).

Sightseeing

You'll find the flavor of Cincinnati in its many neighborhoods. (You may need to drive from one area to the next, but you'll want to park your car when downtown.) Start your exploration at the riverfront. Once an industrial wasteland, this strip of land along the Ohio River has been reclaimed and turned into a series of lovely parks with fountains, gardens, public-performance areas and scenic overlooks. You can lounge on the Serpentine Wall (steep concrete steps that wrap around the river in large undulating curves) and watch boats glide under the Ohio's many bridges. Nearby, pig statues pay playful homage to the city's past as a pork processor. (Cincinnati once was known as Porkopolis.)

Cincinnati has a sophisticated walkway system that easily connects the city's attractions, making it convenient to travel downtown by foot. Most notable is the skywalk system that allows visitors to travel miles/kilometers around downtown without ever stepping outside, which is an excellent feature in winter or when it's raining. Fountain Square, with its graceful Tyler Davidson Genius of Water fountain, is surrounded by office buildings full of shops, restaurants and bars. A few blocks north are the elegant brick buildings of Over-the-Rhine, a former German enclave that's now home to trendy clubs.

Mount Adams is worth a visit for its views. It's also where you'll find the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and Eden Park, which is home to the glass-domed Krohn Conservatory. Clifton's small-town atmosphere conceals a big-city college—the University of Cincinnati—and a first-rate zoo. Mount Lookout and Hyde Park are known for gracious homes and charming shopping districts.

Northern Kentucky is just a bridge away from downtown and offers almost as many attractions as Cincinnati. One of the bridges, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, is worth a look—it was the prototype for New York City's Brooklyn Bridge. (Doubters in the Big Apple wanted to ensure the safety of the radical bridge design before allowing Roebling to begin construction in New York.)

The community of Newport has a cutting-edge aquarium and many restaurants, shops and entertainment options located at Newport on the Levee and the surrounding area (http://www.newportonthelevee.com). Covington has MainStrasse Village, a restored 19th-century German neighborhood, with shops, bars and eateries tucked among the houses. MainStrasse also plays host to unique festivals throughout the year and is the beginning point (or terminal section) of the famous Corridor 127 sale—also known as the world's longest yardsale (http://www.mainstrasse.org).

Nightlife

Main Street Entertainment District, located in Over-the-Rhine, is the hub of Cincinnati's nightlife. Although it is downtown's hottest night spot, it is still struggling to rid itself of bad press related to crime in that area. But this once-dilapidated neighborhood now has numerous bars and dance clubs that continue to draw crowds.

Clifton is another neighborhood with a high concentration of venues. Because it's close to the University of Cincinnati, the area caters mainly to college-age folks. The Mad Frog has live music and a clubby feel. For your more laid-back moods, try Arlin's Bar.

In Newport, Southgate House has become a hot spot for live music. It has three entertainment areas to accommodate fans of rock, jazz and acoustic music all at the same time. York Street Cafe is a comfortable, trendy spot for listening to music.

Most bars and clubs close around 2:30 am. Taxis can easily be hailed from the street.

Dining

No one should leave town without trying Cincinnati chili. Cincinnati's version is derived, oddly enough, from a Greek recipe, and rather than being spicy-hot, it's a little sweet, spiked with hints of chocolate and cinnamon. The way it's served also is distinctive. One-way is chili in a bowl; two-way is chili over spaghetti; three-way adds cheddar cheese; four-way adds onions or kidney beans; and five-way comes with everything.

Two of the largest and best chili chains are Skyline and Gold Star. They're as common as brasseries in Paris or pizza joints in New York City. There also are a number of good independents in town. To supplement your chili, try some local beer. The German immigrants of the 19th century brought with them a strong brewing tradition, and by 1851, the city had more than 20 independent breweries. Popular throughout town are mini- and microbreweries such as the BarrelHouse Brewing Co. in Over-the-Rhine, the Rock Bottom Brewery in Fountain Square and Watson Bros. Bistro and Brewery in Blue Ash.

Another Cincinnati specialty is goetta, a German creation. It's a blend of ground pork, beef and oats—similar to sausage—which can be fried and served for breakfast or any meal. Goetta is served in many area restaurants, and it can be purchased in local grocery stores or Findlay Market. There are several goetta festivals held in summer.

As you might expect, Cincinnati has fine German restaurants, as well as excellent Italian and French cuisine. But be prepared to dine in some unusual surroundings. You'll find restaurants in a former police station, a pottery factory (where you can eat in a kiln), a general store and a saloon.

The Kentucky side of the Ohio River also offers plenty of options—from restaurants on riverboats to sleek, ultramodern cafes—many affording stunning views of the Cincinnati skyline.

General dining times are 6:30-10:30 am for breakfast, 11 am-2 pm for lunch and 5-10 pm for dinner. Cincinnatians eat dinner earlier than residents of some larger cities—most places are busiest 6:30-8 pm.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines, based on the cost of a dinner for one, not including drinks, tip or tax: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$40; $$$$ = more than US$40.

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