Winston Churchill said, “Cincinnati is the most beautiful of the inland cities of the union.” We think he was on to something. Nestled amidst a hilly landscape reminiscent of San Francisco lies a revitalized city that’s buzzing with life and is begging to be explored. With an easily walkable downtown and a location just 15 minutes from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Ohio’s third-biggest city makes the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. Travelers are discovering that Cincinnati, affectionately dubbed “the Queen City” by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, truly offers rich travel experiences fit for royalty. With a flourishing culinary revolution, the nearby Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a world-class art scene and accessible luxury, Cincinnati is on the verge of a hip explosion.
No matter how long you stay, there won’t be enough time to sample all the amazing food Cincinnati has to offer. While it may be known for its chili — you simply can’t visit without trying a Skyline Coney dog — there is more depth to its culinary scene. Some restaurants are on par with offerings in cities like Los Angeles — if you know where to look.
For fried chicken (and spoonbread) that’s worthy of the requisite two-hour wait, head to The Eagle. If you want to sample the beet and goat cheese salad that Kelly Clarkson swears changed her life, go to Boca for chef David Falk’s inventive ode to European cuisine. When you need a romantic restaurant so sweet it made Serena Williams and Drake swoon back in August, hit up traditional Italian trattoria Sotto. And for a bone-in filet with a side of bacon jam so grand it rivals the finest kitchens in New York City, reserve a table at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse. Another smart option is Montgomery Inn Boathouse, an iconic barbecue joint where locals and visiting celebrities frequent. Whichever route you go, don’t forget to save room for Graeter’s black raspberry chip ice cream, a sweet Cincinnati classic that even Oprah thinks is the best the country has to offer.
Cincinnati’s German roots run deep, so it’s no surprise that it has phenomenal beer. The city literally has beer coursing through its veins. With the help of unfinished subterranean tunnels, you can experience Cincy’s history and brewery heritage on an underground tour with American Legacy Tours or a street-level one with Cincinnati Brewery Tours. For a bit of self-guided beer fun, be sure to check out a few pours at Moerlein Lager House or Rivertown Brewery. True beer lovers, though, must make the trip back to Cincinnati for Oktoberfest Zinzinnati (2016’s dates haven’t been announced), the largest Oktoberfest celebration in the country. If it’s cocktails that you’re after, head to Top of the Park for a glass of vino and unparalleled views of downtown.
Did you know that greater Cincinnati actually spans a tri-state area, covering Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky? So, don’t miss a trip to the Bluegrass side of the Ohio River to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (there’s a stop less than a 10-minute cab ride from downtown Cincinnati) to sample America’s native spirit. We recommend starting at New Riff Distillery if you have limited time because of its close proximity to the city center. This new attraction will give you an intimate look behind the scenes of the distilling process from grain to barrel. When you’re done, head to Mainstrasse Village (just a five-minute ride from New Riff), and enjoy a personal bourbon tasting and mixology lesson at Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar. With literally hundreds of special and rare bourbons served up by a knowledgeable staff, you’ll truly get an education. Added bonus: there is a newly opened patio where you can kick back with your cocktail.
The revitalized Over-the-Rhine (or “OTR”) district is akin to what Brooklyn was before it became the hipster capital of New York. OTR is also home to the country’s largest collection (over 1,100 buildings) of 19th-century, Italianate architecture. Many of these structures are painted in vibrant, fun colors symbolizing the area’s renaissance. Its streets are filled with craft donut shops (Holtman’s), family-owned galleries (MiCA 12/v), delightful microbreweries (Rhinegeist) and celebrity-helmed bars (Lachey’s, owned by pop star Nick Lachey and his brother Drew). Locals amble around and fill its many establishments after work and during the weekend, rejuvenating an area that not long ago was a wasteland.
And just steps away from those popular spots lies recently renovated Washington Park, which is home to a children’s play area, interactive water fountains and Music Hall and event plaza, which often plays host to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera and other music gatherings (MidPoint Music Fest).
And speaking of creative expressions, Artworks has been transforming downtown Cincinnati one wall at a time. The program employs youth apprentices and artists to paint public masterpieces inspired by local business and Cincinnati legends. The group recently completed its 100th mural, a colorful tribute to native boxer Ezzard Charles. Take a guided tour or a self-guided walking trek of some of the incredible public art. Be sure to also check out Findlay Market, where locals snag fresh flowers, ice cream, seasonal produce and spices from local farmers and food producers. It’s the oldest surviving municipal market house in the city.
Easy Access to Luxury
You may be surprised to learn that Cincinnati is a popular filming location for Hollywood. Movies such as The Ides of March (leading man George Clooney grew up in the area, after all) and upcoming Oscar contender, Carol (with Cate Blanchett) were filmed here. To accommodate the glitterati who come to town, there is a suprisingly impressive array of luxury hotel options. One of our favorites is The Cincinnatian Hotel, a hotel on the National Register of Historic Places that exudes a contemporary air and impeccable service that never gets old. Another winner is 21c Museum Hotel, which was conceived by Laura Lee Brown, the great granddaughter of the founder of the liquor company Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s), as a means to breathe life and art into neighborhoods in need of a boost. The property offers guests a boutique experience with a fine spa, a cutting-edge restaurant (Metropole) and a contemporary art museum that is open year round to the public free of charge. Just wait until you see the yellow penguins that are scattered throughout.
And the luxury doesn’t end there. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star restaurant Orchids at Palm Court, housed at the historic Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, offers splurge-worthy cuisine in an Art Deco dining room reminiscent of a bygone era. Though the menu changes seasonally, you can expect exquisite wine pairings and tasting menus featuring items such as grilled pork belly with roasted plum, and marinated tuna crudo every night. Each Sunday the restaurant offers a brunch with live music, freshly carved meats, a raw seafood bar, a bloody Mary bar, made-to-order omelets and a 20-foot dessert table.
Visitors looking to take their high-end experience to even greater heights can take a ride with Stratus Helicopters, where you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the Ohio River, Paul Brown Stadium and other stunning sights. Once you set foot back on land, head to Donna Salyers’ Fabulous Furs for the world’s finest faux garments. The family-owned shop made “Oprah’s Favorite Things” list in 2014 — and now that we’re thinking about it, the city as a whole seems to be one of her favorite places — so stop by for a first-hand look at how the business has become a worldwide symbol for responsible luxury among celebrities.