In the 19th century, Cincinnati's location along the Ohio River made it a key port for steamboats and earned it the moniker "The Queen City." Much of the city is still defined by this era, and many of the most interesting things to do in Cincinnati are steeped in history. Take for instance the riverboats that still travel the Ohio River, creating a scene straight out of the 1800s. On BB Riverboats' flagship, the Belle of Cincinnati, passengers sip cocktails and dance amid Victorian decor on three decks that feature open-air views of the river.
At the heart of downtown, the river passes Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds. Even in the offseason, sports fans can pop in to see the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Museum, which explores the team's history from its founding in 1869. During football season, they can head a few streets down to Paul Brown Stadium, where the Cincinnati Bengals battle rivals such as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The story of a far more consequential conflict awaits in a building that lies between the two stadiums: the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Here, exhibits show how more than 100,000 enslaved people journeyed toward freedom along the Underground Railroad, along which Cincinnati was a major stop. The center also highlights countries in which slavery still takes place.
Nearby, more history comes to life at the Cincinnati Museum Center, a complex that comprises several museums. At one, the Cincinnati History Museum, visitors marvel at a scale model that depicts the city from 1900 through the 1940s. But you’ll have to head to the east side of the city to the Cincinnati Observatory Center to look beyond the skyline. The still-functioning 19th century observatory lets visitors explore the heavens through the lens of an 1843 Merz und Mahler Refractor.
Camp Washington Chili is the place to grab a quick dinner. For more than 70 years, this casual eatery has cooked a secret chili recipe and—in true Cincinnati fashion—served it over spaghetti and hotdogs. If you have more time on your hands, though, put your name in for a table at the in-demand Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse. Eating barbecue ribs in a dining room that overlooks the river makes the wait worthwhile.
After eating, you can take in a show at the Tony Award-winning Playhouse in the Park, which is nestled just south of Eden Park amid the trees and hills of the Mount Adams neighborhood. The show should be over in time to continue the evening in the Over-the-Rhine District. Here, musicians play in bars and restaurants such as Motr Pub, where local and well-known rock bands headline almost every night.
Perhaps the easiest way to experience Cincinnati is to attend one of the city's many events. Taste of Cincinnati, an annual food festival, lets attendees sample some the best local foods, wines, and beers. The Cincy Fringe Festival shows another side of the city by presenting local plays, music, films, and visual art.