Tucked away near the banks of the Ohio River stands the other Sin City. Or at least it used to be, during the days when bootlegging formed a powerful underground economy. When a group of teachers and history buffs needed money for school service projects in Central America, they decided to raise funds by starting tours that explored this seamy history, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. A few years and many local accolades later, knowledgeable guides continue expounding upon the town’s rich history of mobsters, gamblers, and ladies of the night.
Tours stroll down Newport blocks littered with buildings once occupied by speakeasies, brothels, and the site of Al Capone’s failed early restaurant career, Al Calzone. Along the way, guides tie the rich past to the rise of the modern-day gaming industry and Newport’s connections to famous crime figures.
Plunking guests into amphibious vessels based on a 1940s General Motors military design, the tour guides at Ride The Ducks Newport lead excursions through greater Cincinnati via city streets and the Ohio River. Tours spend about 25 minutes on the water as sightseers paint mental watercolors of local attractions, including Newport Aquarium, the Roebling Suspension Bridge, and the World Peace Bell. Along the way, guides regale tourists with tales about Cincinnati's role in films and songs, as well as stories about the city's history and famous personalities that surprise even lifelong residents. Tourists may bring drinks with lids (no alcohol or liquid nitrogen allowed), and vessels furnish guests with life jackets and Wacky Quackers that make duck noises to complement the tour's duck's-eye views.
Wheel Fun Rentals equips visitors with pedal-propelled transit to traverse the oft-overlooked scenery of Cincinnati. A wide range of vehicles, such as a cruiser bicycle ($8/hour), a low-lying chopper ($10/hour), a deuce coupe for two ($20/hour), or a surrey ($20–$30/hour), ferries riders across one of four scenic routes. The Sawyer Point Park and Cincinnati Riverfront trips both unfold 2 miles of pathway along the banks of the Ohio River for two wheelers and four wheelers to lament the existence of no wheelers. The picturesque neighborhood of Mt. Adams lures bicycles on a 5-mile trip that explores the blooming gardens of the quaint town and its neighbor Eden Park, which frames a panoramic view of the Cincinnati skyline. Wheels spin across state lines as peddlers navigate the 2,670-foot Purple People Bridge en route to Newport, Kentucky, where the 350,000-square-foot Newport on the Levee entertainment complex entices sightseers with shops, restaurants, and theaters.
Imagine standing on the courthouse steps where dozens of Cincinnatians were slain during a riot in 1884. Or looking down an unlit tunnel burrowed to sustain the black-market trade of alcohol during the Prohibition. The guides behind Queen City History & Education Ltd. illuminate both the highs and lows of Over-the-Rhine’s and downtown’s history through walking tours designed by local attorney and real-estate agent Michael Morgan, author of Over-the-Rhine: When Beer Was King. They also host lectures and educational seminars that promote the preservation of Cincinnati’s historical structures. To further strengthen that goal, the company donates a percentage of it proceeds to the Brewery District CURC, a nonprofit that supports the redevelopment of Over-the-Rhine. Additionally, the foundation works to preserve the area’s architectural and cultural brewing heritage by placing a bubbling cauldron on every corner.
Initially designed as a temporary tour and fundraiser for student travel, American Legacy Tours began humbly as the Newport Gangster Tour in 2008. When met with overwhelming success, the friends who had embarked on what they thought was a temporary project decided to take root and expand, creating American Legacy Tours in 2010.
Their first order of business as an official company was to introduce the Queen City Underground Tour, an exploration of the city's underground tunnels and history as a rabbit village. Today, a cadre of educated guides leads 10 different area walking tours, including seasonal Spirit of Christmas Tours and Newport is Haunted Tours held around Halloween.
The two-hour Prohibition Resistance: Summer Lager Tour shepherds ale enthusiasts through several blocks of pre-Prohibition-era breweries in the historically German-populated Over-the-Rhine district. Knowledgeable guides embark from Findlay Market, a public bazaar in continuous operation since 1855, to delve into mid- to late-19th-century beer bubblers. Clyffside Brewery’s opulent high bays soar overhead, and Jackson Brewery’s cavernous lagering cellars delve deep enough to encounter fabled beer-breathing fish. Alongside decorative cornices and bull's-eye windows, tour takers investigate the social and political dimensions of hops hawking. Though the tour does not include beer tasting, tour-goers may visit the Over-the-Rhine Biergarten afterward to discover for themselves the origins of the German word: “bier,” meaning “beer,” and “garten,” meaning “to gargle voraciously.”