I put off spending a long weekend in Cincinnati for a long time. I didn’t know (or had ever heard) anything about it and didn’t want to risk wasting a weekend. I needed to be 100% convinced a weekend in Cincinnati was going to be worth it—not like that time I boarded a plane to Mexico because I’d just heard tacos were in season.
One of my best friends lived in Cincinnati and to see each other it was usually us meeting in either Europe or Disney World, two places I knew I could count on. Did Cincinnati, Ohio have great cappuccinos or a Mexican Donald Duck? Did it have liter beers or a People Mover? Who knew!? But what it did have was two of my best friends. And when I found out it soon wouldn’t have them anymore (they moved 1,000 miles away), I knew spending that long weekend in Cincinnati was now or never.
A LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI, OHIO
Now that I’ve finally done it, I can say, without hesitation, that Cincinnati is freaking awesome. I’d confidently put it up there with the likes of Austin and Nashville on the cool scale. And just under Munich, Germany on the relative time spent drinking beer scale. As much fun as a weekend in Cincinnati is, it’s also a little befuddling. Like, why doesn’t everyone know this already? Is Cincinnati trying to keep its coolness a secret? (something it and I have in common) It was so cool, in fact, that I’m genuinely confused as to why you don’t hear about it more.
Knowing we had just a small window of opportunity to visit, my husband and I jumped in the car and raced to Cincinnati (safely, that is—my mom reads this). We drove 14 straight hours from Boston to … well, Newport, Kentucky but that’s pretty much the same thing. First stop: the Hofbrauhaus, because you can take the girl outta Germany but the girl is still 40% German so getting her to drive past a beer hall without stopping is gonna take a little work. We ended up having a surprisingly kickass long weekend in Cincinnati and, since Ashley didn’t get that let’s keep it a secret memo, Ashley is spreading the word. (And if you’re new here, I’m Ashley. See how under-the-radar cool I am referring to myself in the 3rd person?)
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | CRAFT BEER
Cincinnati, Ohio is arguably the most heavily German-influenced city in America. OF COURSE THEY HAVE A KILLER BEER SCENE. Besides, if it hadn’t been for all the German immigrants of the late 18th century, would we even be able to throw bean bags at wooden boards? Would we even have a reason to hang out in warehouses? Or on rooftops?
A long weekend in Cincinnati introduced me to the best craft beer scene I’ve experienced (that I’m positive stacks up against all the other ones I haven’t). The countless craft breweries here offer some of the most innovative—but not in a gross, trying-too-hard kinda way—beers I’ve had that I can’t stop thinking about. These beers are offered all around town but I prefer to get them straight from the source—the brewery taprooms. These craft beer taprooms are kinda like bars but with a lot more indoor cornhole, maybe a fire pit, probably a lot of dogs, vintage arcade games, and sometimes even a fat man in a tub. They’re less like “rooms” actually and more like massive places that used to be other places, like warehouses or, ironically enough, Evangelical churches.
There are too many craft breweries to visit in even a long weekend in Cincinnati but I did what I could in the name of research. Sometimes being a blogger is really, really hard. Send help. And beer. And if you’d like legit information on these breweries and the beers they offer, I encourage you to click the links because what qualifies as “research” in the Wanderlusty world is basically just me pointing out where the cutest puppies are.
Madtree Brewing was my favorite of all the Cincinnati craft breweries I tried and the model for what I believe a craft brewery should be. Their beer selection is huge, the flavors themselves are immensely creative (my favorite had rosemary and thyme as main ingredients), and only the cutest puppies come here.
Rhinegeist is Cincinnati’s most popular and readily available outside Cincy, in other U.S. cities populated by immigrants with a penchant for heavy drinking. Boston, for example. (I’m also 40% Irish, lucky me!) In addition to beer they offer a wide range of ciders and a bearded guy in a plaid shirt for all tastes.
Urban Artifact won me over before I even arrived at the brewery by way of cans at my friends’ apartment. Their Pickle beer sounded too weird to be tasty but also too good to be true, being from Tennessee where a whisky + pickle back is everyday life. Plus, their brewery is in a church and if you know me at all, you know that places that used to be churches but are now other things, is my favorite thing.
Braxton Brewing Company—yes, this is technically in Kentucky but who cares about technicalities?—is just a quick walk over the Roebling Bridge and offers beers on the more German, AKA “better”, side of brewing.
If you want a brew with a view, skip the brewery and head straight for the Moerlein Lager House in downtown Cincinnati. Here, at what used to be the Reds stadium, you can drink Moerlein’s fabulous craft beers while looking at the bridge you swear you’ve seen somewhere before.
At Taft’s Ale House you can drink a wide range of beer styles on fancy couches in A FORMER CHURCH—really, is there anything more you could want? Oh, a fat guy in a tub? You got it.
If “keep your husband distracted for the better part of an hour” is all you look for in a craft brewery, look no further than Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House and their selection of free, all-you-can-play vintage arcade games. Can’t even remember what the beer tasted like. So much pinball.
And though I didn’t make it to the Mt. Carmel brewery, I did get to have a Blackberry Honey Blonde at the Cincinnati Zoo where part of my sale went to help honeybees, ergo, the world.
And, as always, shout out to the Hofbrauhaus for continuing to offer some of the best beer in the world, wherever in the world you can get it, and yes this totally counts as a Cincinnati craft brewery.
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | OVER THE RHINE
Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood is the city’s immigrant—turned dangerous—turned trendy and historic district. Every American city has one, right? The kinda place where you get asked for money outside an ex-warehouse (yay!) of million-dollar loft apartments? It’s so named for the hefty German population on that side of what used to be the Miami and Erie Canal AKA the “Rhine”. And what once was the canal is now Central Parkway, the same way church was where I used to go because I was Southern and that’s just what we did, but is now where I go to drink craft beer.
OTR has a slew of buildings that used to be other things, is heavy on the German heritage, and is where “jaywalking” became a thing. (Yes, I did in fact jaywalk for the sake of jaywalking while I was there.) It’s full of trendy restaurants and bars, boutique gift shops, but most of the cool stuff is actually underground through a hole the size of a hula-hoop.
The Over-the-Rhine district has more history packed into it than a long weekend in Cincinnati can handle so I recommend recruiting some experts to show you around. My friends and I took the Ultimate Underground Queen City Tour with American Legacy Tours and loved every minute of it. Our guide was hilarious and gave us the history-heavy rundown of OTR and took us to some unbelievably interesting places: on a walking tour of OTR, inside and under some old churches that are still churches, down under the city into the hidden tunnels that played a huge part in Cincinnati’s brewing heritage, and, because it was a holiday and we couldn’t make our planned brewery stop, to Taft’s Ale House where she bought us all beer. She was so knowledgeable and fun and… you heard me say free beer, right?
We got our tour tickets on Groupon. Though they aren’t always available, it is always worth checking! You can also check out other American Legacy Tours on offer at the moment.
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | DOWNTOWN CINCINNATI
Truth be told, I didn’t spend a lot of time downtown during my long weekend in Cincinnati, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth mentioning. Look how green! How fountain-y! Downtown Cincinnati is definitely one of the most walkable and nicest looking downtown areas I’ve been to. There are museums and parks, great restaurants like the Moerlein Lager House (it’s not just the beers that are good), great views from the top of the Carew Tower, and two professional sports venues. (Hey, say what you want about a sports team with a losing record, but where else can you get such great ticket deals and beer specials? Being one of just a few people in a stadium is so much more fun than being one person, in a sea of overdressed executives, who paid so much for his/her ticket that he/she can’t afford a hot dog.)
It’s also from downtown Cincinnati that you can walk across…
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | THE BRIDGE
The Roebling Bridge, look familiar? Maybe as the place where Miranda and Steve realized their undying love for each other? That’s because it was built by John A. Roebling, the German-born engineer famous for having built the Brooklyn Bridge. Aha, you see it now. The Roebling Bridge, completed 17 years before the Brooklyn Bridge, was the longest suspension bridge in the world at that time (1866) and spans the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio and Covington, Kentucky—AKA—totally counts as Cincinnati too. It’s a smaller bridge than the Brooklyn but with an obvious similarity. Two major differences being the pretty blue color of the Roebling and also the fact that you’re far less likely to get cussed at for just looking at the bike lane.
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | THE CINCINNATI ZOO
I don’t typically visit zoos when I travel—most of the time it’s an “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” kinda thing. But sometimes, there’s a baby hippo involved and turning down a chance to see it is harder than a hangover handstand. The Cincinnati Zoo is a great zoo, and that’s coming from someone who has worked at one of the best and some of the worst. (Parents: repeatedly telling your kid he/she belongs in a zoo is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.) Here’s how to spend a day at the Cincinnati Zoo:
- Visit Fiona—the adorable baby hippo your sister posts about on Facebook all the damn time.
- Feed the giraffes—because it’s fun and kinda icky and really weird for all ages.
- Check out the cheetah run—where cheetahs… run. Wicked fast.
- Check out the new social media boss baby in town and also the creepiest thing you’ve seen since the grail scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade—Winsol, the baby aardvark.
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | THE FOOD
I never really pegged Cincinnati, Ohio as a “foodie” destination but I didn’t have a thing there that didn’t blow my mind. And yes, I’m a simple girl, so often it was just the potato chips. Cincinnati has a lot of foods you can only get in Cincinnati which is both awesome for them and shitty for me. Like, what’s a girl gotta do to get some goetta or Grippo’s or Graeter’s around here? What I wouldn’t give to pair my New England craft beer with some Hen of the Woods.
Some of the best meals I had were at Forno Osteria+Bar (certifiable foodgasm alert–their truffled cream corn is honestly one of the BEST foods I’ve ever eaten), Quán Hapa Asian Street Food in OTR, and Bauer Farm Kitchen in downtown Cincinnati. And if you’re not ready to blow all your beer money on a dish with the words “cream corn” in it, there’s always a plate (or six) of Cincinnati chili.
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | THE AMERICAN SIGN MUSEUM
That place sounds weird, I know, but don’t write off the American Sign Museum during your long weekend in Cincinnati. This museum single-handedly restored my faith in the museum system. They took something as hum-drum as a gas station neon sign and a hotel marquee and made it the most interesting place I’ve been in months. It’s because of this museum that I’ve since vowed to visit a new museum every month—imagine all the boring stuff out there that’s actually, secretly interesting! Like Cincinnati!
The American Sign Museum takes you on guided tours through their collection of vintage and historic signs—beer signs, hotel signs, and church signs; sign made out of plastic, wood, and metal; signs lit by gas, electricity, and noble gases. Then, if your mind isn’t blown enough, they take you into their workshop and show you—probably too closely—how neon signs are made.
I had such an enlightening (heh) time here that I wrote an entire post about it. Check it out here:
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | JUNGLE JIM’S
I’m about to tell you to visit a grocery store during your long weekend in Cincinnati. Now don’t judge me; just hear me out. I only wish I could accurately describe Jungle Jim’s. Maybe… “if groceries had a theme park”? In short, they have anything and everything you could ever want. In long, they have everything else in the world that you would never want or need in a million years but you have to see every bit of it with your own two eyes to believe it.
There are currently two Jungle Jim’s locations taking up a combined 500,000 square feet of these United States. They offer products from all over the world—70 different countries to be exact—and some that just have to be from outer space. My friends and I spent a good couple of hours here and we weren’t even looking for anything in particular the whole time… except each other (place iz large, yo). But did I buy a bag of Grippo’s the size of four bags of Grippo’s? You betcha. Did I also buy a bag of potato chips made from crickets? Absolutely. Whether or not you’re in the market for a bottle of Big Mac special sauce or a gummy bear so big you’d need a stroller to get it home, you need to check out Jungle Jim’s. If there’s any kind of food item you’ve been missing since you took that trip to France/Italy/Greece/Spain/the Caribbean/Thailand/Mexico/India/Russia/Pakistan/Africa, you need to check out Jungle Jim’s.
LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI | THE LOCATION
I know, you barely know where Ohio is, let alone Cincinnati. You probably also didn’t know that Cincinnati is under six hours drive time from nine major U.S. cities, making it the perfect long weekend destination.
- From Nashville: 4 hours
- From Chicago: 4.5 hours
- From Indianapolis: 2 hours
- From Cleveland: 3.5 hours
- From Pittsburgh: 4.5 hours
- From Louisville: 1.5 hours
- From Detroit: 4 hours
- From St. Louis: 5 hours
- From Milwaukee: 5 hours, 59 minutes, for the sake of this argument
A long weekend in Cincinnati is more accessible than you think if you live anywhere near these cities… or in Boston and feel like driving a straight 14 hours towards German beer and pretzels. And if you do, calllll meeeee.
WHERE TO STAY FOR A LONG WEEKEND IN CINCINNATI
Well, I stayed at my friends’ house but you can’t do that. Not only are they not your friends, they also don’t live there anymore. So here are some suggestions on where to stay in Cincinnati, based on where I will probably stay next time:
Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza | I had some pretty fancy drinks here one night in this massive, historic, art deco-heavy hotel. It’s in a great location downtown and the seats in the bar look like giant seashells, so you can reenact the opening scene from The Little Mermaid while your husband judges you. Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
Symphony Hotel | This hotel is Over the Central Parkway with rooms that look like the guestroom at your rich grandmother’s house. It’s within walking distance to Rhinegeist, Taft’s Ale House, and includes breakfast and free parking! Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!
Aloft Newport on the Levee | Actually, forget Cincinnati. Head over the river to Pretty-Much-Also-Cincinnati, to the Aloft Newport in Newport, KY. This super cute hotel is Newport’s best selling hotel and has excellent reviews. You can swim, play pool, and even rent bikes to ride the 1.1 miles to downtown Cincinnati. See? It’s basically the same place. Read reviews on Tripadvisor | Book your room here!