Cincinnati gets a bad rep. Termed things like ‘a poor man’s Cleveland’ or ‘Cincinasty’, it’s easy to overlook this former industrial hub on the Ohio River. However, we found Cincinnati to be a vibrant city full of fantastic architecture, great food and heaps of locals who were proud of their city. Below are just a bunch of the reasons we think that Cincinnati makes a perfect destination for your own bite-sized break.
While the city holds many interesting architectural structures, there are two that locals are pretty proud of. One of these is the Carew Tower, which you could be forgiven for thinking is a smaller sibling of the Empire State Building, although the Carew Tower was built first and served as a model for its more famous counterpart. The lobby is worth having a wander through, but for the best view in the city you’ll need to head to the top. Access to the open air 49th floor observation deck is $6 and gives you amazing uninterrupted panoramic views of the city.
While you’re taking in the view from Carew Tower, cast your gaze down on the Ohio River and you will notice another structure that looks like it was plucked from New York City. Designed by the same guy who did the Brooklyn Bridge, the Roebling Bridge was finished two years before work on the Brooklyn Bridge began. While significantly shorter and less well known, this bridge is a stunning piece of engineering and due to its impressive design remained in regular use until recently when a weight limit was imposed to prevent damage caused by heavy vehicles.
Over-the-Rhine (OTR) is a really old neighbourhood of Cincinnati located just north of downtown. It was previously home to German immigrants in the 1800s, but with the rise of suburb living OTR saw a rapid decline in residents. Since then, a large proportion of the historic buildings in this district have fallen into disrepair, with many of them needing to be demolished for safety reasons. That being said, efforts have been made to revive OTR. The area around Vine St has seen particular improvement, with renovated buildings and a boom in local businesses. This isn’t without controversy, as the recent renewal has led to displacement of its former poorer residents. Regardless, OTR is a must see on your visit to Cincinnati. While you’re visiting OTR, be sure to check out Findlay Market. Established in 1852, this is the longest running municipal market in Cincinnati, and hosts a wide range of vendors selling produce, gourmet meats and cheeses, coffee, woven bags and art. It was everything we had hoped Milwaukee Public Market to be, but wasn’t.
If you’re looking for a fun dinner spot in OTR, check out a restaurant called “The Eagle”. We got the low down on this spot from our barista at Findlay Market. They don’t take bookings and the wait can be over an hour, but don’t fret! With the restaurant located on Vine St, there’re a bunch of cool bars and shops nearby. Put your name on the wait list and then grab a brew nearby to kill time. Without ruining the spiel you’ll get from your server, the Eagle is where the old General Post Office used to be. Despite the fact that very little remains of the original layout, the building certainly does have a rich history. Most importantly, the food is amazing.
If you truly worship your craft brewing, or just enjoy drinking your beer in majestic surrounds, Cincinnati has the perfect breweries for you. Be sure to check out Taft Ale House in Over-the-Rhine. Skip the ground-floor tasting room and opt to sit upstairs in the open gallery area to enjoy your beers in this beautifully converted old church. If you like your church-come-brewery with a little more grunge, head to Urban Artifact in the Northside area, who specialise in sour beers. We recommend you try the pickle beer just because of its sheer weirdness, and the Fire Iron because a beer that tastes like a fruit smoothie is something not to be missed.
There are more barrels of bourbon than there are people in Kentucky, so finding a distillery is pretty easy. We decided to check out New Riff, partly because they had just released their bourbon days before we arrived, but mostly because they were conveniently located in the Newport area. New Riff hasn’t been around for long, with its first barrels of bourbon just celebrating their 4th birthday and finally being made available to the public. They offer a guided tour which was $10 each and afforded us a pretty in-depth look in to the bourbon making process (we even got to dip our fingers in some vats to try the mash). The tour concluded with a brief tasting and a pass around of tokens which could be used to redeem the tour cost from purchases over $25. Definitely a cool distillery and they’re doing some interesting things, but we both felt like they are going through a bit of a transition right now and changing up their tour etc so it all felt a bit chaotic. Also they only recently starting charging for the tour, but for $10 we didn’t find it all that unique. Probably worthwhile if you’re a bourbon fan, but if not you wouldn’t miss much if you skipped the tour.
No trip to Cincinnati would be complete without mentioning Cincinnati chilli. Try it. Just do it. Think a pile of spaghetti, or ’noodles’ to you American folk, rich chili and a huge pile of grated cheddar cheese on top. We know it’s a big claim but we’re calling this the ultimate comfort food. This is commonly referred to as a three-way, but if you’re feeling game you can go a four-way or five-way too (with beans and/or onions added). Delicious and satisfying. Skyline is the popular chain in Cincinnati and surrounding areas, but we also tried Pleasant Ridge Chili – their cheese gravy fries are a must have. Just take note that Pleasant Ridge only takes cash and is closed on Sundays.
For our last stop we called in at the American Sign Museum. While the drawcard for us was a quirky sounding museum, it offered a surprisingly interesting snapshot of America’s history, especially roadside history, and proved to be a neon-lovers heaven. We recommend joining one of the scheduled free tours or doing the free self-guided tour through their app. We did neither and felt like we missed a lot of the information and interesting stories behind some of the displays. That said, wandering through the museum looking at all the signs was still enjoyable and gave us a newfound perspective on the multitude of signs we passed on the drive back to Illinois.