Cincinnati, where my husband grew up, is like a second home to me. It has a wonderful zoo and Children’s Museum, plus Kings Island amusement park. But these fun things to do in Cincinnati can be expensive for our family of five, plus grandparents, cousins and friends.
Luckily, there are many free things to do in Cincinnati. The Queen City also has a lot of outdoor activities, perfect for avoiding flu, Covid or RSV exposure.
Top Free Outdoor Cincinnati Activities for Families
1. Findlay Market
Foodies should head to Findlay Market, the oldest continuously operated public market in Ohio. Indoor and outdoor stalls include local produce, great prepared food, spices and baked goods. Street performers enliven the scene and the inexpensive streetcar takes you from Over-the-Rhine to downtown. In addition, there is a farmer’s market on the weekends.
SheBuysTravel Tip: Nearby Washington Park has a large playground.
2. Take a Hike
Burnet Woods offers free nature hikes on Sunday afternoons. There are also birdwatching walks on the first and third Sunday of each month.
But anytime during the week you can hike the easy trails.
3. Washington Park
Washington Park has been the focus of restoration projects and upgrades for several years, and the result is spectacular. Lots of green space, performance bandstands, and beautiful landscaping make it fun to visit.
There’s a dog park for dogs and a unique playground, with a boardwalk, stage, canal, and climbing walls. When the weather is warm, there are splash pads for cooling off. Special and free activities include story times, yoga, dance parties and holiday events.
4. Eden Park
Eden Park is one of Cincinnati’s most popular outdoor destinations. Walk through the Magnolia Garden to Mirror Lake. Krohn Conservatory, a botanical garden, is currently closed due to COVID-19. The park also provides great views of the city. Inside Eden Park you’ll also find a theater, a conservatory, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.
5. Art Climb
The Cincinnati Art Museum ArtClimb, a set of 166 outdoor steps, featuring art installations, that lead from Gilbert Avenue to the Museum at the top of the hill. Two of the sculptures are from the nearby Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park.
6. Loveland Bike Trail
Little Miami State Park, aka The Loveland Bike Trail, runs 70 miles through Loveland, Milford, Newtown, Miami Township, and Lebanon. Many stops along the trail offer free parking, picnic areas and restrooms.
You can rent bikes nearby, but it’s free to ride your own.
7. Visit a Cemetery
Spring Grove Cemetery, dating from the late 1840s, is a National Historic Landmark. The third largest cemetery in the United States, Spring Grove Cemetery also has an arboretum.
8. Underground Railroad Connection
Wesleyan Cemetery, in Northside, opened in 1843. It was the first integrated cemetery in Cincinnati. Wesleyan Cemetery played an important role in the Underground Railroad. Though many of the headstones are in disrepair, the grounds contain beautiful trees and flowers.
SheBuysTravel Tip: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, in downtown Cincinnati, charges admission. It has a complete history of the Underground Railroad movement.
9. Fountain Square
Cincinnati’s downtown Fountain Square has special events like salsa dancing, live music and trivia nights in the evenings. Be sure to stop by after the sun goes down for the colorful light show.
10. Outdoor Artworks and Murals
Since 1996, a non-profit organization called ArtWorks has hired young artists to paint murals throughout Cincinnati. A free, self-guided tour (get the map here) lets you explore these colorful destinations.
11. Riverwalk and Riverfront Parks
The Riverwalk, along the Ohio River, connects Smale Riverfront Park with the Great American Ball Park. There is a playground and giant porch swings. Be sure to check out the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge connecting Cincinnati to Covington in northern Kentucky.
Interpretative signs give tidbits of Cincinnati history. In addition, gardens, fountains and flying pigs enliven the scene. This is a great place to see downtown residents walking their dogs, or to join locals on a run or bike ride.
12. Show Some Reds Love
The Cincinnati Reds play at the Great American Ball Park. Seeing a game costs money, of course (though tickets are quite reasonable), but any time of year you can see statues of famous Reds baseball players outside the stadium. There is also a memorial to the 1869 Red Stockings, the first professional baseball team.
13. Time for Kentucky
To me, a free attraction in Covington should be included in a list of free things to do in Cincinnati. Why? We fly into Kentucky every time we fly to Cincinnati (the name of the airport is Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport). Goebel Park, in Covington, has a German-style Carroll Chimes Clock Tower that rings every hour. In addition, the park has a large playground and walking trails.
14. Colorful Walk
Take a stroll over the half-mile Newport Southbank Bridge, aka the Purple People Bridge that crosses the Ohio River. This pedestrian-only connects downtown Cincinnati to Newport, Kentucky. The former L&N Railroad Bridge opened in 2006 for pedestrians, bikers, runners and roller-skaters.
For a while, there was a “bridge climb” where you got to actually climb on the structure. My kids loved dong this. But walking on the ground is still fun.
SheBuysTravel tip: walk at night to see the lights on both sides of the river.
15. Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame
Stroll the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame downtown. There is music playing, and information kiosks tell you about the artists who are honored. The Isley Brothers and James Brown are inductees, among others.
7 Free Indoor Cincinnati Activities
16. Union Terminal
A National Historic Landmark, the Art Deco Union Terminal was an incredibly important transportation hub as railroad travel expanded. Gorgeous, gigantic mosaics cover the rotunda, built as part of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
Union Terminal is home to several museums and attractions, which you have to pay for: Cincinnati History Museum, Museum of Natural History & Science and The Children’s Museum and an OMNIMAX theater. Visitors can take free rotunda tours and go up to “Tower A”, the old railroad control tower. Here, train lovers can get a birds-eye view of the tracks, switches, and locomotives that use the railway today. And history buffs can check out artifacts from the pinnacle of rail travel through the area.
17. Cincinnati History Library
Open by appointment only, the Cincinnati History Library is the only free museum within Union Terminal. (Don’t confuse this with the Cincinnati History Museum, which charges admission). Here you can see old maps and photographs of the Ohio Valley.
18. The Cincinnati Art Museum
The encyclopedic Cincinnati Art Museum has art from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome to contemporary pieces. See photographs, paintings, sculpture and decorative art. Admission to the museum’s permanent collections is always free, as is parking. Select Saturdays have CAM Kids Day, with interactive gallery activities, art making and story times.
19. Contemporary Arts Center
The Contemporary Arts Center has an interactive “UnMuseum” where you hear, touch, and smell the art. Then you create your own in the Art Lab.
20. 21C Museum Hotel
Right next door to the CAC, the 21C Museum Hotel has several galleries open to the public.The building itself is on the National Register of Historic Places. The artwork is rotated among other 21C Museum Hotels, so you see different art all the time.
21. Taft Museum of Art
The Taft Museum has free tickets on Sundays and Mondays. In addition, children 18 and under are always free. The National Historic Landmark building is worth a visit on its own. But don’t miss the pre-Civil War landscape murals, and works by Rembrandt, Goya, Gainsborough and Whistler. In addition, be sure to visit the beautiful garden.
22. DAAP Galleries University of Cincinnati
University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning has exhibits by professors, students, and national professional artists.