Travel on the Cheap Around Cincinnati, Ohio

Despite her royal moniker, the Queen City is packed with economical attractions and some truly excellent, inexpensive food options. You’ll find tons of free stuff to do out-and-about, and many museums, if not outright free, offer free admission during particular times. Check out our collection of must-see Cincinnati, minus the chunk of change.

By: Carrie Hamblin

Photo By: Alex Weatherly

Photo By: METRO

Photo By: Alex Weatherly

Photo By: Alex Weatherly

Photo By: Liz Dufour

Photo By: CincinnatiUSA.com

Photo By: Alex Weatherly

Photo By: Alex Weatherly

Photo By: CincinnatiUSA.com

Photo By: Alex Weatherly

Photo By: Cincinnati USA CVB | Louis Rideout

Photo By: Alex Weatherly

Photo By: Cincinnati Observatory

Carew Tower and Fountain Square

Carew Tower is a great example of the Art Deco–style architecture around Cincinnati but one of its best features can’t be seen from the street or the lobby. Head up 49 floors to the observation deck for magnificent views of the city. $4 for adults, less for children. After you descend, head a block over to the central Fountain Square. Many days of the week it hosts midday food fares. Overseeing citizens and revelers is the beautiful and imposing Tyler Davidson Fountain by sculptor August von Kreling. The bottom four figures are actually drinking fountains!

Contemporary Arts Center

Follow the robot into the visual playground that is the Contemporary Arts Center. The media are mixed and the artists are from far and wide. Featuring only temporary exhibitions, each visit to this cool downtown gallery is a new one. Have a blast with the interactive UnMuseum for kids (or curious adults). Admission is free, leaving those Washingtons in your wallet for lunch at the resident Eclectic Café or one of the food trucks just around the corner on Fountain Square most days. Free scheduled tours include the exhibits at the 21C Museum Hotel next door.

Eli’s Barbeque

Want to honor Cincinnati’s Porkopolis roots? Pop into Eli’s at Findlay Market. Like the restaurant itself, this barbecue joint’s menu is small and straightforward. The pulled-pork sandwich won’t set you back much, is perfectly seasoned and straight-up delicious when topped with Eli’s pleasantly tangy sauce and coleslaw. Counter service and limited seating with vinyl spinning inside; additional seating outside at the Market, with live music at the Biergarten on some Fridays and Sundays.

Taft Museum of Art

On Sundays the Cincinnati treasure that is the Taft Museum of Art opens its doors to the public for free. Its wonderful collection includes American and European master paintings (see works by Whistler and Rembrandt, among numerous others), as well as decorative arts, sculpture and furniture. The free “highlights” tour at 1:30pm is highly recommended.

Findlay Street Market

This Cincinnati staple in the Over-the-Rhine district north of downtown is the oldest public market in Ohio, encompassing an indoor space with more than 40 vendors year-round and an outdoor area for additional vendors and events on weekends during the fair-weather portion of the year. The Market offers primarily food but also flowers and artisan-made goods—with a focus on locally grown, cultivated or created fare. Explore at your own pace or take a free market tour, offered a couple of times a month.

Rhinegeist

If craft brews are your thing, don’t miss this popular Cincinnati brewery. In 1895 the Over-the-Rhine district was home to 38 breweries, so it’s no wonder the 21st-century founders picked this history-heavy area to set up shop. They chose the name Rhinegeist—meaning “Ghost of the Rhine”—and were off like a shot (or rather down like a pint). Luckily for us, the Rhinegeist founders were as clever in the creation of their beer recipes as they were in location and name selection. The extensive menu includes IPAs, blondes, ales and their Cidergeist ciders. Visit for a brew, or take a free public tour Monday through Thursday.

Self-Guided Mural Tour

Producing 147 murals over 10 years, the community art nonprofit ArtWorks took a mural challenge by the former city mayor and ran with it. The Queen City’s gown is officially bejeweled, and the gems run the gamut: local legends and popular icons, historic events and nods to philanthropy, regional business and industry—and a little general whimsy thrown in for good measure. There are 54 murals downtown alone, but these artists are crankin’ so by publication, there may be a few more. Download a free map off the website and find your favorites on a walking tour. With the scale of this artwork, they’re hard to miss.

Holtman’s Donuts

Holtman’s Donuts is proof that donut enjoyment doesn’t require a fancy topping or a big price tag (although the first is available). Revive yourself with coffee and a treat at this family-owned business where donuts are made on site and from scratch every single day. Staff are friendly and good for a recommendation. Their $1 traditional glazed is absolutely delicious, the maple bacon a local favorite. Order at the counter with limited seating inside; note the little community park across the street. A location close to HGTV Urban Oasis 2018 is coming soon!

Eden Park

One could spend the day in Cincinnati and never leave Eden Park. Situated east of downtown and named after the Garden of Eden, the park offers both outdoor splendor and indoor enjoyment. Check out such park features as Elsinore Tower, the Spring House Gazebo and Mirror Lake, and several lookouts over the city. Then cool off (or warm up) at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Access to the permanent collection and most exhibits is free. Special exhibits with a ticket price have free times on particular days. Krohn Conservatory and its 3,500 plant species also call Eden Park home. Admission is only $4, with kids under age 4 free.

Graeter’s

Louis Graeter started selling his French Pot ice cream at Cincinnati street markets almost 150 years ago. Graeter’s is now enjoyed nationwide but maintains its Cincinnati roots. The French Pot process is fairly laborious—it involves handcrafting ice cream in small batches and then hand-packing it—but Graeter’s still follows the same process and has its French Pot freezers running 24/7 to keep up with demand. A scoop of black raspberry chocolate chip won’t set you back much and with several parlors around town you’re bound to accidently find yourself standing in a Graeter’s.

Markets, Fairs and Festivals

Cincinnati residents love community entertainment. And this city offers a full roster of markets, fairs and festivals held throughout the year, much of which is free to attend. Hungry? There’s the weekly World Fare and FSQ Eats in Fountain Square. A frugal shopping addict? Visit the City Flea, an urban flea market held in Washington Park. Craving drama but not the big-ticket prices? Enjoy free Shakespeare in the Park. Ready to get your groove on? Dance over to the weekly Metro PCS Party on the Purple—undoubtedly your first bridge party. Check out the page run by the tourism board to see what’s on.

KungFood Chu's AmerAsia

For a delicious lunch or dinner at an equally appetizing price, head across the bridge to KungFood Chu’s AmerAsia in Covington, Kentucky. AmerAsia offers a fusion of Taiwanese favorites and Chinese classics, served in a jolly atmosphere with a great selection of local craft beers to wash down the meal. The combination Wonton Egg-drop Soup is seriously tasty.

Cincinnati Observatory

Often (and ironically) overshadowed by downtown attractions, the historic Observatory in picturesque Hyde Park is the only way to really round out a visit to Cincinnati. This national treasure is a piece of work, literally. It was the first observatory in the U.S., is still fully functioning, has one of our oldest working telescopes and is a beautiful piece of architecture in its own right. Visit most weekday afternoons or weekend evenings, but call or consult the website for hours and specifics. The daytime tours and Thursday evening viewings are a Lincoln or less.