Family Vacations to Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati Zoo Elephant Bath
Cincinnati Zoo Elephant Bath (courtesy, CCVB)

Situated on the Civil War border between Free and Slave states, Cincinnati has been a hub of commerce and culture at the midpoint of the Ohio River for more than 200 years. And from historical museums to modern sporting action, there's plenty for families to see and to do in the city and surrounding area.

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center takes advantage of Cincinnati's pivotal position in the Civil War to explore how ordinary citizens and enslaved African-Americans morphed into heroes while on their desperate journeys. Children learn about safe houses and abolitionists and, in an interactive exhibit designed for grades three through eight, children make a series of choices that determine whether a "slave narrator" makes it to freedom or is captured.

Continue exploring the area's history at the Cincinnati Museum Center, housed in the city's Art Deco-style Union Terminal, which features three kid-friendly facilities. At the Cincinnati History Museum, chat with a settler new to the city in 1792, help a flatboat man unload his boat, or listen to other costumed interpreters. The Cinergy Children's Museum, geared to toddlers through ten-year-olds, encourages the four-and-under crowd to create their own puppet show in "Little Sprouts Farm" and their older siblings to play in "The Woods," an exhibit with a wheelchair-accessible tree house. At the Museum of Natural History and Science, families walk on a simulated glacier and through a re-created limestone cave.

Spend some time with the animals at the top-rated Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, featuring more than 500 animal species plus a Children's Zoo with climbable animal sculptures and a nursery for baby critters suffering illness or injury. Reserve ahead for the popular summer zoo sleepovers for children eight and older and their parents.

Sports fans can time their fast pitch, take a swing, and catch a fly ball at the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame & Museum. Or, watch a real game at the team's home stadium, the Great American Ball Park.

Along with major exhibits, the Contemporary Arts Center devotes an entire floor to a hands-on space where parents and kids meet artists and create projects. The UnMuseum offers "Thursday Art Play," where ages three to five listen to stories, watch performances, and make their own art. Also, on the fourth Sunday of each month, guest artists teach hands-on art projects to families. The Cincinnati Art Museum, known for its works by Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh, as well as African and ancient Egyptian collections, holds art-themed scavenger hunts and other events on the first Saturday of each month.

Stroll the Purple People Bridge over the Ohio River and you're in Newport on the Levee, an entertainment and retail complex in Kentucky. It's also home to the Newport Aquarium, where kids can view penguins and alligators, touch starfish, take a behind-the-scenes tour, and bed down for the night in front of the shark tank.

Twenty-five miles from Cincinnati, Paramount's Kings Island in Kings Mills, Ohio, offers thrills aplenty. At Nickelodeon Universe, debuting in spring 2006, kids can take a train ride with Dora the Explorer, jump around Blue's house, and enjoy 16 more Nick-inspired attractions.

Tip: Purchase a Cincinnati USA ConnectCard online ( and receive three days of savings at a variety of major attractions.

Recommended Side Trips: Louisville (Kentucky), Lexington (Kentucky), Indianapolis (Indiana)'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 8 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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