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Sunset Bridge in Columbus, Ohio. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Columbus

Columbus will surprise you. The largest place in the U.S. named after the Italian explorer, Columbus offers families a friendly and affordable urban destination within easy reach of the countryside. Among the finds are a top-rated science center and zoo, plus easy day trips that enable you to discover heartland history.

Through more than 300 hands-on exhibits in seven galleries, COSI Columbus teaches kids about science. At Space, find out what you would weigh on Saturn and maneuver a robotic rover through a simulated Martian landscape. At the outdoor Big Science Park, use a giant lever to lift a 2,437-pound real car.

Highlights at the prettily landscaped Columbus Zoo and Aquarium include a large elephant habitat and an African forest with leopards, okapi, and generations of gorillas. Islands of Southeast Asia features orangutans, komodo dragons, and an Indonesian water taxi ride. Opening June 21, 2006, Asia Quest's outdoor exhibits showcase the smallest bear in the world, a sun bear, and the largest cats in the world, Amur (Siberian) tigers. In fall, Asia Quest's indoor exhibits will display bats, cranes, and muntjacs (a Southeast Asian species of deer).

Dale Chihuly's colorful glass sculptures bloom at the Franklin Park Conservatory, home to desert plants, orchids, and a Pacific Island Garden whose anthuriums, gingers, and other flowers draw butterflies for "Blooms and Butterflies," on view through September 4. More of Chihuly's sculptures will be displayed October 7 through February 25, 2007.

Come aboard the Santa Maria, a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship in Battelle Riverfront Park, and hear tales of a typical day at sea and find out why navigation was a shared responsibility (no way to see ahead and maneuver the tiller at the same time). Come inside the Columbus Museum of Art to view Impressionist, Modernist, Old Masters, and modern American paintings. Kehinde Wiley's portraits of young African-American men are on exhibit September 9, 2006, through January 7, 2007.

Among the interesting day trips: see rare animals and an historic 19th-century town. Bactrian camels (two humps apiece), Hartmann's mountain zebras, rhinos, and Przewalski's wild horses (shorter precursors to today's horses) are some of the 20 rare and endangered species roaming free on 10,000 acres of grasslands and wetlands—reclaimed from a former strip mine—at The Wilds, a conservation center in Cumberland, about 85 miles from Columbus.

The drive to Roscoe Village, about 90 miles from Columbus, takes you through Coshocton County past farmlands and fields. At the village, the one-room schoolhouse and other restored buildings create a sense of life circa 1830 to 1860 when the Ohio & Erie Canal brought goods, people, and prosperity to the area. Along with shops and restaurants, the village hosts demonstrations of weaving and bucket-making. You can also try tin-punching, candle dipping, and rope-making at the hands-on facility. In summer, go for a leisurely horse-drawn barge ride on the scenic canal.

Tip: Head to the North Market, a historic farmer's market, for homemade ice cream from Jeni's and hand-dipped truffles from Pure Imagination Chocolatier.

Recommended Side Trips: Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, Zanesville

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Traveler Reviews of Columbus

carrie rates Columbus
Columbus is a great city! There is a lot going on because it is a University town and the city seems to be growing unlike many other midwest cities. German Village and Short North are two neighborhoods that you won't want to miss. German Village is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has done an excellent job maintaining it's charm and architectural gems. There are several restaurants and cafes worth checking out after a stroll through the neighborhood. Short North which is just north of downtown, has a larger selection of restaurants, bars, and shopping. Check out North Market which has dozens of gourmet food shops and take out places. Spring and Fall are the best times to visit Columbus.
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