photo of Cincinnati

Dusk in Cincinnati, Ohio. (ThinkStock)

What to do in Cincinnati

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 (www.cincinnatiusa.com/Passes/index.asp) and receive three days of savings at a variety of major attractions.

Recommended Side Trips: Louisville (Kentucky), Lexington (Kentucky), Indianapolis (Indiana)

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