No matter how many times you approach Cincinnati from I-75 North, the view never gets old. Sitting on the edge of the Ohio River, the city of 2.2 million metro residents boasts an impressive downtown skyline, waterfront stadiums and hilly terrain. Once you take a closer look at the Queen City, the vistas get even better.
The impact of the area’s first European settlers, who were of German descent, still resonates through a thriving brewing industry and the smell of schnitzel wafting about the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Stamps from other cultures can also be seen throughout the city, creating a stew of styles and colors that flavors the local cuisine, arts and neighborhoods.
Cincinnati is the kind of place that road-trippers have long admired from the highway. But as Forbes Travel Guide recently discovered, there’s a joy in getting off at the exit and exploring. Whether you long to reconnect with your Germanic roots or just a Berlin beer, this colorful city has both on tap.
As anyone who’s ever flown into Ohio’s third-largest city knows, the closest airport to Cincinnati is in northern Kentucky. While you’re traveling across state lines, the ride from the baggage claim to downtown is but 20 minutes. Take a few mental snapshots of the Bengals’ Paycor Stadium and other landmarks while crossing Roebling Suspension Bridge before your first official stop: the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Lytle Park Hotel, Autograph Collection.
The Lytle Park neighborhood was once where Cincinnati’s affluent lived in the late 1800s. The influential Lytle, Longworth, Baum and Taft families (as in the relatives of the 27th President William Howard Taft) all called the area home. The Anna Louise Inn, named after Taft’s niece, opened at Lytle and Third streets in 1909. The one-time refuge for rural women coming to the city for work would become Lytle Park Hotel.
When you enter the hotel today, it’s like strolling through a park or forest. The original inn’s plaster façade intertwines with the new structure’s thoughtful design. A glass ceiling lets natural light into the two-story lobby, where 18-foot trees and gold screens of flowers set the scene. The in-house “A Walk in the Woods” scent eases your transition from outside.
There’s a host of meeting spaces downstairs and a few levels up is Cincinnati’s only year-round rooftop bar. All 106 guest rooms promise a soothing blue-and-cream color palette, a marble bath and a gratis limoncello martini kit. If the history buff in your group wants to see anything more, the hotel offers daily tours as well.
Once you’re settled, walk across the street to the Taft Museum of Art, an intimate gallery housed in the city’s oldest home. The permanent collection includes porcelains from Asia, Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man Rising from His Chair and an exquisite array of timepieces. A calendar of special exhibits (including “Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls from 1800 to 1960,” showing through January 2024) keeps the museum feeling current. Still, the museum’s most awe-inspiring work happened through the accidental discovery of breathtaking murals by Robert S. Duncanson, the first African American artist to receive international acclaim, hidden beneath wallpaper. The museum understood the historical significance of Duncanson’s work and restored the murals to their original vibrancy to be properly displayed and appreciated by art lovers today.
Take your time admiring Duncanson’s landscapes because dinner is back at the hotel’s signature restaurant, Subito. The sophisticated Northern Italian eatery specializes in making exquisite pasta and providing an atmospheric space for conversing groups or canoodling couples. When you finish your cacio e pepe, end your night with some gelato at the restaurant or a nightcap a few steps over in the lobby bar under the teardrop-like lights.
Although you’ll be tempted to cling to your bed’s Frette Italian linens, once you can muster the energy to get up, make the 15-minute walk (or catch a ride in the hotel’s courtesy Cadillac SUV) to Maplewood Kitchen & Bar. The restaurant has been a Cincinnati standout since 2015, and if it keeps serving lemon ricotta pancakes and chicken hash the way it does, it’ll remain a flavorful fixture for years to come.
Work off the carbs with a stroll to the waterfront National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The three-floor, 158,000-square-foot space chronicles the incessant fight for liberation, from the Transatlantic slave trade to sex trafficking today. Powerful art, interactive exhibits and visual reenactments provide a jarring look at past and present traumas.
You’ll need a few moments to collect your thoughts after the visit. When you’ve had time to exhale, trek across the street to the picturesque Banks. Take in the beautiful Ohio River, ride the glass-enclosed Carol Ann’s Carousel or simply find a seat near Paycor Stadium and, if there’s a Bengals game in town, count the number of fans walking by in Joe Burrow jerseys.
Whatever route you choose, make sure to put lunch at Taste of Belgium on the agenda. The European-inspired pub has served beer, burgers and brunch items for more than a decade. The buttery waffles are worth the hype, while perfectly fried fish and frites go wonderfully with a Chimay Doree Belgian pale ale.
Your next destination depends on your mood once you rise from a well-deserved nap. If you’d prefer to take it easy, head up to Over-the-Rhine, a corner of town that has transformed over the years with fun boutiques and fabulous dining. A brat and giant pretzel from The Lübecker and a few scoops of black raspberry chocolate chip from Graeter’s Ice Cream on Vine Street are never a bad call.
For an elegant evening, pull out your carry-on’s finest ensemble for dinner at Boca. One of the city’s most revered nights out, the elevated French cuisine served here pairs wonderfully with a date night or a group splurge. To celebrate your final evening in the Queen City, order chef David Falk’s lobster roll and Amish chicken.
When you’ve finished your meal, go to the gorgeous Cincinnati Music Hall, arguably the crown jewel of the city’s art scene. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the sixth oldest in the country, performs at the 1878 National Historic Landmark. Throughout the year, many other great programs (The Nutcracker, Dec. 14-24; Don Quixote, Feb. 16-25) also call the stage their temporary home. No matter the show, the brilliant talents and peerless facility will warrant a standing ovation. But then again, so too will every other aspect of your Queen City stay.