Summer 2007 Forward to a Friend

Surprising Cincinnati

by Lori Erickson


Photo: Courtesy of Aaron Davidson

Call me fickle, but sometimes I want it all on a vacation. I don’t want to have to choose between big-city sophistication and meandering rural byways or between world-class museums and that quaint little country inn that serves awesome pies. The wonderful thing about Cincinnati is that it pleases both sides of my personality. After marveling at a Rembrandt and cheering at a major-league baseball game, within a half-hour I can be driving through the gently rolling countryside north of the city, scoping out antique stores.

Photo: Courtesy of Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati Ball Park
“Play ball!” is the unofficial motto of the city, for Cincinnati has two major-league sports teams that attract legendary devotion.

My favorite place to begin a tour of Cincinnati is where the city began: on the riverfront. Many of the city’s top attractions are found within a few blocks of the Ohio River. Most impressive is the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, a $110 million complex with undulating walls that echo the curves of the river. The museum chronicles the history of slavery and the abolitionist movement in America. Strolling through its multimedia exhibits, visitors learn why Cincinnati is a fitting place for the facility – the city’s location just across the Ohio River from the slave-holding state of Kentucky made it a center for abolitionist activity before the Civil War. It’s impossible not to feel emotionally engaged while touring this museum, especially when standing inside a rough-hewn cabin that was once used to hold slaves and during the film that recreates the experience of a slave escaping to freedom on the Underground Railroad.

Photo: Courtesy of D.A. Fleischer
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Located in Cincinnati, Ohio, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center stands as the nation’s newest monument to freedom.

Not far away, the city boasts three exceptional art museums with collections ranging from the traditional to the avant-garde. The Cincinnati Art Museum, one of the oldest visual arts institutions in the country, spans 6,000 years of artistic creation. On each visit I discover some new treasure (my latest favorite: the decorated scrolls of the Far Eastern collection). To see inside the imaginations of today’s most creative artists, I head to the Contemporary Arts Center, a building designed by Zaha Hadid – the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Architectural Prize (2004). With no permanent collection, the museum always features cutting-edge works. The Taft Museum of Art offers works of a more traditional cast, all displayed in the serene surroundings of a nineteenth-century mansion. Among its treasures are Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Man Rising from His Chair and Whistler’s early masterpiece, At the Piano.

But I appreciate Cincy for more than its high culture. “Play ball!” is the unofficial motto of the city, for Cincinnati has two major-league sports teams that attract legendary devotion. Both make their home on the riverfront – the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium and the Cincinnati Reds in the Great American Ballpark (which even houses a museum dedicated to the home team). After a day spent in the hushed environs of museums, an evening of cheering at a ball game serves as the perfect counterpoint.

Photo: Courtesy of the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau

And then it’s time to slip into a slower gear. Heading north out of the city, within a half hour I can be in rural Warren County, driving through a landscape of rolling hills, meandering rivers, and sleepy small towns. Among its many quaint villages, Lebanon holds a special place in my heart. First settled in 1796, it’s a haven of antique stores, specialty shops, and stately homes. Lebanon also celebrates its Shaker history, for in the early 1800s this area was a major stronghold for the religious group that came to be known both for its religious devotion and its beautifully crafted furniture and household goods. You can still find Shaker-built antiques in the town’s stores, and the Warren County Historical Society Museum provides more information about the stories that fill the town’s past.

No visit to Lebanon would be complete without a stop at The Golden Lamb, the oldest continually operating inn and restaurant in Ohio. The building has seen a parade of notables pass through its doors: 10 presidents have dined here as well as such literary giants as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain. I love the traditional dishes on its menu, especially the Hot Shaker Chicken Salad and the delectable Sister Lizzie’s Shaker Sugar Pie.


To best appreciate the scenic beauty of the surrounding countryside, a traveler needs to trade a car for a canoe. The Little Miami River, designated as one of the nation’s first National Scenic Rivers, is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. From the river I can spy jack-in-the-pulpit flowers and delicate trillium, graceful great blue herons and raucous wild turkeys.

To end my tour of the area, I like to head to Fort Ancient State Memorial, one of North America’s largest prehistoric sites. Built 2,000 years ago by the Hopewell Indians, it perches atop a wooded bluff that rises 235 feet above the Little Miami River. More than three miles of tree-covered earthen walls encircle the hilltop, an enormous under-taking that has mysterious origins. Far away from the bustle of the city, I can almost hear ancient voices of a time long ago.

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The Southern Side of Cincinnati

When you’re in Cincinnati, don’t miss the attractions located just across the Ohio River in northern Kentucky. From sharks and riverboats to the area’s German heritage, travelers who cross the Ohio are richly rewarded.

Begin in Newport, at Newport on the Levee, an entertainment complex across from downtown Cincinnati. Restaurants, shops, comedy and jazz clubs, and a movie theater fill its four levels. Its signature attraction is the Newport Aquarium, where you can see such marvels as Wolf eels, a Giant Pacific octopus, cottonmouth snakes, and Asian small-clawed otters. It also has three species of shark and a re-creation of a Louisiana bayou, complete with alligators.

Explore the water yourself on board touring craft from BB Riverboats, which offers sightseeing and dining cruises on the Ohio River. Cincinnati’s skyline is never more beautiful than when seen from the deck of a riverboat chugging downstream. Passengers board at a dock west of the aquarium.

In Covington, one of the nation’s most beautiful churches welcomes visitors of all faiths. The exterior of St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption is modeled after Notre Dame in Paris, and inside you’ll find exquisite mosaics and the largest stained-glass window in the United States.

MainStrasse Village in Covington preserves a German enclave of shops, restaurants, homes, and an authentic Hofbrauhaus (German-style brewery and restaurant). This National Historic District sponsors special events throughout the year, including a spring Maifest, Renaissance Festival in June, and Oktoberfest. Its bronze Goose Girl Fountain in the center of the village recalls the days when farmers raised geese in this area.

For more information: Northern Kentucky Convention & Visitors Bureau: (800) STAY-NKY,

Photo: Courtesy of the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau


Cincinnati Regional Tourism Network: (859) 581-2260

Warren County Convention and Visitors Bureau: (800) 791-4FUN