Five Fun, Free Activities For Your Family's Visit to Cincinnati
Families seeking free fun in Cincinnati, OH, will be thrilled to discover a great variety of entertainment options for all ages that don't cost a dime. Blessed with a splendid natural landscape, with the Ohio River flowing through the heart of the city and more than 40 parks and nature reserves to explore, Cincinnati is a giant playground perfect for outdoor adventures. Historic and cultural landmarks, plus a revolving calendar of free events year-round, add to Cincinnati's budget-friendly appeal.
Play at Cincinnati's City Parks
Among several dozen great parks in Cincinnati, a handful stand out among the city's best free attractions for families. Smale Riverfront Park (Mehring Way & Main St., Cincinnati, OH), which opened in 2012, has a wealth of fun facilities, including a set of oversized, pergola-shaded swings with views of the river; an adventure playground with a rock-climbing canyon, racing slides and rope bridge; a fountain-filled plaza with water jets choreographed to light and music; and a section of the Ohio River Trail. For a fee, you can ride on Carol Ann's Carousel or rent bikes.
Washington Park (1230 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH) has a top-notch playground with a canal boat in a play river, climbing walls inspired by the city's historic architecture and a seasonal—April through October—interactive water park with over 130 jets. Check the schedule for free live music concerts in the restored historic bandstand. Eden Park (Eden Park Drive, Cincinnati, OH) features a playground with views of the Ohio River, hills of Kentucky and the Twin Lakes where you can watch locals sail model boats.
Get Out Into Nature
In Cincinnati's nature preserves, it's easy to forget you're in a major city. The largest, and one of the most popular, is the 1,459-acre Mt. Airy Forest (5083 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati, OH), which features an arboretum, public art, a remarkable treehouse, a scenic lake and miles of hiking, biking and horseback trails. Sharon Woods (11450 Lebanon Road, Sharonville, OH) offers a two-story indoor play area for children 12 and under, a short nature trail and longer trail around a lake and interesting exhibits in the visitor center. At California Woods Nature Preserve (5400 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati, OH), you can stroll along miles of trails through the forest and spot woodpeckers, great horned owls and other birds at the Magrish Preserve birding area.
Visit the William Howard Taft National Historic Site
Learn about William Howard Taft, the nation's 27th president and Cincinnati's most famous son, at his birthplace and childhood home, now the William Howard Taft National Historic Site (2038 Auburn Ave., Cincinnati, OH). The elegant Greek Revival house, set on a Cincinnati hilltop, has been restored to its appearance at the time when Taft was born and raised there, from 1857 to 1877. Ranger-led guided tours are available daily, and tours and admission are free.
Frolic at Fountain Square
Spend some time at Fountain Square (Fifth and Vine streets, Cincinnati, OH), a vibrant meeting place and landmark in the heart of Cincinnati. The centerpiece of the square is the circa-1871 Tyler Davidson Fountain. Check the schedule for the latest in a year-round calendar of free events, including live music, movie screenings and other entertainment. In summer, the square hosts various music series featuring presentations such as Reggae Wednesdays and Salsa on the Square. In winter, Fountain Square is transformed by an ice rink (with paid admission).
Let Off Steam at the National Steamboat Monument
It might entertain your family for minutes or for an hour, but the National Steamboat Monument (E. Mehring Way and Broadway, Cincinnati, OH) in Sawyer's Point on the Riverfront is certainly worth a visit. The monument, a three-story-high replica of the paddle wheel from the American Queen steamboat, is suspended 40 feet above the ground over a set of 24 interactive metal smokestacks known as Whistle Grove. Motion sensors in the columns allow you to walk in front of the smokestacks and trigger the release of steam and sounds. Dance around the stacks and set off a steamboat whistle, calliope music and voices of river veterans of old. The monument is an homage to Cincinnati's river-centric heritage.
- Cincinnati Parks: Smale Riverfront Park
- Cincinnati Parks: Eden Park
- Washington Park: Features of the Park
- CincinnatiUSA.com: Washington Park
- Cincinnati Parks: Mt. Airy Forest
- Great Parks of Hamilton County: Sharon Woods
- Cincinnati Parks: California Woods Nature Preserve
- National Park Service: William Howard Taft National Historic Site
- Fountain Square: Features of the Square
- CincinnatiUSA.com: National Steamboat Monument
A writer of diverse interests, Joanne Thomas has penned pieces about road trips for Hyundai, children's craft projects for Disney and wine cocktails for Robert Mondavi. She has lived on three continents and currently resides in Los Angeles, where she is co-owner and editor of a weekly newspaper. Thomas holds a BSc in politics from the University of Bristol, England.