Discover Ohio: Road trip through Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati

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Did you know that Ohio is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States?

It’s true!

Ohio is in “the heart of it all,” an easy drive from more than 60% of the nation’s population.

Not only that, but Ohio has loads to do whatever your interests.

  • History buff? Ohio is home to eight US Presidents and an astronaut.
  • Adventurer? Ohio has loads of hiking trails, theme parks and rivers to explore… Oh, and Lake Erie, too.
  • Sports fan? Pick your favorite — baseball? Ohio has two MLB teams. football? Ohio has two NFL teams and a pretty impressive college football team, too. Hockey? Yep. Basketball? Got that, too. Ohio is even home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame!
  • Family friendly? Sure…. the state has zoos, museums, children’s science centers, parks.
  • How about foodies? Oh yeah! From the Food Network’s Michael Symon, to authentic cuisine in Columbus’ many neighborhoods to the famous Skyline Chili in Cincinnati (to name a few), there’s a culinary adventure in Ohio just waiting for you!


Lots of people are… So, I put this road trip together to help you plan the perfect Ohio road trip for your summer family getaway.

COSI, Photo Credit: Randall L. Schieber, used with permission

It starts in Cleveland, goes through Columbus and ends in Cincinnati — a drive of only four hours!

How’s that for a road trip? Not much drive time but lots to see!

Plan your own Discover Ohio family road trip with this guide. It’s set up with an intro to each city followed by the best recommendations for every interest so you can pick the things that are best for you.

Discover Ohio: Fun things to do in Cleveland, Ohio

We’ll start this road trip in Cleveland, Ohio on the southern shore of Lake Erie. If you’re flying in to start your Ohio road trip, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE) is going to have the most options.

Where to stay in Cleveland, Ohio?

As a major US city, there are tons of hotels in Cleveland, Ohio to choose from.

For convenience, choose downtown hotels like:

There are so many great choices, I recommend you pick the Cleveland hotel with the amenities you want closest to the things you want to do.

Fun things to do in Cleveland, Ohio

There are lots of great Cleveland, Ohio attractions. When planning your vacation, consider these fun things to do in Cleveland.

Historic attractions in Cleveland

History fans will find lots of things to do in Cleveland, Ohio.

Entrance to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio

Our favorite Cleveland, Ohio attractions for history buffs are:

  • The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame — probably the most well known historic attraction in Cleveland,
  • The Cleveland Museum of Natural History — considered one of the top ten natural history museums in the United States, explore outer space, learn the real story of Balto, human origins and more.
  • Historic West Side Market — The oldest public market in Cleveland, West Side Market has been a market since its inception in 1912. It is home to 100 vendors selling everything from fresh meat, fruits and vegetables to flowers, ready-to-eat foods and gifts. It’s a great place to pick up a picnic lunch (parking can be tricky, though, so go early).
  • The Old Stone Church (aka, the First Presbyterian Church) at 91 Public Square, is one of the oldest buildings in Cleveland. The church was founded in 1820, when Cleveland had only a few hundred residents. The church building was first built in 1834. Fires struck twice, but the church still stands on its original spot. Tours are available daily.
  • The James A Garfield Memorial and Monument at Lake View Cemetery at 12316 Euclid Ave, Cleveland. James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, was assassinated in 1881. A popular president, the memorial is one of many Presidential sites in Ohio and was built in 1890. Both Garfield and his wife’s tomb are located here. Lake View Cemetery has several other historic monuments, as well.

Cleveland, Ohio for adventurers

Situated on the southern shore of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River, there are lots of things to do in Cleveland, Ohio for adventurers.

Some of the best Cleveland, Ohio attractions for adventurers are:

  • Hike to Brandywine Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. This 65′ waterfall is an easy, 4.0 mile hike along a boardwalk at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, just 16 miles from Downtown Cleveland. It’s a fun half-day trip. Leashed dogs are welcome.
  • Play FootGolf at the Cleveland Metroparks Mastick Woods Golf Course at 4101 Fulton Parkway in Cleveland. FootGolf is a combination of golf and soccer, played on a regular golf course — but it’s “easier” to play (though hard to master) and lots of fun.
  • Go surfing at Edgewater Beach! I know — surfing in Cleveland? It’s true! Apparently, people have been surfing in Cleveland since the 1960s. Who knew?
  • Urban Kayaking — The Cuyahoga River is an important waterway in Cleveland for both commercial boating and recreational watersports. Explore Cleveland from the water — but obey water rules!

Cleveland, Ohio for sports fans

Cleveland is home to three professional sports teams: The Cleveland Indians MLB team, the Cleveland Browns of the NFL and the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA. Cleveland is even home to the Cleveland Monsters hockey team, an affiliate of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets.

The three teams play in state of the art facilities in the heart of Downtown Cleveland. Whether the teams win or lose, catching a game is guaranteed to be fun for the family. The stadiums all have family friendly amenities — even family seating sections.

Check to see who’s playing when you visit and enjoy a game with the locals.

>> Sports fans headed to Columbus from Cleveland will enjoy a stop at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.

Cleveland, Ohio attractions for family friendly fun

There are lots of fun things to do with kids in Cleveland. We recommend some of the attractions already mentioned in this post, including the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, a major league sports game, or a stroll along the river at Brandywine. But, there are lots more Cleveland, Ohio attractions to enjoy with the kids:

  • The Cleveland Zoo, at 3900 Wildlife Way in Cleveland, which honors reciprocal zoo membership discounts making this a budget travel favorite,
  • The Great Lakes Science Center, at 601 Erieside Avenue in Cleveland, which has a permanent exhibit dedicated to John Glenn and the NASA program, the BioMed Laboratory, an IMAX theater and more. Purchase tickets online to save.
  • The Greater Cleveland Aquarium, at 2000 Sycamore Street in Cleveland, which has a touch pool and shark exhibit is especially good for families with younger kids (through third grade) or who have a special interest in aquatic animals.

Cleveland, Ohio attractions for foodies

Since Chef Michael Symon made Cleveland famous on the Food Network, the city’s food scene has boomed. The area is also home to many local breweries and pubs, making it appealing for an adult getaway too.

Top food destinations in Cleveland are:

  • The historic West Side Market (mentioned above),
  • The Cleveland Eats & Streets 3 Hour Food Tour to enjoy food stops at Edgewater Park, the Flats and the Warehouse District. This is a customizable trip.
  • The Cleveland Brew Tour, a three hour tour to enjoy flights at three famous Cleveland breweries, snacks and flights included.
  • The Cleveland After-hours Brew Tour, which includes craft beers and a meal while providing a behind the scenes look at Cleveland’s craft brewery scene.

After spending a few days enjoying Cleveland, the next stop on your Ohio road trip is Columbus, Ohio. It’s an easy, two hour drive south on I-71. You will pass Canton, Ohio and the Pro Football Hall of Fame if you want to take a break. You’ll also drive past Ohio’s Amish country, if you want to stop at one of the small towns for a home cooked meal or a slice of homemade pie.

Discover Ohio: Fun things to do in Columbus, Ohio

Columbus is the state capital, home to The Ohio State University, the state government and several corporation headquarters.

The city sprawls, with charming neighborhoods near downtown offering eclectic experiences in shopping, entertainment and dining. The suburbs around the city offer even more to see and do.

Nationwide Arena in Columbus. Photo Credit: Randall L. Schieber, used with permission

Where to stay in Columbus, Ohio?

Choosing where to stay in Columbus, Ohio might depend on what you want to do during your stay. If you’ll be going to museums, attractions and restaurants closer to downtown, consider staying at one of the historic hotels in Columbus, Ohio.

Three historic hotels in Columbus, Ohio we recommend are:

  • Hotel LeVeque, at 50 West Broad Street in Columbus, is an art-deco style luxuryhotel in the heart of the business district, offering spectacular skyline views and the best of luxury and modern amenities,
  • The Westin Great Southern Hotel at 310 S. High Street in the heart of Columbus was built in 1897. Due to its historic design, rooms are smaller than modern construction offers, but the decor, location and service are hard to beat. Once you park the car, just about everything downtown is within walking distance.

If staying in the historic city center isn’t a priority, consider staying at some of the brand hotels near Columbus, Ohio. For instance, families planning a zoo trip might consider hotels in Dublin, Ohio just outside the capital city.

Families might consider these hotels near Columbus, Ohio:

  • The Hampton Inn Dublin Ohio is one of the ideally located hotels near Columbus, Ohio. It’s our favorite of hotels near the Columbus Zoo and Zoombezi Bay, Ohio State University, great shopping districts and only 30 minutes from Downtown Columbus, Ohio.
  • The Holiday Inn Express Dublin Ohio is another great choice for hotels near the Columbus Zoo. Located just off I-270, for hotels near Columbus, Ohio, the Holiday Inn Express Dublin, Ohio offers easy access to the Columbus Zoo and Zoombezi Bay, area golf courses and great shopping, all within 15 minutes of Downtown Columbus.
  • The Drury Inn Dublin Ohio gets our pick for top budget hotels near Columbus, Ohio. Close to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, this hotel chain offers spacious rooms with microwave and refrigerator, evening snacks, an indoor/outdoor pool and other amenities make it a best value for budget family travel.

Fun things to do in Columbus, Ohio

There are so many fun things to do in Columbus, Ohio, you could plan a whole week’s vacation here. For an Ohio road trip, we recommend picking three or four of these Columbus Ohio attractions to enjoy.

Columbus, Ohio attractions for history buffs

When considering historic activities in Columbus, Ohio, these are our top picks:

  • The Columbus Scavenger Hunt is the best way to discover historical spots in Ohio’s capital city. This self-guided tour takes about three hours, but there’s no rush if you want to stop and grab a bite to eat or shop! Scavenger hunts are one of our favorite ways to explore new places. Think Amazing Race, only low key! This is a great outing for locals, too.
  • Explore German Village. This neighborhood, with architecture dating from the 1840s-1890s, is a combined residential-commercial neighborhood that hasn’t changed much since it was built. The narrow streets are built of cobblestones, lined with trees and charming shops. Park the car wherever you can find a spot and explore on foot.
  • Take in the Martin Luther King Performing and Cultural Arts Complex at 867 Mount Vernon Avenue in Columbus. Dedicated to preserving and promoting African-American arts, the theater and art exhibition space is a great addition to your travel itinerary.
  • Visit Thurber House at 77 Jefferson Avenue in Columbus. The home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a literary center, museum and bookstore. It was once home to the author and cartoonist, James Thurber. Check the Thurber House website for hours and programs.

Columbus activities for adventurers

When considering fun things to do in Columbus, activities for adventurers abound.

  • Zipzone Outdoor Adventures, at 7925 N. High Street in Columbus, is the first zip line and adventure tour in Columbus. It offers both a zipline canopy tour and a treetop adventure park for outdoor enthusiasts. Allow three hours minimum.
  • Alum Creek State Park, on Lewis Center Road, is a popular park just 30 minutes north of Columbus. The park includes a variety of amenities including boating, disc golf, fishing, swimming, hiking and biking trails and even a dog park. Pack a picnic and stay all day.
  • Paddle the Scioto — or the Olentangy! The Scioto and Olentangy Rivers join in Columbus which means there’s a lot of water to explore in this area. Rent a kayak, learn to paddleboard or take a water tour through the city. This is one of the best Columbus activities for adventurers.

Columbus attractions for sports fans

Probably the best known sports team in Columbus is the NCAA Ohio State Buckeyes football team. Playing at historic Ohio Stadium, this is the big ticket in Columbus each fall.

But other teams play here, too, making Ohio a great vacation destination for sports fans year-round. When planning your Ohio road trip, check to see if tickets are available.

Check out these Columbus sports teams:

  • Ohio State Buckeyes Athletics — football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and much more.
  • Columbus Blue Jackets — the NHL team plays at Nationwide Arena in Downtown Columbus, Ohio.
  • The Columbus Crew — this major league soccer team has a brand new stadium under construction just outside downtown Columbus.
  • The Columbus Clippers — this AAA minor league team is affiliated with the Cleveland Indians. They play at Huntington Stadium downtown.

Things to do in Columbus, Ohio for families

We lived in the Columbus, Ohio area when our kids were young and loved having so many family friendly attractions to enjoy. When planning things to do in Columbus, Ohio with the kids, you’ve got lots of choices.

These are our favorite Columbus, Ohio attractions for families:

  • COSI: Center of Science and Industry, at 333 W. Broad Street in the heart of Downtown Columbus, Ohio, is our favorite indoor attraction in the city. With a number of permanent exhibits to explore science, farming, space exploration, oceans and much more through live demonstrations and hands on activities, kids have fun as they experience the wonder of science. COSI is a reciprocal member for those with children’s museum memberships elsewhere. The center also offers a number of discounts for budget travel planning. Allow a full day to visit, especially for families with elementary aged kids (maybe two)!
  • The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, at 4850 Powell Road in Powell (just a few minutes from Columbus), is our favorite Columbus, Ohio attractions for families. Of course, the zoo is home to animals from around the world, providing important rehab and care for endangered species. Amusement attractions are also offered (free to zoo members, pay per ride or buy an all-day ride ticket). Allow a full day or two to visit.
  • Splash away at Zoombezi Bay, next door to the Columbus Zoo. This waterpark, with rides and activities for all ages. The all-inclusive ticket option makes this a great value water park.
  • Unwind at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, at 1777 E. Broad Street in Columbus. With a number of gardens, including a permanent Chihuly exhibit, it’s easy to spend at least half a day here enjoying the gardens and displays.

Things to do in Columbus for foodies

When thinking of things to do in Columbus, Ohio, allow plenty of time to eat! Columbus is often overlooked as a foodie destination, but you’ll find great cuisine from around the world here.

When I consider things to do in Columbus for foodies, a couple traditions come to mind: Schmidt’s Restaurant and Banquet Haus in German Village and Graeter’s Ice Cream, with locations all over the city.

Schmidt’s Restaurant has been serving authentic, German cuisine since 1886 at its German Village location. Serving a variety of German sausages, braised cabbage and German potato salad (to name a few), the restaurant’s authentic flavor brings patrons back again and again. (I’ve been eating here since 1980!). Save room for the giant cream puffs — big enough for two to share, though you might not want to.

Graeter’s Ice Cream, the only commercial ice cream maker still using the French pot method of ice cream making, is actually a Cincinnati based company. But, I discovered it in Columbus, so I recommend it here. Graeter’s is committed to its process, quality ingredients and great customer service. (And, lucky for me, it’s now available in stores where I live!)

North Market at 59 Spruce Street is an eclectic market that has been in business for more than 140 years. Priding itself on local, fresh and unique cuisine, the North Market is popular with foodies. Find fresh foods like produce, meat and seafood, specialty food items, international prepared foods, fresh flowers and unusual gifts. It’s a great place to grab a quick bite or do some gift shopping.

North Market in Columbus, Ohio an international market open to the public. Image shows fresh fruit, spices and shoppers

While you could spend your whole vacation in Columbus, there’s even more to discover in Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s a short, 90 minute drive from Columbus to Cincinnati on I-71.

Discover Ohio: Fun things to do in Cincinnati, Ohio

Cincinnati, southern Ohio’s charming town on the banks of the Ohio River, is a great place to wrap up this Ohio road trip. Because of its location on the Ohio River, steamboats connected Cincinnati to New Orleans and St. Louis, establishing it as an important business hub in the early 1800s. The city’s history can be seen in its architecture and attractions.

Where to stay in Cincinnati, Ohio?

When looking for the best hotels in Cincinnati, consider what to do in Cincinnati and pick a great hotel nearby.

These are our recommendations for the best hotels in Cincinnati:

  • Homewood Suites by Hilton, Mason, Ohio is our top pick for families planning to visit Kings Island. Spacious rooms and great amenities near the theme park make it a convenient place to stay.
  • The Westin Cincinnati at Fountain Square is in the heart of Downtown Cincinnati, convenient to many of the city’s attractions, great dining and nightlife.
  • The Cincinnatian Hotel is an upscale historic hotel in the city center with a long history. Built in 1882 and completely renovated in 2018, every room in this boutique hotel is unique. For charm, this is the place to stay to end your Ohio road trip.

Fun things to do in Cincinnati with kids

For family vacations, it’s hard to beat all the fun things to do in Cincinnati with kids. There’s a ton of history here, outdoor activities, Kings Island and so much more. Choose a few activities from this list when visiting Cincinnati with kids.

Cincinnati attractions for history buffs

With its strategic location on the Ohio River, it’s probably no surprise that there’s a lot of history in Cincinnati. These are the best Cincinnati attractions for history lovers:

  • The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center at 50 East Freedom Way is located in the heart of downtown. Opened in 2004, the Freedom Center shares the stories of Freedom’s Heroes going back to the time of the Underground Railroad through today.
  • The American Sign Museum at 1330 Monmouth Avenue in Cincinnati is dedicated to preserving the art and history of commercial sign making in the United States. A guided or audio tour helps you better understand the significance of each sign and how it influenced American culture.
  • The Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center in Union Terminal at 1301 Western Avenue uses innovative storytelling, interactive exhibits and artifacts to tell the story and courage of Holocaust survivors who made their way to Cincinnati. The museum, significantly, is located at the very place where Holocaust survivors first arrived in Cincinnati.
  • The Over-the-Rhine Museum at West McMickon and Findlay Streets uses walking tours to tell the stories of tenement life in the 1800s, women’s history, African-American history and labor history of the people who called this neighborhood home. Each tour starts at a different address and takes two hours. Advanced reservations are required.

Cincinnati attractions for adventurers

Cincinnati attractions for urban adventurers make for a fun twist on traditional adventure activities. Here are some fun ideas for those who like exciting challenges:

  • The Escape Room Experience, which is one of my favorite activities. Race the clock to solve the clues and escape. Every escape room challenge is unique, making this a great idea for family travel with kids ages 12+.
  • Climb the walls, literally, at Mosaic Climbing, and indoor rock climbing facility at 9501 Union Cemetery Road in nearby Loveland, Ohio. REserve your time and sign waivers online before going.
  • Explore Cincinnati by bike. Cincinnati is developing biking trails to make the Queen City more fun to explore on two wheels.
  • Take a city tour by Segway, at The Garage OTR. Offering three different city tours, see Cincinnati attractions as you tour on two wheels. Each tour begins with a training session. Check out the new Lights of the City nighttime tour!

Cincinnati attractions for sports fans

Like other major cities in Ohio, there are lots of Cincinnati attractions for sports fans. Cincinnati is home to the MLB Cincinnati Reds, NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and the MLS FC Cincinnati. The University of Cincinnati sports teams also play here.

Check with Cincinnati Regional Tourism for more information, including tickets, discount tickets for advance purchases and vacation packages.

Family friendly Cincinnati attractions

There are so many family friendly things to do in Cincinnati, making it a great place to end an Ohio road trip. Of course, it’s hard to beat Kings Island for family fun!

Here are more great Cincinnati attractions for family friendly fun:

  • Sunlite Water Adventure at Coney Island at 6201 Kellogg Avenue in Cincinnati is a great water park for summer fun with the kids.
  • The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is another of the many Cincinnati attractions for family vacations. Allow a minimum of six hours for your visit.
  • Smale Riverfront Park provides free family fun on the banks of the Ohio River near downtown Cincinnati. Some highlights of the park are Fath Fountain, a plaza filled with water jets that dance to music, the Black Brigade Monument dedicated to the African-Americans who protected the city during the Civil War, and Carol Ann’s Carousel with animals iconic to Cincinnati’s history. This is a great place to spend some unstructured time during your vacation. Allow 1 to 2 hours.

Cincinnati Attractions for foodies

When it comes to food, there’s a lot to enjoy in Cincinnati. Iconic foods include Cincinnati’s own Skyline Chili and Goetta, a German-style sausage made with oats and spices and available at several local restaurants and grocery stores.

Other Cincinnati attractions for foodies include:

  • The Montgomery Inn, serving world famous barbecue, now has two locations in Cincinnati. This defines barbecue in the city.
  • Explore the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood with Cincinnati Food Tours to learn about the history of the area as you enjoy great local food.
  • Another food tour, Flavors of the Queen City, takes participants to local, downtown restaurants to enjoy local flavors in this beautiful city. Other tours are available, too.

Like Cleveland and Columbus, there’s plenty to do in Cincinnati to make it a full week’s vacation, but it’s also a great place for a weekend getaway or as part of an Ohio road trip.

Ohio’s major cities: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati share the same first letter, but each city is unique. Each city’s history is shaped by its location, by history, and by its role in society today. Discover Ohio through the history, food, culture and fun each of these great cities has to offer.