Though Cincinnati boasts of world-class attractions—from internationally renowned art to one of the country’s best city parks scenes—you don’t have to empty your wallet to experience the region’s beauty. There are free things to do in Cincinnati for travelers with a variety of interests, whether you’re a nature lover, art enthusiast or consistently awestruck by historic architecture.
If you’re seeking a budget-friendly Cincinnati guide, look no further. Here are 10 of our favorite free activities in Cincinnati.
Colorful Findlay Market is the oldest continuously operating public market in Ohio. It’s the main attraction in Cincinnati’s vibrant Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and residents and travelers flock here to admire the juxtaposition of 19th-century digs and the city’s bustling contemporary culture. Enjoy the architecture and energy without spending a dime, or grab a thrifty bite from one of the 50 full-time merchants dishing out cheese, deli sandwiches and a host of international fare, including local favorite Taste of Belgium, with crispy waffles to go.
Smale Riverfront Park
Cincinnati’s Smale Riverfront Park was a project nearly 20 years in the making, with the last touches added in 2015. This affordable Cincinnati attraction was well worth the wait. Smale Riverfront Park links downtown Cincinnati and the city’s riverfront, with walking trails, gardens, a carousel, fountains and a sprawling event lawn. Two major attractions bookend the park: the Cincinnati Bengals football stadium and Great American Ballpark, home of the Cincinnati Reds.
While tickets to games are hardly free (although you can find cheap Reds tickets on the upper level), Smale’s outdoor attractions are kind on the wallet. Stroll the trails, snag a swing-bench seat, or jam with the giant foot piano—all without spending a dime. And, if budget allows, splurge with a $2 ride on Carol Ann’s Carousel.
Cincinnati Art Museum
Admire more than 67,000 pieces of art at the hilltop and Eden Park-adjacent Cincinnati Art Museum, where general admission is always free. The Cincinnati Art Museum, opened in the 1880s, is one of the country’s oldest art museums. Its collections span 6,000 years, including its East Asian art, one of the oldest Asian art collections in the country, and a wide collection of Indigenous artwork, including some of the earliest Pueblo paintings.
Beyond permanent collections, the museum hosts regular (and often free) events, like Art After Dark, with live music, dancing, food, and drinks. And, if hunger strikes, stop at the museum’s Terrace Café, where architecturally dazzling digs pair perfectly with fresh cafe fare. (Sandwiches run for around $12.)
If you didn’t have the lesser-known Lucky Cat Museum on your budget-friendly Cincinnati travel itinerary, you should. This small, free museum houses more than 1,000 waving Japanese cats—the cultural symbol of good luck. One of the museum’s most unique displays? A mix of “lucky cat” pieces from artists across the globe. The Lucky Cat Museum, open by appointment only, features a gift shop to take home your own lucky charm. For delicious local bites, head down the street from the museum to The Pickled Pig, a low-cost stop for cured and smoked meats, creative pickles, and craft beverages. Sandwiches here run for around $10.
It’s easy to see how Fountain Square became downtown Cincinnati’s main gathering place. The charismatic square, named for its focal-point fountain, features a consistently packed events lineup. Nearly all of these get-togethers are free. Stop by for live music. Grab your dancing shoes and learn to salsa every Thursday in the summer and fall. Or, grab a group of friends and hit Monday trivia night, with gift-card prizes for winning teams.
If you’re looking for a low-cost bite near the square, head a few blocks south to Cincinnati’s second-oldest bar, O’Malleys in the Alley, where you get free popcorn with your drink or burger.
Self-Guided Mural Tour
Cincinnati is a canvas for local artists. ArtWorks Cincinnati helps young apprentices and professional artists push their creative limits with larger-than-life murals, and Cincinnati travelers can enjoy hundreds of these murals for free. Grab ArtWorks’ mural map for a self-guided walking tour; more than 200 murals add color throughout the city, but Over-the-Rhine features the largest concentration of these pieces. Don’t miss “Mr. Dynamite,” a colorful four-story rendering of musical icon James Brown at 1437 Main Street. “Cincinnati’s Table” depicts farm-fresh fare and animals at 713 Vine Street.
Little Miami Scenic Trail
Save a buck by exploring Cincinnati on a bike. The Little Miami Scenic Trail is an 80-mile shaded route that starts 11 miles east of Cincinnati. The river-flanked trail winds by everything from small towns and quaint diners to mega attractions like Kings Island amusement park in Mason (a 25-minute drive north of the city). It connects with the northern Cincinnati suburb, Loveland, where you can make a quick detour for locally roasted coffee at cozy Hometown Café Loveland.
Purple People Bridge
Walk from Ohio to Kentucky along Cincinnati’s free, pedestrian-only Purple People Bridge, which links the Ohio riverfront’s Sawyer Point Park and northern Kentucky’s Newport on the Levee dining and retail center. The half-mile violet-hued bridge, officially named the Newport Southbank Bridge, is open for walkers, bikers, and runners. Crossing the bridge itself is free, but it connects with several spots for a cheap bite or brew, including sprawling German beer hall Hofbrauhaus and Cincinnati-born low-frills grilled cheese hotspot Tom & Chee, praised for its splurge-worthy grilled-cheese donut (located in the Newport on the Levee complex).
Mount Adams Views
You don’t need fancy rooftop bars to see the best Cincinnati skyline views. Just head up to Mount Adams, one of the tallest “mounts” in the city, with sweeping vistas thanks to its downtown-adjacent location. Views abound throughout Mount Adams, including from the back of Holy Cross Immaculata Parish (complete with a skyline-identifying guide on the railing), via the parking lot next to event-venue The View at Mt. Adams, and from the quaint garden at the intersection of Hill and Celestial Streets, known by residents as the best seat in the house for Labor Day weekend’s annual Ohio River fireworks bonanza, Riverfest.
For a budget-friendly bite that doesn’t skimp on scenery, head halfway down Mount Adams to City View Tavern, a low-frills beer and burger joint with one of the best city-view balconies in the area.
Mt. Airy Forest
Few budget-friendly experiences are as tranquil as a stroll through Mt. Airy Forest, Cincinnati’s largest park. The forest packs 13 trail miles, 23 picnic areas, a disc golf center, and a wheelchair-accessible treehouse into its vast, nearly 1,500 acres. An onsite arboretum, with 30 acres of gardens, provides a peaceful lake and gazebo for unwinding. The new Mt. Airy multi-use bike trail is another free attraction, with 1.4 miles of paved trails to help you explore more of the forest. (Rent bikes via bikeshare program Red Bike, available nearby at Hoffner Park, 2.6 miles away; rentals are $3 per 20 minutes.)
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