Now more than ever, the riverfront is a bustling hub of the Cincinnati region's cultural and recreational revolution.
Cincinnati skyline (photo: @joe_qasim)
Over the past few years, the riverfront’s dramatic metamorphosis has transformed into a thriving oasis of entertainment. Art, music, food, shopping, sports—it’s all here. The scene is vibrant in both Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and a quick stroll across one of the pedestrian-friendly bridges takes you from one side to the other. From the shiny swings and carousel of Smale Riverfront Park
, to the sky-high views from the SkyStar Observation Wheel, to the nightlife and family fun of Newport on the Levee, the riverfront is where the good life happens. How will you take it in?
Sit back and relax
Sawyer Point and the Serpentine Wall (photo: CincinnatiUSA.com)
Named for it's snake-like shape, the Serpentine Wall is a curvaceous concrete wall along the Cincinnati riverfront that offers prime river-gazing seats. Whether you’ve packed a lunch or you’re just taking a breather from a jog, this easy-to-access pit stop is perfect for spotting the many seafaring vessels that frequent the river.
BB Riverboats (photo: Alias Imaging)
And speaking of boats, you can take your own river cruise aboard the old-fashioned steamboats of BB Riverboats—ideal for romantic dinners and special celebrations, and complete with panoramic views of the Cincinnati skyline and Northern Kentucky. The company also offers kid-friendly themed cruise options so the whole family can enjoy the views.
Cincinnati Bengals fan (photo: @rubyandfrances)
Perhaps your idea of relaxation is more along the lines of spectator sports. In that case, sample the local pigskin scene with a Cincinnati Bengals game at Paul Brown Stadium, and come prepared to join in with the local rally cry: WHO DEY! If it’s peanuts and Cracker Jack you’re craving, look no further than Great American Ball Park, home of the Cincinnati Reds. Opt for an upper deck seat behind home plate to take in some spectacular river views.
Sawyer Point (photo: CincinnatiUSA.com)
If you've eaten one too many of our much-beloved chili cheese coneys, now is an opportune time to explore the many walking and biking paths along the river. Start at the crisscrossing paths of Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park, just east of downtown Cincinnati. Head west and soon you’ll reach Sawyer Point Park and Yeatman’s Cove, a mile-long stretch of park space characterized by a play-for-days playground, a grand performance pavilion, outdoor tennis courts, volleyball courts and a sprawling green space (bring the kite!). Feeling the need for speed? Bikes and family-sized surreys can be rented on site. And that purple bridge just ahead? That’s the pedestrian-only Newport Southbank Bridge—fondly nicknamed “The Purple People Bridge” by locals—and trekking across it should definitely be on your Cincinnati bucket list.
Smale Riverfront Park Playground (Photo: Laura Hoevener)
Mosey just a bit farther along the Cincinnati riverfront to reach Smale Riverfront Park. Let your mind relax during a peaceful stroll through the meditative labyrinth, or let the kiddos cool off in the interactive fountains after sliding and climbing at the Adventure Playground.
John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge (photo: CincinnatiUSA.com)
When you’re ready for another adventure, take a brisk walk over the majestic John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge, which leads you to Northern Kentucky, and be sure to glance back for an impressive cityscape view. Did you know that when the Roebling Bridge opened in 1866, its 1,057-foot span made it the longest suspension bridge in the world? It retained that record until the opening of Roebling’s most famous project, the Brooklyn Bridge, in 1883. For even more riverfront walking ideas read our walking guide.
Eat, drink and be city
Shark Tunnel at Newport Aquarium (photo: Newport Aquarium)
Two things are certain when you visit the riverfront: you won’t go hungry and you won’t be bored. In Kentucky, Newport on the Levee is a family-friendly oasis where you can come face-to-face with sharks at the Newport Aquarium, enjoy a meal at any of the many restaurants on site, or catch a flick at the stadium-seating AMC theater. At night, discover a superior bowling experience at Rotolo, a boutique bowling alley with a full-service bar, bocce court, an Italian inspired menu and more.
Ruth's Chris Steak House (photo: Ruth's Chris Steak House)
If it’s date night, hop over the river to Cincinnati’s mixed-use development The Banks for a candlelit dinner (Petite Filet or Porterhouse for two, perhaps?) at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Sample the local suds at Yard House, pour your own brews from the on-site tap tables at Holy Grail Tavern & Grille or dance to late-night live music at Tin Roof. Or try Taste of Belgium for delicious waffle and chicken, Jefferson Social for tacos and guacamole, or share a fishbowl with friends at Fishbowl.
Rosa Parks Experience at National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (photo: National Underground Railroad Freedom Center)
In addition to the oodles of fun and food packed into every square inch of the riverfront, it’s also important to recognize the region’s rich historical past, commemorated by several key stops. At the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, celebrate freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times, through inspiring stories and hands-on activities.
John A. Roebling on the Riverwalk Statue Tour (photo: CincinnatiUSA.com)
During a jaunt through the Riverwalk Statue Tour in Covington, you’ll make the acquaintance of seven bronze heroes of historic Kentucky, including early explorer Simon Kenton, Boy Scouts of America founder Daniel Carter Beard and famed architect John A. Roebling, whose signature Cincinnati bridge was the prototype for the Brooklyn Bridge. Just west of Mr. Roebling’s bridge on the Kentucky side are the Roebling Murals. Large-scale and life-like, this chronological series of Robert Dafford floodwall paintings transport viewers back to Covington’s early days of settlement, industry and entertainment.
Written by Elizabeth Miller Wood with updates by Amber Potter