Cincinnati Best Things to Do for First Time Visitors During the Holidays

Hosting family for Thanksgiving or Christmas (or both!) is a great excuse to show off all there is to do in Cincinnati. After all, being close to the city affords many chances to see and experience new things, so seize the opportunity to make memories with your guests. From holiday-centric festivities to staples every visitor should add to their list, here are seven Cincinnati best things to do for visitors.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Hippo figure/toy being displayed at the Cincinnati Zoo

Folks of all ages adore seeing animals at the zoo, and the one in downtown Cincinnati is a delight. Whether you enjoy birds and bugs or large animals, such as gorillas, lions, and giraffes, the Cincinnati Zoo has a wide variety of animals to see.

The highlight of the holiday season is attending the PNC Festival of Lights, included with regular zoo admission. Folks can see millions of lights, ride the train, and watch the light show over Swan Lake. The event runs from November 23rd through January 4th, so there’s plenty of time to get into the holiday spirit at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Museums

Girls learning handcraft at the Cincinnati Museum

As with many major cities, one of the best things to do in Cincinnati is visiting one of the museums. Ask your out-of-town guests about their interests, and find a museum to match.

Art lovers of all ages should head to the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the Museum of Natural History and Science is filled with wonders. To find out more about the past, head to the Cincinnati Museum Center. You can even visit the Harriet Beecher Stowe Museum or the Cincinnati Fire Museum to hone specific interests further.

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Newport Aquarium

Woman, girl, and boy watching rays at the Newport Aquarium

If your guests ask, “What is there to do in Cincinnati, Ohio?” take them to the Newport Aquarium. Head to this underwater wonderland to see penguins, rare white alligators, and sharks.

There are several rotating and permanent exhibits that enhance learning for folks of all ages. Plus, from November 26th through December 24th, kids can meet elves and see Scuba Santa. Special reservations are needed to see Santa as he dives, so be sure to get tickets early for folks coming into town. 

Drive-Through Light Displays

Load up the family and head to one of the many drive-through light displays throughout Cincinnati. Many of these attractions charge per carload, which makes this a relatively inexpensive activity.

Check each site for vehicle restrictions (no buses allowed!), and head to Journey Borealis (from November 19th through January 2nd) or Holiday in Lights (from November 19th through December 30th, although they’re closed on Thanksgiving). Go through a drive-through beforehand to get hot chocolate, and be sure to listen to Christmas music along the way. 

Fountain Square Ice Activities

Bumpers at Fountain Square, Cincinnati

Why choose between bumper cars and ice skating when you don’t have to? Especially when you go to Fountain Square as their rink has both. Most of the time, the rink is divided into two sections — one for skating and the other for bumper cars — and patrons can go back and forth between both for $15. However, if you only want to skate, there are times when Fountain Square turns into one big rink, and it’s $10 to skate. So keep an eye on their calendar and poll your guests to see whether they want to bump, skate, or both. How fun! 

Live Performances

Man presenting a holiday live performance

Are you looking for fun things to do in Cincinnati? See a show! The city is a hub for the arts, and the holiday season offers many different types. Wow your guests with performances like the Trans Siberian Orchestra on December 2nd to A Magical Cirque Christmas on December 11th. If you enjoy live theater, head to A Christmas Carol from November 24th through December 30th. Another sought-after annual event is Holiday Pops, on December 3rd-5th and 10th-12th. There really is no lack of Cincinnati things to do when it comes to live shows!

Lumaze Christmas Light Festival & Market

Chinese dragon light sculpture.

To capitalize on the holiday spirit, head to the one place that has it all: Lumaze. There truly is something for everyone at this popular event.

Shop the holiday vendor market or stroll through the various light displays. Children will love riding Louis the Locomotive, and they can even see Santa and various winter princesses wandering around. Then, grab a bite to eat, catch a show, and be sure to enjoy the Glow Around the World theme, seeing light displays of the Taj Mahal and Big Ben.

You and your guests will undoubtedly have a time filled with making festive memories. Lumaze runs from November 26th through December 30th and is closed on Sundays. Definitely one of the best Cincinnati things to do this winter!

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