I hope you’ll agree with me when I say that Cincinnati has some of the best museums around. Our museum offerings include great art exhibitions plus displays of local history, sports memorabilia, fire engines, and even neon signs! Seriously, you could visit a new museum every month and still not see them all.
The Cincinnati Museum Center: A Cincinnati museum list would not be complete without a mention of our local museum powerhouse – The Cincinnati Museum Center. This is a multi-museum center located in historic Union Terminal. The Cincinnati Museum Center includes The Cincinnati History Museum, The Museum of Natural History and Science, and The Children’s Museum. Union Terminal is a gorgeous building all its own and it’s free to just go into the large lobby (they call it The Rotunda) to soak in the beauty of this former train station. You’ll often find free events in the Rotunda, including free Rotunda Tours on the weekends. You can also head to the top and visit Tower A to see where rail operations were controlled when Union Terminal was a train station. The windows allow you to look out over the Queensgate Freight Yard and see trains coming and going (of note: getting to Tower A requires the use of stairs; you should check their hours of operation as Tower A has their own operating hours).
The Taft Museum of Art: One of my personal favorites, The Taft Museum of Art was once the home of prominent Cincinnatians including Nicholas Longworth and Anna and Charles Taft (President Taft’s half-brother). Remarkably, the art in this museum is almost all from the Taft family’s personal collection (690 pieces). Inside these walls you’ll find the inspiration for a few of the ArtWorks murals around town including the mantle clock that inspired The Golden Muse in Over the Rhine and Frank Duveneck’s The Cobbler’s Apprentice (mural: The Cobbler’s Apprentice Plays Ball at The Banks). The museum also has a wonderful cafe that offers exhibition-inspired fare.
The Cincinnati Art Museum: With more than 65,000 works spanning 6,000 years, you can easily spend the day here. My personal favorite area is the Cincinnati Wing where you’ll find an amazing array of Cincinnati related artwork as well as the contributions Cincinnatians have made to art history. In addition to their permanent collections, they host numerous special exhibitions too. Free public tours are offered and they have an extensive list of activities, classes, and events as well. The Cincinnati Art Museum offers free admission (there is a charge to park in their lot).
The Contemporary Arts Center: The Contemporary Arts Center is unique in that they don’t have a permanent collection. All of their exhibitions are temporary so there’s always something new to see. As the name implies, their exhibitions feature more contemporary art. In addition to the rotating exhibitions, the CAC offers a family-friendly space – UnMuseum – a gallery of interactive art designed to offer children and parents an enjoyable experience. Located downtown, they’re right across from the Aronoff Center at the corner of Walnut and 6th Streets.
Visit the Contemporary Arts Center’s website
The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center: One of our newest museums, The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened in 2004. The mission of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is to reveal stories of freedom’s heroes, from the era of the Underground Railroad to contemporary times – challenging and inspiring everyone to take courageous steps of freedom today. The NURFC features a variety of programs throughout the year. When you visit, be sure to experience the history surrounding the museum as well. On the south side of the building (between the museum and the Ohio River) you’ll find a piece of the Berlin wall as well as a tribute to the Black Brigade.
American Sign Museum: If you’re looking for something unusual, this is your place. FULL of neon signs, The American Sign Museum features over 19,000 square feet of exhibit space and event space to accommodate hundreds of people. You’ll find everything in here – from Colonol Sanders to Ho Jo’s to Big Boy. The entire layout of the museum was started from scratch and designed specifically to accommodate the neon signs. They offer tours and/or you can visit and explore on your own. See our post on the American Sign Museum here.
Visit the American Sign Museum’s website
Fire Museum of Greater Cincinnati: Did you know that Cincinnati’s fire department was the country’s first paid, professional fire department and was created by law? Learn all about the history of firefighting in Cincinnati and the contributions that Cincinnati firefighters have made when you visit this gem of a museum. The museum houses firefighting artifacts, special exhibits, and events – and it’s all in the home of the 1906 Engine Company #45 Fire House. See our post on The Fire Museum here.
Heritage Village Museum: Experience the rural simplicity of a small town life as it was in Ohio during the 1800’s when you visit The Heritage Village Museum. Homes, out-buildings and equipment on the museum grounds were moved here from other locations in the region to be preserved and aid in telling the story of our recent past. Open to the public year-round, you can take a self-guided tour or schedule a guided tour (May-Sept.). They also offer many special events including the popular Civil War Weekend (July). The museum is located within Sharon Woods, one of our wonderful Great Parks of Hamilton County (requires a park sticker for entry to the park).
Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame Museum: Experience the history of the Cincinnati Reds when you visit this museum. Located on the west side of Great American Ballpark, the museum spans 16,000 square feet and has two levels. The museum features exhibits and activities that will entertain baseball fans of all ages. The ground level has the Hall of Fame Museum theater which shows short movies about the Reds. The first floor also houses their changing exhibits. As you climb the steps to the upper level (you can also take an elevator) be sure to admire the fantastic view of the Ohio River and Great American Ballpark.
The American Railroading Museum at EnterTRAINment Junction: Learn all about the history of locomotives and what they meant to the history and development of the United States when you visit the 5,000 square foot Railroading Museum. Located in the middle of EnterTRAINment Junction, this museum provides a great source of railroading education right in the middle of the world’s largest indoor train display. See our post on EnterTRAINment Junction here.