CINCINNATI - With dueling nicknames of the Queen City for its beauty and Porkopolis for its love of, well, pork, Cincinnati cannot be pigeonholed.
After decades of declining growth, Ohio's third-largest city is on a huge upswing, pumping billions of dollars into new development and revitalization. In less than 10 years, the city has transformed itself back into a growing, bustling destination as businesses and residents flock to downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods.
Although visitors can drop plenty of cash on a Reds or Bengals game, gambling in a brand-new $400 million casino, or eating some of that much-loved pork, arguably the best things to do in Cincinnati are absolutely free.
This picturesque neighborhood, named and settled by German immigrants in the 19th century, has more buzz than anywhere else in Cincinnati. Over-the-Rhine sits just on the edge of downtown and was the site of the city's race riots in 2001. But block by block, the city and developers have retaken the neighborhood that was once dubbed the most dangerous in America and transformed its shabby but beautiful buildings into some of the city's best bars and restaurants. Over-the-Rhine has the most Italianate architecture still standing in the U.S., and to many outsiders, it looks more like it belongs in Brooklyn than Cincinnati. A must-see in the neighborhood is Washington Park, which reopened in July after undergoing a $48 million overhaul to become one of the city's favorite spots for concerts, outdoor movie viewings, food trucks and flea markets.
Cincinnati residents have been getting fresh meat, produce and homemade bread at Findlay Market since 1855, making it the oldest continuously running public market in the Buckeye State and one of the most beloved historic landmarks in the city. Families, hipsters, yuppies and tourists alike stroll through and shop at the more than two dozen indoor vendors and, from spring through fall, the outdoor farmers market. Wine-tastings, the best barbecue in the city and a popular Vietnamese restaurant are definitely not free, but the people-watching - which rivals any of Europe's public squares - is.
Of the many bridges that span the Ohio River between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky, two are worth crossing on foot. The Roebling Suspension Bridge, which sits between the Bengals and Reds stadiums in a bustling spot along the riverfront, is the most recognizable of all of Cincinnati's landmarks and was the model for New York City's Brooklyn Bridge. Pedestrians can walk across the bridge into Covington, Ky., and head due east into the quaint and beautiful Licking Riverside Historic District. From there, they can cross the Fourth Street Bridge over the Licking River and into Newport, Ky., and head back across to Cincinnati over the Purple People Bridge, a pedestrian-only span and a favorite among locals.
The heart of downtown Cincinnati, Fountain Square underwent a $49 million renovation and reopened in 2006. From Reds and Bengals game-watching parties on a massive high-definition television screen, live salsa-dancing lessons that attract hundreds of people of all skill levels, to near-daily concerts during nice weather, practically the only thing in Fountain Square that isn't free is the beer.
A beautiful stroll in Cincinnati begins in lovely Eden Park - so named for the biblical paradise - and ends atop Mount Adams, which offers a stunning view of downtown Cincinnati and northern Kentucky. Walkers would be advised to begin in the picnic-worthy Presidential Grove, where each U.S. president has a tree named after him, before strolling by Mirror Lake and heading up the hill to Mount Adams. At the top is the Cincinnati Art Museum, which houses more than 60,000 works and is, remarkably, free. From here, one can walk around the picturesque streets of Mount Adams, visit two historic churches and take in some of the best views in the city.