Budget-Friendly Things To Do In Cincinnati That Are Worth Your Time, According To Tripadvisor

As the birthplace of America's greatest pastime, an epicenter of dining specialties like renowned chili, and a spot for endless Midwestern hospitality, Cincinnati, Ohio, is quickly becoming a top tourist destination. A whopping 125% more people sought out vacation rentals in this happening hub in 2021 than in 2020, according to Vrbo, and it was also named the 16th most up-and-coming city in America by Time Magazine in 2017. Thanks to the Ohio River, it's also one of the best riverfront towns to visit in America, according to travelers.

However, unlike many other hotspots for tourism, Cincinnati still has plenty of attractions that allow visitors to save a buck and have an enjoyable trip without hefty price tags, from one of the oldest zoos in America to a historic ballpark to quirky, one-of-a-kind museums — all for less than the price of lunch. That's why Explore has put together the best budget-friendly things to do in Cincinnati that are actually worth your time, according to Tripadvisor users. To create this list, we've ranked, in order, the top cheap activities based on which have the most and highest Tripadvisor reviews so you can have an outing without hurting your wallet. You can read more about how we made our selections at the end of this article.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

It only costs $8-$27 for an adult and $5-$21 for a child to visit the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, which Tripadvisor users chose as the best budget-friendly thing to do in the city. And that's no accident — this zoo, with over 400 types of animals, dates back to 1875, making it the second-oldest zoo in the country. Since then, it's earned incredible prestige; these days, more than 1.7 million people visit it worldwide. Those visits are more than affordable, too, as long as people do their due diligence. Visitors can save nearly 50% by purchasing their tickets online and even more by getting them in advance as prices increase closer to an entrance date.

At the zoo, families can meet every animal, from red pandas to hippos, like the famous Fiona, who was born six weeks premature but now thrives at the Cincinnati Zoo thanks to the esteemed care team. There are plenty of adorable reasons to visit the Cincinnati Zoo, even in the winter. "We were big fans of Fiona to begin with, but her spunky personality really shined the day we were there," said one Tripadvisor user. "I highly recommend heading to see Fiona first thing if she's why you're there. She was WORKING the crowd, swimming back and forth across the span of her enclosure." While at the zoo, don't miss seeing other popular animals, such as African lions, Florida manatees, kangaroos, Malayan tigers, Mexican wolves, and ring-tailed lemurs.

Great American Ball Park

Cincinnati is the home of America's greatest pastime, as it was where the Cincinnati Reds — the first professional American baseball team– was born. Today, visitors can see the team in action at the Great American Ball Park starting at just $13. To mark the storied past of the Cincinnati Reds, the Great American Ball Park has statues of famed players like Ted Kluszewski, Ernie Lombardi, Joe Nuxhall, and Frank Robinson. Plus, hanging banners on Johnny Bench Way mark important dates in Cincinnati Reds history, so just a stroll there can be a learning experience.

The Great American Ball Park is truly the best of both worlds since while it showcases Cincinnati Reds history, it's also a modern ballpark with all of the amenities that hardcore fans love, like high-definition video boards, luxurious suites, and clubs, and areas ideal for families. And even better, admission can cost less than a hot dog, although the price to build the beautiful ballpark that can hold more than 40,000 people was a whopping $280 million. To see it all, fans can also book a $30 tour, which includes game admission. The hour-and-a-half-long segments head to all the essential ballpark stops, like Crosley Terrace, the Bally Sports Club, visitor and home dugouts, and The Handlebar, presented by Hard Rock Casino.

Cincinnati Museum Center

For just $22.50, visitors to the Cincinnati Museum Center can see three museums in one. This unique complex is home to the Cincinnati History Museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science, and The Children's Museum, so there's something for everyone. Clearly, Tripadvisor users have figured this out since the complex, located inside a beautiful Art Deco-style train station that's also a National Historic Landmark, was named the city's third-best budget-friendly thing to do. That station — the Union Terminal – dates back nearly a century and includes mosaic works, "magical" fountains with great city views, an ice cream parlor, and an original control tower, all restored in 2018. More than 1.4 million people head there yearly, with multiple visits possible and likely necessary since the complex houses more than 1.8 million items – much too many to see in one, two, or even three trips.

As the biggest cultural epicenter in the city, the Cincinnati Museum Center also houses an OMNIMAX theater, rotating exhibits, a research center, programming, tours, and other events. So, it's no surprise that Cincinnati is also among the 15 best Midwest cities for history buffs to add to their bucket list. "Excellent value for your dollar!" said a Tripadvisor reviewer. "From the kid's museum to the interactive displays in the science area, there is so much for the family to enjoy ... You can easily spend hours here."

Cincinnati Art Museum

At the Cincinnati Art Museum, you can always head inside and see 73,000 works of art and park your car without opening your wallet, thanks to the Rosenthal Family Foundation, since admission is always free. If you want to take in something a little extra, there's always a traveling exhibition, which sometimes has varying costs, as do special events and programs. There's so much on offer that visitors feeling overwhelmed can book a free tour of a current exhibition, art museum highlights, or family-friendly works. For yet another museum experience, attendees can go on the outdoor Art Climb, where they'll walk 450 feet to the museum while seeing rotating sculptures in their natural habitats. At the summit, they'll enjoy an amazing view of Cincinnati before being greeted at the museum.

The art museum dates all the way back to 1881 when the Women's Art Museum Association was formed and rallied together to raise money to support the construction of an art museum in the city that had become a hub for groundbreaking art. Five years later, the museum finally opened its doors with an admission fee higher than now, as it costs an adult a quarter to visit in modern times. As new wings were built, the collection grew, and today, the museum houses works that span 6,000 years of creation.

American Sign Museum

You might not usually give much thought to that chain restaurant or hotel sign you've passed countless times, but in reality, the styles of those signs represent every part of history. At the American Sign Museum, people can see this history — literally — through the museum's eclectic collection of signs spanning 20,000 square feet, which costs only $15 to visit. Here, you'll see signs up to a century old, including those made in bright neon colors in Art Deco style to signs made in gold leaf for extra zest. To see the best of the museum, free 45-minute tours are held every weekend. "The amount and quantity of the exhibits was amazing," said wrote one individual on Tripadvisor. "90% of the exhibits were vintage and authentic."

For an extra experience here, see how a neon sign is made in a nearly hour-long demonstration held every Saturday at Neonworks, an onsite neon sign shop that makes signs for local businesses. The American Sign Museum got its start thanks to Tod Swormstedt, an editor of Signs of the Times magazine. After being a part of the magazine for nearly three decades, he used his expertise to create the National Signs of the Times Museum in 1999, later renamed to its current name. As its collection grew — and its signs got bigger — it moved to the Camp Washington area, which, fittingly, has just as much history as the museum does.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

In the 1800s, the Ohio River, which flows through Cincinnati, was an important part of the Underground Railroad, as enslaved people who crossed it and made their way to the free state of Ohio finally found freedom. Today, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center showcases their struggle after being designed by Walter Blackburn, whose grandparents were enslaved people. He designed it to smooth one exterior wall while the other is rough, representing enslaved peoples' difficult journeys to find freedom. With instrumental figures like Oprah Winfrey, Muhammad Ali and former First Lady Laura Bush attending its opening in 2002, it's an imperative museum in Cincinnati to visit.

Despite all of the information the museum offers, it only costs $16.50 to enter, and people can also go on a guided tour of it for another $10 on the first Saturday of every month. Here, visitors can check out four permanent exhibits. In the Suite For Freedom, they can watch a short film to get to know the museum's offerings before seeing "Brothers of the Borderland," another short film narrated by Winfrey that presents the story of a woman escaping slavery. Then, they can learn about people who remain enslaved today as well as efforts to save them before visiting the jarring Slave Pen, a real piece of history once used as a holding area for enslaved people.

Krohn Conservatory

Cincinnati may be a bustling city, but visitors can find a taste of the outdoors in city limits at the Krohn Conservatory, a nearly century-old art déco-style conservatory with six buildings showcasing more than 3,500 international plants. Plus, it only costs $10 to visit this attraction. A visitor shared on Tripadvisor, "This is a beautiful place to visit. The plants are very well maintained ... Don't skip a visit to this place!" Even Nicholas Longworth, who once owned the land that the conservatory now sits on, used to call it the "Garden of Eden."

One of the favorite aspects of the conservatory is the Orchid House, which is full of orchids from all over the world. Visitors also clamor for the Desert House, which has desert plants that could never thrive on their own in Cincinnati due to the city's high level of rainfall. Also, here is the Palm House, which brings the tropics to Cincinnati with its plethora of tropical plants that receive 160 inches of water annually in their natural habitat. There's also the Fern House, as there are more than 300,000 types of ferns on the planet. Plus, visitors can see wood plants manipulated into pleasant shapes inside the Bonsai Gallery in the Japanese tradition of bonsai pruning. Finally, visitors can check out rotating floral shows and a permanent exhibit of orange, lime, lemon, grapefruit, tangerine, and kumquat trees in the Seasonal Floral Showroom.

Roebling Suspension Bridge

If you're visiting Cincinnati, you'll likely have to traverse the Roebling Suspension Bridge, which is both an architectural marvel and a piece of history. That's because this bridge, which you can cross for free while seeing the Ohio River up close, has been a staple of the city since it opened in 1867. It was what was then the longest bridge in the world. Today, it's a National Historic Landmark and a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark since when it was built, it utilized novel building techniques like relying on two main cables, which were spun into place using wire for support. Drivers and pedestrians still use it to get back and forth across the river from Cincinnati to Covington, Kentucky.

You're most likely to see people walking the bridge when games are about to start at Great American Ball Park, Heritage Bank Arena, and Paul Brown Stadium since many people park in Covington to avoid the traffic and walk along the bridge to get to the stadiums. Another great time to walk the bridge is at dusk or nighttime, when it provides a great way to see Cincinnati and its lights in all its glory. Once you reach either side, you can visit many restaurants and bars that line the riverfront for the perfect ending to a Cincinnati evening.

Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum

Need to take a breather after exploring Cincinnati's many attractions? Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum have been a respite in the city since 1845 when its lush 700 acres were designated as an arboretum and garden. Today, visitors can see 1,300 trees and shrubs here, labeled to learn about which plants they're spotting in their natural outdoor habitats. Plus, visiting this beautiful spot is free, which is also significant as it's a National Historic Landmark. Make sure you look out for some of its most famous plants, like a four-century-old white oak tree and more than two dozen State Champion trees.

Plus, as a cemetery dating back nearly two centuries, Spring Grove is also an ideal way to learn about Cincinnati's history. Visitors can see the memorials of some of the most important people to ever live in the city here and architectural marvels. Some of the most notable monuments include the Fleischmann Temple, which looks like a mini Greek Parthenon and is where the Fleischmann family, who once had a yeast empire, rests. Another popular monument to see is the Notre Dame-like Dexter Mausoleum, which would have cost a whopping $1.7 million to build today and has everything from marble catacombs to flying buttresses. It was even once planned to have an elevator and stained glass, although those never came to fruition.

Smale Riverfront Park

There's something for everyone at John G. and Phyllis W. Smale Riverfront Park, a free-admission park on the Ohio River Trail alongside several other riverfront parks. However, there's a reason why this one is consistently voted above the rest on Tripadvisor. There, kids can find water features to play in, oversized swings, an interactive piano, a play area, and a carousel. Adults looking for a taste of Cincinnati history can also see the park's Black Brigade Monument and Marian Spencer Statue. Plus, the park is home to lots of natural wildlife and flora. Warblers, waterfowl, and even birds of prey call this park home, as do monarch butterflies, who surround the park's 2,000 flowers since the park is also an arboretum. To find even more zen, the park has a labyrinth, where visitors can see both its physical and metaphorical center.

It's easy to spend hours exploring the Smale Riverfront Park's many amenities since it also frequently hosts concerts and food trucks. "We went to visit Smale Park because people have been saying great things about it. Definitely worth the visit," said a Tripadvisor review said. "There are also activities that are educational as well as fun such as a rope walk, slides, and activities where water is involved."

Findlay Market

Foodies love a stroll through the Findlay Market, which highlights Cincinnati's culinary prowess through its more than 50 vendors selling everything from produce to ethnic specialties in a food market that's the oldest in the state. Although it's free to visit this market, it will be tough to resist spending a few bucks with storied vendors such as Gibbs Cheese, which has been a part of the market for a century and is known for its homemade noodles, fudge, and peanut butter; Happy Pies which creates homemade pies made from scratch in both classic and eclectic flavors; and Earthganics which makes all-natural personal care items such as face serums, soaps, and lip balm. Many vendors have passed their businesses down to their children and great-grandchildren, so every visit and purchase here is a taste of history.

This beloved market, fittingly located in the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, dates back to 1852, thanks to a land donation from General James Findlay. Due to its long history and then-rare wrought iron frame construction, the Findlay Market is also a National Historic Landmark that has been renovated and expanded. If you visit on the weekend, you can find even more vendors at the farmers' market and check out performers and events, such as food festivals, poetry readings, parades, food tours and tastings, and more.

Cincinnati Riverwalk

The Ohio River is the lifeblood of Cincinnati, and visitors can see it firsthand as well as the city on the free-admission Cincinnati Riverwalk, a three-mile paved walkway that has plenty of pitstops and attractions along the way, making for an ideal walk, bike ride, or run. Along the way, you'll pass Smale Riverfront Park, which is a popular budget-friendly attraction in Cincinnati in its own right, as well as other parks like Sawyer Point, a mile-long park that has lots of art to see, as well as playgrounds for kids and courts for playing sports.

On this pathway, you can even see Cincinnati as a whole from Covington since the Riverwalk spans into Kentucky and marks the exact spot where the two cities and states meet on Purple People Bridge, making for an ideal photo opportunity. This bridge is perfect for strolling since it doesn't allow cars for its half-mile distance. "The River walk was enjoyable and a wonderful place to get good food and a fresh local brew," said a Tripadvisor user. "Don't forget to walk the bridge from Ohio to Kentucky, as it's a wonderful stroll."

How we chose the budget-friendly activities in Cincinnati

To assemble this list, Explore examined the Cincinnati budget-friendly attractions that had the highest rankings and most reviews given by Tripadvisor users and listed them in order. All of these attractions have a range of 300 to nearly 4,000 Tripadvisor reviews, all averaging at least 4.5 stars — so you know we're not kidding when we tell you these attractions are worth visiting.