Did you ever wish to experience the perfect Thanksgiving in a truly American setting? If you answered yes, why not join us for an unforgettable holiday in Cincinnati? This lovely river-city on the border between Kentucky and Ohio is a great place to experience the most American of holidays.
Cincinnati, founded in 1788, when the fledgeling United States was just beginning its westward expansion, is named after the “Society of Cincinnati”. This was a group of neoclassical thinkers who celebrated the civic-mindedness of the 5th Century BCE Roman General Cincinnatus who led the Romans during their time of peril and then, after winning a great war, retired quietly to farm his land.
Cincinnati holds a very strategic location. The Ohio River provided Cincinnati residents with appealing business opportunities, an influx of settlers, industry and a booming hospitality industry which remains vibrant to this day. Thanks to the river, steamboats brought trade opportunities for Ohio farmers for sending crops downriver to connect to New Orleans. In the 1800’s Cincinnati furthered its growth by developing its meatpacking industry.
Situated just across the Ohio river from slave-holding Kentucky, Cincinnati became an important part of the Underground Railroad, a secret network that helped many of the enslaved peoples gain their freedom before and during the American Civil War. Steadfast Cincinnati thus has excellent credentials as an all-American city for celebrating Thanksgiving.
If you are arriving for the holiday from far afield, you’ll probably fly into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) in nearby Covington, Kentucky. It is about nine miles (14km) from downtown Cincinnati. The quickest way to travel to your hotel would be by taxi which should cost no more than £30. A convenient bus service runs every half an hour from the airport to downtown and costs around £2.
Should you happen to be in the ‘Queen City of the West’ over the Thanksgiving holiday, here are some of my recommendations in this wonderful city:
- Though closed on Thanksgiving Day, family’s will want to check out the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, the second-oldest zoo the US, for its annual Festival of Lights. With over 4 million LED lights and a captivating ‘Wild Wonderland’ theme, this is a beautiful way to celebrate the start of the Festive Season. Children will delight in a North Polar Express train ride and, of course, a visit with Santa Claus. Reservations are required.
- The Newport Southbank Bridge or the ‘Purple People Bridge,’ as it’s known locally, is a footbridge directly connecting Cincinnatians to the neighbouring state of Kentucky. This is a great stroll after indulging on a huge Thanksgiving dinner.
- Visit the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park to soak up art and nature combined. During this time of year, the park creates an annual exhibit, the ‘Journey Borealis’; a drive through adventure including gorgeous glimmering trees, a Chanukah exhibit, Grinch’s Greenland and more thematic attractions to celebrate the festive season. Again, a booking is required.
- Cincinnati is sports mad and Thanksgiving means that the Bengals American football team will be playing. This year, the team will be playing at home on Sunday, 28 November. Watching the game from the stadium or at least on the television is as American as pumpkin pie and candied yams!
- Findlay Market, Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market features some of the city’s best producers, artisans, and florists. It’s Ohio’s answer to Seattle’s Pike Place Market and it will be booming on Black Friday after the holiday.
- Walk across the People’s Purple Bridge and you’ll find even more to do on the other side in Kentucky. The Newport on the Levee is a large multi-level complex, great for shopping, with restaurants, breweries, an IMAX theatre and more.
- There’s also an open-air market called the Bridgeview Box Park, which uses repurposed shipping containers to house local food and drink vendors as well as local artists. This is a great area to do a bit of unique holiday shopping.
- Grand Antique Mall is also incredibly popular amongst antique lovers and worth a visit for those looking for antique collectables.
Here’s a Pro-Tip: Despite being fairly small, Cincinnati has a wide selection of professional sports teams. The city is best known for its Baseball team, the Cincinnati Reds, the first professional team to form. It also has a professional “Soccer” team, and even a second-league professional Basketball team. You’ll love the spirit of joining residents for a game during any season.
Cincinnati offers great restaurants for food lovers. Here are my recommendations when you’re tired of turkey and “all the fixings”:
- The city of is known for their unusual but delicious twist on chilli. Chili is served over spaghetti and topped with cheddar cheese. Camp Washington chili parlour has been serving it this way since 1940. With its classic modern-diner style and friendly service, this James Beard award winner is a well-loved institution.
The weather in Cincinnati is chilli today, hot tamale
- Set in the old Cincinnati Police Patrol House, appropriately named Precinct boasts the title of longest, continuously running white tablecloth restaurant in the city. Opened in 1981 by famously outspoken restaurateur, Jeff Ruby, Precinct was recently named one of America’s Top 10 Steakhouses by USA Today.
- Columbia-born Jose Salazar is one of the city’s top chefs, serving ‘New American’ cuisine using locally sourced ingredients. James Beard nominated for his menus at the Salazar Restaurant and Bar, order the local breads with bone marrow butter to start and the dark chocolate pot de crème to finish.
During the long holiday weekend, Cincinnati comes alive and reveals its playful side. From boozy arcades to beer houses, here are some of my top recommendations for what to do when you want to party during the Thanksgiving weekend:
- With strong Germanic roots, it’s no surprise to find a large craft beer scene in the city. Rhinegeist, located in the entertainment district of Over-the-Rhine, is a leader in a new generation of craft brewers in the area. Come for the beer, stay for the cornhole (a classic midwestern garden game), ping-pong or yoga classes.
- For those with a taste for a well-made cocktail and an eclectic apothecary-themed menu and décor, the trendy Sundry and Vice bar is where you’ll want to visit. Located in Over-the-Rhine, order the ‘honeyed words’ with cantaloupe and Turkish figs, or a ‘Bartenders Choice’ for a bespoke spur-of-the-moment creation.
- For a riverside view of Cincy’s lights, book a memorable riverboat dinner while cruising down the Ohio River. Choose from an ‘Admiral’s Dinner Cruise’, a ‘music and sunset theme’ and many more options.
Here’s another Pro-tip: Cincinnati encourages kids of all ages to play. Head to an adults-only arcade bar for old-school video games and classic games while sipping a few drinks. This offers a reminder that you can grow up without growing old.
Despite the fun times, you’ll need to eventually sleep during the holiday weekend. Here are three of my recommendations on where to stay:
- The 21C Museum Hotel is one of the coolest hotels in all of Ohio. This art museum come hotel is my top recommendation for where to stay in Cincinnati. With the Contemporary Art Centre and the Aronoff Centre for the arts at your fingertips, creative practically radiates from every corner of this beautiful and contemporary boutique hotel.
- Located on the University of Cincinnati’s campus and just three miles from downtown, The Graduate hotel is filled with pop art, charm and a sense of humour. A quirky accommodation but wonderfully welcoming and comfortable.
- For guests looking for a luxurious and refined hotel experience, The Lytle Park Hotel Autograph collection is a display of class and style. Recently refurbished in an historic building dating back to 1909, it’s located in the Lytle Park Historic District with views of the Ohio River and is close to downtown.
Cincinnati is an All-American venue for the classic Thanksgiving Celebration. Of course, the city can be visited anytime, but you’ll love the festive spirit of this wonderful community.