Cincinnati’s top attraction is generally agreed to be its Zoo and Botanical Garden, so in full tourist mode I started my sightseeing there. Well, almost: having set off from home 30 hours previously, I was amused that 4000 miles of travel had taken me from Clifton to… Clifton, and couldn’t resist tracking down a local sign first.
That wasn’t much of a detour, as – just like in Bristol – Clifton is where you’ll find the zoo. Its most famous resident – by the metric of internet virality, at least – is Fiona the hippo, but (as always) I was here for the cats.
Snow Leopards remain my firm favourite, but there was strong competition from more diminutive relatives in the Night Hunters exhibit. Cute though they may look, black-footed cats are the most successful predators of all felines.
My visit also coincided with a Cheetah Encounter – I assumed this would be a quick demo of their phenomenal speed, but it was a whole show! I’m not sure which was more painful, the plot or the audience participation…
In another reminder of Bristol, Cincinnati turns out to have a fantastic street art scene. The murals are vast, typically using an entire wall of a four storey building; and with over 200 of them around the city, I knew I could only sample some highlights from the collection. Even so, I found everything from trompe l’oeil artworks to depictions of larger-than-life local heroes; and for each piece I actively sought out, I’d spot another one along the way. As usual, I’ve gathered some favourites into a gallery.
Although I felt safe enough exploring downtown and Over-the-Rhine on foot, not all of Cincinnati would be wise to walk through. There were good bus links to Clifton – covered by a day ticket I used from the airport – but for a couple of attractions I had to resort to Uber.
First up was Union Terminal, which ticked both my rail fan and architectural history boxes. Built in the 1930s, it was one of the last of America’s grand train stations. The (surviving) structure is notable both for being the largest semi-dome in the Western hemisphere, and for its lavish art deco ornamentation.
All of this could have been lost – service was withdrawn and the platforms demolished in the 70s – but as in Omaha, it stands today not as a station but as a museum. In fact, several, collectively forming the Cincinnati Museum Center – although none would be open on either of the days I could visit! Fortunately the building tends to remain open for private events, educational activities and the like, so it’s still possible to briefly admire the architecture:
I finished the Ohio side of my Cincinnati wanderings at the American Sign Museum. Although the largest such museum in the US, it’s still quite small for the $15 entry price, and can easily be toured in under an hour. But the collection is extensive and well-documented, covering a wide variety of sign-making techniques all the way back to the pre-electric era. Plus there is a genuine connection to Cincinnati – leading trade magazine Signs of the Times has been published here since 1906, and the museum also houses a workshop for the restoration – or creation – of neon tubes.
After lunch at another Cincinnati landmark, Findlay Market, my tour continued across the Ohio river, as I endeavoured to make a better claim to having visited Kentucky. Photos from both states can be found here.