Cincinnati Three Ways

Jane Hawes

I never fail to be amazed by what a different city Cincinnati is from Columbus, though both were settled around the same time (in the late 1700s). Cincinnati just feels a lot older. I think it's partially because Cincinnati has managed to preserve many more historic buildings than Columbus has and partially because, like many older cities, its roads follow the natural topography, rather than a man-made grid. It'll keep you on your toes when driving - and some direction changes, especially coming off highways, may come too fast for a GPS unit, so pack a map if you don't know the area well.Cincinnati offers great options for either a long daytrip or an overnight trip (it is about a 110-mile or two-hour drive from Columbus). Here are three itineraries we've put together, any of which could occupy a full day:

Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal (1301 Western Ave., 45203; 513-287-7000;; Basic Cost: All-Museum Pass $4.50 ages 1-2, $8.50 ages 3-12, $11.50 ages 60+, $12.50 ages 13-59; Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays) A visit to this extraordinary facility is easily an all-day event because there are three separate museums, plus an OMNIMAX theater and changing exhibits (for additional charges) to visit. Union Terminal was the city's central train station (an Amtrak line is still active there). Since 1990, it has housed most of these museums, which now include the Museum of Natural History & Science (do not miss the man-made cavern with beginner and advanced trails to walk); the Cincinnati History Museum (the miniature model of Cincinnati is incredible and sprawling, but a little hard to find in this museum's maze-like layout), and the Duke Energy Children's Museum (very play oriented with ample adult seating). The OMNIMAX Theater is impressive, but kids prone to carsickness would probably get queasy here, too. The Rookwood Ice Cream Parlor is a great treat between museums.

CincinnatiReds Hall of Fame and Museum (100 Joe Nuxhall Way, 45202; 513-765-7923;; Cost: $8 for students and seniors 60+, $10 for adults, free for ages 4 and younger; Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, closed Mondays and during Bengals home games) A must for baseball fans, even if you're not a Reds fan (their Great American Ball Park is next door). The Kids Clubhouse has a small play area for little ones, and the Strike Zone is interactive fun for older ones. The Baseball Heaven/Man Cave is a hoot with a fun blooper reel to watch. Oddly (or maybe not), there is zero mention of the "Pete Rose situation." Good for a 1-2 hour visit.

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (50 E. Freedom Way, 45202; 513-333-7500;; Cost: $8 ages 3-12, $10 ages 60+, $12 ages 13-59; Hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, closed Sundays & Mondays) Located a block west of the Reds museum, visiting here can take half a day or longer. Gorgeous building, amazing exhibits, but probably not suitable for very young children. The permanent "From Slavery to Freedom" exhibit would be enormously helpful to any young student studying 19th century American history. The Slave Pen, an actual building reconstructed inside the museum, is a powerful experience.

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens (3400 Vine St., 45220; 513-961-1870;; Cost: $10 ages 2-12 and 62+, $15 ages 13-61, parking $8, Columbus Zoo members receive a 50 percent discount; Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Christmas) At 70 acres, the Cincinnati Zoo is about one-third the size of the Columbus Zoo, but its compact charm helps make this doable in a day, even for a family with small children (although it does have some hills, so either bring your own stroller or rent one for $10). Exhibits feel much closer and, even in the winter, the landscape (lots of bamboo and water) is beautiful. Be sure to check out the tiny penguins in the kids' zoo area: Adorable!!