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Columbus is one of those cities that seems to catch visitors by surprise.
For the past few years, we’ve seen article after article declaring Columbus as some sort of “best-kept secret” in America’s heartland.
But to the Buckeyes who call this town home, we’ve always known that it was special. The art, the music, and the food all come together perfectly here in the capital city.
With millions of people visiting Columbus each year, we decided to put all of the best things to do in our city all in one place.
This post isn’t just for tourists. There are several places that I hadn’t heard of or been to, and I’ve lived in this city most of my life. So check out our comprehensive list below.
It will continue to be updated with all of the new and exciting things Columbus has to offer.
Nature and Parks
Franklin Park Conservatory
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are the perfect way to combine the beauty of nature with the beauty of art. A visit to the conservatory is a guaranteed way to immerse yourself in both.
The Scioto Mile
The Scioto Mile is a green haven made up of over 175 acres and spans from the Arena District to the Whittier Peninsula. The Mile has different parks, bikeways, and walking paths. Plan a visit in the evening to see the breathtaking view of the city lights reflecting off of the Scioto River.
Whetstone Park and the Park of Roses
After exploring the bike paths, sitting by the pond, or enjoying a picnic at Whetstone Park, take a stroll through the Park of Roses. This garden is one of the largest public rose gardens in America. Make sure to plan a visit between June and September to catch the roses while they are in full bloom.
The Topiary Garden located in the heart of Downtown Columbus is a must-see for visitors and residents alike. This unique park offers paved walking paths through the peaceful and serene park. It’s fun for the whole family, but especially for the kids, as it’s a great spot in Columbus to catch Pokemon on the popular app, PokemonGo!
With gardens, a carousel, and a large stage for live performances, the Columbus Commons is a park located downtown. Chock-full of events, the Commons has plenty of things to do and to look forward to.
Grab a tent and go camping
Central Ohio offers some truly beautiful places to go camping. Whether you are looking for a primitve, secluded spot or you need full electricity to glamp in style, you can find exactly the perfect campsite for you at one of the area’s many parks and campgrounds.
Columbus & Franklin Metro Parks
We are so lucky to have an amazing Metro Parks system in this city. Thousands of acres around central Ohio are dedicated to bringing Columbus residents and visitors into the great outdoors. The parks offer hiking trails, natural play areas for the kids, activities like kayaking, canoeing, and archery, and so much more. Scioto Grove Metro Park is beautiful in the spring.
For more info, visit the Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks website.
McFerson Commons Park
The arch of McFerson Commons used to be the entryway to Columbus’s Union Station. Union Station was closed in 1977 and demolition of the building began soon afterward. The arch of “Arch Park” is all that remains of this piece of Columbus history.
Visit A Waterfall
I don’t think that most people associate Columbus with waterfalls, but we do have some really stunning ones that are worth checking out. While a few of these can be found in the suburbs, there is one spectacular waterfall hiding near downtown.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium gives visitors an opportunity to view hundreds of different animals. With unique programming, special events, and all-out holiday celebrations, a visit to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is fun any time of year.
Watch The Grazing Bison at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park
Bison have been extinct in Ohio since Ohio became Ohio. But in 2011, six bison from The Wilds moved to Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park to roam freely in two pastures at the 7,000 acre+ park. The bison are easiest to view when they are in their summer pasture, which is located near the Nature Center at the park.
Have paddle will travel! Central Ohio’s waterways are the perfect place to spend a sunny afternoon. Whether you have your own kayak or you need to rent one, there are some beautiful spots around town to get out on the water.
Check out this urban rooftop garden
While the Lazarus Building may have spent decades as a premiere shopping destination in Columbus, it’s now home to one of the city’s best-kept secrets. On the roof of the building, you’ll find a beautiful hidden gem of a garden with some of the best views of the city.
While this isn’t technically in Columbus, it’s well worth the one-hour trip to visit. You can go on an amazing hike, drive down to see the fall foliage, spend a night stargazing, relax in a private sauna, and so much more. Want to make a whole weekend out of exploring the region? Book a stay at one of these epic geodesic glamping domes.
Food & Drink
Eat At A Beautiful Restaurant
Going out to the perfect restaurant isn’t just about the food. It’s also about the ambiance and the vibe of the entire establishment. Columbus is home to some stunning restaurants that look as great as they taste.
READ MORE: The Most Beautiful Restaurants In Columbus
Enjoy A Rooftop Cocktail
I’m a big fan of a rooftop patio, especially when there is a craft cocktail involved. Amazing drinks, beautiful views, what’s not to love?
READ MORE: The Best Rooftop Bars In Columbus
Experience The Best Restaurants & Breweries Columbus Has To Offer
I could talk for hours about all of the amazing restaurants and breweries we have here in Columbus. But I bet you came here looking for some quick answers, so I’m going to give them to you. Here are a handful of lists to help you hit the highlights in Columbus.
Arts and Museums
Whether you’re stopping by for a concert or show, or you are visiting just to see the beautiful historic theatre itself, a few hours at the stunning Ohio Theatre should definitely be on your Columbus bucket list. The iconic space opened on St. Patrick’s Day 1928 and some true American icons have taken the stage in the years since. Today it is the home of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, BalletMet, the Broadway Series, Opera Columbus, and the CAPA Summer Movie Series.
Ready for an adventure? You don’t have to be a bibliophile to enjoy getting lost in The Book Loft’s 32 rooms. It’s one of the most iconic bookshops in Columbus, with a charming courtyard and various levels to explore. My uncle used to buy me Book Loft gift cards for my birthday and it always felt like such a magical place to explore. Luckily for all of us, it still inspires that childlike wonder for adults too.
Otherworld has only been open for a few years but it’s flown right to the top of my list of suggestions whenever people visiting Columbus ask me what they should do. Its fun and thought provoking and unexpected, plus they host some pretty rad concerts there. Embrace the weird and wonderful my friends.
Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum
Take a step back in time at the Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum. This German Village gem is a private collection of vintage automobiles that is open to the public. Because it’s a small museum, there aren’t regular staff. That means you’ll need to call and schedule your visit. You should plan to spend about an hour at the museum and admission is free.
When visiting Ohio’s capital city, it’s good to make time for a visit to Capitol Square. The Ohio Statehouse was built in the Greek Revival style between 1839 and 1861. It is one of the oldest working statehouses in the country and it houses the Ohio General assembly as well as ceremonial offices of the Governor, Lt. Governor, and more. Free tours of the building are given daily and there is even a museum inside.
Orton Geological Museum
Located on the campus of The Ohio State University, the Orton Geological Museum is home to rocks, minerals, and fossils, not just from Ohio but from around the world and even outer space. The museum is open to the public and it is free to visit.
Named the #1 science center in America by Parents Magazine, spending a day at COSI is an absolute must for anyone coming to town. The science center isn’t just for kids. With exhibits ranging from electricity to the deep ocean, there is something for everyone! COSI
Since opening to the public in 1984, The Thurber House is a must-see for any literary fans. Renowned author James Thurber lived in the house with his family during his time at the Ohio State University, and the house is even rumored to be haunted, as told in his essay, “The Night the Ghost Got In”.
The King Art Complex
The King Art Complex is a unique and important facility in Columbus Ohio. Cultural, educational and performance-based programs offer visitors the chance to learn about the many contributions from African Americans to art, culture and the history of America.
The Buxton Inn
Originally operating as a post office and stagecoach stop, The Buxton Inn has a long history. President William Henry Harrison was a guest at the Inn, even riding on horseback into the ballroom during a party. The inn also has been long rumored to be one of the most haunted places in Ohio haunted by ‘The Lady in Blue’, among other spirits.
Columbus Museum of Art
The collection at the Columbus Museum of Art includes late nineteenth and early twentieth century American and European works of art. Explore the new wing of the museum on your own or through a guided tour. Columbus Museum of Art
Ohio History Connection
Formerly the Ohio Historical Society, Ohio History Connection’s offers fun and learning for guests of all ages. From their historical village to special events, OHC provides a historical viewpoint that is unmatched in Central Ohio. Ohio History Connection
Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
It may surprise some to know that the world’s largest collection of cartoons and comics has a home right here at The Ohio State University. The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum was opened in 1977 and its mission is to not only research and collect cartoons but make them available to the public as well. Admission is free, but the hours are limited, so be sure to check their hours of operation. Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum
Jack Nicklaus Museum
Also located at The Ohio State University, the Jack Nicklaus Museum will take you through this hometown hero’s amazing golf career. Learn about golf, it’s players and the impact Nicklaus has made both here in Columbus and around the world. Jack Nicklaus Museum
Ohio Craft Museum
Through amazing exhibitions and educational experiences, the Ohio Craft Museum strives to show just how thriving the fine art craft community is. Located on W 5th Avenue, the Museum offers 5 exhibits per year, and admission is always free! Ohio Craft Museum
National Veterans Memorial and Museum
The National Veterans Memorial is one of the most stunning additions to the Columbus skyline in recent years. The beautifully designed building houses exhibits that honor America’s veterans. In addition to the eye-popping architecture, there is also an outdoor space that can host concerts and other gatherings.
National Veterans Memorial and Museum
Ohio Arts Council’s Riffe Gallery
Offering free admission, the Riffe Gallery is one of the most well-known galleries in the city. Located in the Vern Riffe Center for Government & the Arts, the gallery features a variety of exhibitions featuring all kinds of art. Riffe Gallery
Located in the Short North, the Pizzuti collection is a one-of-a-kind gallery here in Columbus. This contemporary art collection has been carefully curated by Ron and Ann Pizzuti and graciously shared with the public, including several galleries, a sculpture garden, and a public resource library. Pizzuti Collection
Cultural Arts Center
The Cultural Arts Center not only offers exhibitions presented throughout the galleries, but also art classes for adults. The classes range in difficulty and style, guaranteeing the perfect place for every art-lover. Cultural Arts Center
934 Gallery is located in the Milo-Grogan community is a must-see for any art lovers passing through the capital city. In addition to their original space on Cleveland Ave, they also have a gallery space at John Glenn International Airport. 934 Gallery
Although the North Market has been around in Columbus in one variety or another since the 1870’s, the current market has been open and thriving since 1995. Located in the heart of the Short North district, the market provides food and fun to over 1 million customers every year. North Market
Being one of the most renowned neighborhoods in Columbus, German Village has a lot to offer visitors and residents. Through the “Shop. Dine. Stroll” program, you can visit several shops around this historic neighborhood. From pet lovers to art enthusiasts to green thumbs, there is truly something for everyone. German Village Society
Polaris Fashion Place
Since opening in 2001, Polaris Fashion Place has become one of the top shopping centers in Central Ohio. With over 200 retailers in one place, customers can spend an entire day visiting their favorite shops and eating great food. Polaris Fashion Place
Easton Town Center
Designed to emulate a small town feel, Easton Town Center is a unique indoor/outdoor shopping center. The mall is currently one of the most successful in the state, attracting 25 million guests per year. Easton is more than just shopping to most guests. It is also an experience. In good weather, kids can play in the fountains near the town center and in winter guests can take a ride by horse-drawn carriage. Easton Town Center
Markets At Pearl
Pearl Market is quickly becoming one of the best-known spots in Columbus. Offering local wares ranging from food to clothing to home goods, Pearl Market is one-stop shopping in one of the best parts of the city. Markets at Pearl
Sports & Entertainment
Whether you’re looking to cheer on the home team or dance til you drop, Columbus has the spot for you. Soccer fans can enjoy a game and the stunning new stadium, Lower.com field, which is home to the Columbus Crew.
If hockey is more your speed, you can head down to Nationwide Arena to catch the Columbus Blue Jackets in action. Just across the street, baseball fans can enjoy a Minor League game at Huntington Park, the home of the Columbus Clippers.
Of course, you can’t talk about sports in Columbus and not mention Ohio State football. Ohio Stadium has an atmosphere like no other and cheering in the stands alongside 100k fellow Buckeye fans is a one-of-a-kind experience.
The Ohio Theatre, the Palace Theatre, and the Columbus Commons are the go-to spots for classical music in town.
Fun and Games
With over 2,200 slots, 70 big game tables, and 36 live poker tables, Hollywood Casino has something for every visitor. While a variety of dining options are available, the steak and seafood restaurant at the casino, Final Cut, is the only Forbes 4 Star dining experience in Columbus. Hollywood Columbus
Eldorado Scioto Downs
Eldorado Scioto Downs is both a racetrack and casino. Although they only offer horse races May-September, the floor of the casino is open 24/7 for the convenience of guests. You must be 18+ to bet on horses and 21+ to enter the casino floor. Scioto Downs
Attached to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Zoombezi Bay is central Ohio’s premier waterpark. Zoombezi Bay is open from May through September offering fun activities for the whole family. Zoombezi Bay
Food & Brewery Tours
Want to see how it’s made? From chocolate to craft brews, there are several kinds of tours you can take around Columbus that showcase some of our best local products. Anthony-Thomas Chocolates is an absolute must when it comes to food factory tours in town.
Grab your pals and get ready to float. There are several lazy rivers around Columbus where you can hop in and forget your worries. While the majority of the lazy rivers are family-friendly, there is one that’s 21+ where you can enjoy a cocktail while you float leisurely around.
READ MORE: 7 Epic Lazy Rivers Around Central Ohio
Ready to show off those putt-putt skills? All around the city, there are fun, unique mini-golf courses that make the perfect activity for the whole family and date night alike. Want a wild-west theme? We’ve got it! How about black light mini-golf? We’ve got that too. Just looking for traditional putt putt? You know it!
More Things To Do:
- The Best Things To Do In Columbus This Weekend (Updated Weekly)
- The Best New Restaurants In Columbus (Updated Monthly)
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