As we walk through the museum halls, we are transported to different worlds and time periods, allowing us to immerse ourselves in a rich tapestry of experiences. Museums provide a window into the human experience, inviting us to connect with our shared history and understand the complexities of the world. Fortunately, Cincinnati has more than its fair share of immersive experiences and cultural offerings.
Museums are thought to date back thousands of years, but the name stems from Ancient Greek, referring to sites devoted to the cult of the nine Muses, the deities of the arts. The modern concept of museums as we understand it today, was developed in the 16th century, with the Medici family opening their private collection of art to the public in 1591, which as we’ll see further below, hasn’t changed much in the last five centuries. We’ve highlighted ten of the most inspiring museums in Cincinnati, brimming with stories of the past, present and future, so take a look to broaden the mind.
Initially founded in 1939 as the The Modern Art Society by three women, Betty Pollak Rauh, Peggy Frank Crawford and Rita Rentschler Cushman, the museum adopted the Contemporary Arts Center as its name in the 1950s. Designed by “The Lady Gaga of Architecture” 85 years after its inception, Zaha Hadid, the current building boasts a Deconstructivist style, filled with acute and obtuse angles, that mirror the urban Cincinnati skyline. The building architecture alone should be a destination in and of itself.
CAC is a must-visit place for anyone that is a fan of contemporary and up-and-coming artists and performers, and they offer diverse events every week that focus on topics like inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.
📍 44 E 6th Street
Housed in the Union Terminal and built in a beautifully elegant Art Deco style, the Cincinnati Museum Center is a cultural complex that comprises the Cincinnati History Museum, the Cincinnati History Library and Archives, The Children’s Museum, the Museum of Natural History & Science and the Robert D. Lindner Family OMNIMAX® Theater. The center’s impressive collection contains more than 1.8 million artifacts, art works and archives, and there are several cafés and restaurants across the center, if you want to take an hour or so to recharge.
With three museums, a theater and library to explore, you can spend the whole day learning about dinosaurs, steamboats, caves, astronauts and even LEGO! So, no matter what your age is, or your interests are, you can feel inspired and learn more about the biggest mysteries and natural wonders of the world.
📍 1301 Western Avenue
If you’re like me, the vast expanse of space has always held an undeniable fascination. The endless canvas of glittering stars and undiscovered worlds has captured our imaginations for millenia and many astronomers back in the late 60s thought it was the final frontier. Perhaps it is the unfathomable distances and infinite possibilities that lie beyond our own tiny planet.
At the Cincinnati Observatory you can peer deeper and more precisely into the sky and study everything from distant galaxies to exoplanets, with its powerful 11-inch Merz and Mahler refractor from 1845 and 16-inch Alvan Clark and Sons refractor from 1904. Cincinnati Observatory is a National Historic Landmark that offers a glimpse into the wonders of space, sparking our curiosity and fueling our passion for exploration and discovery.
📍 3489 Observatory Place
Located in picturesque Eden Park, this museum has held thousands of exhibitions since opening its doors in 1886. The Cincinnati Art Museum offers a journey into the world of creativity, imagination and inspiration. The moment you step into the Cincinnati Art Museum, you are transported into a world of beauty and thought-provoking masterpieces.
The museum showcases more than 67,000 works spanning 6,000 years and hosts multiple national and international traveling exhibitions each year. Visiting the Cincinnati Art Museum allows you to broaden your understanding of art and culture and best of all, general admission is always free for all!
📍 953 Eden Park Drive
There are several sign museums scattered across the US, including Vegas, Glendale and Pomeroy, but none of them is quite as ample as Cincinnati’s American Sign Museum. This 20,000 square feet museum is “a walk through the ages of technology and design”, exploring more than 100 years of American sign history. You can feast your eyes on the buzzing neon lights, no-frills bar and motel signs and blinking twisted tubes. Get inspired by the glowing neon lights and don’t forget to take a few pictures for your Instagram account while you’re at it!
📍 1330 Monmouth Avenue
The history of the Taft Museum of Art is quite compelling and includes many familiar names that have contributed to the arts and development of the city, Ohio state and American nation as a whole. The 200-year-old house was built for Nicholas Longworth, former speaker of the US House of Representatives. He commissioned eight landscape murals by Black American, second generation Hudson River School artist Robert S. Duncanson, which gave the house a National Historic Landmark status. The house was then bought by iron manufacturing and real estate magnate David Stinton, whose daughter married Charles Phelpes Taft, from the prominent Taft family, an American lawyer, politician and owner of the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs baseball teams.
During their travels the couple compiled more than 600 paintings and works of art and in 1927 they donated the house and private collection to the people of Cincinnati. Today it houses works from iconic artists, including Rembrandt, Goya, Gainsborough, Turner and Whistler, as well as 17th– through 19th-century European watches, Chinese porcelains and French Renaissance enamels. The museum holds some of the most influential European and American artists’ work and it’s a must-see for anyone interested in art, history and architecture alike.
📍 316 Pike Street
If you are a plane aficionado, or want to find out more about Cincinnati’s aviation history, then look no further. Located in the terminal building of the historic Cincinnati Lunken Airport, which served as Cincinnati’s main airport until 1947, this little but mighty museum has a large collection of scale model airplanes, videos, pictures, posters and uniforms. The collection includes a scale model Stinson SR-10C Reliant, that was used in mail pick-up by All American Airways (AAA) and a scale model of Knight Twister, built by aviator Don Fairbanks.
📍 6117 Campus Lane
Situated in downtown Cincinnati, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center opened its doors in 2004 and has since provided an array of exhibitions and interactive experiences highlighting the past and future of freedom. The location of the center is greatly significant to American history, given that it stands only a few steps from the Ohio River. The river served as a natural border, because it separated the free states of the North from the slave states of the South.
Rooted in the stories of the Underground Railroad and also collaborating with local art programs and social centers, the museum’s main goal is to pursue an inclusive freedom, incite dialogue and encourage social justice. Some of its permanent exhibitions include The Slave Pen, From Slavery To Freedom and ESCAPE! Freedom Seekers And The Underground Railroad, telling stories and accounts of abolitionists fighting for freedom in the likes of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. There’s no better place to get inspired to take action than at the Freedom Center.
📍 50 E Freedom Way
If you want something fun to do with your family, you should definitely check out the Kennedy Heights Arts Center. The historic and beautifully restored Kennedy mansion houses a range of exhibitions from up-and-coming artists, members of the Kennedy Heights community and anyone interested in displaying their works, whether it be visual artists, musicians, dancers, performers, writers or designers.
They also offer youth classes, summer camps and outreach programs, all meant to encourage cultural interaction and making arts accessible to everyone regardless of economic background. If you’re looking for a creative gift for that special someone, pop into the Art Shop where you can find original, hand-crafted prints, jewelry and artworks by over 40 artists!
📍 6546 Montgomery Road
10. Lucky Cat Museum
The lucky cat (jp. maneki-neko) is a Japanese figurine that is often believed to bring good luck to the owner. You’ve probably seen thousands of shops and restaurants featuring lucky cats, normally greeting and beckoning you at the entrance, but do you know how they came to be, how many different types there are, and how they’ve been acknowledged in pop culture?
If these little cats have sparked your interest in the past, now’s your chance to find out all about them at the Lucky Cat Museum at Cincinnati’s Essex Studios. You’ll encounter everything from Tokoname and Imari style to maneki-neko housewares and books and stationery. Every visit is 45 minutes long, so book your appointment now and who knows, maybe you’ll get a little fur-tunate yourself!
📍 2511 Essex Pl