If you can find a few days to carve out of your schedule, swing by Cincinnati it will be a revelation.
The New York Times listed it high up on its 52 places to visit in 2018. I can see why after a two day visit to a city that feels much like Hamilton, but a more robust version.
Though the population is just over 300,000 and it has been dropping since the 1950’s, the Cincinnati of today is vibrant, exciting and rich in the arts.
We went with two key motivations, to see a Cincinnati Reds baseball game and to visit the Contemporary Arts Centre.
The Reds play in a wonderful cocoon called the Great American Ballpark. A more cheerful stadium you will not find, with its setting overlooking the Ohio River. The atmosphere is fun, and the park is handsome-good qualities to combat the fact the Reds are far down in their division.
Just a few paces away from the Red’s home field is Paul Brown Stadium, home of the NFL Cincinnati Bengals. The stadium is a fanciful piece of architecture with intricate levels unfolding like Japanese Origami creations. It’s interesting viewing from every angle, and a sad reminder of the utilitarian Tim Horton stadium we settled for in Hamilton.
The sports fields are concentrated near the wonderful Smale Riverfront Park. Though it was a long time in the planning stages, the result is a joyful, inventive public park and trail system, with giant swings lining the banks of the Ohio River, colourful gardens, and a hand carved carousel. The design and the upkeep is first rate.
We could walk to the river from our room at the 21c Museum Hotel Cincinnati. The boutique hotel is in a 100 year old building, that combines modern rooms with a contemporary art collection and restaurant.
It’s a perfect home base for visiting the big attraction next door, the Contemporary Arts Center designed by the late architect Zaha Hadid.
It’s an arresting building, with its stacked block construction cozied up to Victorian era buildings at its side. Exhibitions at the center are topical, provocative and enriching.
Next we head to a tour of murals in the Over-the-Rhine Historic Neighbourhood. While we are starting to get a small collection of murals in Hamilton, Cincinnati now has 147 murals in over 44 neighbourhoods. They are bold and polished works created in a partnership between artists and paid young apprentices. The program has put over 1.4 M in wages back into the local economy.
The Over-the-Rhine Historic Neighbourhood is a former German enclave that is in the midst of a resurgence. Renovated buildings housing apartments and condos, new brew pubs and restaurants and specialty food shops are changing the face of the ‘hood.
Close by is the wonderful Findlay Market with 40 indoor merchants and an outdoor summer market selling flowers, bread, cheese, meat and produce. The public market is one of the oldest in Ohio and is open year round.
From the Findlay Market you can choose to hop on the new LRT system called the Bell Connector and for $1 make a small loop of the city. We took a short ride and it seemed to be more popular with tourists than commuters.
A must see on my list was the Cincinnati Public Library, which happens to own one of the very few intact copies of Audubon’s Birds of America. The four large books are on display in glass cases where each day a page is turned to show a new bird. There are 435 hand coloured illustrations to savour. A guard on duty in the special room was well versed in the history of the books and their acquisition by the library.
We didn’t even get to touch on the very rich live theatre scene in Cincinnati, or the music and dance performances going on across the city.
Time was saved for a trip across the Ohio River on the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge (a National Historic Landmark) to see the Hotel Covington in Northern Kentucky. Created in what used to be a high end department store, the boutique hotel opened in 2016 after a $22 M renovation. The elegant lobby is a local gathering spot, and the outdoor courtyard bar is perfect for drinks.
Cincinnati was the best kind of surprise with its fascinating architecture, art scene, inspired parks and level of upkeep and cleanliness. The later is something we should ponder here. More and more people are annoyed at the litter and general unkempt profile of downtown Hamilton. We can do better and have to do better if we want to make anyone’s “Must See” list.