Discover Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky's Cultural Sites
First-time visitors to the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region are often surprised by what they discover here. Instead of towns built on flat landscapes in so-called “flyover country,” they find vibrant urban centers inhabiting wooded river valleys where some of the region’s best kept secrets lay hidden: museums, orchestras, dance companies, and performing arts venues of a caliber typically associated with much larger American cities.
Cincinnati Art Museum and Playhouse in the Park
Where to begin our tour of the region’s cultural attractions? Cincy’s Eden Park is a great starting point for newcomers. Here, from hilltop overlooks, visitors are greeted by sweeping views of both Kentucky and Ohio and welcomed by two nationally recognized arts venues: the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.
The Cincinnati Art Museum first opened its doors in 1886 and boasts a collection of more than 60,000 art objects spanning more than 6000 years, including works both historic and contemporary—this comprehensive collection rivals those found in bigger U.S. cities.
Just a five-minute walk from the art museum sits the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Founded in 1959, the theater is nationally acclaimed for its live productions, including intimate one-person acts and larger ensemble performances, showcasing both classic and modern works.
Performing Arts and Museums in Northern Kentucky
On the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, two other cultural attractions also reside in a hilltop park. The Behringer-Crawford Museum, located in the city of Covington’s Devou Park, is “the home of Northern Kentucky’s heritage.” Opened in 1950, the museum displays exhibitions related to the region’s history, including paleontology discoveries (mammoth bones!) and vintage transportation modes (trolley cars!)
Devou Park also serves as the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra’s summer home, with concerts performed in the park’s Band Shell, a WPA-designed amphitheater built in 1939. During the colder months, the orchestra performs at different indoor venues, including the Greaves Concert Hall, located in Northern Kentucky University’s Fine Arts Center.
The popular Devou Park Overlook provides breath-taking panoramas of three Cincy region cities—Covington, Newport, and Cincinnati. From here, visitors can see many of the area’s other cultural attractions, some known for their architectural design as much as for the treasures they showcase inside.
The Contemporary Arts Center and Cincinnati Museum Center
The Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), launched in 1939 (just a few years after the founding of New York’s Museum of Modern Art), features rotating exhibitions of the latest contemporary art from around the world. Located in Cincinnati’s downtown business district, the CAC makes its home inside a breathtaking Constructivist building (2003) designed by famed London architect Zaha Hadid.
Just west of downtown, the Cincinnati Museum Center brings together natural history exhibitions (dinosaurs!) and local history displays (model trains!) under the gigantic half-dome structure of the magnificent Union Terminal (1933), the city’s one-time train station famous for its Art Deco design and monumental WPA-era mosaic murals.
The Carnegie in Covington, Ky.
Across the river from Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky, resides The Carnegie. This arts center is located within the city’s former public library, a grand Neoclassical Beaux Arts structure from 1904. Today, The Carnegie presents contemporary art exhibitions inside gallery spaces where the library’s book stacks once stood.
The Carnegie also offers a popular slate of live theater productions and music performances year-round inside center’s historic auditorium.
Music Hall and the Aronoff Center for the Arts
The region’s other famed performing arts venues include Cincinnati’s Music Hall, built in 1878 with funds from private donors through the nation’s first matching grant fund drive. The High Victorian structure was originally built to house the Cincinnati May Festival, one of the oldest choral festivals in the nation, which still performs annually each spring.
Today, Music Hall also presents performances by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (1895), the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (1977), the Cincinnati Opera (1920), and the Cincinnati Ballet (1958), all reflective of the region’s strong—and longtime—support of the classical arts.
For more contemporary performances, the Aronoff Center for the Arts (1995) located in downtown Cincinnati features straight-from-Broadway musical productions in addition to modern art exhibitions inside the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery.
Megacorp Pavilion in Newport, Kentucky
On the Kentucky side of the river, nationally-touring pop and rock acts dominate inside the brand-new Megacorp Pavilion located in Newport, Kentucky, in the city’s Levee district located on the Ohio River—and next door to the popular Newport Aquarium.
These are just some highlights of the cultural attractions you’ll find in the Cincy region. There are even more performance venues, museums, and galleries—providing visitors with a range of many “can’t miss” choices—all located within one mile of Cincy’s central business district. Come on down and discover for yourself all the “hidden” gems waiting to be experienced here in the NKY and Cincy region.