The Top Things to See and Do in Columbus, Ohio

From outdoor activities to unique art adventures, Columbus, Ohio, has something for everyone
From outdoor activities to unique art adventures, Columbus, Ohio, has something for everyone | © Malcolm Wood / Alamy Stock Photo
Benjamin M. Smith

Columbus, Ohio, is much more than a college town. Its zoo, historic neighborhoods and markets, museums, parks and nature trails are just some of the reasons why every traveler coming through here should stay for a while. From exploring the German Village to catching a game at Ohio Stadium, here are the best activities to try while in the city.

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Walk around the German Village

The Book Loft, a famous city-block long bookstore, in the German Village section of Columbus Ohio.

Just south of downtown Columbus lies the German Village, a historic neighborhood spanning 233 acres (94ha). It’s a great area to shop, dine or walk around to enjoy the beautiful brick buildings and cobblestone streets. You can expect to find bookshops, art galleries, German pubs, lots of traditional fudge and other sweets, and plenty of good coffee. Spend the afternoon wandering, taking photos and inventing a parallel life for yourself here. You never know – you might find your next inspiration.

See a show at the Columbus Civic Theater

The Columbus Civic Theater is a wonderfully small, local venue. It seats just 50 guests and has a new show every month; stop by here on a trip through Columbus for an intimate entertainment experience. If you’re in the area at Christmas, check out the theater’s yearly traditional performance of A Christmas Carol. Otherwise, there are multiple performances to choose from throughout the year. Also, visit Weiland’s Market down the road to pick up a bottle of wine for a post-theater drink.

Explore the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Entrance to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

A trip to Columbus wouldn’t be nearly as fun without going to the zoo. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium happens to be one of the best in the nation, with approximately 10,000 animals in its various exhibitions. Particular highlights are the polar exhibit with polar bears and arctic foxes, and an African exhibit with lions and cheetahs. Flamingoes, turtles, giraffes and aardvarks nicely round out the animals to see and experience here.

Grab a bite to eat at the North Market

Since opening in 1876, Columbus’s North Market has served citizens with the freshest produce, meat and cheeses that local artisans and international vendors have to offer – make sure you come hungry. Today, this indoor market has more than 30 merchants selling a variety of products, including furniture, jewelry, flowers, doughnuts, Mexican food, bubble tea, artisanal baked goods and, of course, fabulous beer and coffee. It’s a great place to pick up gifts to take home or to find the perfect new knick-knack for your living room.

Take the Lazarus Building’s rooftop garden tour

As part of the OSU Urban Arts Space tour, which provides a knowledgeable guide to explain current exhibitions in the gallery, this walk hits the Lazarus Building’s rooftop garden – a picture of sustainability amid the city. Occupying four city blocks, the site used to be a department building, but it’s now been converted into a green space and is brimming with new tenants.

Smell the roses at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Franklin Park Conservatory

With the construction of its greenhouse in 1895, and frequent additions over the years, the 13 acres (5ha) of the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens are still intact and remarkably well kept. The conservatory is one of the best places to catch some holiday cheer during wintertime and offers beautiful floral displays throughout the summer months. There are also plenty of worthwhile exhibits and classes to take, such as Composting 101 and Bonsai Demystified.

Go to Villa Nova’s happy hour

This family-style, Italian-American restaurant knows how to attract customers – by having the city’s best happy hour. Enjoy heavily discounted taps and rail drinks while snacking on wings, pizza, subs and other bar staples. You’d better be quick, however, because this Columbus deal goes fast. If you’re inspired to stay for dinner, Villa Nova’s menu is extensive and very good. One favorite is the fettuccine alfredo with chicken, followed by some home-made limoncello.

Bike the Olentangy Greenway Trail

For a more hands-on tour of the city, consider going by bike. The Olentangy Greenway Trail is a lovely route with a popular starting point in Antrim Park, on the northwest side of Columbus. The path winds through multiple neighborhoods on its way to downtown, including Whetstone Park. When you head south and pass through downtown and by the Ohio Stadium, there are several scenic stops and parks along the way.

Attend a game at Ohio Stadium

A view of Ohio Stadium during the NCAA football game between the Cincinnati Bearcats & Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

Football is big in Columbus, all because of the winning tradition of the Ohio State University Buckeyes. If traveling through this college town in the late summer and autumn months, stop for a home game. As the team is part of the Big Ten college football division, games are always exhilarating here. Grab some sporting snacks – hot dogs and nachos are excellent choices – and some souvenirs.

Find your way into Otherworld

A cross between a huge video game and an art installation, Otherworld is described by founder Jordan Renda as “augmented reality.” Here, you can walk around the 32,000sqft (2,973sqm) building, which is set up to be a different theme in every room. Experiences include walking into a cartoon, crawling around inside an arcade game and generally enjoying an enormous, interactive video game and movie. You could be spooked, charmed or shocked – anything goes here.

Enjoy the vibe at Short North

A summer view of the Short North neighborhood on N. High Street in Columbus, Ohio.

The name for Short North came from law enforcement officers discussing how the area fell just short of downtown. Once artsy with hipster vibes, this culture-rich area has become more expensive over the years. However, it’s a fun place to visit, even if the house prices are through the roof. The food variety is great here, so come hungry. You’ll find delicious grilled cheese sandwiches at Bodega, fabulous cocktails at Mouton and lively music at well-known venue Skully’s Music-Diner. It’s a very gay-friendly area and accepting of all, complete with a vibrant atmosphere.

Check out the museums

Sure, the Columbus Museum of Art and the Wexner Center for the Arts are great, but they’re not the only museums in the city. For something that shows its history, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum pays tribute to all armed forces with beautifully maintained grounds and modern architecture. For something less somber, BrewDog’s interactive Beer Museum is one that you have to visit with a can of the good stuff in your hand. The Center of Science and Industry makes learning about science fun for adults and children. With the largest planetarium in Ohio, you’ll be completely immersed.

Additional reporting by Alice Johnston

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