If you haven’t been to Cincinnati lately, you’re in for some surprises.
In the past couple of years, the city has undergone a $2 billion transformation of its downtown and developed its riverfront.
The once forbidding Over-the-Rhine neighborhood is now a vibrant destination for locals and tourists looking for a place to shop, eat or simply hang out.
It’s a relatively quick jaunt from the Pittsburgh area — 293 miles — that can be accomplished in less than five hours of mostly interstate driving.
To begin your trip planning, investigate the official visitor website at cincinnatiusa.com or call 513-534-5877. The user-friendly website is a good source for information on where to stay as well as suggestions for dining, shopping and sightseeing.
After you’re there, drop by the Cincinnati USA Visitor Center on Fountain Square at Fifth and Vine streets for directions or the latest information, special-event calendars and dining options.
Camp Washington Chili
With more than 300 chili parlors in the region, Cincinnati is arguably the chili capitol of the universe. It’s a have-it-your-way delight that allows chowhounds to accessorize their chili by adding ingredients. The ultimate five-way chili uses them all — spaghetti, cheese, beans and onion.
Since 1951, Camp Washington Chili has been a mecca for foodies and has received the James Beard Award as an American Regional Classic.
3005 Colerain Ave. 513-541-0061 or campwashingtonchili.com
American Sign Museum
While you’re in the Camp Washington neighborhood, check out the bright lights and alluring advertising signs at the American Sign Museum.
Located in a former parachute factory, the 19,000-square-foot exhibit space displays six decades of signs from simple barn-side Mail Pouch Tobacco ads to spectacular neon extravaganzas designed to lure travelers to Howard Johnson’s and Big Boy restaurants. Also onsite is a working neon shop where contemporary craftspeople create another generation of electrified signs and chat with visitors during a guided tour.
1330 Monmouth St. 513-541-6366 or americansignmuseum.org
National Underground Railroad Museum
Learn about the freedom fighters, such as Harriet Tubman, and railroad conductors who helped people escape slavery and others who continue to help. The museum offers family-friendly films, exhibits, storytelling, role-playing and hands-on activities to celebrate and inspire freedom fighters from the days before the Emancipation Proclamation to the present.
50 E. Freedom Way. 513-333-7739 or freedomcenter.org
No matter what the weather is doing outside, it’s always warm and dry inside the Krohn Conservatory.
About 3,500 plant species fill the permanent displays in the Palm, Tropical, Desert and Orchid houses inside the glass-and-aluminium Art Deco structure that opened in 1933.
Stop by through Jan. 4 and catch the conservatory’s Magic and Mistletoe holiday show with a miniature railroad and tiny versions of Cincinnati landmarks, including a riverboat with real smoking stacks constructed from natural materials such as pine cones, nuts, bark, sticks and moss.
1501 Eden Park Drive. 513-421-4086 or cincinnatiparks.com
At one time home to mid-19th-century German immigrants, the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood is a hub for professionals, tourists and anyone interested in Italianate architecture or a trendy place to live eat, shop or socialize.
Since 2006, $93 million has been invested in reviving Cincinnati’s oldest and most historic neighborhood into a more than 30-block area centered on 13th and Jackson streets, filled with independent galleries, fashion boutiques, artisanal coffee shops and trendy pubs and restaurants.
It’s also home to the Cincinnati Symphony, Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera, the Art Academy of Cincinnati, two theater organizations — Know Theatre and Ensemble Theatre — and many smaller galleries.
Over-the-Rhine is particularly lively when hosting monthly events such as Second Sunday on Main or the Final Friday gallery hop.
While you’re in Over-the-Rhine, drop by Findlay Market, Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market. It’s a year-round home to about two dozen indoor merchants selling meat, produce, flowers, cheese, deli and ethnic foods and even more when the farmers market is in session April through November.
A holiday market operates Dec. 6 to 13 on Saturdays and Sundays.
1801 Race St. 513-665-4839 or findlaymarket.org
Taft Museum of Art
Fans of European old masters such as Rembrandt and Gainsborough, Chinese porcelains and Limoges enamels or 19th-century American Palladian architecture will find much to admire in the permanent collections of the Taft Museum of Art.
There are also at least two temporary exhibits that may interest those heading to Cincinnati.
Through Jan. 11, “Paris Night & Day: Masterworks of Photography from Atget to Man Ray” offers an in-depth look at photographic art from the realist perspective of the late 19th century to the startling surrealist photography in the 1930s.
Visitors can get into holiday mode with Taft’s annual display of antique ornaments, decorations and toys that runs through Jan. 4. Along with feather trees, 1930s foil-wrapped ornaments and 1940s World War II-era glass ornaments, there are antique toys, reindeer from Germany and a special display celebrating “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in honor of the 50th anniversary of the television special this year.
316 Pike St. 513-241-0343 or taftmuseum.org
Alice T. Carter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.