While cities like New York and San Francisco may soak up a lot of the travel attention, a trip to Columbus, Ohio, can offer a great getaway in the middle of the country. Columbus is a vibrant city with one of the country’s top Millennial concentrations — which means that dining, festivals, concerts, and other entertainment options are often (but certainly not always) targeted towards a youthful, energetic demographic. This large, bustling city is filled with diverse neighborhoods and communities, each with its own unique vibe.
So, check out these fun things to do in Columbus, Ohio. You’ll learn about the 10 best things to do in town, plus find tips on when to travel and how to make your visit as affordable and enjoyable as possible.
Best Times to Go to Columbus, Ohio
Consider the weather. Columbus tends to experience a nice spring (although spring and summer can both have rainy spells), and summers are warm without typically being too hot. Autumn can be gorgeous with mild temperatures.
Columbus is a city of festivals throughout the year, particularly as temperatures warm up, covering a wide range of interests and audiences. Explore ones of interest, and schedule your trip for a time that dovetails with the activities you want to attend. Bonus: Many festivals are free, ideal for the frugal traveler.
The jewel in the crown is the Ohio State Fair (ohiostatefair.com/), chock full of entertainment (including but not limited to live concerts), food, playgrounds, competitions, and so much more.
Other festivals of interest include the:
• Columbus Arts Festival columbusartsfestival.org/
• Pride Parade columbuspride.org/
• Jazz and Rib Fest hotribscooljazz.org/
• Dublin Irish Festival dublinirishfestival.org/
If you’re a college football fan, you’ll likely love visiting Columbus in the early fall and being surrounded by serious pigskin energy among some of the most passionate fans in the land. You’ll encounter tailgate parties, pep rallies, and random people on the street, shaping and shouting the letters “O” and then “H” before listening to people holler back and shape with their arms the letters “I” and then “O.”
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Bad Times to Go to Columbus, Ohio
Two factors may cause you to reschedule: weather and traffic. From November through February, temperature can be darned cold with ice and snow often in the forecast. If you are flying into Columbus at that time of year, you may want to see if your credit card travel insurance will cover you, should your flight get significantly delayed or canceled.
March can be pretty chilly, too. Plus, if you aren’t going to Columbus for Ohio State-related activities, you might want to avoid steer clear; roads can be congested with restaurants, bars, and other venues likely to have long waiting times.
The same can be true when students are coming and going at the beginning and ending of semesters and when fair goers are flocking to the Ohio State Fair.
Average Cost of a Columbus, Ohio Vacation
Costs will vary based on how you’ll get there: driving, for example, or flying. If the former, current gas prices will play a role; if the latter, it’s wise to look into how to get cheap flights.
Here are more specifics:
• If you’re traveling solo, expect to pay about just about $900 for a week’s trip. What you’ll spend, of course, depends on where you’ll stay and whether it’s a budget inn or a more luxurious hotel; where you’ll eat; and admission prices to anywhere you choose to visit.
• No matter how frugal or freewheeling you plan to be, it’s helpful to know how to save money for a trip. You can then enjoy yourself without worrying that you don’t have enough cash for what you’d hoped to do.
• The average price for a hotel room for a couple is $115 and, altogether, the average price of a trip for two is about $1,800 although the same caveats exist as described above. Here’s how to save money on hotels so you’ll have more in your pocket for dining, sightseeing, and so forth.
• Using your credit card and taking advantage of credit card rewards can help with expenses, leaving you more for discretionary spending.
• Columbus has walkable sections and an excellent public transportation system (more on that below). However, if you are looking to zip around from one end of the city to another, you may want to look into renting a car and add the amount needed to the goal you are saving in your travel fund.
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10 Things You Must Do in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus truly is an exciting, diverse city — and so, when you visit for the first time, it just makes sense to enjoy that variety: art, music, science, nature, history, sports, architecture, shopping, and good eats. Then, when you return, you can explore the kinds of places you appreciated in more depth.
Here are 10 of the best things to do in Columbus, culled from top-rated online reviews and in-the-know travelers.
1. Tour Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Stroll through 13 acres of lush gardens, exotic plant life, and seasonal beauty while also viewing art exhibits and cultural presentations. Attend a class — whether arts and crafts, culinary, gardening and so forth — and visit the iconic 1895 John F. Wolfe Palm House. fpconservatory.org
2. Revel in Some Art
To soak in more beauty, visit the Columbus Museum of Art, which focuses on outstanding American and European works of art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries: paintings, photography, folk art, glassworks, and more. Frequently changed special exhibits ensure that each visit can be fresh and interesting. columbusmuseum.org/
3. Explore German Village
This is a unique neighborhood where German settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, and it’s now one of the country’s largest privately funded historic districts. Homes from the 1840s to 1890s are preserved — not recreated — and visitors today can stroll through the neighborhood, appreciating the architecture and shopping and dining. germanvillage.com
4. Visit Capitol Square
Another fun thing to do in Columbus is to see its seat of power. Located just eight blocks from the German Village, Capitol Square includes the Ohio Statehouse, Senate Building, and Atrium where public tours are offered. The stunning Statehouse is designed in the Greek Revival style, a popular choice in the early and mid-1800s because democracy was born in Ancient Greece. ohiostatehouse.org
5. Cheer on the Team at Ohio Stadium
Ohioans love their Ohio State Buckeyes football team with its 39 Big Ten Championships and eight National Championships. Getting tickets to a game wouldn’t be easy, but the stadium itself is a sight to see, the fourth largest on-campus football facility in the nation with a seating capacity of 102,780. Since opening day in 1922, more than 36 million people have watched games here: ohiostatebuckeyes.com/sports/m-footbl/facilities/ohio-stadium/
6. Shop Til You Drop
Imagine more than 1.7 million square feet of shopping, dining, and entertainment venues with plenty of open air squares, parks, and fountain — and that’s Easton Town Center. This is one of the leading urban retail centers in the country with more than 30 million annual visitors and 200 retailers (including Gucci and Tiffany).eastontowncenter.com/
7. Be Surprised by Science
When thinking about things to do in Columbus, Ohio with kids, COSI Center of Science and Industry) jumps in front of mind. From skeletons of giant dinosaurs like T. Rex and pterosaurs to a planetarium that helps children and their families to explore space, COSI is full of engaging science exhibits and interactive experiences. The Big Science Park is perfect for play and the Little Kidspace is ideal for fun exploration.cosi.org/
8. Time-Travel at Ohio Village
Need another top 10 thing to do in Columbus, Ohio? Step back in time to see what village life in Ohio was like in the 19th century, watching artisans demonstrate old-fashioned skills. You can also tour period homes and other building, try circa-1800s activities yourself (which are also fun things to do in Columbus with kids), and perhaps watch a game of “base ball” using rules of the era, ohiohistory.org/visit/ohio-village/
9. Indulge in the Arts
This state-of-the-art center offers culturally diverse performances and provides art education in a 1928 building that was created and managed solely by African Americans. Jazz fans: This is a landmark location for this stellar form of music while also serving as a modern center for multiethnic and multigeneration arts. lincolntheatrecolumbus.com
Enjoy the Riverfront
When looking for free things to do in Columbus, Ohio, no trip is complete without a stop at the Scioto Mile. More than 175 acres of gorgeous parkland stretches along the riverfront in the heart of downtown Columbus. Besides being an ideal place to walk and bike, you can enjoy urban festivals, listen to outdoor music, and much more. If you’re traveling with a pet, this can be a terrific place to spend an afternoon. sciotomile.com/
Advice on Getting Around
Many of these fun things to do in Columbus, Ohio are located in or near downtown, but this is a large, sprawling city of more than 225 miles in size — the biggest city in Ohio. So, when planning your trip, map out where you’re going to ensure that you’ll spend less time traveling from one spot to another and more time enjoying the sights. Although most attractions are open year round, check to ensure the ones you want stay open through the winter.
Although individual areas and neighborhoods—such as German Village, Ohio Village, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and the Scioto Mile are all quite walkable, getting from one section of the city to the next requires transportation. Fortunately, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) provides bus service; in 2018 and 2020, COTA received the American Public Transportation Association’s Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award. cota.com/
The best things to do in Columbus, Ohio will depend on your taste, interests, available time, and budget — but one thing is for sure: This vibrant city is filled with places to visit and activities to enjoy. Our list of the 10 best things to do in Columbus, Ohio is a great starting point, and then you can branch out from there. From museums to parks to historical sites and excellent shopping, this city has something (or more) for everyone.
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Is Columbus a walkable city?
Plenty of neighborhoods and venues are quite walkable and, whenever that isn’t practical, the city has an award-winning public transportation system. Some of the best free things to do in Columbus, Ohio, include parks and gardens, each of which is walkable for most people.
What food is Columbus, Ohio, famous for?
Foods include the Columbus-style pizza with thin crusts with toppings right up to the edge, then cut into squares. Buckeye candy — peanut butter and chocolate in a buckeye shape — are in demand. So is the peanut butter and chocolate doughnut from Buckeye Donuts.
Is Columbus, Ohio a fun city?
With its hipster-urban vibe and a plethora of fun things to do, the answer is “yes”!
Photo credit: iStock/Sean Pavone
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