17 Cool Things to See & Do in Columbus On Your Ohio Vacation

Planning a trip through the Midwest? Be sure to carve out a few days to comb through all the best things to do in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio’s largest city and capital, Columbus, OH, is famed for its impressive park system and is one of the most surprising urban travel destinations in the Midwestern United States.

Families will find plenty to see among the city’s top tourist attractions, including one of the USA’s largest zoos. In the city’s museums and historic neighborhoods, you’ll travel back in time and immerse yourself in Columbus’s impressive cultural heritage and history. With a vibrant nightlife and varied culinary offerings, there’s something for every traveler to enjoy in this Central Ohio metropolis.

Not sure what to see & do? Plan a trip to this captivating city with this complete guide to the best places to visit in Columbus, Ohio!

Where to go

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Need an idea of where to start your Central Ohio trip? Pack up the whole gang and head to the world-renowned Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. This huge zoo is home to 10,000 animals housed in seven sectors. You may recognize the world-famous zoo from the documentary series Secrets of the Zoo

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

If you’re looking for an extra special experience at the Columbus Zoo, reserve your spot for a unique, up-close experience with your favorite species. If you’re all about cuteness, you’ll love the Red Panda Experience. Feeling exotic? Take the Heart of Africa Savanna Tour. Or, if you’re more attracted to marine life than anything else, opt for the Seal and Sea Lion Experience.

At the Columbus Zoo, you can also hop into a Land Rover for a mini safari, feed a giraffe, give an elephant a bath, learn about the reindeer habitat, or get behind-the-scenes access to interact with marine animals. Learn about health care by taking the Animal Health Center Tour.

If you’re in the mood for a nighttime experience, take the Twilight Tour or join in on a guided Night Hike.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Disconnect the mind from your hectic routine by basking in nature at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. Stroll through its 88 acres of colorful parkland to marvel at unique species, including a beautiful collection of bonsai.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

On your visit to Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, admire the John F. Wolfe Palm House. The green Victorian-style glass house was built in 1893, inspired by the City Beautiful movement. You’ll also love marveling at the breathtaking Dale Chihuly glass artwork collection, featuring 18 colorful installations.

Traveling with kids? They’ll love The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden. It aims to introduce children to the natural world and connect them to it, as well as to their parents or caregivers.

If you’re visiting Ohio in the summer months, check out the gardens’ Farmers Market, taking place every Wednesday. 

Columbus Museum of Art

Deep in the heart of Downtown Columbus lies a haven for all art lovers: Columbus Museum of Art. Under the motto of connecting the community and people with art, the popular art museum offers innovative experiences for anyone passing through.

Columbus Museum of Art

Visit the Columbus Museum of Art to discover a collection of outstanding works of modern American and European art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Explore the world’s largest collection of works by local artists Elijah Pierce, George Bellows, and Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson. You’ll also get to check out acclaimed collections like The Photo League and the Philip and Suzanne Schiller Collection of American Social Commentary Art.

If you’re in the Short North Arts District, be sure to also stop into the Pizzuti Collection, an offshoot of the Columbus Museum of Art. The collection showcases a multitude of interesting mediums and different styles, from paintings and sculptures to stunning art installations.

Columbus Park of Roses

Feeling like a flowery stroll? Walk through the Columbus Park of Roses in Whetstone Park on the shores of the Olentangy River. Opened to the public in 1953, it’s one of the largest public rose gardens in the United States, featuring more than 12,000 rose specimens.

Columbus Park of Roses

On the 13 acres of the Columbus Park of Roses, you can tour five horticultural themes in the arboretum. Be amazed by the colorful and intense symmetrical beds of the Formal Rose Garden. Discover the ancestors of modern roses at the Heritage Rose Garden. Visit the Perennial Garden to see over a hundred varieties of bulbs, perennials, trees, and shrubs.

Follow your nose to the Herb Garden to sniff out more than 100 varieties of plants arranged by their fragrances. Or, if you fancy yourself a green thumb, roam through the Backyard Garden to appreciate the low-maintenance bulbs and trees and get ideas for your own garden!

John F. Wolfe Columbus Common

Time to get the family out for some outdoor fun? Whether you’re traveling to Central Ohio as a family or as a couple, John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons is a great spot to hang out within the city. Hosting over 200 special events a year, the 6-acre park is one of the best places to go in Columbus, Ohio, for outdoor action.

If you’re visiting Columbus Commons with little, bring them along to Commons for Kids, taking place on Friday mornings in the summer. It’s free and you can enjoy hilarious activities, a carousel, and inflatables! You can also bring your puppy along without any problems.

Hungry for a meal? Lick to your heart’s content at the legendary Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams or gobble down a meal at one of the eight food trucks, spanning various menus to please all tastes and appetites.

Check the Columbus Commons event calendar to see what’s on during your visit.

Topiary Park 

Located in the Discovery District, Topiary Park is one of Downtown Columbus’ most curious attractions. Perfect for botany lovers, it’s the only public park of its kind in the world; you may have even seen it in magazines, books, or newspapers, or in a documentary from National Geographic, the BBC, Life, or The Wall Street Journal!

Topiary Park

Its creator, James T. Mason, describes Topiary Park as “a landscape of a landscape painting.” Mason and his wife came up with this vivid recreation of Georges Seurat’s post-impressionist painting: A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of LaGrande Jatte.

Marvel at Topiary Park’s pond, representing the Seine River, and the living sculptures that imitate Seurat’s famous painting. The plants are formed into true works of art.

Stop at the “As He Saw It” spot to step into the painter’s shoes. The location illustrates how Seurat saw the scene as he painted it.

Topiary Park is open from 7 am to 11 pm daily.

Center of Science and Industry (COSI)

Voted America’s First Science Museum three years in a row, the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) is one of the top Columbus tourist attractions for the entire family.

Center of Science and Industry (COSI)

Children will love a visit to the planetarium at the Center of Science and Industry. Attend Passport to the Universe, featuring the captivating voice of Tom Hanks. Dig into cosmology as you float in the heart of the Orion Nebula, fly under the rings of Saturn, and dive into a black hole.

Immerse yourself in a varied world of discovery in the fantastic interactive exhibits: Space, Ocean, Big Machines, Farm Days, and a Dinosaur Gallery are some of the favorites of the whole family. Bring out your inner hero after visiting the inspiring exhibition of Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes.

If all this learning at one of the most popular museums in Columbus has whet your appetite, enjoy a stellar lunch at the Atomic Café. Chow down on something from their Galaxy Drill or one of their Atomic Bowls.

Scioto Mile Fountain

No one should visit Columbus without a stop at the famous Scioto Mile. Most people beeline to Bicentennial Park to take a picture with the legendary Deer Sculpture on the Rich Street Bridge. But that’s not all that is attractive about this riverside park. Don’t forget to check out its beautiful centerpiece: the Scioto Mile Fountain.

Designed by The Waterworx Company of Toronto, Ontario, the Scioto Mile Fountain is an architectural marvel. The fountain functions as a popular interactive area for aquatic play in Bicentennial Park in the heart of Downtown Columbus.

Visit this iconic Scioto Mile point of interest and cool off in its 200 feet of streams. Be shocked by its water jets that shoot up into the air up to 75 feet. For an extra special experience, visit at night when the foundation’s waters are beautifully illuminated.

Schiller Park

Fond of German culture? Pierce into the heart of the German Village in the city center to check Schiller Park. Named in honor and appreciation of the German poet Friedrich Schiller, the park is the gem of the German Village and one of the top places to see in Columbus, Ohio, for outdoor activities.

Schiller Park

Equipped with many facilities—including a basketball court, picnic areas, softball diamonds, a fishing pond, and a gorgeous landscaped garden—Schiller Park is a fantastic place for a day outdoors. It’s the perfect spot for a family picnic under the Central Ohio sun.

During the summer months, you can enjoy live performances in Schiller Park at the Actors’ Theatre of Columbus, an outdoor stage for the Actor’s Summer Theater.

Ohio Stadium

Football lover? Book tickets to catch an Ohio State Buckeyes game at Ohio Stadium. With a capacity of over 100,000 people, the stadium is one of the three largest college football stadiums in the United States.

Ohio Stadium

Even if you’re not a big sports fan, the Ohio Stadium experience is well worth it on your trip to Columbus. Ohio State Buckeyes fans are bombastic, so every home game is an exciting experience!

If you’re not lucky enough to get tickets to a football game, check the stadium’s calendar for other special events. This Ohio State University stadium also doubles as an incredible concert venue, hosting popular artists such as Beyoncé and Pink Floyd.

Ohio History Center

Can’t get enough of all things history? Visit Ohio History Center, the headquarters of the Ohio History Connection. For history buffs, this popular museum tops the list of what to see in Columbus, Ohio.

Browse the Ohio History Center’s galleries and exhibits to dig into the state’s long past. Learn about the origins of the state’s modern culture at the 1950s: Building the American Dream expo. Discover how the community lived through the rough years at the WWI-Era Collections 1914–1919 expo.

Exit the back door of the Ohio History Center to wander into Ohio Village. Step back in time to the bustling life of an 1890s village. Villagers and artisans will welcome you and tell you stories of the state’s past.

See what’s up with the news in the Telegraphic Advertiser, visit the American House Hotel & Tavern, and the Masonic Lodge, all set in characteristic 19th-century buildings.

German Village

Famous for its charming 19th-century brick homes made by German immigrants, the German Village is one of the coolest points of interest in Columbus, Ohio.

German Village

Visit the German Village to walk through its narrow streets and pop into its bookstores, traditional fudge stores, and artisan jewelry stores.

The German Village neighborhood is also a great destination for ethnic food. Don’t leave without trying the sausages at Schmidt’s Haus. Proudly serving authentic German food since 1886, the banquet house is one of the area’s top places to eat.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, enjoy tea and cake at the Brown Bag Delicatessen, or gobble down a tasty pastry at Winans Chocolates + Coffees.

Bookish? Find your next favorite read in the quaint The Book Loft.

Ohio Statehouse

Keen to learn more about history and politics? Columbus, OH, boasts one of the oldest working government buildings in the United States: the Ohio Statehouse.

Ohio Statehouse

Built between 1839 and 1861 on Capitol Square, the Ohio Statehouse maintains its 19th-century façade amid modern buildings in the city center. The National Historic Landmark also doubles as a history museum, digging into the state’s illustrious past.

After admiring the surrounding parks and the building’s imposing Greek Revival-style architecture, take a guided or self-guided tour. Learn about the foundations of democratic government in the USA and dazzle at portraits of former heroes. At its exhibits, you’ll also discover how the current government works and its legislative functions.

Easton Town Center

Named the best shopping destination in the United States in 2021, Easton Town Center is a must-see on your Columbus trip itinerary. This huge, open-air mall was designed to simulate a mid-20th-century neighborhood.

Easton Town Center

With more than 300 stores and restaurants, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to indulge in serious retail therapy at the Easton Town Center. Shop for fashionable clothes or anything else that crosses your mind, including housewares, sporting gear, and toys.

Built up an appetite on your shopping trip? In Easton Town Center, you can choose from a super wide variety of restaurants and cafes, from fast food to elegant lounges.

The entertainment at Easton Town Center is endless, too. The shopping center hosts weekly events and shows, including comedy performances, concerts, art shows, and movies.

Traveling to Columbus with kids? Take them to the LEGOLAND Discovery Center. They’ll love the 2D rides, construction workshops, 4D movies, and any of the ten play areas. Enjoy a hot cup of coffee or tea at the center’s comfortable cafe while you cheer them on!

Huntington Park

Sports fanatic? Don’t miss seeing the Columbus Clippers baseball team, the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, in action at Huntington Park. Rumor has it that the stadium’s design is so good that there’s not a single bad seat among its 10,000 seats!

Huntington Park

Undoubtedly, one of the most popular things to do in Columbus, Ohio—or any American city, for that matter—is to watch a baseball game. Grab some tickets, share a hot dog, and sip a cold beer as you cheer on the hometown Columbus Clippers at Huntington Park for the full American baseball game experience.

After your Columbus Clippers game, grab a cold drink to skyline views at Huntington Park’s rooftop bar. 

Nationwide Arena

Still craving more entertainment? Try to catch a special event at Nationwide Arena. Located in the Arena District, this massive venue is home to the National Hockey League’s Columbus Blue Jackets.

Nationwide Arena

Besides Blue Jackets’ games, Nationwide Arena also hosts a variety of other special events, including concerts, field hockey, and basketball games—and even the annual Arnold Classic, a fitness event by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Check the upcoming events calendar to book tickets to a hockey game or to see your favorite artist on stage.

After the game or show, head into the Arena District to savor homemade American comfort food at Moran’s Bar & Grille, upscale modern Mexican food at Nada, or Brazilian steak at Rodizio Grill.

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

Searching for more family-friendly outdoor activities around Columbus? Pack up the kids and head west of downtown to Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park. Spanning more than 7,000 acres of parkland, the largest public park in the MetroParks is one of the most popular day trips from Columbus, OH, and one of the area’s top points of interest for nature lovers.

Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park encompasses a variety of ecosystems, from lush forests to prairie meadows to wetlands. Most famous, however, is the park’s herd of 10 American bison.

To see the park’s famed bison, lace up your shoes for a walk on the Darby Creek Greenway Trail. One of the most popular hiking trails at Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park, the trail stretches 5 miles of flat terrain, cutting into the park’s two bison pastures.

Besides hiking and bison-watching, Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park offers a multitude of other outdoor activities, including biking, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and even hunting.

Recommended places to stay

For most travelers, the best places to stay in Columbus, OH, fall within Downtown. The city center is home to many of the city’s top points of interest and offers a variety of accommodations, from hotels to vacation rentals.

Graduate Columbus

Graduate Columbus

Even if Ohio State University is not your alma mater, relieve your college glory days at the Graduate. This stunning boutique hotel in the Short North Arts District shows off a college theme but with a touch of mature sophistication. (Think: Dean’s office rather than frat house vibes.) Dog lovers will dig getting the chance to hang out with Scarlett, the hotel’s unofficial furry mascot sporting an OSU jersey!

AC Hotel by Marriott Columbus Downtown

AC Hotel by Marriott Columbus Downtown

Inject a little hygge into your vacation without breaking the bank with a night at this superb downtown hotel. Besides the relaxing rooms, guests will love the rooftop lounge and Spanish tapas bar overlooking the downtown skyline.

Hyatt Regency Columbus

Hyatt Regency Columbus

Whether you’re in Ohio’s capital city for business or for a couple’s getaway, the sleek and sophisticated Hyatt Regency will be a great choice. After a day of sightseeing, soak in the double bathtubs and admire the sparkling downtown views.

Treksplorer

Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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