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Top Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio

Traveling is more than a hobby; it is a way of life. Based in Ohio, Shasta Matova has visited Europe, Uganda, and the United States.

Downtown Columbus, Ohio is a conglomeration of beautiful buildings with many different architectural styles.

Downtown Columbus, Ohio is a conglomeration of beautiful buildings with many different architectural styles.

Fun and Free Attractions to See When You Visit Columbus, Ohio

Most people don't think of Columbus as a tourist destination. They simply think of it as the Capital City of Ohio and the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. They may think of it as someplace they get stuck in when they attend a conference, convention, watch a concert, play, or ball game, or when they visit relatives. But after they have gotten a taste of everything that Columbus has to offer, they think differently and come visit it again, this time as a tourist.

Let me tell you about some of the travel and tourism attractions that make the city fun and unique. Most of them are free to visit. There are a few others that do charge an admission fee, but they are worth the price of admission, especially for first-time visitors.

Since the Convention Center is downtown, let me show you a map of the downtown area, and some of the attractions that are offered here. To help you get oriented, High Street runs north and south. Streets that are named "East" are located east of High Street, and streets that are named "West", are west of High Street. So, Broad Street is divided into East Broad, and West Broad and High Street is where the name changes. Similarly, Broad Street runs east and west, and divides the streets named "North" and "South". This means that North High Street begins at Broad Street and goes north, and South High Street begins at Broad Street and goes south. The numbers start at 0, so the smaller the number, the closer you are to Broad Street or High Street.

Downtown Destinations in Columbus, Ohio

City Hall on West Broad Street and The Ohio Statehouse at Broad and High are both historic buildings that are downtown. There is a statue of Christopher Columbus in front of City Hall on West Broad Street. The statehouse offers tours of the building and events that will help your children learn how the government is run.

There are many other fun things to do downtown. Let's see what they are.

Short North and Arena District

A. Short North

The Short North neighborhood is filled with small Mom and Pop stores, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Most of them are located right on High Street. You will be able to find unique items here that are not available in the big department stores. You can support the smaller stores, browse the art galleries, and stop by the Russian Tea Room. Be sure to look for the murals that are painted on the buildings in this area.

If you want to go bar hopping, the short north has some bars. If you go farther north on High Street, you will find the OSU campus area.

B. Arena District

Going south from the Short North is the Arena District. The Arena is there, of course, but it also has a variety of other attractions as well, such as movie theaters, bars and restaurants. The area is filled with many shops and boutiques. Be sure to go to the North Market; the whole building is filled with many different stores and restaurant vendors. There is a farmer's market in the summer.

C. COSI

On the other side of Broad Street, and a couple of blocks west is COSI, the Center of Science and Industry. It is one of the largest modern-built science centers in the United States. They have fun and interactive ways you and your children can learn science through exhibits and live shows. They have standard, classic exhibits, some extra exhibits that require a separate ticket, including the giant screen theater, and host traveling exhibits. It has an admission fee, but you can easily spend an afternoon or a whole day here, and learn a great deal so it is a great investment.

D. Scioto Mile

The Scioto Mile is a path that runs alongside the river. It is a beautiful place to take a walk, go bike riding, or walk your dog. There is a restaurant at Scioto Mile Park, but there aren't a lot of other food vendors along this walk though, so be sure to pack your lunch or locate a restaurant that you will go to as part of your walk if you plan to walk for a while.

Visit the Scioto Mile, the location of many Columbus festivals, including the Arts Festival, which is seen here, "Red, White and Boom!" fireworks display,  and the Jazz and Ribs Festival.

Visit the Scioto Mile, the location of many Columbus festivals, including the Arts Festival, which is seen here, "Red, White and Boom!" fireworks display, and the Jazz and Ribs Festival.

E. Art in Columbus—Topiary Park, Columbus Museum of Art

The Columbus Museum of Art has its own collection and hosts a variety of traveling exhibits. It has a restaurant and statues outside as well. When you are finished there, be sure to visit Topiary Park is a re-creation of Georges Seurat's famous post-impressionist painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jattedone" with topiaries and a pond. The Topiary Park is free and is a beautiful and restful place to have lunch after you are finished admiring the topiaries.

It is a relatively small park and works wonderfully in combination with the main library, which is right behind it. The library has a mural made by Aminah Robinson on the stairs and often hosts a variety of other art exhibits. Combine both with the Columbus Museum of Art which is nearby. There is a small fee for the art museum except on Sundays when it is free.

These two topiaries are a part of the whole that recreate a painting of a landscape at this park.

These two topiaries are a part of the whole that recreate a painting of a landscape at this park.

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F. German Village

German Village is a historic district just south of downtown Columbus. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is filled with privately restored Italianate homes with quaint little gardens. Schiller Park has recreational facilities, gardens, and an amphitheater.

There are also a lot of small independent shops in the area, such as bakeries and coffee shops, bars, and liquor stores. Be sure to visit the Book Loft when visiting the German Village. It is one of the nation's largest independent book stores. It is in a historic home and has so many rooms filled with books that you need a map to see all 32 rooms.

Just west of German Village is the Brewery District which also has restaurants and bars.

G. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

While the downtown area has lots of attractions, there are sites that are worth visiting throughout the city. Franklin Park Conservatory is situated in Franklin Park, which is about two miles east of downtown on Broad Street. This big park (58.77 acres) has a pond, a community garden, a playground, and many other features that make it a great place to visit on its own.

The conservatory requires an admission fee and features plants from throughout the world. It usually has a special display that rotates from time to time, such as artwork and butterflies that are added to the gardens.

When you are finished visiting the park and conservatory, you may want to head further east on Broad Street to see the Town and Country Shopping Center. It may have been the oldest strip mall in the country.

Franklin Park has many different structures and varieties of ways to feature their plants.

Franklin Park has many different structures and varieties of ways to feature their plants.

Other Columbus Attractions

Park of Roses

The Park of Roses is located just off North High Street, just north of the Ohio State University. It is 13 acres filled with 11,000 beautiful roses. They are well labeled so you know the name of the beautiful and fragrant flower you want to place in your garden. The park is a wonderful place to enjoy and walk around and is a scenic place to take photographs. It is especially lovely in June when the Rose Festival takes place.

This huge and beautiful park is free to visit. It is situated in Whetstone Park, which offers a variety of sports activities, fishing, walking trails, and playground areas. When you are done, you can also visit the nearby Clintonville branch of the Columbus library.

Columbus visitors will enjoy the view from atop a structure at Park of Roses.  Many of the roses haven't started blooming in May.

Columbus visitors will enjoy the view from atop a structure at Park of Roses. Many of the roses haven't started blooming in May.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

While the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is not officially in Columbus, it is in nearby Powell and is renowned for its animals and Jack Hanna. There are amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, and reptiles from many parts of the world.

Some examples include Stingray, African Lion, American Bison, Asian Elephant, West Indian Manatee, Bonobo, Koala, Red Kangaroo, Black Rhino, and Mexican Wolf. The Zoo is open year-round, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. During the winter, they host WildLights. This seasonal light display provides an extra ambiance to see the animals at night.

The zoo is a big park with lots of open spaces to recreate the natural habitats of the animals. When you get tired, there is a train ride and a boat ride you can take to rest your feet.

The adjacent Zoombezi Bay is a water park that has many rides and pools. There are separate entrance fees for the Zoo and Zoombezi Bay.

Stingray at the Columbus Zoo

Stingray at the Columbus Zoo

Shopping in Columbus

There are many places to shop in Columbus, and this article has already listed several. The Short North and German Village have independent retailers and restaurants.

If you are interested in big-name department stores, you will want to visit the shopping centers. The biggest and newest shopping centers in Columbus are Easton, on the northeast side of town, and Polaris, which is farther north.

Easton Town Center is located close to the airport, in the northeast part of town. They have a large list of shops, including Nordstrom, Macy’s, Coach, Apple, Victoria’s Secret, Crate and Barrel, a movie theater, and restaurants. This is a complex of shops, some of which are housed in one building, with many other freestanding buildings in the area.

Polaris Fashion Place is located farther north, and also has a large number of shops, including JCPenney, Andrews Jewelers, Pottery Barn, and Bath and Body Works.

Statue of Christopher Columbus in front of City Hall

Statue of Christopher Columbus in front of City Hall

Other Attractions

Columbus is home to many colleges and universities, including Capital University, Ohio Dominican University, Devry University, and The Ohio State University.

The Ohio State University has many sports teams including men's basketball, women's basketball, and, of course, football. The Columbus Clippers is a baseball team that plays their home games at Huntington Park. The Blue Jackets hockey team plays their home games at Nationwide Arena. The OSU Buckeyes football team plays at the horseshoe-shaped Ohio Stadium.

There are plays, concerts, and performing arts. The Columbus Symphony Orchestra plays at the Ohio Theater. Promusica Chamber Orchestra and the Columbus Jazz Orchestra play at the Southern Theater. The Newport Music Hall has big concerts.

There are plenty of special events that happen in Columbus, such as the Red, White and Boom! fireworks show, the Jazz and Ribs Fest, the Greek Festival, and Oktoberfest. Experience Columbus offers a calendar that will let you know what is happening in the city when you visit.

Visit Columbus Ohio

While Columbus is not known as a tourist destination, as you can see, there are a lot of great things to see and do here. Once you have seen them, you may want to return as a tourist, and see more of the attractions and see more of the performances.

Questions & Answers

Question: When is the Jazz and Ribs festival in Columbus, Ohio?

Answer: The Jazz and Ribs Fest will be held July 19 – 21, 2019 from 11am – 11pm on Friday and Saturday and until 8:30pm on Sunday at the Columbus Downtown Riverfront at 233 S Civic Center Dr. in Columbus, Ohio.

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