Columbus is the state capital of Ohio and should be on every travellers list if you’re keen on having a couple of more relaxed days. It lies in the center of the state and is known for many things. As a pretty big city, it has lots of interesting museums that brilliantly showcase the interesting history of the city as well as the state of Ohio.
Being in a midwest state, Columbus is also known for its four wonderful seasons that see the city landscape continuously changing. There are lots of outdoor activities that visitors can enjoy year-round. From snowy winters to comfortable summers, each month brings something new.
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Columbus, Ohio, we’ve got the perfect list. From popular sites to hidden gems, here are the activities and attractions you don’t want to miss!
Let’s get right to it…
- Top Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
- Unusual Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
- Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio at Night
- Where to Stay in Columbus, Ohio
- Romantic Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
- Best Free Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
- Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio with Kids
- Other Unmissable Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
- Day Trips From Columbus, Ohio
- 3 Day Itinerary in Columbus, Ohio
Top Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
This midwest city has no shortage of entertaining attractions. When deciding what to do first, you might be a little overwhelmed. To get your trip started, here are the top activities.
The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) is a hands-on science center. It’s filled with interactive exhibits and fun activities, many of which rotate on a regular basis. There’s a large IMAX screen, a planetarium, a room completely dedicated to dinosaurs, and so much more.
This is one of the top Columbus, Ohio attractions. It’s geared towards all ages and there is always something new to discover. make sure to check the opening times, as the science center can get quite full at certain times of the days.
You could easily spend a whole afternoon here. If you need to refuel, there’s even a cafeteria/cafe to grab a bite to eat at.
2. Enjoy a Peaceful Outing at the Botanical Gardens
The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a spacious and colorful garden that was built in 1895. Here, you’ll find 88 acres of well-manicured grounds with over 400 species of plants.
The butterfly garden is one of the garden’s top attractions. From April – December guests can also watch glass blowing demonstrations. The Palm House is also very neat and showcases 43 species of palms.
This is one of the best places to visit in Columbus, Ohio for families. All ages will appreciate this outdoor haven. If you bring a blanket and a couple of snacks, you can have a picnic on one of the benches and enjoy a calm and relaxed afternoon before you head off again to explore more of Columbus.
3. Explore Columbus’ Creative Side
The Columbus Museum of Art is a well-curated and creative art museum. It houses a great mix of locally made art as well as art from around the world. There is even a children’s area, including a lego exhibit that’s always a hit with the kids.
There is a nice variety of pieces they have presented. You’ll see paintings, drawings, sculptures, glassworks, and much more.
Admission is free every Sunday. On Thursdays from 5:00 pm – 9:00 pm admission is just USD $5.00.
4. Discover the City’s German Roots
German Village is a neighborhood in Columbus named after the German immigrants who moved here in the 19th century. It’s characterized by classic German architecture buildings, cobblestone walkways, and narrow streets.
It attracts visitors with its classic European charm. Visit one of the area’s German-style coffee shops, groceries, restaurants, or pubs.
The Book Loft is an especially popular attraction here. You’ll find 32 rooms filled with books at bargain prices. This is one of the more unique Columbus attractions. It’s a fun place to wander around and see a different side of the city.
Do You Want to Travel FOREVER??
Then pop your email address in below and we’ll send you a FREE copy of ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day!’
5. Take a Stroll Along the Scenic Scioto Mile Promenade
Scioto Mile is a wonderful outdoor area of the city. It spans 145 acres of parkland and stretches along the Scioto River. There is a paved path that runs the distance of the promenade for walking, jogging, or biking.
You’ll find many fun attractions lining the promenade. Some amenities include swings, a large fountain, benches, gardens, and tables designed for chess and card games.
In summer, this area turns into one of the most popular places in Columbus, Ohio. It’s great for enjoying some outdoor recreation. There are splash pads to cool off in and free concerts are regularly hosted at the promenade during summer.
6. Gain a Wonderful Insight into Ohio’s Past
The Ohio History Connection is a local museum that showcases the state of Ohio’s history. It contains exhibits that detail several layers of the state’s past. Learn about the Native American’s that were the state’s first inhabitants. Discover civil war relics, including clothing items and old furniture.
There’s also an Ohio Village which is an interactive re-creation of an 1860s town. The museum engages all ages. It’s very kid-friendly but equally enjoyable for adults. It covers all the history in the borders of the state of Ohio.
Unusual Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
If you’re backpacking the USA and you happen to visit Columbus, make sure you check out some unusual things. Popular attractions are great, but unique sites can be just as fun. To explore a different side of the city, here are the most unusual things to do in Columbus, Ohio.
7. Visit a Victorian Mansion
The Kelton House Museum and Garden is a beautiful mansion and lawn that was built in 1852. The house contains many of the original furnishings and artifacts.
Step back in time as you walk through this historic building. The home belonged to the Kelton family, who were abolitionists. They assisted black men and women who were in slavery, as well as blacks who were freed. They used their house as a stop on the underground railroad.
Guests can tour the home at their own pace with a self-guided audio tour.
8. Let Your Imagination Run Wild at Otherworld Columbus
Otherworld is a large immersive art installation filled with 40 scenes of large-scale art pieces. Enjoy a new kind of art experience as you discover a surreal world of fantasy and science fiction. Interact with the works of art that fill the walls, floor to ceiling.
Expect to see colorful and creative scenes featuring things like alien flora, abstract light and geometry, and much more. This attraction is truly unique. If you’re looking for out-of-the-box entertainment in Columbus, Ohio this is a great addition to your itinerary.
9. Explore the City’s Treasured Topiary Park
Topiary Park is a large public park and garden-themed to depict George Seurat’s 1884 painting, ‘A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte’. It’s the only topiary copy of a painting in the world.
It combines nature with art and features 54 life-size figures of humans, animals, and boats. Apart from the topiary display, the park also contains over 200 beautiful trees and well-landscaped flower beds.
The park is located right in the city. It’s a great place to visit for stunning scenery and unique pictures.
Safety in Columbus, Ohio
Overall, Columbus is a safe city to visit. However, there are a few things you should know before you travel here.
The east side of the city, past US 23 (High Street) has a higher crime rate compared to the west side. Most of the main tourist attractions are on the west side, meaning you should have very little reason to visit the east side of the city.
Jaywalking, where you cross the street without a traffic signal directing you to do so, is punishable with a USD $100.00 ticket. The police enforce this offense highly, especially in the downtown area. Keeping your wits about you and following the city laws will ensure a safe and pleasant trip to Columbus.
Custom-designed BY the Broke Backpacker FOR broke backpacking, the Active Roots Security Belt will keep your valuables safe no matter where you go.
It looks exactly like a normal belt except for a SECRET interior pocket perfectly designed to hide a wad of cash or a passport copy. Never get caught with your pants down again! (Unless you want to.)Check on Amazon
Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio at Night
If you’re looking for some nightlife fun, here are a few of the best places to explore the Columbus nightlife scene.
10. See a Show at the City’s Lavish Movie Palace
The Ohio Theater was constructed in 1928. The city’s historic movie palace was then restored to its former glory in the 1980s. It’s a beautiful treasure that reminds you of a time long ago.
It’s also the best place to go in Columbus to experience the city’s performing arts culture. The shows featured are first-rate. They include musicals, ballets, operas, plays, and symphonies.
During summer, the venue hosts a film series where they show movies from the golden era of Hollywood. Around the holidays, performances like “A Christmas Carol” and “The Nutcracker” are featured.
This is a historic landmark of the city and makes for a fun night out with wholesome entertainment.
11. Discover Downtown Columbus
The downtown district of Columbus is the city’s central area for entertainment. Many of the city’s best attractions can be found in this area, including popular bars, restaurants, and shopping malls.
If you’re looking for a fun night out, head to Pins Mechanical Co. As well as serving food and drinks, this bar offers a lot of entertainment, like duckpin bowling, pinball, and ping pong tables. It’s a great social space where you can mingle with locals and tourists alike.
Whether you feel like dancing the night away, visiting a local dive bar, or seeing a show, you’ll have lots of options in downtown Columbus.
12. Check Out the City’s Thriving Craft Beer Scene
There are currently 29 local craft breweries in Columbus. If you’re a fan of beer, exploring the craft beer scene is a must.
Seventh Son Brewing Co. is one of the city’s most popular breweries. This lively joint has a large rustic tasting room with lots of different beers on tap. It has a laid-back atmosphere and stays open late. Food trucks also regularly set up shop outside.
Sideswipe Brewing is an unassuming brewery with a small taproom and an intimate feel. Apart from their beer, one of the coolest things about this brewery is their arcade games and board games.
Where to Stay in Columbus, Ohio
Looking for a specific place to stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Columbus, Ohio.
Best Airbnb in Columbus – Condo in the Heart of Downtown
At this downtown property, you’ll have an entire apartment to yourself. This modern condo features a smart TV, a kitchen with all your cooking essentials, a private patio, and much more.
There is also a communal rooftop deck that guests can enjoy and free parking on the premise. You’ll be within close proximity to Columbus’ downtown attractions.
Best Hotel in Columbus – Holiday Inn Columbus Downtown – Capitol Square
This downtown Columbus hotel is great value-for-money. The property features a swimming pool, a fitness center, and a bar and lounge. Every room includes a TV, a coffee machine, free toiletries, and wonderful downtown city views.
You’ll be within easy walking distance to several downtown attractions, including the Ohio Theater, the Columbus Museum of Art, and COSI.
Romantic Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
If you’re planning a couples trip to Columbus, here are some activities that are sure to stir up some romance.
13, Enjoy a Romantic Outing at the Columbus Park of Roses
The Columbus Park of Roses is a 13-acre park featuring over 10,000 roses with 350 different varieties.
The best time to visit is mid-June to mid-September. This is when the roses are in full bloom. However, other times of the year still provide visitors with wonderful park scenery.
There are plenty of trails for peaceful strolls and lots of green space for picnics. You’ll also find many benches scattered throughout the park with plaques that honor the deceased.
14. Wind Down With a Wine Tasting at Wyandotte Winery
Wyandotte Winery is a family-run wine farm that’s the perfect place to enjoy a low-key date. Stop in for wine tastings from Tuesday to Saturday, no appointment is needed.
They also serve a menu of small plates and pizza. Every Wednesday, there’s a happy hour from 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm. On Fridays, they host local, live music. On Saturdays, they offer free tours of the winery.
There’s always something fun going on and the atmosphere will make you feel like you’re right at home.
Always Be Insured
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of Travel Insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads, our favorite travel insurance provider.
Best Free Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
If you’re traveling on a budget, you’ll find a great range of attractions that won’t break the bank. Here are the best things to do in Columbus that are completely free.
Easton Town Center is an outdoor shopping center with a twist. The complex is themed to model American cities of the early to mid-1900s. The style is beautiful and makes it quite unique.
You’ll find a great mix of regional shopping outlets as well as local shops. If you’re hungry, the dining options are plentiful. You’ll find lots of choices for both food and drink.
As far as entertainment goes, there is a movie theater and a comedy club. The Legoland Discovery Center is also housed in the shopping center. This attraction, in particular, is great for kids.
16. Explore Nature at Highbanks Metro Park
The Highbanks Metro Park is a large green outdoor haven in Columbus. It’s filled with plenty of well-marked hiking trails. These paths are scenic and great to explore any time of year. In winter, the hills around the park are great for sledding.
The park (Highbanks) is named for its impressive 100-foot bluff overlooking the Olentangy State Scenic River. When you visit, make sure to hike to the overlook for amazing river views.
There is also a nature center with information on the local wildlife as well as historical information about the park. If you’re looking to escape the city for a while, this is a great place to do so.
The Short North Arts District in Columbus is an area with a strong university influence. It’s youthful and quirky, with lots of specialty shops, art galleries, and local restaurants. As well as many pubs and cafes.
The architecture of the whole area is very unique, with many of the brick buildings dating back to the early 20th century. There are colorful murals showcased on the building walls and sidewalls.
Enjoy some time to wander around. Pop into a record shop, a vintage clothing store, and a student-packed coffeehouse or local brewery.
This area is also very close (within easy walking distance) to downtown Columbus.
Books to Read in Columbus, Ohio
These are some of the greatest American novels of all time. Be sure to grab a few them of them while backpacking in America.
- The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
- Sometimes a Great Notion – A tale of a hardheaded Oregonian logging family that goes on strike, leading the town to drama and tragedy. Written by PNW legend, Ken Kesey.
- Walden – The transcendental masterpiece by Henry David Thoreau that helped modern Americans rediscover nature and her beauty.
- To Have and To Have Not – A family man gets involved with the drug smuggling business in the Key West and ends up in a strange affair. Written by the great Ernest Hemingway.
Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio with Kids
If you’re traveling with kids and looking for places to see in Columbus, Ohio, make sure to check out these two spots.
18. Explore the Exciting Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is hands-down one of the best areas in the city for kids. With plenty of animals, marine life, and child-friendly activities, what’s not to love?
The zoo showcases animals from all over the world, including the American Bison, the African Lion, and the Vietnamese Wood Turtle. TIt also has lots of fun attractions, like the grand carousel, the North America train, and the polar playground.
The Aquarium is full of exotic fish and engaging exhibits. Kids will love the touch-pool area where they can pet a sea urchin’s spine or feel a sea star. There’s also a reptile house in this area, which is filled with interesting creepy crawly critters.
19. Explore a Green Space in the Middle of the City
The John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons is a large park and urban space in downtown Columbus. It spans 6 acres and features 12 gardens, a carousel, a playground, and much more.
The Neos® Playground contains electronic games that get your kids moving. The playground equipment is engaging and will definitely burn off some of your kid’s energy.
Many fun events and concerts are scheduled throughout the year. There is also a cafe that features street food and an ice cream shop.
This park has all the required components for some classic kid fun in Columbus, Ohio!
Other Unmissable Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
If you’re looking for even more fun things to do in Columbus, Ohio, here are four more options you can add to your itinerary.
20. Explore the Local Life at the North Market Farmers Market
The North Market Farmers Market is the city’s most popular farmers’ market. It’s also one of the oldest farmers’ markets in Ohio. You’ll find a large variety of fresh produce, meat, and fish from local Ohio farmers. There are also plenty of home-made goods, including honey, herbs, jams, oils and vinegar, and much more.
For ready to eat food, you’ll have plenty of options. If you’re visiting in the morning, grab a coffee and a fresh-baked pastry. For lunch or dinner, select from cuisines like Indian, sushi, and Vietnamese.
There are options for everyone and the market provides a great social setting.
21. Soak up the Local Sports Culture at Ohio Stadium
This is Ohio State University’s football stadium and the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team. With a large seating capacity of 104 944, it’s the third-largest football stadium in the US.
If your trip to Columbus coincides with game day, see the local football team in action. Mingle with the locals and root on the home team. It’s a great stadium with an amazing local vibe.
It’s also a very popular concert venue. Bands and performers such as Metallica, The Rolling Stones, Taylor Swift, and Beyonce have all performed here.
22. Bond Over Board Games at Kingmakers
Kingmakers in Columbus is an upbeat board game club. This local gem contains over 500 board games available for guests to play, including kids games, adult games, and card games.
The venue is comfortable and cozy, adults and kids of all ages are welcome to visit. Refreshments such as wine, beer, coffee, and soft drinks are served. Simple snacks like chips, cookies, and jerky are also available.
For a fun group activity, family bonding experience, or couples date, make sure to check this place out.
23. Watch a Ball Game at Huntington Park
Huntington Park is a baseball stadium and home to the Columbus Clippers baseball team, who are the triple-A minor league team of the Cleveland Indians.
Visit the park and enjoy an American pastime. Relax for a few hours and watch a leisurely game of baseball. This is a great activity for all ages.
There is a 110-foot bar with six open patios that overlook the baseball field. There is also an open-air rooftop with bleachers. The Picnic Terrace is a fun place for fans to relax and enjoy the ballgame in a more casual setting.
You’ll find plenty of concessions in the park, including classic ballpark food like hotdogs, fries, and pretzels. Beer, wine and mixed drinks are also offered.
Day Trips From Columbus, Ohio
If you have some extra time to spend in Columbus, a day trip is a great way to explore more of the beautiful state of Ohio. Here are two great options for nearby excursions.
Cincinnati is just over 1.5 hours (107 miles) from Columbus. It’s a large city located on the Ohio River and offers many fun attractions that all ages and interests will enjoy.
For family-fun, The Krohn Conservatory is filled with butterflies and botanic gardens. Coney Island Amusement Park is a historic park and will provide hours of entertainment.
For history and culture, the Findlay Marks is a great place to sample some of Cincinnati’s famous foods and explore the local culture. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is a great place for history-lovers to learn the history of slavery and the underground railroad system.
Cincinnati offers plenty of museums, art centers, parks, and more.
Enjoy an Outdoor Outing at Cuyahoga National Park
Cuyahoga National Park is just under 2 hours (129 miles) from Columbus. It lies along the Cuyahoga River and sits between the Ohio cities of Cleveland and Akron. This 33,000-acre park is a great place to escape the city and enjoy a day of outdoor adventure.
There are over 125 miles of hiking trails for every skill level. There are also horse trails and bike paths. On the water, you can fish or rent a kayak or canoe.
For something more leisurely, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad travels through the scenic valley. Or simply pack a picnic and find a shaded grassy space to relax.
The Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail is one of the park’s most popular hiking trails. It’s a recreational trail that follows the historic route of the Ohio and Erie Canal.
3 Day Itinerary in Columbus, Ohio
Now that we’ve covered all the best attractions in Columbus, here is our suggested itinerary on the best way to go about spending 3 days in Columbus.
Day 1: Discover Downtown Columbus
Kick-off your first day in Columbus in the downtown district. Start off by wandering the Scioto Mile and taking in the stunning scenery of the city. An early morning start is best, as you’ll be able to enjoy a quiet walk along the river.
Next, pop into a downtown cafe or restaurant for breakfast. You’ll find lots of options to choose from. This is a great spot to also do some local shopping. When you’re done exploring downtown, head to Topiary Park. If you catch a bus, step off at E Town St & S Washington Ave stop. Spend some time checking out this unique park and taking pictures of the topiary statues.
Next up, visit The Columbus Museum of Art. The museum is just around the corner from the park (.03 miles) so walking will get you there in under 10 minutes. Spend 2-3 hours admiring the local and world-wide art showcased.
Finish your day/night at The Short North Arts District. This district is right next to downtown, (1.6 miles) making it very convenient to get to. Catch a bus to S High St & E Broad St, and another one to N High St & E 1st Ave.
Day 2: Explore the Local History and Culture
Start off your morning at The Ohio History Connection. Learn the local history of the city on topics including Native American and sports history.
Next up, head to the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. A short taxi ride will get you there in about 10 minutes. Walk around the gardens and admire the local wildlife. Make sure to check out the butterfly area when you visit.
Afterward, hop on the 11 bus and hop off at Brydon Rd & Morrison Ave to explore the Kelton House Museum and Garden. This Victorian home is a piece of Columbus history. Touring the house is very insightful and a must when you visit the city.
Spend the rest of your day walking around German Village. Have dinner at a German restaurant and spend some time walking the streets and admiring the quaint European architecture.
Day 3: Enjoy the Scenery and the Modern Culture of Columbus
Start your third day in Columbus at the Highbanks Metro Park. You can get there by bus, but we recommend taking Uber to save time. Escape the city for a while and explore the natural beauty of Ohio. Wander a path and admire the wildlife. Be sure to hike to overlook the amazing river views.
When you’re done, head to the Otherworld Museum. An Uber ride will take about 30 minutes. This modern museum is full of immersive art installations. It’s a really cool experience and something unusual and unique to do when you visit.
Afterward, make your way to Kingmakers in Columbus for some local fun. To get there catch the 25 bus from Chantry Drive to Gender Rd & Refuge Rd, then the 5 bus to N High St & Warren St. Enjoy a drink and a board game at this local board game club.
End your night seeing a performance at The Ohio Theater. From Kingmakers to the theater is about a five-minute drive (1.5 miles). Make sure to check their calendar before you visit for their list of performances.
More Great Resources
Columbus is a happening city in Ohio with a lot of fun attractions and endless options for entertainment. No matter your age or interest, you’ll find something to do.
Kids will love the city’s large parks, child-friendly museums, and attractions. Adults will find a wide array of interesting things to do.
Explore the local market, wander a scenic park, spend a day museum hopping, or get lost in one of Columbus’ many different districts. Whether you’re into nature, history, shopping, or sports, you’ll find more than enough things to do during your stay in Columbus.
Find out how YOU can support the site.
We work hard to put out the best backpacker resources on the web for free! It’s all about helping out our tribe of awesome backpacker readers (that’s you!). Please visit the link to find out how you can help keep the site going 🙂
For the sake of transparency, some of the links in our content are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a piece of gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We only link to stuff that members of the Broke Backpacker team has actually used and never endorse products or services that are not up to scratch. Thanks for your support!