Top 12 Things to do in Columbus, Ohio

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Columbus is the capital and largest city in Ohio. As the biggest city in the state, it has plenty of attractions and activities for visitors to enjoy.

AttractionDescription
The Ohio State UniversityCampus tour, sports, and arts
Franklin Park ConservatoryBotanical gardens and exhibitions
COSI ColumbusScience museum and interactive exhibits
German VillageHistoric neighborhood with European charm
Topiary ParkSculpture garden inspired by Seurat’s painting
Columbus Museum of ArtArt collections and exhibitions
North MarketFood market with diverse cuisines
Columbus Zoo and AquariumWildlife and aquatic animals
Downtown ColumbusTrendy districts and riverfront park
Hocking HillsOutdoor adventure and natural beauty
Ohio History CenterState history from Ice Age to Space Age
National Veterans Memorial and MuseumVeteran stories and memorials

From museums and parks to dining and nightlife, Columbus has something for everyone. Here is a guide to the top 12 things to do in Columbus, Ohio.

The Ohio State University

Name and Location: The Ohio State University main campus is located in Columbus, Ohio. As the state’s flagship public university, it is one of the largest campuses in the United States.

History and Significance: Founded in 1870 under the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act, Ohio State has grown into a major public research university with over 60,000 students across its campuses. Its academics, research, and NCAA Division I sports are highly acclaimed.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore the urban campus features like the Oval lawn, Thompson Library, Mirror Lake, student union, and athletic facilities. Museums, concerts, restaurants, and shops also attract visitors.

Visitor Information: Free walking tours of campus can be scheduled online. The Ohio State Visitor Center provides maps, resources, and guidance.

No trip to Columbus is complete without visiting the Ohio State University (OSU) campus. Walk, bike or ride the COTA bus around one of the largest university campuses in the country. The University District encompasses a subsection of Columbus with its own unique neighborhoods, shops, restaurants and an energetic college-town vibe. Don’t miss Ohio Stadium where you can take a stadium tour and soak up some Buckeye spirit. Other notable campus destinations include the Wexner Center for the Arts, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum & Library, Mirror Lake, and the Ohio Union.

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Name and Location: Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a botanical garden located within Franklin Park on East Broad Street in Columbus, Ohio.

History and Significance: Opened in 1895, Franklin Park Conservatory features over 400 species of plants in the historic glass Palm House and outdoor gardens across its grounds that overlook downtown Columbus.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore the Palm House, seasonal flower shows, art and plant exhibitions, Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children’s Garden, and retail shop.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-5pm. Admission charged. Onsite cafe and gift shop. Tram tours and facility rentals available.

Escape the concrete jungle at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This glass greenhouse conservatory has elaborate seasonal flower shows with blooms from around the world including the butterfly haven during their biannual Blooms & Butterflies exhibition. The botanical gardens surrounding the conservatory encompass 40 acres with over 400 plant species. Take a class, enjoy a light lunch or coffee, and recharge with nature right in Columbus.

COSI Columbus

Name and Location: COSI Columbus is a dynamic hands-on science museum located downtown along the Scioto River at 333 W Broad St, Columbus, Ohio.

History and Significance: Open since 1964, COSI features over 300 interactive exhibits emphasizing science, technology and innovation across its facilities as the foremost science center in central Ohio.

What to Expect: Visitors can explore exhibits focused on energy, health and medicine, physics and astronomy, ocean life and more via interactive displays, labs, demonstrations, and an IMAX Dome theatre.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-5pm, extended hours weekends. Ticket pricing online. Extra fees for Dome theatre shows, special exhibits. Nearby parking garages available.

COSI Columbus (Center of Science and Industry) is a top science museum and research center located on the Scioto River. This family-friendly museum has hundreds of interactive exhibits to spark curiosity and imagination in visitors of all ages. Test your skills in the high wire unicycle in Circus, explore gadgets old and new in Progress, and design the perfect coaster in Motion. You can also catch film screenings at the Giant Screen Theater, watch live science demonstrations, or participate in one of their camps or clubs.

German Village

Name and Location: German Village is a historic brick-lined neighborhood located just south of downtown Columbus, Ohio bordered by Interstate 70 and Alum Creek.

History and Significance: Settled largely by German immigrants in the 19th century, today German Village has been carefully restored into Ohio’s landmark pedestrian-friendly residential and shopping district with Old World charm.

What to Expect: Visitors explore the brick-paved streets lined with preserved German cottages and houses, restaurants and boutique shops, cafes, beer gardens and sidewalk patios throughout the neighborhood.

Visitor Information: German Village Visitor Center at 588 S Third St provides maps and history. Metered street parking. Most shops open late.

Travel back in time with a stroll through German Village. Just south of downtown Columbus, German Village is a quaint neighborhood with brick-lined streets, restored homes and buildings, and European charm throughout. Tour the brick-paved Schiller Park, browse the boutiques and art galleries peppered along 3rd and 4th streets, and grab a bite at any of the cafes, delis, or beer gardens. Der Garten is a hidden gem serving German fare in a whimsical ivy-covered garden.

Topiary Park

Name and Location: Topiary Park is a public sculpture garden located along Town Street within Old Deaf School Park in Columbus, Ohio near downtown.

History and Significance: Created in the early 1990s to honor famed Columbus-born artist George Segal, the Topiary Park recreates his painting “The Seascapes”, with its figures fashioned by master sculptor James Mason from teakwood and gold medal boxwood.

What to Expect: Visitors explore the park’s green topiary sculptures that depict the subjects in Segal’s painting revolving around a central fountain in a serene setting accented by stone paths and benches. Docent tours provide commentary.

Visitor Information: Free and open to the public year-round from dawn to dusk. Located at 480 E Town St, Columbus. Free 2-hour parking and street access.

Another must-see on the south side is Topiary Park, also known as Old Deaf School Park. Here you’ll find one of the largest topiary gardens in the country with over 50 life-size green sculptures depicting figures in Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” It’s a living, breathing masterpiece with lush lawns, winding walkways, and duck ponds alongside the giant topiaries.

Columbus Museum of Art

Name and Location: The Columbus Museum of Art is located in downtown Columbus on E Broad Street neighboring the Topiary Park and Franklin Park Conservatory.

History and Significance: Founded in 1878, the Columbus Museum of Art houses a renowned collection of late 19th & early 20th century American and European modern art, with holdings of over 45,000 works.

What to Expect: Visitors explore galleries showcasing paintings, sculptures, glasswork, photos and mixed media both in the Beaux-Arts building and the modern gallery wing, representing renowned artists from Monet to Warhol.

Visitor Information: Open Tues-Sun year-round. Admission fee. Guided tours, programs, performing arts, events and museum store on premises.

Appreciate both classic and modern art at the Columbus Museum of Art located in the downtown Discovery District. The museum holds a diverse collection from Monet, Matisse and Georgia O’Keeffe along with Contemporary galleries displaying more avant-garde and international pieces. Check their schedule for visiting exhibitions, gallery talks, Art After Dark events, and the popular BeTransformed event where you can listen to DJs and musicians while immersing yourself in CMA’s special exhibitions.

North Market

Name and Location: North Market is Ohio’s longest operating public market located in downtown Columbus at 59 Spruce St in the historic Brewery District.

History and Significance: In operation since 1876, North Market today houses over 35 merchant vendors under one roof offering Ohio-grown produce alongside artisanal food and retail products in a vibrant daily gathering spot.

What to Expect: Visitors sample freshly made cuisine like pasta, waffles, crepes, BBQ, Polish food, tea and spices at the market while browsing handmade jewelry, flowers, soaps and more all made on-site.

Visitor Information: Free to enter, merchant payment varies. Open Tues-Sun; busiest on weekends. Garage parking and street access. Some sit-down tables available.

Taste your way through Columbus at the North Market located downtown in the Short North Arts District. It began as an open-air farmers market in 1876 and has grown into a beloved institution with 35 merchants providing a kaleidoscope of flavors. Sip some coffee, nosh on everything from Fresh doughnuts to Eastern European specialties, Amish cheeses to vegan fare. Don’t forget to pick up homemade sandwiches, farm-fresh produce, spices, and artisanal baked goods before you leave.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Name and Location: The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is located 10 miles north of downtown Columbus set on a 580-acre campus along the banks of the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir in Powell, Ohio.

History and Significance: Founded in 1927, today the Columbus Zoo houses over 10,000 animals representing over 800 species as one of the largest zoos in the nation with renowned animal conservation, research, recreation and education programs.

What to Expect: Visitors explore immersive habitat zones like the Heart of Africa region with giraffes and zebras alongside the Shores region with its aquarium, manatees and polar bears in expansive natural enclosures across the park.

Visitor Information: Open daily at 9am, closing times vary by season. Ticket pricing online. Onsite dining, rides and shopping available for added fees.

Meet more than 10,000 animals from 600 different species at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. It regularly ranks as one of the best zoos in the country featuring eight different geographic region habitats ranging from polar to tropical. Get nose-to-beak at the Shores region watching playful penguins and puffins or head to the Congo Expedition to observe gorillas and chimpanzees in their forest enclosure. Other highlights include the Zoombezi Bay water park, amusement rides like the Treetop Adventure ropes course, and various animal encounters.

Downtown Columbus

Name and Location: Downtown Columbus refers to the central business district located along the Scioto River around the convergence of Broad and High streets in Columbus, Ohio.

History and Significance: Today downtown Columbus features government offices mixed alongside revitalized riverfront parklands, museums, performing arts venues, microbreweries, gastropubs and trendsetting restaurants with young creative spirit.

What to Expect: Visitors explore the Scioto Mile Promenade along the riverfront, the North Market, Nationwide Arena sports and concerts, Santa Maria replica ship docked downtown, cafes, art galleries, boutique shopping and bustling Ohio State campus areas.

Visitor Information: The Experience Columbus Visitor Center at 277 W. Nationwide Blvd provides maps and brochures for downtown exploration via tours, transit or rideshares.

Downtown Columbus features trendy neighborhoods like the Short North Arts District and Arena District loaded with boutiques, murals, microbreweries and creative eateries. The Scioto Mile is a scenic riverfront park with boat rides, climbing walls and musical fountains connecting downtown to COSI and German Village. Catch a concert, festival or special event at venues like Nationwide Arena, Huntington Park and Southern Theatre or root for the home team watching The Columbus Blue Jackets NHL hockey team and Columbus Crew MLS soccer team.

Hocking Hills

Name and Location: Hocking Hills State Park is located in southcentral Ohio’s Hocking County, a scenic natural area spanning 2,000+ acres approximately 50 miles southeast of Columbus, Ohio.

History and Significance: Established in 1949, Hocking Hills State Park features towering Blackhand sandstone cliffs, deep recess caves, wooded valleys with waterfalls throughout the region, attracting over 4 million visitors yearly as Ohio’s most popular state park.

What to Expect: Visitors hike miles of trails exploring rock formations, lush gorges and emerald waters throughout the park, staying at log cabins, camping or partaking in activities like rappelling, ziplining, paddling, fishing and hunting.

Visitor Information: Open year-round. Entrance permit fee required. Visitor Center provides trail maps and area information about campgrounds, cabins and private attractions.

Venture about an hour outside the city into Hocking Hills State Park for hiking, adventure and awe-inspiring natural beauty. Millions of years of erosion carved out narrow gorges, towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls and deep caves across this region of southeast Ohio. Stand in silence watching water rush over 90 feet at Cedar Falls, traverse suspended bridges on the Grandma Gatewood Trail, or book a rock climbing, ziplining, kayaking or rafting tour for outdoor thrills.

Ohio History Center

Name and Location: The Ohio History Center is a history museum and state archives library located two miles north of the Ohio Statehouse at Interstate 71 and East 17th Avenue in Columbus.

History and Significance: As headquarters of the Ohio Historical Society since 1970, the History Center houses exhibits exploring Ohio’s past from the Ice Age to the modern era, alongside crucial state archives encompassing military records, newspapers and more.

What to Expect: Visitors explore Ohio artifacts like a mammoth skeleton, Native American tools, pioneer homes, iconic Cleveland carousel animals, war relics, famous Ohio films and costumes using interactive displays and theater shows throughout multiple floors.

Visitor Information: Open Mon-Sun 9:30am-5pm with extended hours Thursdays. Admission ticket includes access to all exhibits and programs. A gift shop and cafe are located onsite.

The Ohio History Center downtown delves into the Buckeye State’s past from the Ice Age to the Space Age across their 250,000 square feet of exhibits. Get immersed in Ohio’s natural wonders at the Natural History Hall or walk through firsts in flight from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong’s moon landing at the Ohio, Too! exhibit. Special displays cover various time periods and topics like the Civil War, 1950’s Ohio, Ancient Ohio Cultures as well as notable Ohioans throughout history.

National Veterans Memorial and Museum

Name and Location: The National Veterans Memorial and Museum is located at 300 W Broad St in the heart of downtown Columbus, Ohio along the Scioto River.

History and Significance: Open since 2018 on the former site of the Christopher Columbus Dispatch printing plant, this architecturally stunning 53,000 sq. ft space serves as America’s only museum dedicated to telling veterans’ stories through their eyes.

What to Expect: Visitors take an immersive walk through exhibits relaying personal veteran accounts of service and sacrifice across all eras and branches of the armed forces using photos, videos and interactive displays throughout multiple levels encircling a solemn memorial hall.

Visitor Information: Open Wed-Sun 10am-5pm. Admission charged, discounts for veterans, active military and children. Stories of Valor theater shows hourly, additional museum store and cafe onsite.

Honor military heroes at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum located right on Scioto Peninsula. This striking concrete and glass structure houses the largest display of veteran stories in America, spanning all military branches and service eras. Immersive exhibits convey personal veteran narratives while informative plaques, videos and images provide context of the times. Contemplate sacrifices made at the memorial room offering 360-degree views of the Scioto Mile. The 30,000 square foot space also holds event spaces, research facilities and a rooftop sanctuary.

Conclusion

From world-class museums and parks to historic neighborhoods bursting with art, culture and entertainment, Columbus truly has something for every traveler. Learn about Ohio’s storied past, discover unique neighborhoods dotted with cafes and boutiques, marvel at masterpiece topiary gardens and towering waterfalls, catch a concert or game, sample diverse cuisines, meet endangered species, or pay homage to our nation’s veterans. Use this guide highlighting the top things to do in and around Ohio’s capital city for planning your own urban getaway or weekend trip.

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