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16 Top-Rated Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio

Written by Anietra Hamper
Apr 30, 2019

There are so many fun things to do in Columbus that it can be tough to figure out where to start. If your visit is only a day or a weekend, you might want to target the main attractions, like museums and events or festivals that are taking place during your stay.

If you are in Columbus for several days or are looking for specific activities that are romantic, themed, or things to do with kids then you can explore more broadly beyond the downtown metro area. For ideas on how to make the most of your time in Ohio's capital city, see our list of the top things to do in Columbus, Ohio.

1. Walk Along the Scioto Mile

Path along the Scioto Mile

No matter how long you plan to stay in Columbus, you should make walking or taking a bike ride on the Scioto Mile in downtown a priority. The Scioto Mile is one of the most spectacular points of interest because it stretches along the downtown riverfront, giving you the best view of the skyline and a refreshing opportunity to be outdoors during your stay.

This multi-use trail is for bikers and walkers or those who want to relax on a bench to watch the sunset. You can rent a bike from one of the CoGo Bike stations located through the downtown area and pedal for as long as you like. You can even rent a kayak and paddle along the Scioto during the spring, summer, and fall.

Official site: www.sciotomile.com

2. Peruse the Short North Gallery Hop

Short North at night

If your visit to Columbus coincides with the first Saturday of the month then the Short North Gallery Hop should be on your agenda. The Gallery Hop is one of the most enjoyable free things to in Columbus. During "the hop," as locals refer to it, art galleries and boutique shops in the Short North arts district stay open late. It is a fun evening activity for friends or couples even if you are just window shopping. High Street comes alive with street musicians and some of the best people-watching in the city.

Location: High Street in the Short North, Columbus, Ohio

3. Travel the World at the Columbus Zoo & Aquarium

A cheetah at the Columbus Zoo

One of the top tourist attractions in the city is the highly acclaimed Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. Kids and adults can get a full day of fun while exploring the six different regions of the zoo, from the Congo and Asia to North America and Africa. There are many public demonstrations throughout the day at the zoo and seasonal events that make visits extra exciting.

The annual winter Wildlights feature at the zoo around the holiday season is a highlight to see, when the entire zoo grounds are covered in millions of LED lights, and special exhibits are open to the public.

Address: 4850 Powell Road, Powell, Ohio
Official site: www.columbuszoo.org

4. Cheer on the Hometown Teams

Nationwide Arena | tlarrow / photo modified

Columbus is upping its game when it comes to sports, with two major professional teams and a minor-league baseball team that call the city home. Take in a Columbus Blue Jackets National Hockey League game at Nationwide Arena. For added fun, show up early to catch the pregame warm-up skate a half hour before the puck drops.

You can also sport black and gold attire to cheer on the Columbus Crew, the city's Major League Soccer Team, which has a huge fan following. You can round out your sports-themed visit to Huntington Park to catch a Columbus Clippers minor-league baseball game. Some of the best games to catch are during dime-a-dog night.

5. Enjoy a Symphony Under the Stars

Violins at the symphony

Summer evenings are meant to enjoy under the stars with an open-air concert at Picnic with the Pops in downtown Columbus. The Columbus Symphony Orchestra has regular seasonal evening concerts at the Columbus Commons. Pack a picnic dinner and find a lawn seat or buy a table ticket and grab food from the concession area on-site and relax as you listen to the music.

Each concert is themed, and the symphony generally teams up with a pop star or musician of another genre like rap or the OSU Marching Band. The musical collaborations make for a pleasant evening of music.

Address: 160 South High Street, Columbus, Ohio
Official site: www.columbussymphony.com

6. Zipline in the Dark

The thrill of tackling a zipline course during the day is exciting, but what about trying one at night? The ZipZone Outdoor Adventures is one of the best things to do near Columbus. It is located just north of the metro area at Camp Mary Orton, which has been transformed into an outdoor adventure park.

Adrenaline junkies and adventurers looking to try something new can take a guided moonlight zipline tour through the treetops during the full moon every month. There are several regular daytime tours available also. The company is conservation-minded, so all of the zipline courses are constructed to be mindful of the environment and the trees in the camp.

Address: 7925 North High Street, Columbus, Ohio
Official site: www.zipzonetours.com

7. Get Nostalgic with a Double Feature at a Drive-in Theater

Drive-in theater

There are few drive-in theaters left in the United States, and one of them is located in south Columbus. The South Drive-in Theatre is a nostalgic throwback and a fun evening doing something a little different. The old-school theater looks much the way it did in its heyday of the 1950s, with a tiny concession facility and metal speakers that clip onto your car windows.

The South Drive-in has double features of first-run movies on two different screens. Bring your own snacks or fire up a portable grill to cookout before the movie starts.

Address: 3050 South High Street, Columbus, Ohio
Official site: www.drive-inmovies.com

8. Honor the Nation's Veterans at the National Veterans Memorial & Museum

National Veterans Memorial & Museum

The newest museum in Columbus has a national designation and a stunning presence to go with it. The National Veterans Memorial and Museum is a unique museum in downtown Columbus that honors veterans from all branches of the military. The museum exhibits show war from a personal perspective by sharing letters, photos, and memorabilia from veterans and their families. It even takes visitors to the front line of combat in some of the exhibits.

Take a quiet stroll along the Memorial Grove outside, which honors service members and be sure to visit the rooftop sanctuary that memorializes those who died while serving.

Address: 300 West Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio
Official site: www.nationalvmm.org

9. Take a Tour of Columbus

Ohio Statehouse

If you want a comprehensive look at Columbus or want to experience a specific element of the city, like its ethnic food scene, then taking a tour may be the best way to experience multiple things at once. Columbus City Adventures is a tour company with several ways to experience Columbus.

You can take a city tour that covers some of the main attractions, like the Ohio Statehouse and the surrounding districts; a Past, Present, and Future tour that gives a historical perspective of the city; a Secret Columbus tour based on hidden finds in the city uncovered in the book Secret Columbus; or one of the Columbus Food Adventures tours, which explores the Short North, local food trucks, and ethnic restaurants around Columbus.

Official site: www.columbuscityadventures.com

10. Stop to Smell the Roses

Roses at the Park of Roses in Whetstone Park | Andrew Blight / photo modified

Hidden in the middle of a residential neighborhood in Columbus is the Park of Roses, a treasure that is impressive to anyone who visits. The Park of Roses in Whetstone Park features more than 12,000 roses of every variety and color. The 13-acre park is the largest rose garden park in the world owned by a city. It is maintained by volunteers who tend to the sectioned areas featuring hybrid roses, herb gardens, and varieties grown without the use of fertilizer.

Take a seat on one of the many benches in the park to enjoy a spring wedding in progress or attend a summer concert in the park. The best time to see the roses in bloom is from mid-June through mid-September.

Address: 3901 North High Street, Columbus, Ohio
Official site: www.parkofroses.org

11. Learn to Cook

Wood-fired pizza

If you have ever thought about learning how to cook a dinner of French cuisine or the ultimate wood-fired pizza, then maybe you can take up those new skills during a visit to Columbus. The Flowers and Bread shop in Clintonville specializes in two things: flowers and bread. The shop is a small café, but the attached section of the building is where they hold regular cooking and flower arrangement classes. There are regular classes on things like baking and brunch dishes to multi-course meals. There are even "date night" classes available.

Address: 3870 North High Street, Columbus, Ohio
Official site: www.flowersandbread.com

12. Hit the Mall for some Shopping

A fountain at Easton Town Center | Dr Bob Hall / photo modified

Columbus has two major shopping complexes: Polaris Fashion Place to the north and Easton Town Center to the east. If you need retail therapy, these are the places to visit. Both malls encompass a multi-level indoor mall and an expansive complex of additional shopping, dining, and entertainment. The stores range from premier retailers like Tiffany & Co. and Apple to Ohio-made products.

Each mall has several hundred retailers with more stores located in outdoor shopping areas and additional shopping complexes around the malls. These are fun places to go even if there is nothing that you "need" to buy.

13. Hike in a Metro Park

A gazebo at Inniswood Metro Park

Though Columbus is a growing metropolitan city, it is nice to enjoy a respite in nature in one of the 19 Metro Parks that surround it. Metro Parks are located throughout Columbus and serve as small natural retreats from city life. Each park is unique, with activities that range from hiking and rock climbing to fishing.

Take part in one of the many free daily programs at a park close to where you are staying during your visit and enjoy the fresh air, or pack a frisbee and a picnic and enjoy an afternoon lying on a blanket in the grass.

Official site: www.metroparks.com

14. Tap into Your Inner Artist at the Columbus Museum of Art

Columbus Museum of Art | Mike Steele / photo modified

Columbus supports the arts and artists, from visual arts and music to the performing arts. Take an art appreciation day during your time in Columbus to visit the Columbus Museum of Art. The museum is a centerpiece of Columbus culture and features American and European works from the 19th and 20th centuries and various mediums, such as paintings, sculpture, textiles, and photography. It also houses collections of works from Elijah Pierce, George Bellows, and Aminah Robinson, who are all from Columbus.

Round out your art immersion with side visits to the Wexner Center for the Arts and the Pizzuti Collection in Columbus.

Address: 480 East Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio
Official site: www.columbusmuseum.org

15. Take in a Show at a Restored Theater

The Ohio, State, and Palace theaters | Erik Drost / photo modified

Columbus is fortunate to have several restored historic theaters, including the grand Ohio Theatre, which attracts Broadway shows throughout the year. The 1928 Ohio Theatre is a Columbus treasure, with Spanish-Baroque architecture and crushed velvet seating.

The Palace Theatre is another theater to consider if you want to take in a performance. It was a vaudeville house in the city in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, with elegant French décor. The Southern Theatre and the Lincoln Theatre are two smaller restored theaters that feature entertainment and performances almost every night of the week.

16. Build a Terrarium at the Franklin Park Conservatory

Franklin Park Conservatory

The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is a top destination in Columbus for their impressive greenhouses and more than 400 species of plants and flowers, but why not get more out of your visit by taking a class? Classes at the conservatory are offered on a regular basis and cover skills like building a terrarium for your home, glass blowing, creating an herb garden, and even yoga and Zumba instruction.

Your backdrop is the 88-acre conservatory complex, with an inspiring environment. If you do not have time for a class, you can visit the conservatory on a regular day to explore the environments of the desert, tropical rain forest, and Pacific Islands.

Address: 1777 East Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio
Official site: www.fpconservatory.org

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