12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Cleveland
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Cleveland is the second largest city in Ohio and represents modernization with a rustic flare. The city has a strong cultural side, with theaters, museums, and a thriving social scene in the Flats East Bank, where the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie converge. Tourists will find no shortage of things to do.
In the 1800s, Cleveland was one of the most important canal ports in the eastern United States and an industrial center where some of the richest American entrepreneurs made their fortunes. The luxury residences on Euclid Avenue, known as Millionaires' Row, are a testament to their wealth.
Among those who lived here around the turn of the 19th century were John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Standard Oil Company, and Samuel Mather, who made his fortune in steel production and transport.
Today, the remnants of Cleveland's historical railway and canal notoriety serve as an eclectic backdrop for a vibrant city that is turning warehouses into boutique hotels and is a prominent destination for world-class sporting events and concerts near the waterfront.
Take a stroll along Cleveland's popular Historic Warehouse District, spend an evening enjoying some of the city's major sports complexes in the Historic Gateway District, or explore some of Cleveland's spectacular museums and attractions. For more ideas, see our list of things to do in Cleveland.
See also: Where to Stay in Cleveland
1. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
One of the most popular things to do in Cleveland is to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Designed by I.M. Pei, it is more of an experience than a museum. The history of popular music is spread over six floors in an atmosphere of multimedia exuberance, with such rarities as the manuscript of Purple Haze, written by Jimi Hendrix. It is here that the rock and roll music industry honors its finest entertainers.
Music enthusiasts could spend days going through all the museum has to offer, with permanent exhibitions and traveling national and international shows. The eye-catching, state-of-the-art building sits on the shores of Lake Erie. The best way to experience the museum is to start on Level 0, where you find the Hall of Fame Inductees, and work your way to the top.
Address: 1100 Rock and Roll Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: http://www.rockhall.com
2. Cleveland Museum of Art
The Cleveland Museum of Art features a variety of art from around the world. It has a particularly strong collection of American art and medieval art from Europe and Asia. Visitors will also find art by North American Indians as well as Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Indian, and Southeast Asian art. In addition to the permanent collection, the Cleveland Museum of Art hosts special exhibitions and events.
Address: 11150 East Boulevard, University Circle, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: www.clevelandart.org
3. Go Shopping at the West Side Market
West Side Market is the longest running public market in Cleveland. It was renovated in the early 2000s and has been gaining in popularity over the years with both locals and tourists. The central feature is the 1912 markethouse with a 137-foot-tall clock tower that has stood for more than a century.
In total, the market accommodates more than 100 vendors selling vegetables, fine meats, baked goods, cheese, flowers, and other specialty items. The products and people are ethnically diverse, and the market is a fun place to visit and stroll, even if you do not buy anything.
Address: 1979 West 25th Street, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: http://www.westsidemarket.org
4. Cleveland Museum of Natural History
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History is home to some outstanding exhibits showcasing collections and research in areas from paleontology to botany. Chief among these is that of a three-million-year-old human ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, known as "Lucy," which was a key discovery in the field of anthropology.
Perhaps more dramatic in a visual sense are the dinosaur skeletons that tower over visitors as they walk through the Kirtland Hall of Prehistoric Life. There are also many other exhibits, from geology and astronomy to gems and minerals. Children will enjoy the many interactive displays, like the "living galleries" in the Perkins Wildlife Center.
Address: 1 Wade Oval Drive, University Circle, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: https://www.cmnh.org/
5. Great Lakes Science Center
A visit to the Great Lakes Science Center is an educational experience that will spark your curiosity about the science behind things like space travel and wind. The center offers hundreds of interactive displays designed to engage visitors of all ages.
From spring until fall, visitors can tour the 1925 steamship William G. Mather to learn about life on the ship and the history of the great lakes. One of the main features at the center is the Cleveland Clinic DOME Theater, a movie experience beneath a six-story domed screen that is a multi-media experience of sound and visuals.
The center has an active event calendar, be sure to check out their website prior to visiting.
Address: 601 Erieside Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: https://greatscience.com/
6. Soak Up a Bit of Nature at the Cleveland Botanical Garden
The Cleveland Botanical Garden features 20 unique gardens showcasing flora and fauna from around the world. Take a walk through the rainforest and desert, or get up close to rare orchids.
Among the attractions here are the Hershey Children's Garden, a Japanese Garden featuring a dry rock stream, the Mary Ann Sears Swetland Rose Garden, Western Reserve Herb Society Garden, Woodland Garden, Elizabeth and Nona Evans Restorative Garden, Campsey-Stauffer Gateway Garden, and the CK Patrick Perennial Garden.
Address: 11030 East Boulevard, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: http://www.cbgarden.org
7. USS Cod Submarine Memorial
The USS Cod Submarine Memorial, a National Historic Landmark, is located on the shores of Lake Erie. This World War II submarine has a storied history of battles and rescues. It was responsible for the first submarine-to-submarine rescue, which occurred in 1945.
You can visit the USS Cod during the summer months and are invited to board the vessel. Entrance is through the original hatchways as it has not been modified since wartime.
Address: 1089 East 9th Street, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: http://www.usscod.org
8. Visit the Animals at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
The Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States. Located near Brookside Metropolitan Park, the zoo has domestic and exotic animals from around the world, including the largest collection of primate species in North America.
Besides enjoying the many renovated animal exhibits, you can spend time at the 4D Theater or take part in one of the many behind-the-scenes experiences and seasonal programs. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is also a botanic garden with beautiful year-round foliage.
Address: 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: http://www.clevelandmetroparks.com/Zoo/Zoo.aspx
9. Greater Cleveland Aquarium
The Cleveland Aquarium is housed in one of the city's premier historical buildings, the First Energy Powerhouse. But the real attraction is inside, where you will be treated to colorful and unusual creatures from the deep.
The museum has nine different galleries with over 50 exhibits and 2,500 animals spread across 300 species. Animal interactions are available, including the ability to get up close and personal with stingrays and touch a blue-tongued skink at the petting tank.
Address: 2000 Sycamore Street, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: https://www.greaterclevelandaquarium.com/
10. Tour the Graves at the Lake View Cemetery
The Lake View Cemetery was created in the style of those found in Victorian England and France, as a garden with monuments. Referred to as Cleveland's Outdoor Museum and designed as a peaceful park, the 285-acre cemetery features elegant gardens and horticulture.
The cemetery was established in 1869 and contains more than 100,000 graves, including some famous names. James Abram Garfield, 20th President of the United States; John Davison Rockefeller; and Eliot Ness are among the few who made Lake View Cemetery their final resting place.
Address: 12316 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: https://lakeviewcemetery.com/
11. Enjoy a Performance at the Playhouse Square
Playhouse Square is in the heart of Cleveland's Theater District. There are nine theaters that operate separately in the district, bringing in Broadway performances, comedy, dance, opera, concerts, and family shows. The theaters are The Allen Theatre, The State Theatre, The Ohio Theatre, The Palace Theatre, The Hanna Theatre, The 14th Street Theatre, Kennedy's Cabaret, Westfield Insurance Studio Theatre, and Star Plaza.
These theaters, primarily built in the 1920s, were saved from demolition in the 1970s by local community organizations and individual people who undertook a gradual restoration of the properties. Most of the restoration took place in the 1980s and 1990s and the project was one of Cleveland's greatest urban renewal success stories.
Address: 1501 Euclid Avenue, Suite 200, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: http://www.playhousesquare.org
12. Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museum of Contemporary Art, more commonly referred to as the MOCA, features rotating, temporary exhibits by national and international artists as well as local artists in the Cleveland area.
The museum's new building, which opened in 2012, is a unique and impressive structure designed by Farshid Moussavi. This mirror finished structure begins from the ground as a hexagon and rises to become a square at the top, creating all kinds of angles.
MOCA has public programs throughout the year, including artist talks and gallery tours.
Address: 11400 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio
Official site: http://mocacleveland.org
Where to Stay in Cleveland for Sightseeing
For fun and sightseeing the best place to stay in Cleveland is right downtown. On the waterfront are the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Great Lakes Science Center. A few blocks off the water are the East 4th Street Entertainment District and sports venues, as well as shopping and dining. The hotels listed below are popular choices in good locations:
- In a great position near the waterfront, and just a short stroll from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Convention Center, is The Westin Cleveland Downtown.
- A few blocks inland from here and frequently rated as one of the top hotels in the city, the Metropolitan at The 9, Autograph Collection, near Playhouse Square, has an indoor dog park.
- The Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Arcade, in a historic building downtown, is conveniently located near the East 4th Street Entertainment District, with good restaurants and shopping.
- Within walking distance to the major downtown attractions, the recently renovated Holiday Inn Express is in a late 19th-century historic bank building,
- Nearby is the Hampton Inn, an upper end mid-range option serving a free hot breakfast.
- Just a little farther out from the action is the Hilton Garden Inn, near Progressive Field.
- Quality budget hotels are few and far between in the city center, and travelers may want to look further afield for better deals. The Comfort Inn Downtown offers comfortable rooms and a good location at a reasonable price for a downtown hotel.
- Near the airport, the La Quinta Inn & Suites by Wyndham Cleveland-Airport North is a 15- to 20-minute drive from the city center.