14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Columbus, OH

Written by Anietra Hamper
Updated Dec 28, 2023
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Anietra Hamper is a Columbus native and the author of two books highlighting the best things to do in Ohio's capital city.

The distinct districts of Columbus make visiting Ohio's capital city an exciting getaway. You can appease your culinary side with cream puffs in German Village or experience Columbus on foot with local walking tours. Discover your artsy side in the Short North Arts District or let loose with sports and entertainment in the Arena District.

Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio
Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

Experience the many sides of Columbus at attractions that encourage a new adventure, or just kick back along the Scioto Mile downtown and admire the growing city skyline with a lunch, concert, or festival by the river. Whether you are looking for itineraries for 1-day, 2-days, or 3-days; planning great weekend getaways in Ohio; or just passing through to Cincinnati or Cleveland, discover the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Columbus.

See also: Where to Stay in Columbus

1. Visit the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of the top things to do in Columbus for kids because of its expansive collection of animals, educational programs, and changing exhibits. With habitats like Asia Quest, Congo Expedition, Heart of Africa, and Shores & Aquarium, a day at the Columbus Zoo takes you to every continent to explore more than 10,000 animals.

Besides visiting animal exhibits and enjoying live performances and feedings, families can enjoy the rides available for all ages. Bring your bathing suit and beach towel to make a full day out of it by also visiting Zoombezi Bay next door with a spectacular wave pool and waterslides.

There is plenty of ground to cover at the Columbus Zoo but to make the most of your visit, plan some time to enjoy some of the interactive exhibits like Adventure Cove or watch the giraffe and stingray feedings.

If you have the time and want to spend a little extra money, you can book a one-of-a-kind experience, like bathing an elephant or taking a private, guided behind-the-scenes tour in a golf cart.

Address: 4850 Powell Road, Powell, Ohio

2. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

You can explore a paradise of flora and fauna at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. The Conservatory features hundreds of species of plants from around the world in towering glass greenhouses. Walk through the rainforest, desert, orchid collection, and the grand Palm House, where you might spot a wedding in progress on the weekend.

Outside, take some of the walking paths through the Botanical Gardens and Garden Campus. There are regular changing exhibitions, like Blooms & Butterflies in the spring, and visitor events like glassblowing and gardening that you can experience.

The Conservatory is a capital city treasure with a fascinating history. You can find out more about it and the hidden details about other Columbus attractions in the book Secret Columbus that you might want to explore.

Address: 1777 E. Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio

3. Get Inspired at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI)

Center of Science and Industry (COSI)
Center of Science and Industry (COSI) | Photo Copyright: COSI/Robb McCormick

The Center of Science and Industry (COSI) has been a Columbus institution for decades, inspiring adults and children about the wonders of science in our world. Hands-on exhibits throughout COSI educate about outer space, energy, cultural progress, and even an expansive dinosaur gallery in partnership with the American Museum of Natural History.

There are revolving temporary exhibits throughout the year and regular live shows and lab experiments. If you visit COSI, the planetarium is a must-see experience that makes you feel like you are in a dark desert as you learn about the galaxy beneath the 60-foot dome. COSI has a cafeteria on-site, so you can easily spend a full day.

Address: 33 West Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio

4. Tap into Global Cultures at the North Market

Buying a bouquet of flowers at the North Market in Columbus
Buying a bouquet of flowers at the North Market in Columbus

A stroll through Columbus' North Market downtown is a fun way to immerse yourself in local culture. The market has dozens of local vendors selling everything from homemade bread and fresh flowers to an array of small eateries serving up Italian, Indian, Vietnamese, Pizza, German, Sushi, BBQ, and Nepalese food options on two floors.

Columbus is a city that supports independent merchants and the farmers that are the heart of Ohio's agriculture industry. The historic North Market is especially vibrant on Saturdays, when merchants also set up outside selling goods like local honey and fresh in-season farm produce.

If you park in the small North Market lot, be sure to get your ticket validated by a merchant for a discounted parking rate.

Address: 59 Spruce Street, Columbus, Ohio

5. Explore Your Artistic Side at the Columbus Museum of Art

Columbus Museum of Art
Columbus Museum of Art | Eric Glenn / Shutterstock.com

Explore your artistic side at the Columbus Museum of Art, where exhibitions and galleries showcase the best in paintings, photography, glass, and sculpture. One of the most enjoyable ways to experience the Columbus Museum of Art is during one of their regular programs or community events that use the galleries as a backdrop.

In addition to the galleries, you will want to find the JP Morgan Chase Center for Creativity, which features a free creativity lounge with hands-on products to help inspire your creative side. Before you leave the museum, grab a small bite at the Schokko Art Café, where the culinary creativity is as artistic as the paintings.

If you want to make a full day appeasing your inner artist, plan a visit to the nearby Wexner Center for the Arts on the Ohio State University campus.

Address: 480 E. Broad Street, Columbus, Ohio

6. Cheer on the Home Team at Huntington Park

Huntington Park
Huntington Park | Harold Stiver / Shutterstock.com

If you happen to visit Columbus on dime-a-dog night at Huntington Park, no doubt you will feel like a local. Home of the Columbus Clippers baseball team, Huntington Park is an exciting way to enjoy one of the city's premier attractions in the heart of the Arena District.

With the Columbus downtown skyline peering over the baseball field for an afternoon or evening game, there is an unforgettable energy. Night games often end with fireworks that light up the sky and illuminate the growing downtown skyline. There are several food options at the ballpark, but you might prefer to try one of the many types of restaurants within walking distance of the stadium before the game.

Address: 330 Huntington Park Lane, Columbus, Ohio

7. Take in a Performance at the Ohio Theatre

Ohio Theatre
Ohio Theatre | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

A night out at the historic Ohio Theatre is such a memorable experience. With more than 100 performances at the Ohio Theatre each year, it is easy to take in one of the touring Broadway shows, ballet, or symphony acts that come through town. Settle into the red velvet auditorium seats restored from the original 1928 movie house and enjoy the ambience of this local treasure.

Go to your show early to walk around the inside and admire the elaborate Spanish-Baroque architecture. Be sure to look up to see the 21-foot-high chandelier hanging from the elegantly painted ceiling.

If you enjoy performing arts, you might want to check out what's touring at Columbus' two other historic and resorted theaters: the Palace Theatre (built in 1926) and the Southern Theatre, which opened in 1896. Both host performances, from comedy to music, inside the original and restored theater space.

Address: 39 East State Street, Columbus, Ohio

8. Explore Local History at the Ohio Statehouse

Ohio Statehouse
Ohio Statehouse | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

There are so many things to do at the Ohio Statehouse inside and outside on the Capitol Square complex that it is helpful to narrow it down before your visit. The statehouse is where the official Ohio business takes place. There are free guided tours daily that provide the best overview of the history and design of the complex.

If you choose to tour on your own, be sure to observe the grand rotunda inside designed with thousands of pieces of marble, and visit the Museum Education Center. The Statehouse gift shop has unique gifts and artwork from Ohio artists.

You will want to walk the outdoor complex around the statehouse to observe statues, memorials, and tributes to important dignitaries and historic moments in Ohio.

Address: 1 Capitol Square, Columbus, Ohio

9. The King Arts Complex

The King Arts Complex
The King Arts Complex | Photo Copyright: Anietra Hamper

One of the great institutions in Columbus honoring African American heritage is The King Arts Complex. It is located in the heart of Columbus's King-Lincoln District and is a community point of interest for exhibits, informational programs, and performance arts recognizing the contributions and achievements of prominent African-Americans.

One of the most compelling areas of the King Arts Complex is a gallery that chronicles the slave trade in America. Other areas of the complex feature artistic works from famous African-Americans, including local artists Aminah Robinson and Elijah Pierce, who made significant contributions to Columbus' culture and the international art scene.

There are many small cafés popping up in the King-Lincoln District, so plan an afternoon visit to the complex and finish with a bite to eat at a local business.

Address: 867 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Columbus, Ohio

10. National Veterans Memorial and Museum

National Veterans Memorial and Museum
National Veterans Memorial and Museum

An exciting tourist attraction in Columbus is the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. The center will feature stories, photos, and memorabilia from the nation's veterans who served in every branch of the U.S. military.

The museum overlooks the Scioto River, with views of the downtown skyline providing both a sanctuary for reflection and exhibits for learning about every major military event in U.S. history.

History buffs will want to take advantage of the daily guided tours for unique insights about the exhibits and the effort to get the museum a national designation. While visiting the museum and memorial, take time to walk to the Scioto Mile along the riverfront and admire the downtown development.

Address: 300 W. Broad, Street, Columbus, Ohio

11. Go Back in Time at the Ohio History Center

Ohio History Center
Ohio History Center | Steven Miller / photo modified

You do not have to be a history buff to enjoy and appreciate the museum, library, and village on the grounds at the Ohio History Connection. The Ohio History Center features several floors of interactive and educational exhibits, ranging from Ohio's American Indian roots to Civil War relics, changing neighborhoods, and displays featuring various stages of Ohio history.

If you are an ancestry fanatic, make a stop on the third floor of the history center, where historical archives are housed, and researchers can assist you in uncovering details about your family tree.

The Ohio Village outside the center is a special treat, where you are transported back in time. Experience what life was like in the 1800s as you walk through the village with period-dressed actors and buildings in 19th-century architecture.

Address: 800 E. 17th Avenue, Columbus, Ohio

12. Plan a Picnic at The Topiary Park

The Topiary Park
The Topiary Park

The Topiary Park is a Columbus treasure that even many local residents forget to visit and appreciate. The park features 54 life-size topiary sculptures designed as the impressionist painting by George Seurat A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte.

The topiary creation is complete with sculpted boats and figures floating on the pond. The park is a peaceful place to visit for reflection or lunch on a bench in the quiet surroundings behind the Old Ohio Deaf School. The best time to visit the park is in the summer, when the shrubs on the topiary sculptures are in full bloom and manicured.

Address: 480 E. Town Street, Columbus, Ohio

13. Tap into Your Literary Side at the Thurber House

Thurber House
Thurber House | RozenskiP / Shutterstock.com

Literary lovers will want to put a visit to the historic Thurber House at the top of their list. The former home of literary cartoonist and author James Thurber is renovated into a Thurber and literary museum.

You can take free, self-guided tours of the Thurber House any day of the week or attend one of the regular literary programs, like Evening with the Authors. During the summer, you can enjoy a picnic dinner and presentation by a featured author during the Summer Picnic Series.

Address: 77 Jefferson Avenue, Columbus, Ohio

14. ZipZone Outdoor Adventures

ZipZone Outdoor Adventures
ZipZone Outdoor Adventures | Photo Copyright: ZipZone

It is hard to imagine an outdoor adventure like ziplining in the heart of a busy city like Columbus, but ZipZone Outdoor Adventures has done it. On this zipline tour, you can zip your way through the treetops just north of downtown.

The tours range from canopy tours and moonlight tours to zip-rush tours that include a brief freefall and rappel experience. ZipZone offers kid-friendly outdoor experiences in the Kids Park, with pint-size adventures and an Adventure Park with dozens of climbing and zip challenges for both beginners and advanced-level visitors.

The locally owned company puts a premium on protecting the wooded environment that surrounds ZipZone with eco-friendly construction of its ziplines and course designs. Part of the adventure is being immersed in the lush woodlands and nature in the north Columbus area.

Address: 7925 N. High Street, Columbus, Ohio

Where to Stay in Columbus for Sightseeing

The best place to stay in Columbus is right downtown, where many of the city's main attractions are located, as well as restaurants and shopping. The city center has a lively entertainment scene centered on the Short North and High Street area. Below are some highly rated hotels in convenient locations:

Luxury Hotels:

  • Hotel LeVeque is the place to stay for an extra treat, especially if you are celebrating a special occasion. The hotel sits within one of the most recognizable buildings on the Columbus skyline, the LeVeque Tower, and is in the heart of downtown.
  • Le Meridien Columbus, The Joseph is centrally located to the bustling and lively High Street and the Short North Arts District.
  • Nearby, the Hilton Columbus Downtown, with an indoor pool, is adjacent to the convention center and connected via a skyway.
  • On the Ohio State University campus, just a little bit out from the city center, The Blackwell is a well-appointed luxury hotel, with a free shuttle to trendy High Street in downtown.

Mid-Range Hotels:

  • The Drury Inn is conveniently located next to the convention center, a short walk to the Arena District for sporting events.
  • The Hampton Inn is just steps from the galleries and restaurants in the Short North District.
  • Another option, just a short drive from downtown and on the grounds of Ohio State University, is the Hyatt Place, adjacent to the Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill. All of these properties have good service and indoor pools.

Budget Hotels:

Map of Tourist Attractions in Columbus, OH

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