Columbus, Ohio is one of those surprisingly hip midwestern cities. Home to the third largest university in America certainly helps with its hipster cred.
Ohio’s capital is known for an open-minded attitude. The eclectic mix of neighborhoods (there’s even a German Village!) just adds to the creative and vibrant culture in Columbus.
Most university towns have their fair share of hipsters and Columbus is no different. Columbus has some of Ohio’s best arts & culinary experiences, annual events & festivals and diverse neighborhoods. There’s even an entire area of the capital city where university kids hang out and where it’s easy to discover local events.
If you’re looking for fun places in Columbus, restaurants or just a guide to all the most interesting things to do in Columbus, OH, then this travel guide is for you! For downloadable maps and walking guides for the city, Columbus produces a free app for iOS and Android which features neighborhood guides and art walks. It’s mostly targeted for Columbus citizens, but the maps are a great resource for travelers.
Things to Do in Columbus, Ohio
As one of Ohio’s largest cities, Columbus offers tourists and locals alike plenty of interesting and unique things to do. There are all kinds of tours available, many catering to business travelers with free time or those that are visiting local friends and family.
- Short North Arts District — The epicenter of hipstery things in C-town. The downtown area is basically a long stretch of shopping with plenty of art galleries, knick-knack shops, restaurants and bars. There’s also a healthy dose of street art and graffiti on the sides of many of the brick buildings, so much so that you can even download a map & audio guide to the Short North’s public art. — shortnorth.org
- German Village — This is probably the second most hipster area of Columbus. An old neighborhood of criss-crossing, cobblestoned streets with restored Victorian homes, the German Village is home to some of the city’s best restaurants (see below) and one of the country’s most interesting book stores, the Book Loft. Many of the homes here have unique and interesting stories
- Columbus Commons — A downtown park, the Commons is in a bit of a commercial wasteland, but it’s near most downtown businesses and commercial shopping. Most importantly, during the summer you can catch free Shakespeare in the Park at the Commons! — columbuscommons.org
- North Market — Great food in here. Go for lunch or pick up some gifts. Try the apple salsa!
- Columbus Zoo — Rated one of the top 10 zoos in America (for reals!) the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (@ColumbusZoo) is pretty spectacular. I visited one year over winter when they do their Christmas lights special, but it’s worth checking out any time of year. — columbuszoo.org/
Art & Culture in Columbus
Because Columbus is home to one of the nation’s largest universities, the city has a lot to offer for guests interested in art and culture.
- Walk around the Short North district and spot the street art & graffiti
- Wexner Center for the Arts (@wexarts) is an Ohio Statue University museum. It tends to get more interesting exhibits than the Columbus Museum of Art.
- Goodale Park is a nice, little park with plenty of events and public art spaces — goodalepark.org
- If flowers are your thing, the Franklin Park Conservatory is the place for you. The botanical gardens also host regular exhibitions and events about the environment — fpconservatory.org
Columbus Gay Travel Guide & LGBTQ Things To Do
Columbus has repeatedly been named a hip destination for LGBT travelers. In 2001, they won the designation as Logo’s Best “NewNowNext” city. The Columbus gayborhood is near the Short North where you can find plenty of gay bars and clubs, as well as LGBT-owned shops and restaurants. The Experience Columbus official tourism website has a page dedicated to LGBT tourism in Columbus—worth checking out.
You can also read about my gay weekend in Columbus here.
Food & drinks in Columbus
Ohio is surprisingly home to a handful of America’s top chefs and restaurants. Columbus, being the creative capital that it is, has more than its fair share of restaurants to cater to every type of traveler. Here were some of my favorite places to eat in Columbus.
- Barcelona restaurant — tapas and cocktails. Try the calamari!
- Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream — ice cream with unusual (and local) flavors. If you like sweet, go for the Froot Loops scoop.
- Katzinger’s Deli — Jewish delicatessen with famous sandwiches. The rueben was a bit plain for me, but
- Schmidt’s Restaurant and Sausage Haus – I had a Christmas dinner once at this German restaurant. Pretty much what you’d expect for a German restaurant—accordion players, sausage and plenty of beer.
- North Star Café – Vegan and vegetarian-friendly, this cafe serves up some good coffee and makes for a nicer-than-usual fast lunch.
- Betty’s Fine Food & Spirits – one of a slew of restaurants by local restauranteur Liz Lessner, it’s a throw back to the original pin-up girls (classy, not trashy)! And they have great food. @thetravelchica recommends their Mac ‘n’ Cheese.
- Skully’s music diner — Diverse crowd, plenty of musical acts and dancing and your basic (but tasty) pub foods. Check out Magnolia Thunderpussy record store next door.
Nightlife in Columbus
Being a college town, you can expect to find plenty of ways to entertain yourself at night! Columbus also gets most indie music acts passing through. The biggest dance night for college-age hipsters is The Clampdown—a monthly rock & roll dance party that also pops up in Cleveland once a month.
Where to Stay: Columbus Hotels
- Sheraton Columbus at Capitol Square Hotel — Conveniently located in the heart of the city, this 4-star hotel makes for an ideal base in Columbus. It provides a day spa, as well as an express check-in and check-out feature, free Wi-Fi and a sauna.
- German Village Guest House — German Village Guest House offers 3-star accommodation in Columbus. It features a spa and a gym.
Need more travel tips for Columbus?
Local Columbians love their town (as they should), so be sure to check the following for additional travel tips and suggestions.
- Columbus Underground
The best resource for finding things to do every week
- C-bus sights for big city slickers
Yelp Guide to all the coolest and most hip spots in Columbus
- Thrift & vintage in Columbus
Yelp Guide to thrift shops, antique stores and places to pick up vintage goods
- Alternative restaurants in Columbus
The alt.eats.columbus blog spotlights ethnic and unusual restaurants
- The Travel Chica guide to Columbus
Local blogger @thetravelchica writes regularly about being car-free in Columbus (and other things)