12 Fun Things to Do in Columbus, OH According to Locals 

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As the capital and largest city in the state of Ohio, Columbus is rich in history and culture. This is thanks in part to the wave of Irish and German immigrants who settled in the north and south ends of the city in the 1830s, but also in its support for abolition during the Civil War. The town was an active enclave of the Underground Railroad and a significant base for the Union Army before the abolition of slavery, housing 26,000 troops in an area now called the Hilltop neighborhood.  

These days, Columbus is a city experiencing an economic and cultural renaissance, and people are taking notice! Columbus has more population growth than any other metro city in the United States. People are flocking to Columbus for its hip art, food, and (perhaps somewhat unexpectedly) fashion scene. And behind all that awesomeness is its diverse economy and warm, welcoming residents. 

If you’ve never been to Columbus, you’re in for a treat! To say it’s up-and-coming as one of the country’s most exciting, diverse, and dynamic cities is a bit of an understatement. So, where’s a visitor supposed to begin? We asked a few of the city’s locals for their recommendations for fun things to do in Columbus, and their responses did not disappoint. Read on for some of the most exciting places you must see on your trip to Columbus! 

1. Tour the Kelton House Museum and Garden 

Jeffrey Lafever, director of the Kelton House Museum & Garden, recommended that we spend a leisurely afternoon touring one of the city’s most interesting spots for local history. “The museum and gardens will take you back to 1852 when Victorian fashion was all the rage and the Underground Railroad was operating right here in Columbus,” says Lafever. If you’re feeling particularly proper, book an afternoon teatime where you’ll enjoy assorted teas, appetizers, sandwiches, and dessert. You’ll also want to take a stroll through the garden and admire its diverse plants, hedges, latticework, and statuary.   

Good to know: The Kelton House is open from 12-4 pm on Thursday through Sunday. It takes a long hiatus during the month of January.  

2. Find your new favorite thing to do at the Franklin Park Conservatory 

view of franklin conservatory at night

Lafever also told us about one of the city’s most fascinating cultural gems. “From glass blowing to art exhibits to the beautiful gardens and seasonal displays, there’s so much to do, all set in our wonderful Franklin Park!” The conservatory offers so many seasonal activities for people of all ages to participate in, as well. There are cooking, crafting, and, of course, gardening classes. The children’s garden educational programs teach younger visitors how to plant, sow, and harvest the garden’s fruits and veg. The “Cocktails at the Conservatory” events offer a variety of fun things to do for the adult crowd, including nostalgic camping activities like crafts, games, (inflatable) hatchet throwing, s’mores roasting, and more! 

Good to know: The conservatory and botanical gardens are open daily for general admission from 10 am to 5 pm. Visit their website to reserve tickets and check the event calendar. 

3. Learn about Ohio History  

The Ohio History Center is the place to go for history buffs interested in learning about the rich history of the state of Ohio. It houses the Ohio History Connection, the state’s official history organization, and is home to a wide range of exhibits showcasing its history, from its prehistoric roots to its exciting present!  

The collections include artifacts, photographs, documents, and other treasures that tell the story of Ohio, most notably pieces documenting the area’s Native American cultures, the state’s role in the Civil War, and the experiences of different immigrant groups who traveled from far and wide to make the state their home.  

But the center isn’t just a museum; it’s also a research facility featuring a library and archives open to amateurs and experts alike. Historians, genealogists, and researchers can access books, newspapers, manuscripts, and other resources to investigate the state’s history.  

Good to know: The Ohio History Center is open from 10 am to 5 pm Wednesday through Sunday.  

view of columbus with river and buildings

4. Pay tribute at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum 

The National Veterans Memorial and Museum opened to the public in 2018 and has been honoring the personal stories of veterans and their families ever since. The museum houses so many unique, immersive exhibits you might need more than a day to take it all in. There are interactive displays, multimedia presentations, and artifacts that showcase the experiences and sacrifices made by brave patriots from all US military branches. You’ll learn about the challenges veterans face during and after their service, the bonds of camaraderie among service members, and the diverse backgrounds and experiences of those who have served. The Memorial also hosts special events and educational initiatives aimed at supporting veterans and their families.  

Good to know: The museum is open from Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.  

5. Get educated at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) 

“This place is a must for travelers with kids or anyone who likes to learn and have fun at the same time,” says Lafever. There is a wide variety of interactive exhibits that allow you to explore everything from artifacts from the Titanic to dinosaurs to engineering. There’s even a planetarium, a mini-submarine experience, and a whole area full of exhibits dedicated to the human body. The center also offers areas of exploration for the youngest scientists, as well as COSI after dark, a monthly event showcasing a different theme just for grownups with cocktails, craft beer, and fantastic food options. Whether you come with or without the kiddos in tow, you’ll leave this place smiling for sure! 

Good to know: The center is open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday.  

6. Spend a day at the museum(s) on campus 

ohio state university campus new buildings

If you think Ohio State University is a bastion of higher learning only, think again! “There is plenty more to see at one of the largest campuses in the country,” says Lafever. For example, the Wexner Center for the Arts features rotating exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, performances, lectures, and film screenings. Also, there’s the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum, home to the most extensive cartoon and comic art collection. It’s got over 300,000 original comics, cartoons, and more within its exhibitions, programs, and events.  

From the arts to the sciences, pay a visit to the Orton Hall Geological Museum and/or the Ohio State University Museum of Biological Diversity. The Orton houses more than 57,000 geological goodies, including rocks, minerals, and fossils, many of which are featured in some of the world’s most revered published research projects. The Museum of Biological Diversity is also used for research, education, and public outreach efforts on biodiversity, conservation, and natural history. The museum features preserved fossils, plants, and animals, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world! 

7. Take in the city view from afar along the Scioto Mile  

aerial view of scioto mile in columbus

“Stroll along the Scioto Mile and have a drink or dinner at Milestone 229, with some of the best views of the city,” Lefever told us. From the largest public outdoor climbing wall in the nation to trails where you can view multitudes of migrant birds, this urban park is a great respite!  

8. Sample authentic German fare at Hofbräuhaus 

After all those adventures in some of the city’s more educational venues, Justin McCormick, General Manager of Hofbräuhaus Columbus, let us in on an excellent place to relax and appreciate some local German culture. “For the last ten years, Hofbräuhaus has been located in the exciting Grandview Yard area and is a place where family and friends can enjoy great beers, great food, and fun times!”  

“It starts with a wide selection of traditional beer brewed on site every day with flavorful seasonal selections each month, all crafted under the direction of our talented brewmaster while adhering to Germany’s strict purity law, the Reinheitsgebot,” says McCormick. 

“Next, peruse the menu filled with variety and something for everyone. Whether it’s a traditional German favorite like schnitzel or bratwurst or one of the best burgers around; and don’t forget to try one of our huge, delicious cream puffs!” 

“It’s all wrapped up in a vibrant environment modeled after the legendary 400+-year-old Hofbräuhaus in Munich, Germany — with authentically decorated rooms, live music, and one of Columbus’ best outdoor Biergartens located just minutes from downtown. And when the weather is right, dogs are always welcome in the Biergarten. Throw in a tour of our on-site brewery, and every day is a party at Hofbräuhaus Columbus!” 

view of columbus to the north

9. Stroll, shop, and sip in the Short North 

Mark Smith, owner of Columbus-based Custom Movers, highly recommended a trip to the Short North Arts District. And, after asking around, it looks like many of the locals agree that it’s definitely worth checking out! “Enjoy the plethora of boutiques, shops, and restaurants that line High Street just north of downtown,” he told us. “It’s a great place to spend an afternoon strolling, browsing, and grabbing a bite to eat!”  

Turns out, there’s a ton to do in Short North for everyone. If you want to get hands-on and crafty, you can learn to pour your own candles at Penn & Beech Candle Co. or take dance lessons at Danceville USA. If you’re feeling peckish, take a tour of the area’s renowned restaurants and breweries from the seat of a pedal wagon. There are also organized food, dessert, and brew adventures if you’d like a little help. Did we mention there’s live music and entertainment around the area every week? Or you can always just sit back and relax in one of the many green spaces dotting the area. Needless to say, whether you’re a resident or visitor, you won’t be bored! 

10. Visit the Columbus Museum of Art 

Located in Downtown Columbus, the Columbus Museum of Art is actually one of the oldest museums in the US! “It houses a seriously impressive, diverse collection spanning centuries,” says Smith. “Whether you’re a history buff or a contemporary art enthusiast, you’re sure to find something to pique your interest.” The museum features works by famous names you might recognize, like Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keefe, and Pablo Picasso, and contemporary artists are featured in permanent and rotating exhibitions. The museum is known for its strong focus on community engagement and commitment to showcasing diverse perspectives in the art world.  

Good to know: The museum is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm. It’s open on Thursdays from 10 am to 10 pm. Also good to know — the museum is free to the public on Sundays! 

11. Catch a Buckeyes game  

ohio stadium in columbus

Jim Christy, owner and managing director of Midwest Cards, offered us a few suggestions, including hanging out at his old college stomping grounds. “As an Ohio State alum, I can’t recommend a visit to the campus enough!” he says. “Catch a college football game at Ohio Stadium and experience the electric atmosphere. The Buckeyes are a Columbus institution, and a game day is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture!” In addition to football, you’ll find a commemorative statue of the legendary Jesse Owens (he began his career as a Buckeye in 1933) and the Jack Nicklaus Museum commemorating the history of his storied career in golf.  

12. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium 

“A favorite for families, the zoo is one of the best in the country and offers a wide range of exhibits and interactive experiences,” says Christy. “It’s a great day out for both kids and adults!” The Zoo is home to over 10,000 animals representing over 600 species from around the world. Among its most famous residents are polar bears, manatees, gorillas, and cheetahs. In addition to its animal collection, the Zoo offers a variety of attractions. 

Besides its impressive animal exhibits, the Columbus Zoo is known for its extensive conservation efforts, including its work with the endangered California condor and the African elephant. There are seasonal events and fun fundraisers, and you can even do yoga with the sloths! 

Good to know: The Zoo is open from 9 am to 6 pm most days, but there are some modified hours due to special events. Visit their website for more information. 

Get hip in Columbus! 

If you think the most exciting things you’ll find in Ohio are Cincinnati chili and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, think again. Columbus is here to contribute to the rich art, culture, and history of the great state of Ohio with a seriously metropolitan flair. It’s no wonder that Forbes magazine called it “A hidden gem in plain sight.” 

We hope these suggestions from our locals have inspired you to explore the diverse spirit of this exciting city. With so many things to see and do, you’ll take away some truly special memories! 

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Mihaela Buzec is a senior writer and online content developer for RentCafe. She covers topics about everything related to the renting lifestyle, from decorating and interior design to finding the right apartment, frugal living, money saving advice, and more. She dives deep into topics of interest, writing well-researched comprehensive guides on subjects such as renting with pets, saving on utilities, or avoiding rental scams to help renters stay informed and live smart.

Mihaela holds a BA in English and German Language and Literature, an MA in Current Linguistics, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in neurolinguistics.

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