The city of seven hills is on the way up. New riverfront parks and neighborhood comebacks are revitalizing Cincinnati‘s urban core—a mix of industrial grit and Victorian ornamentation that wags call “sauerbraten Gothic.”

> Where to Eat:

Cincy’s trademark dish is chili, heavily influenced by Greek and Macedonian immigrants who seasoned the meat with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and other Mediterranean flavors. Traditionally ladled over spaghetti and topped with cheese, the native invention appears on countless menus around town, including at the pervasive hometown chain of Skyline Chili.

No one eats alone at Tucker’s, a 68-year-old diner jammed with regulars who fill up on vegetarian chili and goetta, a sausage loaf served by Joe and Carla Tucker.

Boca exudes downtown extravagance, with the drama of an opera set and star items such as truffle risotto and mascarpone cheesecake.

The Roebling bridge connects Ohio and Kentucky. (Photograph by Melissa Farlow)

The Roebling bridge connects Ohio and Kentucky. (Photograph by Melissa Farlow)

Around the corner, elegant Metropole has wowed critics with its old-school wood oven and original mosaic tiles. The string chicken, hung and roasted, comes with veggies flavored by the drippings; pickles get elevated with small-batch vinegars.

> Where to Stay:

Housed in the art deco Carew Tower, a national landmark, the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza makes a smart home base for exploring walkable neighborhoods like the Banks riverfront and Over-the-Rhine (OTR).

Modern paintings and installations give downtown’s 21c Museum Hotel, a quirky, sophisticated bent, while the cocktail terrace on the roof is a new favorite gathering place for superb views in all directions.

> What to See: 

The city moves in miniature at Union Terminal’s Cincinnati Museum Center. A 7,000-square-foot model captures the urban layout from 1900 through the 1940s, replete with clanging streetcars, Pepsodent billboards, beetle-bodied Chevys, and more.

Amble among neo-Gothic revival tombs at the Spring Grove Cemetery and Arboretum, a 
“horticultural laboratory” with 1,200-plus plant species. Founded in 1845, the park is one of the largest cemeteries in the U.S.

The Cincinnati Public Library displays the “Cincinnati Panorama of 1848,” a daguerreotype that catches the riverfront in great detail—clothes hanging to dry, litter on the street. It’s the oldest comprehensive photo of a U.S. city.

> Go Underground: 

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center honors slaves who fled north through Cincinnati.

In the OTR  neighborhood, craft brewers have resurrected old malt houses, cellars, and even pre-Prohibition brand Christian Moerlein. (Photograph by Melissa Farlow)

In the OTR neighborhood, craft brewers have resurrected old malt houses, cellars, and even pre-Prohibition brand Christian Moerlein. (Photograph by Melissa Farlow)

The city has other underground secrets—literally, including a ghost subway with four stations and 2.2 miles of track. Construction began in 1919, but war, politics, and economic woes caused delays and ultimately derailed the project. Officials entombed the marvel, but the Cincinnati Museum Center occasionally runs tours.

Also coursing under the streets: pre-Prohibition lagering cellars accessible on OTR Brewery District tours.

> Travel Trivia: 

  • In 1869, the Cincinnati Reds—then the Cincinnati Red Stockings—became the first professional baseball team.
  • Opened in 1963, the Blind Lemon Cafe in Mount Adams gave singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett an early career break.
  • Annual per capita beer consumption in the U.S. was 16 gallons in the early 1890s. For people living in Cincinnati, the average tally bubbled up to nearly 40 gallons.

This piece appeared alongside “Cincinnati Chill,” a feature story written by Andrew Nelson (@AndrewNelson) and photographed by Melissa Farlow, which appeared in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.

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