As home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and one of the best art museums in the nation, as well as ample food options, Cleveland is a lair you may never want to leave. But even the biggest fans of the CLE will tell you that the rest of Ohio has a lot to offer, too — in particular, the hubs of Columbus and Cincinnati.
Here are two Ohio-centric road-trip itineraries that use Cleveland as a starting point.
Road Trip 1: Cleveland to Columbus
Driving time: 2.5 hours, one-way
The most obvious choice for an Ohio road trip from Cleveland is to head straight down Interstate 71 to the state capital of Columbus.
On the way, you can make a stop at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn (at Exit 186 off I-71 in Ashland, Ohio), where you can pick up homemade snacks or grab some ice cream. Another detour worth making is in Mansfield, where you can tour the Ohio State Reformatory, a 19th-century prison that was famously used as the setting of the film “The Shawshank Redemption.”
The prison is open throughout much of the year and can be explored on a self-guided tour (check tour availability here).
Once arriving in Columbus, there are quite a few attractions worth checking out. If the weather is nice, go for a walk along the Scioto Mile, which offers some of the best views of the Columbus skyline. You can also eat and shop in the Short North neighborhood or let your nerd flag fly at COSI (the Center of Science and Industry).
After getting your science fix, head to German Village, one of Columbus’ most photogenic neighborhoods. This historic district was settled in the 19th century by mainly German immigrants, and its many original brick homes and cobbled streets helped earn it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Here you can visit art galleries, shop for bestsellers at the 32-room Book Loft, and stop for a beer in Columbus’ Brewery District.
Once you’re officially hungry, head to Schmidt’s Sausage Haus for traditional German food. For dessert, either try one of Schmidt’s famous jumbo cream puffs, or walk a couple of blocks to get a scoop from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
Road Trip 2: Cleveland to Cincinnati
Driving time: 4 hours, one-way
If you have a little more time to devote to your road trip — ideally an overnight — head from Cleveland to Ohio’s third-largest city: Cincinnati. The route is largely the same as driving to Columbus — except you’ll continue on I-71 past the capital in order to reach Cincinnati, located in the southwest corner of the state.
You can still make a pit stop for snacks at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn on this route, and another detour worth making is to the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. This is one of the largest military aviation museums in the world, with more than 360 aircraft and missiles on display in more than one million square feet of space. And the best part? Admission is free.
Once you get to Cincinnati, there’s no shortage of things to do. For those who like museums, you’ll want to check out the exhibitions at the Cincinnati Art Museum, discover the role the Ohio River played in separating North from South at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and get a vintage-neon fix at the American Sign Museum, which celebrates classic signs and sign manufacturing from around the country.
When it comes to neighborhood explorations, head to Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. Much like German Village in Columbus, Over-the-Rhine was settled mostly by German immigrants in the mid-19th century. Today the historic neighborhood is a cultural hub in the city.
While in this district, take a stroll through Washington Park, go on a tour of the Rhinegeist Brewery, and pop in to shop at Findlay Market. This is Cincinnati’s oldest public market, dating back to 1852. The Instagrammable building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and inside you’ll find fresh produce, meats and pastries year-round.