Article by Cheryl Rodewig
Disclosure: Our hotel was complimentary, but the opinions expressed are my own.
“We need to design our home like this.” Those were almost the first words out of my husband’s mouth as we stepped into our 11th floor suite at the Renaissance Cincinnati Downtown, a stylish hotel with a contemporary, upscale vibe.
Let me back up. Cincinnati wasn’t originally on my bucket list of U.S. cities to see. I was planning a whirlwind tour of various national landmarks, and the Queen City was right on the way. A little googling proved it was well worth a visit, so I adjusted my itinerary — and I can’t begin to tell you how glad I am that I did.
Like many cities, the hub of Cincinnati is downtown, and staying at the Renaissance puts you in the heart of the action. It’s a five-minute walk to the Great American Ball Park, and on game night, you’re bound to run into a few Reds fans in the lobby. It’s also walking distance from the symphony, several museums, Fountain Square and a 49-story observation tower.
With that much and more to see, the streets are packed with tourists and locals, but inside the Renaissance is an oasis of calm. The front desk attendant helped me check into my room with quick, friendly service. She gave me a chocolate coin and explained how it’s a nod to the building’s former life as a downtown bank.
On the way to the room, I admired the setting. Originally designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham, the neoclassical building dates back to 1901. The city’s first skyscraper, it’s now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. You can still see the original gold engraved vault elevators in the lobby.
Despite its charming historic touches, this place is all modern convenience, completely renovated when it became a Renaissance hotel in 2014 and LEED certified. There’s a fitness center, free wifi in the lobby, a 24-hour business center and live music on Tuesdays in the bar.
And then there are the rooms, which impressed us so much I took photos not just to share but also as design inspiration for myself later.
The contemporary patterns and clean metallic and mirrored finishes are striking.
Each room comes standard with a flat-screen TV, mini fridge, Bluetooth alarm clock, coffee maker, premium Aveda toiletries and possibly the most comfortable hotel bed I’ve ever slept in. If you upgrade to one of their 40 executive suites, you have more space to spread out, perfect for longer stays or if you’re looking to get some work done on your trip.
This hotel counts as a bit of a splurge for us. Nightly rates vary but tend to start from anywhere in the $200s and up. However, their website has some great deals, especially in their last-minute weekends section. I saw prices as low as $142 just before Memorial Day weekend.
More in the Queen City
You’ll be tempted to stay in, but make sure to allow time to explore the city. The steetcar runs right by the hotel in a 3.6-mile loop, covering many of the area attractions. A day pass is just $2, so you can leave your car with the valet and hop on to visit the arts center, casino, music hall and Washington Park.
If you’re short on time, as I was, two of the city’s world-class attractions are the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and the zoo.
A professional regional theater company founded in 1959, the playhouse puts on nearly a dozen shows each season for sold-out audiences. I saw Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville, a farcical, cleverly done mystery based on the popular Sherlock Holmes story. The acting and staging were superb, reminding me of a Broadway production.
On show nights, the playhouse is a bustling entertainment complex. The site includes two theaters, a cafe and full-service bar, and a lobby featuring a 95-foot mural crowded with caricatures of playwrights and actors connected to the playhouse. On display, you can see their prestigious Regional Theatre Tony Award, bestowed in 2004. The theater won a second Tony Award in 2007. They’re really that good.
Although it’s indoors, the playhouse is in a park. Before the show, spend an hour strolling the 186-acre Eden Park with sculptures, fountain, flowers and scenic views of the Ohio River valley. Near the entrance, a Romanesque castle arch called Elsinore Tower is actually an 1880s water tower inspired by a production of Hamlet.
Another must-see is the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, America’s second oldest zoo which opened in 1875. The zoo is carefully designed so that even with crowds, there’s a natural flow as you move through the park. I loved the lions, out sunning themselves in the morning, and the primates up to their usual antics in African jungle Gorilla World.
Several of the animals have recently had babies, and it was fun to see them play. The premature baby hippo, Fiona, wasn’t out yet, but if you can stand the cuteness, you can follow her journey online.
Cincinnati is a foodie city, too. I regrettably ran out of hunger before I ran out of places I wanted to try. Right inside the Renaissance, D. Burnham’s serves a killer burger of Angus beef and candied bourbon bacon. A couple blocks away (and pretty much everywhere else), you can find Graeter’s, a Cincinnati institution. You can’t go wrong with a scoop of their black raspberry chocolate chip, which my server assured me accounts for a quarter of their sales.
I didn’t get to try Cincinnati chili, made with Mediterranean spices and noodles, or stop in at the year-round Findlay Market. And there were several more parks, neighborhoods and museums I wanted to visit, too. But that just means I’ll need to return to Cincy and stay again at the lovely downtown Renaissance.