Cincinnati is one of the best and most beloved cities in Ohio for a multitude of reasons. Not only is it third largest city in Ohio, but it is also one of the most culturally vibrant areas of the Midwest. Every year, Cincinnati throws a multitude of festivals year-’round to keep residents cheerful and visitors coming back. The number of celebrations are seemingly endless, but here are eight of the best.
Kick off your Spring with this ever-popular beer festival. Bockfest has been a city tradition for over 20 years, celebrating Cincinnati’s rich German heritage and prosperous beer industry. This festival’s home base is the historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood (no surprise there), spreading into Downtown Cincinnati. Because this festival was originally created to introduce the Hudepohl Brewing Company’s new bock craft beer line, Bockfest – derived from the Deutch word for “goat” – kicks off with a live goat carting the first keg of bock beer.
So what exactly happens during Bockfest? The unusual parade filled with goats – both live and fake – and people dressed as monks sets the mood for the rest of the weekend. The parade is led by the Sausage Queen, a different pick every year. Many restaurants and bars in the city happily participate in the festivities, offered live entertainment and unique brews with no cover charge. Those with an acute interest in brewing can enter the unique home-brew competition. Historic walking tours are popular during this festival as well.
Ultimately, Bockfest is Cincinnati’s way of celebrating the coming spring with merriment, Renaissance costumes, and lots of beer.
Cincinnati Gay Pride
The Midwest isn’t known for its progressive politics, but the Cincinnati Pride parade squashes this stereotype! Cincinnati Pride takes place only a few weeks after the Kentucky Pride Parade across the river, usually in the early summer.
Whether you’re an LGBT activist or an ally, you can enjoy all of the great activities and events that Cincinnati Pride has to offer. To kick off the weekend, there are Pride art exhibitions at the Cincinnati Art Museums and a bar/nightclub pub crawl. Get your fun on!
The next day, the parade and festival begins. The parade takes place Downtown, while the rest of the festivities can be found at the beautiful Sawyer Point. Kroger Stage hosts live entertainment, including fantastic local bands and some playful burlesque acts. Peruse the various retail vendor and nonprofit group booths peppering the area. There are even fireworks launched at the Serpentine Wall to close the evening!
Cincy Fringe Festival
Time to enjoy one of the most underground festivals in the city. Of course, that definitely doesn’t mean it’s the least popular. Cincy Fringe Fest is sponsored by the Know Theatre of Cincinnati to promote local artists that push new and edgy ideas. This festival is certainly not afraid of controversy. In fact, it embraces it.
Over a 12 day period, festival-goers can enjoy over 150 performances of all different kinds in the beautiful Over-The-Rhine neighborhood. Among other kinds of performances, you can enjoy theatrical entertainment, movies, music, and visual art. There is also the great FringeNext, FringeDevelopment, and Fringe Bar Series. One day is even dedicated to creating a new mural for Know Theatre’s exterior!
At the end of each night, festival participants and visitors can watch a recap of the day’s events at Know Theatre’s Underground to watch Fringe Nightly News. Usually there are a variety of activities afterwards that range anywhere from Olympics to karaoke. If you’re a lover of the arts – whether creating, performing, or viewing – then the Cincinnati Fringe Festival has your name written all over it.
Festival of Lights
The Festival of Lights – now called the PNC Festival of Lights – is one of the oldest and most loved festivals in Cincinnati. It’s also one of the few Winter Festivals, giving young residents and families alike a bright spot (literally) during the dark, cold winter.
What exactly is the Festival of Lights? The Cincinnati Zoo presents a new face when the weather starts getting cold, illuminating the entire property and providing various rides and activities. Some of the activities include a Polar Express Train Ride and a puppet show. The stunning light show on Swan Lake is an absolute must-see! There are also many different vendors offered special holiday treats, ranging from hot chocolate to old family favorites like fries and popcorn.
To find your way around, the Festival of Lights offers a special navigating map on the Cincinnati Zoo mobile app. The lights are usually decorating the Cincinnati zoo from late November to early January.
MidPoint Music Festival
The MidPoint Music Festival is a huge fest that usually takes place around September and is based in both Downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine. The event attracts thousands of city residents, as well as over 150 local and other U.S. bands. There are even a few international bands! You’d think planning a music festival would be nearly impossible, but this one is extremely well managed.
Though the musicians featured at the fest come from a variety of places and backgrounds, the genres tend to remain within the indie rock, bluegrass, and acoustic singer/songwriters genre. Of course, that’s not to say that the lineup doesn’t occasionally deviate from this. Also, if you like being up on the music scene, it isn’t unusual for unsigned bands performing at MidPoint to become the next big thing.
Be sure to walk around and pop into the many different venues hosting the bands. They are just as interesting as the music!
Cincinnati’s German Heritage crops up again in early Fall with the gigantic Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati Festival. Despite its immense side, the Oktoberfest festival manages to remain contained along 5th street in Downtown Cincinnati. This weekend-long celebration of the city’s German origins is a favorite for international foodie and culture enthusiasts in Ohio and across the country.
The celebration is kicked off with the Running of the Wieners, a small race among the city’s best dachshunds. The selection of German food during Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati is seemingly endless, the stuff that gluttons’ dreams are made of. Enjoy numerous Deutschland staples, such as bratwurst, meets, sauerkraut balls, sausages, potato pancakes, soft pretzels, jumbo pickles, and strudel. While you’re chowing on heavy food and guzzling fantastic beer, be sure to check out the numerous live performances and events that take place throughout the festival, including various German games, a massive Chicken Dance, and the Alpenhorn showcase.
Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati is one of the largest Oktoberfest celebrations in North America, boasting over 500,000 attendees every year. In other words, don’t hesitate to get a VIP ticket if you want to don’t want to be rubbing shoulders with the people around you. Then again, that’s part of the fun!
Party in the Park
Party in the Park isn’t exactly a Cincinnati festival, but it is a beloved event that takes place on select Wednesdays April through August. Live music from both local and international bands perform in Yeatman’s Cove Park, right beside the gorgeous Ohio River and within view of the new Ball Park.
Numerous beer and food vendors take advantage of the weekly opportunity for extra business, providing fantastic food and drink for party-goers. Of course, if you don’t want to spend your money on food, picnicking is always an option.
As the sun goes down, it’s not unusual to see young people and adults alike boogie’ to the music. It’s a fantastic event for both families, young professionals, and college students looking to have a great Wednesday night. Though it may sound like a smaller event compared to some of the other Festivals on this list, some bands have been known to draw in up to 5,000 people. It is a favorite mid-week boost for city residents during the summer.
Taste of Cincinnati
The Taste of Cincinnati Festival takes place every Memorial Day on six blocks of 5th street in Downtown. At first glance, Taste of Cincinnati might seem like any other city’s foodie festival. This festival is actually the longest running culinary festival in the country, meaning that it has had plenty of time to develop itself into a real community bash with over 500,000 people in attendance.
Over 40 restaurants serve their finest foods out of the public every year and compete in the annual “Best of Taste” competition. The famous Christian Moerlein Brewing Co. also serves exclusive beers for the festival. While you’re enjoying some of the best food that the city has to offer, you can enjoy continual live entertainment from local bands on four different stages throughout the festival area.
If you want a little more from this Festival, be sure to sign up for the Taste Experience. This provides the best of the Taste of Cincinnati Festival in a more intimate dining setting with dishes that regular Festival attendants will not be able to partake in.
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Cover Photo Credit: Fountain Square,