15 Best Things to Do in Downtown Columbus, OH

Downtown Columbus, OH
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The central business district of Columbus, Ohio, is in Downtown Columbus.

It spans the Broad and High Streets intersection and includes the Inner Belt.

The district is home to many of the city's tallest structures and also houses the Ohio Statehouse, the state capitol on downtown Capitol Square.

The institutions and universities in Downtown Columbus include Columbus State Community College, Columbus College of Art and Design, Franklin University, and Capital University Law School.

It also houses the Grant Medical Center, Columbus Metropolitan Library's Main Library, and the Main Street Bridge.

Downtown has numerous district neighborhoods but mainly has three sections: the Discovery District, High Street Corridor, and the Riverfront area.

Developments of the city began in 1812, intending to establish it as a new state capital.

By 1814, the area had significant structures like a jail, school, statehouse, publication, and church.

After two years, it was incorporated officially as a town, and Columbus finally became the official county seat and was elevated to cityhood in 1834.

Downtown Columbus has plenty of arts and cultural sites that reflect its unique character and has several fantastic park attractions.

Here are the best things to do in Downtown Columbus, OH:

Get Some Science Sense at the Center of Science and Industry

Exterior of Center of Science and Industry
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The Center of Science and Industry, or COSI, sprouted from the ideas of Sanford N. Hallock II.

This former account executive dreamed of a science and technology institution in Columbus.

The science museum and research center originally opened to the public in 1964 with its location in Memorial Hall.

Eventually, the center found its permanent home at West Broad Street in a 320,000-square-foot facility.

The world-renowned Japanese architect Arata Isozaki designed the building.

Butterfly display in Center of Science and Industry
Larry Syverson from Richmond, VA, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The museum has also partnered with various local organizations and operates as the country's most extensive outreach education program.

COSI features over 300 interactive exhibits showcased in various themes, so there's a lot to discover and learn.

Check out their classic exhibits like The Big Science, COSI Classic, Energy Explorers, Gadgets, etc.

Kids of all ages will surely enjoy the Dinosaur Gallery, Planetarium, the Cuba Exhibit, and featured scheduled exhibits that would surely spark their love and interest for science.

Colorful signage of Center of Science and Industry
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View Art Collections at the Columbus Museum of Art

Exterior of Columbus Museum of Art
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The Columbus Museum of Art was established in 1878 as the Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, the first in the state.

The museum aims to create an art experience for everyone through its various exhibitions, art participation, and connection with artists.

Art sculpture on Columbus Museum of Art's garden
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Art enthusiasts can feast their eyes on interesting American and European modern and contemporary collections.

There is also an array of folk art, glass art, and photography works to see and appreciate.

Visit the CMA Museum Shop and take your pick of creative arts from jewelry, accessories, toys, and books on art and design subjects.

The grounds of Columbus Museum of Art
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Shop at the North Market Downtown

Exterior of North Market
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The North Market has become a longstanding part of Downtown Columbus since it opened in 1876.

The market has operated for more than 145 years, and this lively food hall and the public market make up the state's best independent merchants, farmers, and producers.

The North Market Development Authority manages the market.

A woman purchasing flowers in North Market
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You'll find various vendors offering specialty goods, food selections, fresh produce, flowers, seafood, poultry, meat, and unique gift items.

Join the Happy Hour every Thursday afternoon till evening, where merchants give special offers and discounts.

You can also catch the once-a-month outdoor Night Market on a Friday from June to August and see handmade and locally grown products, enjoy live music, and sip drinks from The Barrel & Bottle.

Interior of North Market
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Learn about the State of Ohio at the Ohio Statehouse

Statues in front of the Ohio Statehouse
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The Ohio Statehouse at Capitol Square is the state's capital building and seat of government.

It was constructed from 1839 to 1861; it is one of the oldest operating statehouses in the United States.

The Greek Revival style structure houses the Ohio General Assembly, including the Senate and House of Representatives.

House of representatives chamber in Ohio Statehouse
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You can join guided tours inside the statehouse and see where lawmakers discuss essential state laws.

Get informed about the state's important history, people, and events.

Get a glimpse of the assembly chambers, the Judiciary Annex, the Senate Building and the Atrium.

The outstanding architecture of the statehouse has also earned recognition as a National Historic Landmark.

Aerial view of Ohio Statehouse
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Visit the Peculiarly Lovely Topiary Park

Bronze plaque of Topiary Park
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The seven-acre Topiary Park features lovely topiary sculptures that depict scenes from Georges Seurat's famous painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.

The area used to be the location of the Ohio School for the Deaf but was later abandoned when the school transferred and the site started to deteriorate.

The idea behind this topiary came from local sculptor James T. Mason and his wife, Elaine.

They wanted to set up a topiary in Columbus.

Scenic view of Topiary Park
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The city started the installations and landscapes in 1989 with artificial hills, ponds, and bronze frames, and they also laid greenery.

It was finally dedicated in 1992 and has welcomed and delighted guests since then.

Take this peculiar garden scene from the bronze plaque marking the view from the painting's inspiration.

You can also join in the scene, take pictures or stroll and enjoy the topiary.

A duck on the waters of Topiary Park
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Take a Relaxing Stroll at John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons

One of the parks you can enjoy in Downtown Columbus is the John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons.

The park, which initially opened in 2011, was re-dedicated in 2017 as to tribute to community leader John F. Wolfe who died in 2016.

This six-acre park and green space provide a relaxing nature escape where you can have some quick break and downtime.

Enjoy the park's colorful gardens and the Family Funday over the weekend, watch free movies, or catch a free Shadowbox Live show.

Kids can also have some fun with the playground equipment and ride the carousel.

Take a moment to pass the brick columns affixed with bronze plaques that bear John F. Wolfe's name.

Wolfe made this Downtown Columbus central park possible for many to enjoy today.

See the Colorful Roses at the Columbus Park of Roses

Colorful roses at Columbus Park of Roses
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See an array of rose varieties at the Columbus Park of Roses, one of the largest public rose gardens in the country.

Also known as Whetstone Park of Roses, this charming public park and rose garden is in the Clintonville neighborhood.

Enjoy over 12,000 rose varieties, stroll the paved pathways, and relax on the garden benches.

This 13-acre garden also has a recognized arboretum with over 138 types of trees and shrubs.

You'll see five horticulture themes: the Formal Rose Garden with rows of rose beds, each patterned symmetrically with one variety, producing stunning visuals.

Lovely flowers at Columbus Park of Roses
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Take a peek at the Heritage Rose Garden, where you'll see rose varieties cultivated even before 1867, preceding modern rose types.

Set your eyes on the Perennial Garden with over a hundred varieties of bulbs, perennials, shrubs, and trees you can discover.

Visit the Herb Garden and learn about plant varieties and species grouped according to their use, fragrance, and pollination qualities.

Drop by the Backyard Garden, where you can view bulbs, perennials, shrubs, and trees and come up with ideas you can try in your garden.

A vibrant flower at Columbus Park of Roses
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Marvel at the Glass Arts in Glass Axis

Have a unique experience and learn more about the art of glass blowing at Glass Axis.

Located in the historic section of Franklinton, Columbus, the studio offers a great learning experience with different classes.

You'll watch their artists perform live glassblowing and even participate in classes.

You can even book events and group tours to suit the kind of experience you want.

They have a gallery and gift shop where you can buy unique and creatively crafted glass items and pieces to take home.

Take an Art Class at the Cultural Arts Center

Front view of Cultural Arts Center's exterior
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Situated on West Main Street and part of the Scioto Mile tourist district, the Cultural Arts Center or the CAC features great contemporary art pieces created by local, regional, and national artists.

The center combines an art gallery and teaching space for artists and crafters, truly a haven for art lovers.

The space offers a ceramic lab, painting and weaving labs where art classes at all levels and exhibits happen.

View of Cultural Arts Center from across the street
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You can enroll in the classes, view exhibitions, and attend art workshops and lectures.

If you're in for a short visit, you can use the tours or catch special events.

CAC also hosts the longest-running artist talks called Conversations & Coffee.

You'll meet other art enthusiasts and artists, gain insight, and maybe even spark inspiration on anything about the art world.

Check Out Comic and Cartoon Art at Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum

Name sign of Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum
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Established in 1977, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum holds the most extensive collection of printed cartoon art, editorial cartoons, and published comic strips.

The museum houses over 450,000 original cartoons, more than 36,000 books, 51,000 serial titles, 3,000 feet of manuscript materials, and about 2.5 million comic strip clippings.

This unique museum is part of the Ohio State University Libraries and started in the Journalism Building.

Preserved works in Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum
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It initially held the works of alumnus Milton Caniff.

After several name changes, it finally settled on Billy Ireland, a local Ohio cartoonist.

This is a real treat if you're an avid classic comics fan.

You can see the collections and exhibits of comic book covers, daily and Sunday strips, graphic novels, sports cartoons, and magazine and editorial cartoons.

Preserved Japanese sugoroku boards in Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum
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Spend Downtime at the Bicentennial Park

Paved pathways at Bicentennial Park
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You can't miss the John W. Galbreath Bicentennial Park in Downtown Columbus.

Founded in 1976, the park was dedicated in honor of philanthropist and former owner of the Pittsburgh Pirates, John W. Galbreath.

This 4.66-acre park area is easily accessible at the Civic Center Drive.

Welcome sign of Bicentennial Park
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The Scioto Mile Fountains span 15,000 square feet and look spectacular with their lights, waters, and fog effects.

Dine at Milestone 229, a modern glass-enclosed restaurant with a covered terrace offering a scenic view of the park and the Scioto Mile.

Enjoy concerts, movies, and dance performances at the Performing Arts Pavilion.

Night view of Bicentennial Park's bridge
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Drop by the Central Ohio Fire Museum

Another unique museum in Columbus is the Central Ohio Fire Museum found in the Columbus Fire Department's old Engine House No. 16.

It was built in 1908 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

This attraction is also a learning center highlighting firefighters' lives and careers.

Check out hand-drawn and horse-drawn fire engines, motorized fire gear, and apparatus exhibits.

Retrace the steps of firefighters and learn more about the kind of life they have at the engine house.

You can have personal guided tours and learn about fire safety and interactive programs like 911 simulators.

Have a Garden Tour at Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

The lovely Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was built in 1895 and continues to welcome visitors daily for free.

It is located within the 88-acre Franklin Park and was listed as part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Whether you’re much interested in horticulture or you have a flair for gardens, you’ll enjoy the lush, colorful garden landscapes and art collections here.

Capture the beauty of over 400 plant species displayed at the glass greenhouses of the Conservatory, take a relaxing stroll at the Botanical Garden, or enjoy a quiet and peaceful reflection at the Community Garden Campus.

Drop by the John F. Wolfe Palm House, showcasing different palm varieties from around the world, like the Fiddle-leaf Fig.

Take your kids to the Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Children's Garden to help them connect and enjoy nature.

View Dale Chihuly’s vibrant and vivid glass artwork collection and watch them create glass-blowing art pieces at the Conservatory’s Hot Shop.

You’ll also get to see the lovely Bonsai Collection and witness the display of light installations by artist James Turrell performed every night starting at dusk.

Enjoy Outdoor Recreation at the Scioto Audubon Metro Park

The Scioto Audubon Metro Park is a 120-acre recreational and educational spot for visitors of any age.

Situated at the banks of the Scioto River, it offers a tranquil green oasis for various wildlife and birds in the area.

One of the things you can enjoy here is the free outdoor wall climbing area.

A boat ramp is available for you to enjoy the Scioto River waters on a boat, canoe, or kayak, and you can also fish here.

For active fun, you can go biking or hiking at the Scioto Greenway Trail, play sand volleyball at the courts or try the park obstacle course with your family.

If you want some more relaxing activities, you can play the interactive electronic game called Neos, take your dog to the dog park area, have a picnic time with family at the shelters, or get to know more about Columbus at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center.

Get to See Victorian Artifacts at the Kelton House Museum & Garden

If you’re a history enthusiast, a visit to the 1852 Kelton House Museum & Garden is a treat you can have when visiting Downtown Columbus.

The historical museum was established to feature the daily life and customs of 19th-century Columbus and give people a view of the Underground Railroad history.

The Kelton family was known to stand for anti-slavery, and their home became a refuge for fugitive slaves.

You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you view the Greek Revival and Italianate-style mansion.

Immerse yourself in the Victorian era as you step into the rooms filled with antique décor items and old-fashioned furnishings.

Walk through the serene gardens with sculpture displays and landscaped flora, all set to put you in a Victorian mood.

Final Thoughts

Downtown Columbus is a lively destination with many art spots and unique museums.

Every museum presents a unique offering, and even the parks are distinct and unique.

There are many exciting places to see here, presenting unique family-friendly experiences and places for great entertainment and recreation.