Kristina Slattery
Kristina Slattery
Business Development

Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development

Contact Us

All form fields are required.

This exciting US city that straddles two states has a new direct flight

Old-fashioned bourbon, hot takes on spag bol and a new route from London are all reasons to visit historic Cincinnati — and did we mention the bourbon?

I’m given very specific instructions before my first “three-way”. “Placement is everything,” Patty says, as she hands me a wet wipe, anticipating the inevitable mess. “You have to be in the right position and stay in the right position. Whatever happens, don’t twirl or you’ll mess everything up.”

With that, she pops a gooey, oozing plate of spaghetti, chilli and cheese (the classic three-way) in front of me and stands back, arms folded. Here in Cincinnati, your first bite (or, perhaps more accurately, shovelled forkful) into this — or a “four-way” or even “five-way” depending on whether you add onions and/or beans to your order — is a rite of passage. And meatheads of all métiers have been making the pilgrimage here, to Camp WashingtonChili Parlor just north of downtown, for steaming portions of this city’s unique, sweetly spiced take on spaghetti bolognese for more than 80 years (mains from £5;

When it comes to Ohio, most Americans lazily lump together “the three Cs”: the cities of Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus. But the trio have far less in common than their geographic and alphabetic proximity suggests.

Cincinnati, emerging on the bloodied coat-tails of the American War of Independence to become in 1788 what many consider the first truly “American” city, has the richest history of the three. As well as a booming bar and restaurant scene, a glittering collection of art museums and galleries and an intriguing assortment of boutique hotels, there are some of the best bourbon distilleries in the world. And it’s about to become a lot easier for Brits to explore the Queen City — so named because it offered an oasis of civilisation amid wild terrain — with new direct flights with British Airways from London Heathrow starting June 5.

To understand Cincinnati you first need to grasp its geography. Like Kansas City it’s an interurban unicorn: a metropolitan area straddling two US states, in this case Ohio and Kentucky. And the city’s western suburbs even stretch out to touch the fringes of Indiana.

The Ohio side contains the city proper, resembling a mini-Manhattan with burnished skyscrapers, famous sports stadiums and grand civic squares. Across the brawny Ohio River, the Kentucky half has more of a Brooklyn vibe, with bohemian cafés, artsy tattoo parlours and hipster-friendly distilleries. Fittingly the two are linked by the John A Roebling Suspension Bridge, a precursor to New York’s Brooklyn Bridge.

On both sides of the river Cincinnati is weird in all the right ways. This is a city that has embraced dreamers and free-thinkers from the start, adopting the motto “Where pigs fly” (a nod to its meatpacking past, but also an acknowledgement that anything is possible here) while giving the world left-field creations from the Magic 8 Ball and Play-Doh to the distinctive Pringles container (some of the designer’s ashes are still here, buried inside one).


The best place to dive into this compelling eccentricity is on the same side as the airport, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, where former river towns such as Covington, Ludlow and Newport have been swallowed, bourbon and all, to become districts of the greater “Cincy region”.

Covington makes an excellent base to strike out from, particularly as it’s home to one of the best hotels in the area: the stylish yet surprisingly affordable Hotel Covington, which occupies a zealously restored 1910 department store on the main drag, Madison Avenue.

Best affordable cities in the US

Kentucky has always been the spiritual home of bourbon, but it remains its actual home too, accounting for 95 per cent of the world’s production, in an industry worth £7.2 billion a year. There are plenty of ways to dip into the contents of the charred oak barrel here, from public tasting rooms to an official trail through the best urban craft distilleries, known as the B-Line ( Don’t miss Second Sight Spirits, a showy vaudeville-themed distillery in Ludlow run by two former Cirque de Soleil employees.


Those who know their angel’s share from their devil’s cut should check out Revival (, a vintage bottle shop just two minutes’ walk from Hotel Covington, where the larger-than-life local Brad Bonds (known in the industry as “the Indiana Jones of vintage spirits”) serves shots from rare bottles up to a century old, for as little as £8.

My favourite experience was the personal bourbon blending at Wenzel Whiskey ( — a bright, airy distillery in an old pickle factory near the river. Here, in a delicious fusion of science lessons and happy hour, you “thieve” bourbon directly from different barrels, combining them to craft your perfect blend, before having it bottled to take home. (Happily this involves plenty of tasting as you hone your palate).

After the bourbon, you’ll need to line your stomach. Thankfully Cincinnati excels here too, from simple chilli parlours (there are more than 300 in the city) to dazzling downtown dining rooms.

Most of the serious bar and restaurant action takes place on the Ohio side of the river. More specifically in the Over-the-Rhine (OTR) district — so called because it rose around a downtown canal that early German settlers had to cross to get downtown.

Here, amid handsome Italianate buildings with their flat, decorative roofs (which often double as New York City in Hollywood movies), you’ll find a rapidly gentrifying enclave brimming with eating and drinking options, from coffee shops to fun craft breweries and taprooms such as Rhinegeist and Taft’s Ale House (Ohioans love their beer as much as Kentuckians love their bourbon).

The foodie focal point of OTR is Findlay Market (, the oldest continuously operating public market in Ohio and a great place to meander, letting the smells and queues point you in the right direction. Locals come here for everything from barbecue to parfait, but not least for goetta — a haggis-like meat and oat sausage that’s served fried in burgers and sandwiches and is second only to chilli in the hearts of true Cincinnatians.

Cincinnati is a pleasingly walkable city, but there’s also an efficient (and free) European-style tram connecting OTR with downtown proper. This is where the best high-end dining options are located — superlative seafood at Boca (mains from £14;; inventive tapas at Mita’s (small plates from £6;; and butter-soft beef cuts at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse (mains from £18;, where the chandeliers are the size of Fiat 500s and the wagyu meatballs are as big as tennis balls.

Cincinnati’s Central Business District is also home to its heavyweight arts scene, with must-sees including the stellar sculpture and photography collections at the Contemporary Arts Center (free; and the left-field exhibits at the Weston Art Gallery (free; There’s also the Aronoff Center for the Arts (, hosting everything from ballet to Broadway musicals. Within walking distance of all three, the 21c Museum Hotel (room-only doubles from £230; is comfortable and whimsical in equal measure, displaying its own rotating selection of cutting-edge contemporary art.

In recent years British Airways has launched routes to a handful of under-the-radar US cities, and Cincinnati — blending the small-town charm (and bourbon) of northern Kentucky with the warm Midwestern welcome and “can do” attitude of Ohio — looks set to join Austin and Nashville as another big draw. Many thought pigs would fly before this happened, but one of the most misunderstood — and misspelt cities — in America is about to become one of the can’t-miss destinations of 2023.

Jonathan Thompson was a guest of Visit Cincy ( Four nights’ room-only at Hotel Covington from £1,149pp, including flights (

Three trips from Cincinnati

By Richard Mellor

1. Kentucky fly-drive
This itinerary focuses on the state of Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati. You’ll first drive to Lexington, where stud farms and bluegrass bars proliferate, before moving southeast to hill country and the aptly named Mammoth Cave National Park. Back north in Louisville, museums attest to the city’s three biggest claims to fame — the Kentucky Derby horse race, the manufacture of premier baseball bats and being the birthplace of Muhammad Ali. Sample some classic bourbon along Whiskey Row before returning to Cincinnati.
Details Seven nights’ B&B from £1,129pp, including flights and car hire (

2. Cincinnati to the Big Easy
Fancy spending two weeks driving into the Deep South, watching the landscape change as you go before finishing in charismatic New Orleans? Kentucky highlights include the city of Newport, which was America’s leading casino destination before Las Vegas took over, as well as the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in Owensboro, a mutton barbecue loved by Bill Clinton and a quilt-making masterclass. Moving into Tennessee there’s a chance to visit Graceland and swot up on Martin Luther King history in Memphis, before heading into Louisiana for the Big Easy via the scenic old settlements and towns of the Natchez Trace Parkway route.
Details Fourteen nights’ room only from £2,095pp, including flights and car hire (


3. Cruise to St Louis
Aboard large, luxurious steamships or paddle-wheelers, cruises sail west from the rejuvenated waterfront of Cincinnati to St Louis (or east to Pittsburgh) — before setting off take a moment of reflection for the fugitive enslaved people who tried to swim to freedom across the Ohio River here. You’ll stop in Madison, an Indiana port with lots of historic buildings and independent shops, then arty Louisville, Kentucky. A final stretch along the Mississippi River takes you to buzzy St Louis, the music-loving Missouri city where Tina Turner’s career began.
Details Nine nights’ all-inclusive from £4,325pp, including flights, transfers, excursions and lectures (

Do Business In KY