The weather is finally hot and dry, so it's time to get outside and have some fun. Every week, from late spring to early fall, Cincinnati offers unique festivals to enjoy. These events range from culinary feasts to musical concerts, from ethnic celebrations to artsy performances, and from grown-up nightlife to family-friendly daytime fairs. The best about Cincinnati's festivals is that they have big town flair, with the appeal of small town friendliness.
1. Taste of Cincinnati
Though not part of the summer calendar, Taste of Cincinnati is held Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to summer, as the kick-off of an extensive summer festival season. Come very, very, hungry to this event, with a good amount of cash. This is one of the longest running culinary events in the nation. The list of cuisine is too long to mention in its entirety, but includes a wide variety of fare and beer. Dozens of the city's best restaurants set up booths and offer their best dishes, typically for less than five dollars each (but not small portions). Prior to the event, items are judged and "The Best of Taste Awards" are determined. But this event is not just about food; it's three days of fantastic music on multiple stages, with genres ranging from cover bands, rap, and hip-hop, to polka, brass, 60s, and a lot more. Typical carnival rides are here as well for the kids. The event is held downtown for several blocks on 5th street, and parking is available at the many area lots and garages.
It's best to plan ahead for this event, otherwise you'll be stuffed after only one block and you might miss out on a great band. Check out food maps/menus ahead of time and decide what you want to taste, then space it out over several hours (or days). Coordinate with the band performances so you can enjoy your falafel sandwich or prime rib cannelloni while listening to great music. It's good to bring your own folding chairs as well.
- When: Memorial Day Weekend
- Where: Downtown on 5th Street from Race Street to Broadway
- Website: www.tasteofcincinnati.com
2. Cincy Fringe Festival
"Fringe. Kinda weird. Like you." That pretty much sums up this festival. The term "fringe" refers to theatre that isn't conventional, similar to off-off Broadway. The Cincy Fringe Festival encourages artists to take risks and perform outside the box. Started in 2003, this is a relatively new festival, but has been met with great success. Produced by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, a contemporary American theatre group, this festival features roughly 150 performances, scheduled over 12 days, and all within walking distance in the historic and culturally rich neighborhood of Over-The-Rhine. And it's not just theatre; there's dance, visual art, film, and more. It is quick and easy to attend these shows because ticket prices are usually low, as the production sets are generally minimal, and shows are usually shorter than mainstream productions. Each day ends with a party at the Know Theatre Underground. The Fringe Festival is a great way to try something new without a big expense in terms of time or money.
- When: Late May/early June
- Where: Over-the-Rhine
- Website: www.cincyfringe.com
3. Summerfair Cincinnati
Do you need to do some decorating? Or would you like to add to your art collection? Maybe you'd just like to browse some unique art pieces? If so, you have good reason to visit Summerfair. This is not just a little country arts- and crafts show. This event is so big that it's had to move several times over the years to accommodate all vendors. Typically hosting more than 300 artists, its home now is Coney Island, a local amusement park about 13 miles from downtown. Summerfair promotes not just local artists, but artists from around the country. This fine arts fair includes art disciplines such as glass, jewelry, photography, wood, ceramics, etc. and welcomes more than 20,000 visitors each year. The Summerfair Cincinnati organization is a non-profit group that supports the arts in the area through grants, fundraisers, and exhibits, and Summerfair is its primary fundraiser. Admission is charged, but children and parking are free!
- When: Early June
- Where: Coney Island 6201 Kellogg Avenue Cincinnati, OH
- Website: www.summerfair.org
4. Greek Panegyri Festival
Chances are, you've never been to a Greek festival. A great first one to try is the Panegryi Festival. This event, located in the Finneytown section of town, is sponsored by St.Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and was originally a small picnic, but has grown into a festival with over 100,000 attendees each year. This is a great place to try authentic fare like Saganaki (pan fried cheese), Loukaniko (Greek sausage), and Loukoumades (Greek doughnuts soaked in honey with sesame-yum) while listening to live Greek music. You can attend cooking demonstrations and take Greek dance lessons. Expose yourself to the fascinating Greek culture and Eastern Orthodox Christian Faith. You can even sample Greek beer and wine. This unique event was named the number one Church Festival in The Best of Cincinnati Magazine 2010 and 2011.
- When: Late June
- Where: Holy Trinity-Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, 7000 Winton Road Cincinnati, OH
- Website: www.holytrinity.oh.goarch.org
5. Party in the Park
Party in the Park is a party that lasts all summer long. Not as a single event, but a bi-weekly concert series running from April through August. This is the perfect way to avoid your mid-week blahs. Every other Wednesday, Yeatman's Cove Park (directly on the Ohio River waterfront) is transformed into a rockin' party. Live cover and original bands perform pop, club, rock, alternative, and more. This is the perfect place to go after a Wednesday afternoon Reds game, just up the street from the stadium. 96ROCK radio DJs host the events and give away free stuff. Plenty of free and paid parking is available in the vicinity, and you can purchase food and drinks at Yeatman's Cove. So why not "Bring some weekend to your Wednesday?"
- When: Wednesday evenings, April-August
- Where: Yeatman's Cove Park
- Website: www.party-in-the-park.com
6. Red, White, and Blue Ash
This July 4th event (which might not fall exactly on the 4th of July) not only has big fireworks, but also big name talent. In recent years Peter Frampton, Gretchen Wilson, 38 Special, and Charlie Daniels Band have been the headliners. There's also plenty of food, carnival rides for the kids, and an awesome Rozzi's fireworks show at sundown. If you couldn't tell from the name, this event is held about 15 miles north of downtown in the suburb of Blue Ash. This event is free!
- When: Around July 4
- Where: Blue Ash, OH
- Website: www.blueashevents.com
7. Cincy Blues Fest
Do you like to sing the blues? It's not all country music around here in the Midwest. This large, all volunteer-run festival on the shimmering banks of the Ohio River has been around for over 15 years. Aiming to "Keep the Blues Alive", the Cincy Blues Society works to expand the rich and historic culture of blues music. Proceeds from this event go to the "Blues in the Schools" program, which helps keep the blues alive for our next generation. For two days at Sawyer Park, this festival typically hosts more than 50 performances on various stages, like the Boogie Woogie Piano Stage and the Rockabilly Stage. With living legends from the Blues scene to local Cincinnati favorites, all types of blues are performed. Bring a blanket or folding chairs and enjoy.
- When: Early August
- Where: Sawyer Point Park
- Website: www.cincyblues.org
8. A Taste of Blue Ash
The main draw of Taste of Blue Ash is the nationally acclaimed, free entertainment. Each day during this three-day event local and national music groups perform on stage at the Blue Ash Nature Amphitheater, a pleasant outdoor venue under the stars in the Blue Ash Town Square. With big names like Eddie Money, Night Ranger, and Kenny Loggins, along with popular local performers like Forever Diamond, A Taste of Blue Ash is no small event. While not quite as much food as Taste of Cincinnati, there is still a great sampling of local Blue Ash fare. For over 25 years, this event has attracted thousands to sample small plates from many local restaurants and food service providers. Restaurants offer samples of their signature menu items, like crepes, pad thai, German egg rolls, scallop salad, blackberry pie, and fondue, to name a few. The festival also has a family fun area with rides and games for the little ones. For a good view, come early in the day to set up your own seating. Admission and concerts are free, and parking is available in local merchant lots, town lots, and on the streets.
- When: Last weekend in August
- Where: Blue Ash Towne Square
- Website: www.blueashevents.com
9. Germania Society Oktoberfest
A party doesn't get much better than singing, dancing, and beer drinking, and everyone attending this party is like one big happy family. The Germania Society Oktoberfest is a three-day long tribute to the German heritage. And with Cincinnati's rich German influence, the only better place to celebrate is in Germany itself. Located in Germania Park Colerain, about 15 miles northwest of downtown, Oktoberfest has authentic German food, beer, and dancing. This park feels like a traditional German biergarten in the Bavarian countryside. Enjoy plates of wursts, sauerkraut balls, potato pancakes, and giant pickles, then wash it all down with a stein of German beer such as Warsteiner or Spaten. For dessert, how about some cream puffs, strudels, or chocolate cakes? Under the twinkling white lights of the tented venue, you can polka the night away to the tunes of accordion songs, while your kids run amuck on the dance floor. Dressed in the traditional German garb of lederhosen and dirndls, men, women, and children of the Germania Society perform folk dances and encourage audience participation. For the full Bavarian experience, there is even a log cutting contest and tug-o-war. Try to snag a picture with the strolling Bavarian pretzel lady; that is a picture you are not likely to forget. Admission is charged, but children under 12 are free. Onsite parking is available as well as nearby overflow parking with shuttle bus service.
- When: Late August
- Where: Germania Park, Colerain
- Website: www.germaniasociety.com/site2007/main.html
This fireworks extravaganza is a great way to end the summer. Flown over the sprawling Sawyer Point on the Ohio River, this free show has been entertaining locals for over 30 years and is one of the biggest like it in the Midwest. Rozzi's famous area fireworks are the centerpiece of the show, synchronized to a fun soundtrack. The best views are from the Serpentine Wall area, but you can see the lit up sky from almost anywhere downtown and northern Kentucky. It's best to arrive early in the day (even in the morning) to reserve your spot with a blanket. Riverfest is not just about the fireworks though; entertainment and food also start early in the day. A yearly tradition is the popular Rubber Duck Regatta, the biggest rubber duck race in the nation! Hundreds of yellow rubber ducks race downstream a quarter mile near Serpentine Wall and all proceeds of the race go to local charity. There is typically a family friendly, no alcohol area as well.
- When: Labor Day Weekend
- Where: Sawyer Park
- Website: www.webn.com/pages/FWX.html