15 Best Things to Do in Cleveland, Ohio (with Photos)

Cleveland is the second-largest city in Ohio and lies at the spot where the Cuyahoga River meets the south shore of Lake Erie. Long a major port and manufacturing center, its atmospheric old railroad tracks and industrial sites lie alongside world-class tourist attractions, such as museums, markets, metroparks and much more.

A slightly rundown rust-belt city, in recent decades it has been much rejuvenated into a cultured and cosmopolitan place, with delightfully diverse neighborhoods to explore. As well as plenty of parks and green spaces, it has a thriving arts and culture scene, and visiting the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Cleveland Museum of Art are two of the best things to do in Cleveland.

With interesting historic sites, excellent outdoor activities and exhilarating live sports events also on offer, the ‘Comeback City’ is definitely well worth visiting when in Ohio.

15. Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall

flickr/Erik Drost

Home to the acclaimed Cleveland Orchestra, Severance Hall is fifteen minutes drive east of the center. Located right by many of the city’s main museums, its arresting architecture and elegant Art Deco interior make it a wonderful place to watch a performance.

Built in 1931, the distinctive concert hall boasts an enormous auditorium and sizeable stage. Its grand foyer is lined by marvelous marble columns and papyrus and lotus flower motifs. Now a National Historic Landmark, it is a treat to visit with the world-renowned orchestra regularly performing masterpieces by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart among countless others.

14. Little Italy

Little Italy© dreamstime

Just a stone’s throw from Severance Hall is Little Italy; one of the most popular places to eat, drink and go out in the city. Founded in 1895, this neighborhood is fun to explore with fantastic restaurants and cafes, shops and art galleries dotted about its streets.

The historic center of Cleveland’s Italian American community, it is nestled within the University Circle part of town. Aside from its brilliant bakeries and pizzerias, it has the charming, century-old Holy Rosary Church to check out and often hosts cultural events and festivals that celebrate the area’s rich Italian heritage.

13. Great Lakes Brewing Company

Great Lakes Brewing Companyflickr/Nick Amoscato

Both the first brewpub and microbrewery in the state, the Great Lakes Brewing Company played a key part in shaping Cleveland’s local identity and rejuvenating its Ohio City neighborhood. At its atmospheric old bar, you can sample some of its award-winning ales and stouts, IPAs and lagers and take terrific tours around the facility.

Established in 1986 by two brothers, it is now impressively one of the largest and most successful microbreweries in the nation. At its site, you can see how beers are brewed, bottled and branded before sitting down to sip a fresh pint, enjoy a tasty meal or shop for souvenirs at its gift shop.

12. Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Cleveland Museum of Natural Historyflickr/Tim Evanson

Home to a huge collection of artifacts and exhibits, the outstanding Cleveland Museum of Natural History is fifteen minutes drive east of downtown. Its gigantic galleries have sections dedicated to archaeology, anthropology, geology and paleontology with interesting items and interactive hands-on activities.

Founded in 1920, the massive museum is a firm favorite with locals and tourists alike with its captivating collection now containing more than four million specimens.

Although its dinosaur skeletons certainly make for a striking sight, the undoubted highlight is ‘Lucy’—the three-million-year-old remains of a human ancestor, counted among the most important and influential finds in the field of anthropology.

11. Cleveland Botanical Garden

Cleveland Botanical Garden© dreamstime

The Cleveland Botanical Garden features fantastic flora and fauna from all around the world. Also located alongside the Museum of Natural History in the University Circle, it has a plethora of paths to stroll along with colorful plants, flowers, trees and shrubs.

Home to over twenty scenic sections, it was founded in 1930 with wild flower-filled meadows and woodlands, immaculately manicured rose, perennial and Japanese gardens.

Particularly delightful are its two gorgeous glasshouses that contain exotic plants and lush rainforest from Costa Rica and Madagascar. Beautiful butterflies flit their way here and there amidst the tropical vegetation.

10. USS Cod Submarine Memorial

USS Cod Submarine Memorial© dreamstime

Moored along the city’s Lake Erie shoreline, you can find the incredible USS Cod that is now preserved as both a moving memorial and museum. Set right next to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it offers fascinating insight into life aboard a submarine and the service it saw during the Second World War and Cold War.

One of the best-preserved submarines in the country, it served between 1943 and 1971 and was impressively awarded seven battle stars in World War II.

Visitors can pay their respects at its moving memorial which is dedicated to the almost 4,000 US service personnel who lost their lives aboard submarines.

9. Heinen’s Downtown

Heinen's Downtown© dreamstime

First founded in the city in 1929, the family-run, regional supermarket chain Heinen’s has been very popular with local Clevelanders. While its grocery stores can now be found in dozens of different locations around the state, its Downtown locale is certainly the biggest and best of them all.

Set across the first two floors of the Ameritrust Tower and the first of the nearby Swetland Building you can find everything from fresh seafood and sushi counters to salad stations, cheese stands and aisles full of exquisite local produce.

Enjoy a cold craft beer as you shop and check out the store’s astounding Beaux-Arts architecture with its historic rotunda, majestic murals and sturdy columns.

8. Lake View Cemetery

Lake View Cemeteryflickr/Erik Drost

Home to countless monuments and mausoleums, the lovely Lake View Cemetery is just to the east of the University Circle. Often described as an ‘outdoor museum’ due to its magnificent memorials, it contains over 100,000 graves with impressive sculptures and funerary tombs wherever you look.

Favored by wealthy families during the Gilded Age, it was founded back in 1869 with numerous notable figures and politicians now being buried amidst its grounds and gardens.

Although there are arresting architectural marvels and angel statues on show, the main attraction is the large and lavish tower that is dedicated to James A. Garfield – the assassinated twentieth President of the USA.

7. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo© dreamstime

Set just ten minutes drive south of the center, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is home to a remarkable array of animals, exhibits and ecosystems from all over the world. One of the oldest zoos in the States, its spacious enclosures cover a huge area with everything from elephants and giraffes to grizzly bears, snow leopards and Siberian tigers.

A family-friendly place, the zoo was first opened in 1882 with rainforest and savanna sections now found alongside parts that focus on Africa, Asia and Australia.

In total, more than 3,000 mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians reside within the park. Educational experiences, live demonstrations and a 4D theater are also on offer.

6. Progressive Field

Progressive Field© dreamstime

After an exciting event to attend when in town? You can’t beat watching the Cleveland Indians play an action-packed baseball game at Progressive Field. Regularly ranked among the best ballparks in Major League Baseball due to its intoxicating atmosphere and fantastic sight lines, it lies just a short walk from downtown.

Built in 1994, the state-of-the-art stadium has a delightful retro-style to it and was designed to blend in with the smokestacks of Cleveland’s industrial zone.

Besides watching The Tribe play a game, guests can take a tour around the ballpark, its museum and hall of fame, enjoy a bite to eat or gaze out over the city’s skyline from its steep stands and seats.

5. A Christmas Story House

A Christmas Story House© dreamstime

For fans of the 1983 film – a seasonal classic in North America – A Christmas Story House and its accompanying museum are a must-visit. Restored both inside and out to its movie splendor, the nineteenth century Victorian house with its distinctive yellow and green exterior is just ten minutes drive south of the center.

Painstakingly renovated to appear exactly as it did in the enduringly popular comedy A Christmas Story, the historic house is fun to explore with overnight stays also possible.

Across the road, you’ll find a museum full of props and photos, costumes and memorabilia from the film with a great gift shop selling souvenirs and movie memorabilia also set on-site.

4. Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland Museum of Art© dreamstime

Lying next to Wade Park in the city’s University Circle neighborhood is yet another of Cleveland’s top attractions: the world-class Cleveland Museum of Art. A firm favorite with both locals and tourists alike, its large collection covers paintings, photos, carvings, sculptures and textiles.

Although the museum is particularly renowned for its extraordinary Asian and Egyptian artifacts and artworks, its 60,000 or so items also include masterpieces by Botticelli, Goya and Rodin among others.

With striking Impressionist pieces, Surrealist works and arresting Indian and Islamic art, it is no wonder that the enormous neoclassical building attracts so many visitors each year.

3. Cleveland Metroparks

Cleveland Metroparks© dreamstime

Often called the ’emerald necklace’, Cleveland Metroparks is an extensive system of nature reserves and green spaces that encircle the city or lie along the scenic shores of Lake Erie. Besides boasting stupendous landscapes, scenery and nature, these parks also offer all kinds of fun outdoor activities.

In total, 18 protected areas now dot the city and its surroundings with many being set around the various rivers and streams that run through the region. While some are home to attractions, such as the Cleveland Zoo and interesting historic sites, others contain informative visitor centres and immaculate golf courses.

There are excellent outdoor activities to be had with fishing, boating, hiking, biking and cross-country skiing on offer.

2. West Side Market

West Side Market© dreamstime

A veritable treat for the senses, the colorful and chaotic West Side Market has long been one of the city’s most popular draws. Home to over 100 stands and stalls, the bustling market occupies a beautiful Byzantine-style brick building in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood.

The oldest public market in town, it began operating in 1840 and has attracted vendors and shoppers alike ever since. With a European look and feel, its endless rows of laden stalls sell tasty treats from all around the world.

After having explored its huge open-air interior, it is well worth exploring its outdoor arcade which is home to yet more merchants selling local produce, flowers and jewellery.

1. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame© dreamstime

As it is the city’s standout sight, no visit to Cleveland is complete without stopping by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Situated on the shores of Lake Erie, it contains an amazing collection of memorabilia and multimedia that document the history and development of rock music.

Located in a striking building designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, it impressively has seven floors of fascinating artifacts and exhibits to explore. On display are iconic outfits, photos and instruments from some of the biggest acts throughout history, such as The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson among others.

In addition to seeing shiny guitars, song sheets and short film clips, visitors can also learn about the roots of rock and stroll around its hall of fame.

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