Cincinnati: Bockfest

Last weekend we went to visit our friend, Grey, in Cincinnati. If you haven’t visited the “Queen City” yet you’re missing out on a gem. It’s definitely a weekend trip worthy city, especially for those located in the Midwest. It packs a ton of culture for a small city, including free museums, cool historic architecture, great food, and local beer. It’s also a fairly budget friendly city.

This is was our second trip to Cincinnati, and it’s easily a place you could keep going back to every year. This year, thanks to our friend, we planned our trip to coincide with Bockfest, a fun beer fest complete with quirky extras like the sausage queen and beard baron competitions. Sadly we got in too late for the parade on Friday, but Grey sent entertaining pictures whilst we were on the bus.

Yes, the bus. We took the six-hour (one way) mega bus, which is the cheapest, most convenient option to get from Chicago to Cincinnati if you don’t own a car. Last year we were idiots and rented a car for the “same price” but forgot to add in gas + tolls. Plus driving ourselves sucked. It actually took longer than the bus, and it was much more stressful. Choosing our departure times with a rental car didn’t outweigh the convenience and flat rate cost of the bus. We both took a half day off of work on Friday in order to catch the 12:50 pm bus. After six hours of reading, interneting and playing games on our tablets, and snoozing here and there, we arrived in Cincinnati around 7:30. (There is an hour time zone difference.)

We kicked off the weekend with a Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball at the Khron Conservatory. We toured the Blooms on the Bayou spring show and the rest of the conservatory with feathered masks on, a drink in hand, and live music in the background. I loved seeing bright, colorful flowers in the winter, and the year round waterfall exhibit was one of our favorites. Overall the event had a cool vibe and we enjoyed it. But we didn’t stay too long once we did a loop of all the rooms. I probably wouldn’t pay the $15 a person ticket for a similar evening event here again, but I think the regular $4 fee is fair and worthwhile.

The next morning Mr. Dove and I took our time getting ready (okay really just I did) and headed out around 9:30 to cheer on Grey at the finish line of the Bockfest 5k. We realized the end of our walk from Mt. Adams to Bockfest included the last couple km of the 5k route. So we ended up joining Grey before the finish line, after which she and Mr. Dove enjoyed the two free Moerlein beers included in Grey’s 5k bib. We then grabbed giant pretzels and Belgium waffles and listened to a cover band in Bockfest Hall, part of the Christian Moerlein Brewing Co., while we waited for our beer tour to start.

We did the noon Maltz walking tour, which talked about the history of breweries in Cincinnati. Beer history in Cincinnati is old, mostly of Germanic origins, and fascinating. I love history and have already been on a bunch of brewery tours, so I appreciated how the tour focused on local beer history rather than the process of making beer. While describing the history, the tour guides took us past many old brewery buildings that still exist in the Over The Rhine (OTR) neighborhood (but are no longer breweries). The tour’s finale is a visit to the historic tunnels under the Moerlein brewery. Before refrigeration, breweries built subterranean store rooms under all sorts of buildings, not just their breweries, in order to make lager beers. Think of walking down into an industrial sized basement with twenty ft ceilings, and then going down again into a sub-basement with forty ft ceilings! Seriously fantastic. I rate the tour as not essential for a trip to Cincinnati, but well worth the $25 a person (for beer and history fans).

We used the free beer tickets (one each) from our brewery tour to try the Moerlein Emancipator Doppelbock with our lunch of Bockwurst sausages. (Both great!) Afterwards we continued to celebrate Bockfest by hitting up three other local brewpubs and breweries, Taft’s Ale House, Rhinegeist, and Urban Artifact. Taft’s Ale House is architecturally interesting because it’s in an old church; beer tanks now live where organ pipes used to be. It’s a place to chill and drink good beer. The Rhinegeist brewery hall is a huge, open space with a fun atmosphere and great people watching. Thankfully, it wasn’t as packed or noisy as Bockfest. We had some more delicious Bock beer and watched people play corn hole. Then we ubered to our last stop, Urban Artifact, which is unique because it specializes in sour and gose beers. It was my favorite place because of how different the beer is, although I recommend all the above.

We had a 12:30 bus back to Chicago on Sunday, so we had a low-key morning. Since Grey has a car, we went to Covington, Kentucky (just across the river from Cincinnati) for brunch. We walked around the Mainstrausse area, which had cute homes and store fronts, until Commonwealth Bistro opened. Oh man, so. freaking. good. It had locally sourced food inspired from historically regional dishes. We all got different dishes and they all tasted amazing. And we finished just in time to grab some to-go coffee for the bus back to Chicago.

So what was our budget for this trip? We try to stay between $300 – $400 for our weekend getaways. We usually meet this goal, despite spending rather liberally on food, drink, and entertainment, because we take cheap transit and use low-cost or “free” lodging (via reward points). This trip we had truly free lodging, provided by our friend and host. It’s possibly the only upside to no longer living in the same city as a good friend. Grey also generously provided breakfast and dinner at home, which further allowed us to splurge in other areas.

Here’s our breakdown for a weekend in Cincinnati:
$119 Transit (mega bus & uber)
$125 food*
$80 tours and activities
$56 beer & coffee*

Total Trip: $380

*This includes buying brunch and a round of drinks as a hostess gift. It also includes the extra expense of buying lunch for the bus ride to Cincinnati rather than packing a lunch, because we ran out of groceries Friday.

But it’s possible to stay near this budget even if you’re paying out-of-pocket for every meal and lodging. (Although, honestly, reward cards are awesome for free hotel stays.)
Here’s a realistic, $450 sample itinerary/budget for two:**

(Packed lunch from normal grocery budget)
$51 mega bus
$10 Uber to Airbnb
$63 Airbnb near Eden Park
$41 dinner and drinks at the Brew Pub

$15 breakfast & coffee at Bow Tie Cafe in Mt Adams
Walk around historic neighborhood, then head to the …
Cincinnati Art Museum in Eden Park (free admission)
$18 sandwich lunch you bought while at Bow Tie Cafe
Siesta/ downtime back at Airbnb OR
$8 visit Khron Conservatory
Walk to and explore OTR neighborhood
see outside of Music Hall and Washington Park
check out Findlay Market
$14 pre-dinner drinks at Rhinegeist Brewery
$23 dinner at Pho Lang Tang (by Findlay Market)
$24 couple rounds of post-dinner drinks at Taft’s Ale House
$10 Uber back to Airbnb
$63 Airbnb

Walk to OTR for brunch at someplace like
$40 Taste of Belgium
$10 Uber to bus
$51 mega bus

Total: $441

**You could obviously spend less if food and beer is not a priority for your travels. In particular, dropping alcohol from dinner and bars/pubs greatly reduces your budget. But Cincinnati is such a beer city that if you like it, I wouldn’t skimp on trying different local beers here.

There are also a lot of other things to do in Cincinnati and this isn’t supposed to represent an itinerary of the “best” places and things to do. If anything, it’s more of a similar, alternate itinerary to what we did last weekend. The best itinerary is one that incorporates what you, personally, like to do. Seems obvious, but so many people ignore this when planning trips.

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