In Ohio, a pair of dynamic cities welcome tour groups with both historic grandeur and contemporary flair.
That’s what 25 tour operators, travel agents and other readers of The Group Travel Leader discovered during a five-day familiarization tour from Columbus to Cleveland in July. Hosted by Experience Columbus and Destination Cleveland, the event began with two days exploring Columbus, a city brimming with innovation and energy. Next, the group traveled north to Cleveland, where they spent two days taking in the striking historic sites and contemporary cultural offerings of this lakefront destination.
During the trip, participants toured historic homes, visited world-class museums and enjoyed a number of memorable hands-on experiences. Along the way, they spent time with some of the tourism and hospitality professionals who work hard to help groups have memorable trips in Columbus and Cleveland.
Follow along on this itinerary to enjoy your own group adventure in Ohio’s dynamic city duo.
• Arrival in Columbus
• Columbus City Adventures Neighborhood Tour
• Pizzuti Collection — Columbus Museum of Art
• Brewdog Brewery
• Hands-on Dinner at Franklin Park Conservatory
Guests flew or drove to Columbus, Ohio’s capital city in the heart of the state. After gathering at the Drury Inn and Suites Columbus Convention Center, which served as home for the next two nights, the group departed on a neighborhood tour with Columbus City Adventures. The tour included stops at several unusual attractions.
The tour ended at the Franklin Park Conservatory, one of Columbus’ most distinctive attractions. Here, the group explored the beautiful indoor gardens and art exhibits. They also enjoyed a hands-on culinary demonstration and dinner at the conservatory before returning to the hotel for the night.
Columbus City Adventures Neighborhood Tour
Downtown Columbus comprises a variety of distinctive neighborhoods and cultural districts, and Columbus City Adventures provides step-on tours to highlight them for visitors. The FAM group’s neighborhood tour included a visit to the Columbus Museum of Art’s Pizzuti Collection in the Short North Arts District, as well as a tour of historic German Village and its St. Mary Catholic Church, which was built in 1868 and impressively restored after a lightning strike in 2016.
Franklin Park Conservatory
One of Columbus’ most-visited attractions, the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens features an indoor conservatory dating back to 1895. Visitors enjoyed tropical plants and an arid desert room inside the conservatory year-round accompanied by stunning displays of work by glass artist Dale Chihuly. After exploring the gardens and enjoying a butterfly release experience, the group convened in an event space and demonstration kitchen on-site, where the culinary team taught them to make pasta by hand.
• Kelton House Museum and Garden
• National Veterans Memorial and Museum
• Lunch at the Candle Lab Columbus Convention District
• North Market
• Ohio Stadium
• Ohio History Center
• Tour and Dinner at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
The second day of the FAM began with a visit to the Kelton House Museum and Garden, a historic home near downtown where groups hear a compelling story of bravery on the Underground Railroad. After a brief stop at the nearby Topiary Park, there were more tales of bravery at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, one of Columbus’ newest and most impressive cultural institutions.
Next, the group had a make-your-own-candle experience at the Candle Lab in the Convention District, followed by a pizza lunch in the basement function room. After that, they headed across the street to North Market to explore dozens of vendors’ booths and sample coffee and treats. The tour proceeded to Ohio Stadium at Ohio State University, followed by a stop at the Ohio History Center. The group ended the evening at Wolf’s Ridge Brewing for a behind-the-scenes tour and tasting experience, followed by a fantastic dinner.
Kelton House Museum and Garden
Constructed in 1852, the Kelton House Museum and Garden displays the lifestyle of a wealthy Columbus family in the mid-19th century, complete with original furnishings. But this isn’t just an ordinary house tour. Groups get to meet Sophia Kelton, the matriarch of the family, and learn about her activity assisting slaves on the Underground Railroad through a moving interactive program.
National Veterans Memorial and Museum
Opened last fall, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum is the only institution of its kind that tells the stories of American veterans, fallen soldiers and their families. The experience at this high-tech museum is built around the distinctive life stories of numerous veterans and uses a blend of artifacts and videos to help visitors learn about the military experience and appreciate the sacrifices all American servicemembers make.
With several locations in Columbus and the surrounding area, the Candle Lab has become a favorite for groups visiting central Ohio. Visitors get to make their own candles by browsing more than 120 scents such as roses, lemongrass and cake batter. Then scent experts help them pick a combination of their favorites and blend it into a soy candle they can take home. Guests finish the candle by creating their own name and handmade label.
With capacity for 110,000 Buckeyes football fans, Ohio Stadium is an icon of Columbus’ Ohio State University. Groups can take a behind-the-scenes tour of the stadium, during which they can visit the music suite to learn about how the marching band prepares for games, climb to the top of the press box for birds-eye views of the playing field below and relax for a moment in the luxurious accommodations of the presidential suite.
Ohio History Center
Owned and operated by the state of Ohio, the Ohio History Center gives visitors a look at life in the Midwest over a variety of periods and through a variety of subjects. Among the most unusual exhibits is “1950s: Building the American Dream.” This area includes a complete prefabricated home created by the Lustron company, which was based in Columbusand outfitted with furniture and appliances from the 1950s.
• Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
• Depart for Cleveland
• Tour and Lunch at Crop Bistro
• Christmas Story House and Museum
• Nautica Queen Dinner and Sunset Cruise
The third day of the trip began with a stop at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, where the group enjoyed breakfast and a number of up-close encounters with zoo animals. From there, the group departed on the two-hour drive north to Cleveland.
Upon arriving in Cleveland, guests were treated to a tour and lunch at Crop Bistro, which is one of many Cleveland businesses inside beautiful former bank buildings that were the hallmark of the prosperous city in the early 20th century. Next, the group stopped at the Christmas Story House and Museum to relive moments from the popular holiday film. After some time to rest and refresh at the Holiday Inn Express Cleveland downtown, which would be home for the next two nights, guests enjoyed a wonderful evening of cruising and dining aboard the Nautica Queen.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
Famous as the home of “Jungle” Jack Hannah, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of the premiere zoological institutions in the country. During the Wasafiri Adventure, groups enjoy breakfast in the zoo’s Africa exhibit area, followed by up-close encounters with adorable animals such as a jackass penguin, a swift fox and a baby clouded leopard. Visitors can also feed giraffes and explore the surrounding zoo exhibits.
Christmas Story House and Museum
The 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” has become a staple of American holiday traditions, and groups visiting Cleveland can see the home where many of the scenes from the iconic movie were filmed. The house has been restored to look just as it did in the movie — complete with the signature leg lamp — and guests can re-create their favorite scenes. Also on-site is a museum with memorabilia and original artifacts from the movie.
Setting sail from the Flats, Cleveland’s waterfront entertainment district, the Nautica Queen offers daytime and evening dining and sightseeing cruises on the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie for up to 330 people. During evening excursions, groups get a delicious buffet dinner, musical entertainment and spectacular views of the Cleveland skyline as they sail under historic bridges.
• Playhouse Square Backstage Tour
• Cleveland Tall Ships Festival
• Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
• Arts, Architecture and Culture City Tour
• Dinner at House of Blues
• Baseball Game and Broadway Show
The second day in Cleveland began with a tour of the remarkable Playhouse Square, one of the country’s largest and most historic theater districts. Next, the group visited the city’s Lake Erie shore to explore the historic sailing ships moored there for the Cleveland Tall Ships Festival. Next came lunch and an interactive tour at the legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on the lakefront.
Later, the group departed on a driving tour that highlighted some of the unique arts, architecture and cultural sites around Cleveland, with stops at University Circle to explore the Cleveland History Center and the Cleveland Museum of Art. For the evening, everyone had dinner at the House of Blues in the buzzing Fourth Street district. After dinner, some guests returned to Playhouse Square for a performance of the award-winning Broadway musical “Come From Away” while others went to Progressive Field for a Cleveland Indians baseball game.
With five fully restored historic theaters built between 1921 and 1922, Cleveland’s Playhouse Square is the world’s largest theater district outside New York City. During the Backstage Tour, groups get a behind-the-scenes look at various performance spaces at the complex, complete with fascinating stories about how each theater was spared from demolition in the 1970s and restored to its former glory. Today, more than 1,200 events take place at Playhouse Square annually.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Perhaps Cleveland’s most iconic attraction, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brings modern music history to life. Visitors begin with a walk through the permanent exhibits, which feature instruments, costumes and other memorabilia from some of the greatest figures in rock ’n’ roll. The museum also includes a dynamic theater with a brand-new audiovisual music presentation, as well as the Garage, a new experiential area where visitors can try their hands at playing and recording live music.
Arts, Architecture and Culture City Tour
Cleveland is full of architectural highlights and cultural institutions, and groups can visit a number of them during a driving tour of the city. The FAM group took such a tour and enjoyed stops at University Circle, the city’s cultural campus, where group members rode a historic carousel at the Cleveland History Center and perused the beautiful classical and contemporary galleries at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
• Coffee at Heinen’s Grocery Store
• Return home
The final morning of the trip began with a pleasant walk to see various highlights of downtown Cleveland. Along the way, the group stopped at Heinen’s, a high-end grocery store, prepared food emporium and coffee shop based in Cleveland. The company’s flagship store is inside the historic Cleveland Trust Rotunda building, an example of the grand early-20th-century architecture that gives Cleveland its signature ambiance today.
After stocking up on coffee and snacks, the group said goodbye and departed Heinen’s. Participants began their journeys home and started planning their own group trips to discover the excitement of Columbus and Cleveland.
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