Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal

Historic train station shines after $228 million restoration


Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal
Cincinnati Union Terminal

As we approached the Union Terminal in Cincinnati, we didn’t quite know what to expect.

We often like to explore landmarks without a mission, letting spontaneity be our guide. That was the case recently as we entered the stunning train station built during the Great Depression.

We knew we wanted to take in the art deco architecture and experience the workmanlike grandeur of Winold Reiss’ mosaics, which help to create an eye-popping entry when combined with the vibrant ceiling, the largest half dome in the western hemisphere.

But this depot in the city’s Queensgate neighborhood is much more than an old train station. It’s the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, consisting of three museums and an Omnimax theater. So there are plenty of places to explore and have fun once you stop gazing at the 180-foot rotunda dome.

The terminal opened in 1933 and was built to serve 17,000 passengers and more than 200 trains daily. It closed to passenger traffic in 1972, then reopened as an Amtrak line in 1991.

In November, the center completed a $228 million renovation on the terminal, bringing it back to its original glory.

Here’s a flavor of the various museums that occupy parts of the building. You can enter each with a Discover Pass, and there’s plenty of additional admission information on the museum’s website.

Cincinnati History Museum

The city’s past is on display, from the initial settlers through the second world war. Costumed actors give you a feel of what it was like living in the Queen City, and you can check out the Queen City of the West, a replica side-wheel steamboat. Next year the history museum will include Cincinnati in Motion, what it’s calling the country’s largest s-gauge model train display.

Duke Energy Children’s Museum

Duke Energy Children’s Museum
Duke Energy Children’s Museum

We really liked this museum, which is essentially a huge play area for kids. There are eight interactive spaces to explore and learn about such topics as energy, nature and science. Highlights include a webbed enclosure called the Energy Zone where kids can release steam throwing balls and working simple machines, and a two-story jungle gym called The Woods where kids can tunnel through an aquarium.

Museum of Natural History & Science

Cincinnati History Museum
Museum of Natural History & Science

Dinosaurs dominate this exhibit. There are six prehistoric creatures on display, covering the Jurassic Period (153 to 145 million years ago) and the Cretaceous Period (145 to 65 million years ago), five of which are on display to the public for the first time. They include the only known associated skeleton of a Torvosaurus, a meat eater of the late Jurassic period.

Our son, Max, enjoyed an add-on activity ($5), going face-down into a motion simulator for a three-minute ride through a Jurassic jungle.

The Discovery Pass, $14.50 for adults and $10.50 for kids, provides admission to the three museums. For extra fees you can see a film at the Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater, or visit two special exhibits: Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World, and Chocolate: The Exhibition.

Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World
Guitar: The Instrument that Rocked the World

The guitar exhibit has dozens of guitars on display, ranging from the classic Fender Stratocaster to lutes and other antiquities. We learned about the history of chocolate production through informational displays and antique tins and other collectibles. (There were no chocolate samples, much to our dismay.)

If you visit on a weekend, be prepared for good-sized crowds and a somewhat congested parking situation. Lines were long to exit when we arrived, but we stayed until the museums almost closed, and it was easy to get out.

Learn more about the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal.


  • 19
    Shares