First-timers' travel guide to Cleveland, Ohio

When planning a holiday, the city of Cleveland may not pop up in your mind. Yet, this city that was (and still is) an industrial powerhouse – thanks to its manufacturing plants and steel industry, and still retain its working-class spirit, has a lot to offer. If you plan to come to this Upper Midwest City for the first time, you may feel overwhelmed at what to see and what to give a miss, Cleveland has so much to offer! The choices become tough if you have a limited time on your hands. So, here are the top three things to do and see in Cleveland even if you have just a day to spend here.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is a must-do!

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland is a must-do!

This is probably Cleveland’s most popular and famous attraction that must be on your travel itinerary. If you are already in love with rock and roll, you won’t need much of an incentive to visit it. But even if you aren’t, a visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland shouldn’t be missed. And who knows, by the end of your Rock Hall experience, you may even emerge as a rock and roll enthusiast!

Ever since it opened in 1995, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has been drawing visitors from far and wide owing to it being the planet’s leading museum devoted to the preservation and celebration of rock and roll music. From tracing the history of rock and roll, and educating people about legends and rock-music gods through its exciting exhibits displayed across seven floors, to offering engaging educational programs and films, this place has it all and more. You can even use its extensive library as well as archives to enjoy a powerful and immersive musical experience.

Hours of operation: You can visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame daily between 10 am and 5:30 pm. On Wednesdays, the bustling museum stays open from 10 am to 9 pm. Do be aware, that on Christmas and Thanksgiving Day, it is closed.

Tickets: It’s ideal to buy tickets online prior to your visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to avoid wasting time in the queue. However, as these tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable, you should buy them only for the day you plan to visit the place. Make sure to have 2.5 to 3 hours at the least to enjoy the Rock Hall experience to the fullest. Don’t miss the Power of Rock Experience, which would take around 25 minutes.

To pick some gifts and memorabilia, you can visit the Gift Shop that stores Gibson Les Paul guitars, books, apparel, original soundtracks and DVDs of iconic artists and induction program, drinkware, magnets, pins, key chains and more.

During your visit, if you feel like grabbing a quick bite, you can take your pick from wraps, salads, and snacks from All Access Café on Rock Hall’s level 1. Since the menu of this café is developed by the city’s hottest chefs - Jonathan Sawyer, Fabio Salerno, and Rocco Whalen, you may even order some specialty items, or grab a cup of coffee at the gourmet coffee bar after you complete your museum visit.

Some other restaurants nearby that can satiate your hunger are

  • The Blazing Bistro - serves local delicacies

  • Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar - serves delectable brunch and Mexican classics along with Mexican and small-batch domestic beer, artisan tequilas and more

  • Urban Farmer Steakhouse - serves steaks that stay true to Midwest food traditions

Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA)

On TripAdvisor, the Cleveland Museum of Art is the city’s number one attraction. Though it was founded in 1913, it took several years of planning before its doors were finally opened for the public on June 6, 1916. Cleveland industrialists John Huntington, Hinman B. Hurlbut, and Horace Kelley donated money for this museum, while Jeptha H. Wade II donated his Wade Park property for the site. Thanks to these people, the creation of CMA became possible.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is one of the most comprehensive and distinguished art museums of the world. It also stands tall as one of northeastern Ohio’s major cultural and civic institutions. This place lets you engage with and understand the world’s great art, while it maintains and honors the highest intellectual, aesthetic, and professional standards.

Enjoying the museum’s collections is always free to the public, though some special exhibitions may need you to buy tickets either online, via phone-booking, or from the ticket center. People typically spend 2-2.5 hours at least, but if you are an art aficionado, you may end up spending anywhere from 6 to 8 hours too. The museum remains closed on Mondays. You can come here between 10 am and 5 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, while the hours on Fridays and Wednesdays are from 10 am to 9 pm.

During your CMA tour, don’t forget to lay your eyes on some of the best pieces like…

  • the Stargazer, which is one of the oldest sculptures of the human figure that the museum plays host to.

  • Monet's Water Lilies, especially the water’s shimmering surface as well as reflections, which the artist spent the last thirty years of his life to bring to life (based on the lily pond at his home in France’s Giverny).

  • The Thinker, which is one of August Rodin’s most famous works.

  • Marilyn x 100 by Andy Warhol which displays Marilyn Monroe’s image appropriated from a publicity still for the noir thriller film Niagara (1953).

  • Totem by Cameroon’s Hervé Youmbi where several masks are assembled into a solitary towering contemporary sculpture, thus bringing together five African countries.

These and several other mind-blowing pieces (almost 45,000 objects in total) that include the works and masterpieces of the greatest artists of all time find place of pride in this museum that spans 6,000 years of achievement in the domain of arts.

Tours of the museum: The museum offers a variety of tours for visitors – from daily guided tours, and gallery and school tours, to adult group tours, special exhibition tours, and stroller tours. You may either take your pick from these tours or explore what CMA has to offer on your own.

This is Cleveland - absolutely gorgeous right?

This is Cleveland - absolutely gorgeous right?

From its library, museum archives and publications, to films, music and performances, exhibitions, lectures and more, the Cleveland Museum of Art has become an international forum that encourages art in all forms, sans boundaries.

Before you leave, don’t forget to visit the Cleveland Museum of Art Store to take your pick from an extensive range of posters, gifts, and cards based on works from the museum collections. You can even get unique clothing accessories, jewelry, and other items sourced from museums around the nation and local artists.

And during or after your museum visit, if you feel the need to recharge your batteries, you can head straight to Provenance - a fine dining restaurant and lounge, which serves both local and global cuisine. You may even visit the Provenance Café for snack, lunch, and dinner options that include seasonal salads and soups, sandwiches (both cold and hot varieties), desserts, beverages, and more.

Downtown Cleveland

Of all the eclectic and diverse neighborhoods that make up Cleveland, it’s probably Downtown Cleveland that draws the most footfalls. North Coast Harbor is Downtown Cleveland’s tourist district that houses popular attractions like Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Steamship William G. Mather Maritime Museum, Great Lakes Science Center, and USS Cod Submarine Memorial. But apart from visiting these, you have a lot more to do here. If you love taking a stroll in parks, head to Voinovich Bicentenial Park, where you can enjoy Lake Erie views and artistic landscaping.

Since the entertainment hub of Downtown Cleveland comes into its dazzling form after dusk, make sure to spend some time here after the sun sets. If you can, catch a Broadway show in Playhouse Square for a mesmerizing experience.  

If you are visiting Cleveland in November, check if your trip coincides with Winterfest (held in Public Square), which is the city’s official kickoff to the holiday season. And if it does, head to the venue to enjoy festive holiday trees, twinkling lights, caroling, horse-drawn carriage rides, and holiday-themed performances. You can even feast on hot cocoa and delectable cuisine, or pick some memorabilia from Cleveland Bazaar.

Best Restaurants in Cleveland

To enjoy celebrity chef Ben Bebenroth’s farm-to-table concept where fresh local ingredients are used in the food served to guests, head to Spice Kitchen & Bar, which is 10 minutes’ from Downtown Cleveland. Zack Bruell’s waterfront restaurant - Alley Cat Oyster Bar, which is in the Flats East Bank entertainment district is another place where you can get delectable fares prepared by the celeb chef. In case you want to visit some casual restaurants in Downtown Cleveland, here are your top picks:

  • The Greenhouse Tavern  

  • Lola Bistro

  • House of Blues Restaurant & Bar

Best Accommodation Options in Cleveland

If you want to stay in Downtown Cleveland, here are the hotels I suggest:

  • Hilton Garden Inn

  • Aloft Cleveland Downtown

  • Comfort Inn Downtown

If you fancy a hotel closer to Cleveland airport, you can choose from:

  • Sheraton Cleveland Airport Hotel

  • Hilton Garden Inn Cleveland Airport

  • Cleveland Airport Marriott

Tips for international travelers

Before traveling to Cleveland, Ohio, make sure to know if you should have a US Visa or ESTA. If you are wondering "who needs ESTA?" or what ESTA is, check if you country is under the VWP (Visa Waiver Program). If it is and you are a citizen of that VWP country, you won’t need a visa if you plan to stay in the US for up to 90 days. However, you would need to apply for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) and should have your VWP passport. Before you submit your application, make sure to check the eligibility criteria and have all the necessary documents ready. Don’t forget to submit payment within 7 days of making your application. Once you have submitted your application, check your ESTA application status at usaestaonline.com . After you have your ESTA, you can pack your bags and board a flight to Cleveland, Ohio.

Final Thoughts

Even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a travel guide along with you. Here are some of the best travel guides I recommend...

One of the most common questions I get: What is the best camera for travel photography? I personally love my Nikon D5600. I use the kit lens and a Sigma wide-angle lens (for Nikon) which I am genuinely obsessed with.

Read on: Full list of travel gear I use on every trip

And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette at gmail dot com).

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