Visiting Cleveland for the first time? Then you’re in for a treat. The city is home to an incredible selection of museums, galleries, shopping arcades, haunted houses, cathedrals, and, lest we forget, one of the most significant buildings in the history of rock ‘n’ roll (check out number 2 on our list, if you don’t know what that is). If you’re struggling to work out how best to fill your days, take some inspiration from our round-up of the 20 best things to do in Cleveland for first-time visitors.
20. St. Theodosius Cathedral
Stray into the otherwise humble neighborhood of Tremont, and you’ll find one of the most ornately spectacular churches in the US. It may have been designed by local boy Frederick Baird, but there’s nothing Midwestern about this onion-domed splendor. Build in the tradition of Russian orthodox churches, the interior is almost as eye-catching as the exterior, with murals splashing every wall with a glorious celebration of color. Film fans will get an extra kick from the visit: not only was the wedding scene of the 1978 movie The Deer Hunter filmed here, director Michael Cimino cast the actual priest of St. Theodosius as the film’s officiating priest.
19. Grave of Alan Freed
Pay homage to the man who coined the term “rock ‘n’ roll’ by visiting the grave of legendary Cleveland disc jockey, Alan Freed. Credited with bringing the emerging R+B scene to the masses, Freed’s influence on the world of music is hard to overestimate, with the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis all owning at least a little of their success to his championing. After falling foul of payola scandal of the 1950s (in which promoters stood accused of accepting kickbacks for playing certain records), Freed slid into alcoholism, eventually dying of cirrhosis at the age of just 43. Today, his final resting place draws in huge crowds of music fans looking to pay their last respects.
18. The Cleveland Arcade
Regardless of whether you want to shop till you drop or not, no visit to Cleveland is complete without a visit to the spectacular Cleveland Arcade. As one of the most beautiful shopping arcades in the US, the project was born of John D. Rockefeller’s desire to shop indoors – a desire that, over a hundred years later, we can all be thankful to. The ornately lavish, five-story arcade languishes beneath a 300-foot-long glass skylight and is home to a great selection of retails outlets and restaurants.
17. Dittrick Medical Museum
The fascinating little Dittrick Medical Museum may not be one of Cleveland’s most famous museums, but it’s certainly one of its most charming. Offering an intriguing glimpse into the history of medicine, the museum is home to a fabulous collection of rare books, artifacts, and photographs, all of which aim to show the impact of health and medicine on our lives. In the galleries, you’ll find exquisite reproductions chronicling the evolution of doctor’ offices over the years, while the range of exhibits includes everything from bloodletting devices to nursing uniforms. Some of the exhibits maybe a little too gory for very young kids, but for macabre minded teens, it’s a guaranteed winner.
16. Franklin Castle
Like ghost stories? Then you’re going to love Franklin Castle. Known by locals as one of Cleveland’s most haunted spots, it’s got a backstory that will put the shivers up the steeliest of spines. In the 1880s, the house was owned by Hannes Tiedemann. Despite being a wealthy man, Tiedemann was far from a happy one – something that could no doubt be blamed on the almost obscene number of deaths both he, and the house, witnessed over the course of his lifetime. In total, the house proved the final home to four of his children, his mother, and finally, his wife. Legend has it that at each death, Tiedemann would add a new feature or turret to the house to try and distract his wife from the relentless misery. Some of the misery seems to have clung on, however, with reports of paranormal activity still flooding in all these years later. Although the house is under private ownership, you can still check it out from the sidewalk on Franklin Boulevard … just beware the mysterious woman in black.
15. Frozen Cleveland Lighthouse
As sights go, few are as impressive as the Frozen Cleveland Lighthouse. Each winter, the unoccupied lighthouse gets splashed so many times by water that it eventually turns into a giant ice sculpture, with each new layer of ice adding an extra level of intrigue. If you’re visiting in summer, then granted, you may not want to spend an afternoon squinting at an otherwise non-descript lighthouse; visit in the icy depths of winter, on the other hand, and it’s the kind of sight that Instagram was made for.
14. Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick
In the mid-1960s, Raymond Buckland, leader of the Long Island Coven, began gathering a collection of rare oddities, objects, and occult-related paraphernalia. The collection grew to such a size he was eventually forced to open a premise to house it all – a premise that’s today known as the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick. It's not for everyone, but most people with even a passing interest in the history of wicker are likely to get a kick from the vast collection, especially the “Demon in a Box” which Buckland purports to have captured in the 1970s.
13. The Haserot Angel
Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery is home to over 100,000 graves, but the most remarkable thing about this legendary site isn’t the dead presidents and business moguls underfoot, it’s the statuesque angel weeping in the corner. “The Angel of Death Victorious” sits on the gravestone of canning entrepreneur Francis Haserot, a man who may have led a remarkable life, but who’s become even more famous in death thanks to the black tears that pour down his guardian’s cheeks. While the phenomena can be explained simply enough through the combination of aging bronze and sculpting lines, it still manages to be a little unnerving... and well worth the pilgrimage to see.
12. Museum of Contemporary Art
Like modern art? Then you’ll love the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. The building, which was designed by world-famous architect Farshid Moussavi, is a treat in itself, although even the impressive architecture takes second place to the extraordinary range of exhibits. Although the lineup changes frequently, the fact that past exhibits have featured art from the likes of Andy Warhol, Christo, and Claes Oldenburg, Jim Hodges and Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jón should give you an indication of what to expect.
11. Progressive Field
Sports fans shouldn’t miss a visit to the home of Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians, Progressive Field. Even if you’re not lucky enough to visit on game day, you can still keep yourself well entertained with a tour. Running regularly throughout the day, each guided tour offers visitors an inside look at everything from the batting cages, FanCave, party suite, club lounge, and bullpen to the Heritage Park Indians Hall of Fame Museum. Tour tickets cost $10 for adults and $8 for children ages 14 and younger and seniors 60 years plus.
10. "A Christmas Story" House and Museum
If you’ve ever watched Bob Clark's classic 1983 movie, "A Christmas Story”, you’ll not want to miss a visit to the house in which it was set. Today, the house has been restored to look exactly as it did in the movie – there’s even a museum featuring props, costumes, and memorabilia that will keep film-buffs happy for hours. Although you have the option to wander around unaccompanied, the entertaining tours come highly recommended and are a great way of picking up some little-known trivia about the Christmas classic. Don’t miss a visit to the gift shop on your way out – it’s the perfect place to pick up a memento of your visit.
9. Cleveland Museum of Natural History
Whether you’re 5 or 75, you can’t help but be enthralled by the fascinating exhibits on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Balto the Alaskan sled dog is compulsory viewing, while the huge collection of dinosaurs and Ohio's first planetarium will keep you entertained for hours. Before you leave, take some time to visit the equally praiseworthy Smead Discovery Center, Perkins Wildlife Center and the Shafran Planetarium & Mueller Observatory, all of which are housed on the same site.
8. USS Cod Submarine Memorial
The USS Cod Submarine was commissioned in 1943, achieving legendary status when it became the first to perform an international submarine-to-submarine rescue mission. Today, it looks exactly as it did when it was first commissioned, giving visitors a once in a lifetime opportunity to walk around a real, WWII submarine. Although the narrow hallways are not the best for anyone with claustrophobia, it’s otherwise an unmissable family-friendly experience.
7. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
As home to over 3,000 animals and 600 different species, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo is a must-visit if you’re traveling with kids. As well as fawning over the animals, you’ll get the chance to enjoy one of the many hands-on experiences on offer, whether that’s feeding the giraffes, taking a camel ride, or even participating in the overnight safari program. Just a brief word of warning before you visit – weekends tend to get packed, so if you can, plan your visit between Tuesday and Friday.
6. Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall
Widely regarded as one of the world's most beautiful concert halls, the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall is a must-do. If you’re lucky enough to be in town during a performance, its well worth blowing the budget on a ticket. If not, don’t worry too much- the majestic concert hall is still worth a visit; book yourself onto a guided tour and let the impressive architecture take your breath away.
5. Cleveland Botanical Garden
Looking for somewhere to escape the hustle and bustle of the city? If so, the Cleveland Botanical Garden could be just the retreat you need. Featuring 10 acres of outdoor gardens and an 18,000-square-foot Glasshouse, the garden is a botanist’s dream. Even if you don’t manage to see all of the gardens (although we thoroughly recommend you squeeze in both the Japanese Garden and Inspiration Garden if you can), don’t miss the greenhouse, which features over 350 species of exotic plants as well as 50 species of birds, reptiles, amphibians and more besides. Those with kids, meanwhile, would be remiss not to set aside at least an hour or so for the charming Hershey Children's Garden.
4. Cleveland Museum of Art
Granted, the Cleveland Museum of Art might be on the small size, but what it lacks in floor space it more than makes up for in the quality of its displays. Founded in 1913 "for the benefit of all the people forever," it certainly makes a great place to spend an afternoon. Set aside a few hours to browse the 45,000 pieces of artworks from the likes of Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso. Exhibits do change from time, so be sure to check the website before your visit for news on the latest events.
3. West Side Market
Meat, fish, vegetables, flowers, and more kielbasa than you could eat in a lifetime... if fresh produce is what you want, then West Side Market is where you’ll get it. The market place is crammed with vendors selling every kind of edible imaginable, making it as much a hit with tourists as with locals. Even though it throngs with shoppers, don’t worry about feeling overwhelmed: the vast windows and barrel vault give it a lovely sense of spaciousness, even during peak hours.
2. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is one of Cleveland’s most popular attractions, and for very good reason. As home to one of the world’s largest collections of rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia (no to mention artifacts from the likes of the Beatles, Metallica, Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones), it’s a must-visit for anyone with even the slightest of interest in the history of rock ‘n’ roll.
1. Cleveland Metroparks
For outdoor enthusiasts, no trip to Cleveland will be complete without indulging in a little nature lovin’ at the gorgeous Cleveland Metroparks. Set over 21,000 acres of nature preserve, the park system is the perfect place to spend a peaceful day hiking, biking, fishing, boating, horseback riding, or simply kicking back with a picnic. Although all the reservations have their merits, the Rocky River Reservation and North Chagrin Reservation come particularly recommended for their spectacular scenery and bountiful wildlife.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn