There’s never been a better time to take your travelers to Columbus.
Ohio’s capital city has been a popular group destination for many years thanks to an innovative portfolio of interactive experiences that take tour customers beyond the typical sightseeing visit. And while the stream of tour groups slowed to a trickle during the worst of the pandemic, the city’s tourism community adapted and made the most of that time to improve their offerings for visitors.
In 2022, groups that travel to Columbus can experience a mix of up-and-coming attractions, longtime favorite sites and special exhibits and other programs that have been relaunched.
“Some of the favorite attractions are still really popular among groups,” said Roger Dudley, director of tourism sales for Experience Columbus. “And many of our attractions rescheduled things, so there are a lot of special exhibits and things that got moved around.”
If your group is ready to travel this year, Columbus is ready to welcome them with dynamic experiences and upgraded attractions. Here are four evolving sites around the city you might want to include on your next Columbus itinerary.
Budd Dairy Food Hall
Since 1996, Chef Cameron Mitchell has been the top culinary tastemaker in Columbus. Today, his restaurant group in the area comprises 36 establishments operating under 16 brands. Last year, Mitchell began helping a new generation of chef-entrepreneurs launch their own businesses with his newest endeavor, Budd Dairy Food Hall.
“It’s a chef incubator space that has different food concepts,” Dudley said. “It has a few bars throughout the place so you can eat and drink and enjoy your lunch or dinner.”
Housed in a renovated milk processing facility, hence the name Budd Dairy, the food hall is located in Columbus’ Italian Village neighborhood. There are 10 kitchens in the hall, each staffed by an up-and-coming chef making a mark with unique culinary concepts.
The food hall offers group planners an opportunity to let travelers explore and pick the food that best suits their tastes. Tacos Rudos serves upscale Mexican street food with a lucha libre theme. Cluck Norris specializes in fried chicken dishes “with a roundhouse kick of flavor.” Pokebap is a Hawaiian-inspired poke restaurant, and there’s a variety of grilled meats and sides to be found at Boni Filipino Street Food.
Other cuisines on site include barbecue, Southern specialties, pizza, and deli and bakery selections. The bars serve a variety of beverages, including a beer brewed specifically for the food hall by a nearby microbrewery.
Budd Dairy Food Hall is open for dinner Tuesday through Sunday and for lunch Thursday through Sunday.
Franklin Park Conservatory
One of Columbus’ favorite attractions, the 13-acre Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens centers around a conservatory dating back to 1895. The tropical plants and an arid desert room inside the conservatory are favorites of many visitors, as is the Blooms and Butterflies program, which features thousands of brilliantly colored butterflies circulating throughout the conservatory during the spring.
For 2022, though, an exciting new exhibit is coming to the conservatory’s outdoor spaces.
“They’re doing something called ‘Topiary Takeover,’” Dudley said. “It will focus on topiaries in really cool animal shapes and different scenarios. It’s going to be a really big show.”
Topiary displays throughout the Franklin Park grounds blend the traditional artform of cultivated and sculpted shrubs with pops of brilliant color, added via flowers planted among and alongside the shrubs to create vibrant multidimensional images.
The conservatory offers docent-guided tours for groups, as well as a number of special immersive experiences, a gift shop, a greenhouse and a cafe. The “Topiary Takeover” exhibit will run from June 4 through October 2.
Other conservatory highlights for 2022 include an annual exhibition of orchids that runs through early March and an exhibition of work by artist Olga Ziemska that will be on display through the end of May.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
With 10,000 animals representing 600 species spread out over 622 acres, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is one of the area’s largest and most popular attractions. It’s also the home of “Jungle” Jack Hanna, who made frequent TV appearances with animals from the zoo throughout his career. Now, when groups visit the zoo, they have opportunities for closeup encounters with some of the same animals that travel with Hanna and other zoo educators.
The zoo has offered immersive experiences for groups for some time. Now visitors can interact with aquatic creatures at the new Adventure Cove.
The cove is a re-creation of a rocky Pacific Northwest coastline and serves as the habitat for the zoo’s sea lions and seals. The new area opened in summer 2020.
“A lot of people still haven’t been to it,” Dudley said. “It’s a state-of-the-art sea lion exhibit near the front gate of the zoo. It has underwater viewing and sea lion shows where guests can see trainers demonstrating sea lion behavior.”
Group leaders can contact the zoo in advance to reserve seats for a sea lion show, as well as for private meals with unparalleled views of the marine creatures.
Columbus Museum of Art
Among the chief contributors to the city’s cultural life, the Columbus Museum of Art showcases a wide variety of artwork from various places and times. This year, groups have two opportunities to see work of historic artists during special exhibitions at the museum.
From March 4 through June 5, the exhibit “Roy Lichtenstein: History in the Making, 1948-1960” will investigate the work of Lichtenstein, who became one of the leading American artists of the 20th century. Lichtenstein went to school at Columbus’ Ohio State University, and the exhibit explores his ties to the city as well as his later career. It features about 90 works in a variety of media.
Later in the summer, the museum will welcome an exhibition that highlights the work of one of Europe’s greatest Old Masters. “Raphael — The Power of Renaissance Images: The Dresden Tapestries and Their Impact” features six 17th-century tapestries with images created by Raphael, as well as several of his drawings and other works. Its Columbus exhibition, July 15 through October 30, will be the only U.S. stop on this exhibition’s global tour.
Group travel planners can contact the museum staff for guided tours, catered meals or other special touches.