Snacking on tapas while sipping sangria and breathing in the scent of exotic blooms is all in a day’s work for groups visiting Columbus, Ohio. The exclusive group experience attracts many groups looking to unwind at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
The conservatory not only houses plants from around the world, it also hosts exclusive group programs, such as the Tapas and Sangria Experience. Other cultural attractions abound in Columbus. Known as the Discovery City, the Ohio capital boasts a thriving downtown, a burgeoning culinary scene and several outstanding museums.
Pique your group’s curiosity with these captivating Columbus museums.
Columbus Museum of Art
Pablo Picasso, Mary Cassatt and Claude Monet are among the numerous art legends whose works are on display at the Columbus Museum of Art. The museum boasts an impressive international collection that spans the centuries.
Groups can learn about the museum’s Americana and European modern art, impressionism, cubism, folk art and more on a guided tour. The accessible museum offers 50-minute docent-led tours or more independent cellphone tours for an interactive experience that matches the pace of each visitor.
The museum customizes tours for each group, so planners can choose between generalized tours, in-depth topics or a discussion about special exhibits.
“It is a beautiful art museum with a wonderful collection,” said Roger Dudley, director, tourism sales for Experience Columbus. “The museum is free on Sundays, so I will sometimes include the museum on an itinerary that day. They also have extended hours Thursdays, so if a group wants an evening activity that day, I will suggest the museum.”
The 18,000-square-foot Center for Creativity encourages interaction with a combination of galleries and workshops. In 2015, the Margaret M. Walter wing opened, adding 50,000 square feet of new museum space.
Groups can add a coffee, a snack or a lunch break at the museum’s contemporary Schokko Café.
National Veterans Memorial and Museum
At the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, groups slow down. Travelers frequently choose self-guided tours so no one feels rushed through the emotionally powerful museum.
“We recommend a self-guided tour, but groups can have someone meet with them when they first get to the museum,” said Kaela Krise, tourism sales manager for Experience Columbus. “Then they let the group stroll through the museum on their own. It leaves more time for self-reflection.”
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum is the only museum in the country dedicated to veterans from all branches of the military. It opened in 2018 in an $82 million facility acclaimed for its inventive architecture.
The museum’s exhibits encourage reflection on the sacrifices of the men and women who joined the armed forces. The round building features a grassy roof for views of the skyline. Outside, the museum features a 2.5-acre outdoor memorial grove with a reflecting pool.
The veterans’ firsthand accounts are woven throughout the museum, with video interviews, audio recordings, touch screens and handwritten letters. Groups hear individuals’ stories of signing up for service, the rigors of training, the horrors of combat and the journey home.
Visitors often find the Remembrance Gallery especially impactive. The exhibit creates a colorful, floor-to-ceiling glow through a stained-glass installation. The focal point is the “infinity flag” display honoring those who have died in service to the country.
Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens
The Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens could merit a visit based solely on its exotic horticulture collection of more than 400 plant species. However, the attraction’s plants are only the beginning.
Groups can attend a hands-on cooking class making wood-fired pizza, pasta sauces or tapas before enjoying the fruit of their labor in a colorful garden setting. Other exclusive experiences allow groups to create a glassblowing project, design their own ornament or adopt a butterfly.
The Franklin Park Conservatory debuted the first seasonal butterfly exhibit in the nation in 1994. Since then, the annual exhibit has continued to prove successful, with thousands of tropical butterflies released each year.
“Each season offers completely different experiences,” said Dudley. “In January and February, it’s all about the orchids. Then it’s on to spring flowers. Summer is their major season, with all the summer blooms. Then, in the fall, they have mums and pumpkins. In November and December, everything lights up for the Conservatory Aglow. Poinsettias, Christmas trees and lights make that experience a popular time to go.”
No matter the season, groups can tour the conservatory’s biomes to view flora from the Himalayan Mountains, a tropical rainforest, a desert and a Pacific Island water garden. The historic Palm House also showcases more than 40 species of palms.
The site’s extensive glass artwork by Dale Chihuly also dazzles visitors. The gorgeous collection originated from a blockbuster exhibit of Chihuly’s work in 2003, which increased attendance by 182%. The nonprofit group supporting the conservatory bought the $7 million collection of over 3,000 pieces of glass that visitors can now enjoy year-round.
Ohio History Center
Instead of seeing history through glass, the Ohio History Center lets guests handle important items from the state’s past. On the center’s Hands-On History tour, participants don gloves and learn how to handle historic objects. This interactive experience is one way the Ohio History Center personalizes the past to make it feel more real.
Other exclusive group experiences include a look at archaeological artifacts from the first Ohioans, famous Ohio women and Ohio sports. Groups can also explore the museum’s main exhibits, which reach back 15,000 years and extend through the modern era.
“One of the exhibits that has resonated the most with people is the 1950s exhibit,” said Dudley. “Grandparent-and-grandkid trips really enjoy that experience. The grandparents will really remember that time period, and the grandkids will pick up a rotary phone and not know what it is.”
“The 1950s: Building an American Dream” exhibit contains an entire Lustron home as the frame to experience the decade. Groups step back in time as they view Roy Rogers toys, a bomb shelter hatch and 1950s television programs.
Another popular exhibit showcases battle flags from history. Guides can tell the stories behind missing chunks and other damage done to these important historic flags.
Admission to the Ohio History Center also includes the Ohio Village. The re-created 19th-century community allows guests to interact with costumed interpreters reliving the traditions of the period.