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Hands On In Columbus

City tours on a Segway, taco truck tours, zip-line tours: The Columbus, Ohio, travel professionals tell us there are nearly endless ways to experience the 15th-largest city in the United States.

Those experts have developed more than 70 experiential tours. And the tours don’t allow groups to simply sit back and observe.

“These are hands-on opportunities,” said Roger Dudley, tourism sales manager for Experience Columbus. “Participants are immersed in the experience — at the very least, meeting and being led by a first-person interpreter.”


Immersive Experiences

At the Kelton House Museum and Garden, prepare to be educated and entertained by interpreter “Sophia Kelton,” the original owner of this Greek Revival mansion built in 1852.

“She shares stories not only about the original furniture and her handiwork, but [also] secrets about this important house, as this home was a documented stop on the Underground Railroad, a route for runaway slaves from Southern plantations,” said Dudley. “From the basement to the carriage house to the garden where a slave once married, the stories are chilling.”

Get crafty at the Candle Lab, maker of natural, soy-based custom candles; there, guests can choose from over 100 scents to create their own, one-of-a-kind candle.

“There are three locations in Columbus,” said Dudley. “Pair the experience with lunch, and shop at the boutiques in one of these three cool neighborhoods.”

Named the No. 1 zoo in America by the USA Travel Guide, the Columbus Zoo recently opened its Heart of Africa attraction, which boasts 43 acres of African wildlife.

“This is a wonderful natural habitat for animals,” said Dudley. “You think you’re on a safari, and you can feed the giraffes and ride a camel.”

For a real treat, make a date with the famed Jack Hanna, an active leader for the zoo for more than 30 years, on a Meet Jack Hanna Experience. Named a 2015 Top 100 event by the American Bus Association (ABA), the event is available three times a year.

Ethnic culture is on tap at German Village, a historic 233-acre residential neighborhood where the tour Explore Beyond the Door offers groups the chance to get inside the homes amidst the cobblestoned streets.

“All the buildings have to follow guidelines on architecture, but once you get inside, the interiors vary from rustic to modern,” said Dudley.

With more than 30 rooms, the Book Loft is one of the largest independent bookstores remaining in this country and a favorite stop in German Village, according to Dudley.

“Another favorite and tasty way to experience German Village is to take a tasting tour that includes sampling at Schmidt’s Sausage Haus for their famed Bahama Mama Sausages and jumbo cream puffs at a bakery next door,” he said.


Mark Your Calendars

Drinking a little beer and dancing to Irish bagpipes is on the agenda for the Dublin Irish Festival, another ABA Top 100 event in 2015.

“This three-day festival is the first weekend in August and includes an entire marketplace that is Irish inspired,” Dudley said.

Groups may also want to schedule their Columbus visit during two more annual events. The Country Living Fair, an early-autumn weekend celebration, features almost everything imaginable at a marketplace, from gemstones to flea market treasures to antique garden decor.

During Wildlife at the Columbus Zoo, a holiday event, visitors can take some time to sip hot chocolate while enjoying 3 million LED lights.

“Everything imaginable is decked out, and the animated light show around the lake is outstanding,” said Dudley.

In the fall of 2015, the Columbus Museum of Art will hold a grand event to celebrate the completion of a multimillion-dollar expansion. The renowned venue is home to a diverse selection of art, including late-19th- and early-20th-century American and European art, folk-art woodcarvings, lithographs and photographs.

“It’s phenomenal how they are going to incorporate the 1920s feel of the existing building,” said Dudley.

Besides offering more exhibition space, the new 30,000-square-foot wing will also include a new store, a restaurant and a sculpture garden.