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Best Attractions in ColumbusIn a city with dozens of attractions, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”

After moving to the newly designated capital of Columbus in 1816, state officials would wait more than 40 years for a finished Capitol building. A cholera epidemic, harsh winters and other setbacks delayed construction. Today, visitors can tour the splendor of the Greek Revival-style Ohio Statehouse , which features historical exhibits, artistic treasures and limestone from the banks of the Scioto (sigh-OH-toe) River.

Just across the river to the west is COSI Columbus , a AAA GEM attraction and one of many fun places to go. Shoot water cannons, drive robotic rovers and travel through time at this interactive science center, all while expanding your knowledge of the world around you. Live shows and special events add to the stimulating atmosphere as you learn about such concepts as centripetal force and erosion.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium , another long-standing city favorite, is home to more than 600 species, hundreds of which are threatened with extinction. Dedicated to preserving wildlife, the zoo protects such endangered creatures as bald eagles and leopards. This AAA GEM attraction is one of only three facilities outside of Florida exhibiting West Indian Manatees. The marine mammals live in a 190,000-gallon indoor aquarium at Manatee Coast in participation in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Program until they can be released back into the wild.

Just north of Columbus in the city of Delaware are the Olentangy Indian Caverns , a collection of natural caves formed by an underground river millions of years ago. Artifacts on display indicate the Wyandot Indians sought refuge in these caverns from harsh weather and such enemies as the Delaware Indians. Visitors descend a concrete stairway into the maze of passageways, some descending as far as 105 feet below the surface.

At the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in nearby Pickerington , three major exhibition halls display an ever-changing collection of motorcycles, from a 1912 Indian racer to a 2005 BMW K1200R. Photos, sculptures, riding gear, literature and awards illustrate the story of American motorcycling through the years.

Golf is another beloved diversion in Columbus, the birthplace of Jack Nicklaus. At The Ohio State University sports complex, the Jack Nicklaus Museum lets visitors pore over items related to his remarkable career. Six of the golfer's Masters Trophies, his Masters green jacket and his 1975 PGA Championship wedge are just a few of the mementos. A pictorial essay chronicles Nicklaus' record-breaking career.

Another Columbus son is memorialized at The Thurber House . Author, humorist and cartoonist James Thurber lived here with his family while attending OSU. Visitors can sit on 1900s-era furnishings, play the downstairs piano or touch the typewriter Thurber used while working for The New Yorker.

Just around the corner is the Columbus Museum of Art , sure to inspire visitors with its works by Henri Matisse, American painter Edward Hopper and Columbus native George Bellows. Norman Rockwell, who painted for The Saturday Evening Post for more than 4 decades, is also represented in the museum's permanent collection. The restored main building features the Center for Creativity which engages visitors with art and activities.

Step into a work of art at The Topiary Park , a botanical depiction of the Pointillist painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” A local sculptor re-created French artist Georges Seurat's most recognizable work in this whimsical garden of clipped yews.

A Bonsai collection, exotic orchids and a Pacific Island water garden are just a few of the highlights at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens . The glass structure was built in 1895 in the style of the Glass Palace at Chicago's World Fair and Columbian Exposition in 1893. As visitors walk through this AAA GEM Attraction, they'll find vibrant blown-glass pieces by artist Dale Chihuly mixed in with the natural exhibits.

A scenic nature preserve surrounds lovely plantings of daffodils, daylilies and more than 2,000 species of plants at Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville . Once headquarters for the Anti-Saloon League, the leading group for prohibition in America, Westerville was known as the “dry capital of the world.”

In nearby Lancaster is The Sherman House Museum , birthplace of General William Tecumseh Sherman and his brother, U.S. Senator John Sherman. The house museum contains family mementos and period furniture. Named Tecumseh after a Shawnee Indian chief, General Sherman led his army on the famous March to the Sea, carving a path of destruction through Confederate Georgia during the Civil War.

Civil War weapons, Native American art pieces and a mastodon are just a few of the artifacts you'll see at the Ohio History Center , the flagship museum in the Ohio History Connection's statewide system of historical sites. The 271,000-square-foot center houses five permanent exhibits as well as temporary exhibits. The neighboring 1800s Ohio Village is open during signature events, including games of the Ohio Village Muffins and the Lady Diamonds, teams that play vintage baseball according to Victorian rules.

Traditions also run deep in German Village , a historic downtown district. St. Mary's Catholic Church, built in 1868, may be the focal point, but the village's charm is reflected in small cottages with wrought-iron fences along tree-lined brick streets. Around Third Street, restaurants and shops keep travelers satisfied during a day of sightseeing, offering everything from sauerbraten to specialty cheese and European housewares.

Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, The Works: Ohio Center for History, Art and Technology stirs the creative spirit. Wander the Art Works Gallery for inspiration, take a class on glass blowing or become a scientist in the first floor laboratory. There's always something new to discover at this innovative center in Newark .

Also in the vicinity is the Newark Earthworks , three major segments of earthen enclosures built by Ohio's prehistoric peoples. Experts speculate that the Great Circle, nearly 1,200 feet in diameter, was a ceremonial hub. The 50-acre Octagon Earthworks and the square Wright Earthworks most likely served religious and social purposes.

See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

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Columbus, OH

Top AAA Diamond Hotels

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Hilton Columbus/Polaris

8700 Lyra Dr. Columbus, OH 43240

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4048 Morse Rd. Columbus, OH 43230

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5220 Forest Dr. New Albany, OH 43054

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Best Western Port Columbus

1450 Airpointe Dr. Columbus, OH 43219

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Travel Information

City Population

787,033

Elevation

777 ft.

Sales Tax

Columbus has a sales tax of 7.5 percent and a lodging tax of 10 percent. There is an 11 percent concession fee on rental cars picked up at Port Columbus International Airport.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(614) 645-4545

Fire (non-emergency)

(614) 221-3132

Time and Temperature

(614) 281-8211

Hospitals

Doctors Hospital, (614) 544-1000; Grant Medical Center, (614) 566-9000; Mount Carmel Medical Center (Mount Carmel West Hospital), (614) 234-5000; The Ohio State University Hospital East, (614) 257-3000; The Ohio State University Medical Center, (614) 293-8300; Riverside Methodist Hospital, (614) 566-5000.

Visitor Information

277 W. Nationwide Blvd. Suite 125 Columbus, OH 43215. Phone:(614)221-6623 or (800)354-2657

Air Travel

Port Columbus International Airport

Rental Cars

Hertz offers discounts to AAA members; phone (614) 239-1084 or (800) 654-3080.

Buses

Greyhound Lines Inc., (614) 228-2266 or (800) 231-2222, 111 E. Town St. between S. 3rd and S. 4th streets, serves Columbus.

Taxis

Yellow Cab, (614) 444-4444, is the largest cab company. Fixed fares are $3 base rate, $4.50 for the first mile, 45c for each additional 2/9 mile and $2.25 for each mile outside Franklin County. A $3 surcharge is added for fares originating at the airport.

Public Transportation

Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) provides bus transportation throughout the city and suburbs Mon.-Fri. 5:30 a.m.-11:45 p.m., Sat. 6 a.m.-10 p.m., Sun. 8-7. The basic fare is $2, express fare is $2.75 and transfers are free. Multiday passes and reduced rates for children and senior citizens are available. Passengers must have exact change.

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