Are you wondering where to stay in Columbus? Downtown, the University District, Polaris, Short North and Italian Village are the best areas to stay in Columbus.
When looking for your next road trip stop, romantic getaway, family adventure or just a place to kick back, relax and explore, you’d be remiss if you didn’t consider the dynamic city of Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus is situated directly within the center of Ohio and is within a one-day drive of 60 percent of the United States, making it extremely accessible and great for a pit stop.
Because of its centrality, many events, conferences, conventions and live shows take place here, giving the city an atmosphere of never-ending excitement.
While often out-shined by other major cities, Columbus has all of the creative and innovative spirit of a Miami, Boston or New York.
In addition, the area is extremely livable. With a wide network of green spaces and public parks, an affordable cost of living, a dynamic sports and music scene and amazing educational institutions, Columbus is growing quickly.
Still, Columbus is often considered “The Biggest Small Town in America,” for its welcoming residents and homey feel.
Whether you’re interested in exploring a world-class museum, attending a live music performance, trying some of the best coffee and craft beer in the nation or simply want to find some greenery in an urban space, Columbus has it all.
In addition, as Columbus is a major stopping point along many road trips and for major events, accommodation options here are seemingly endless. Whatever your accommodation style or budget is, Columbus offers great deals and discounts for all travelers.
Keep reading to discover the four best areas to stay in Columbus and come to discover why this city continues to put Ohio on the map year after year.
Where to stay in Columbus: Best Areas
1. Downtown, where to stay in Columbus for the first time
Bursting with activity, excitement and great photo spots, Downtown Columbus is a fast-growing area drawing in more permanent residents every year. Here, you’ll find options for work and play and a strong local pride seen in many Columbus-born residents.
The culinary scene here is amazing, with hundreds of craft breweries, new bars, international eateries and hip coffee joints popping up every year.
In addition, if live entertainment is your scene, Downtown offers it all. From heart-pumping sporting events to live music on the Columbus Commons, the excitement never stops.
Framed by the famous Main Street Bridge stretching over the Scioto River, Downtown Columbus is a gateway to the city’s past, present and future.
The federal, state and local government buildings are located here, as well as the seat of many major Ohio corporations and businesses.
While Downtown has many smaller districts, the three main ones are the Discovery District, the High Street Corridor and the Riverfront.
Downtown Columbus is well known for its cultural, historical and educational institutions, with most being open for free public viewing.
Start a day here by visiting the Columbus Museum of Art, a fine art museum displaying American and European modern and contemporary art, as well as glass art, sculptures and photography.
Originally founded in 1878, the museum features works from both international and Columbus-born artists, as well as paintings by Pablo Picasso and Normal Rockwell.
The Center of Science and Industry, or COSI, is located in neighboring Franklinton and is an architectural marvel and center of innovation.
Featuring more than 300 immersive exhibits crossing different technical themes, COSI is a leading institution of scientific education and a prime destination for school field trips.
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum is the United States’ national museum for veterans who served in the Armed Forces and is also located in Downtown.
The museum serves to highlight personal stories and artifacts of veterans while honoring their legacy, all housed in a meticulously-designed building and outdoor garden.
To get in a bit of walking, check out the Scioto Mile, Downtown’s ultimate riverfront destination and an amazing community spot. Based along the mighty Scioto River, the Scioto Mile was formed in late 2015 when 33 acres of parkland were granted by the state.
Now, a collection of nine parks and trails along the banks of the river connect parts of the Scioto Greenway Trail with the rest of Downtown and Franklinton.
The Scioto Mile Promenade is the perfect place to bike, stroll, rollerblade or sit and people watch along the benches. Runners enjoy jogging along the Scioto Greenway Trail, while kids love cooling off in the Scioto Mile Fountain on hot summer days.
Battelle Riverfront Park is also located along the river and includes several memorials, including the Columbus Firefighters Memorial and the Spanish-American War Memorial, as well as several monuments.
An incredible spot to check out is the German Village, a rustic and charming little village in the middle of a major city. Famous for its 19th-century brick homes, the area was originally settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800’s.
Now fully restored, this historic district mixes old traditions with modern touches. Visitors will enjoy strolling along the cobbled streets, sitting down at German pubs and coffee shops or visiting the old-style marketplace with artisan crafts, The Red Stable.
The nearby Brewery District is also Downtown’s certified beer and wine scene, with multiple breweries and distilleries you can tour and try tastings.
Another major attraction of downtown is the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. This leading horticultural and educational institution showcases exotic and tropical flowers, seasonal collections and beautiful greenhouses spread around the grounds.
With more than 400 plant species, the Conservatory also holds several themed biomes, including the Himalayan Mountains, Pacific Island and Tropical Rainforest. The Conservatory is located within the surrounding, 88-acre Franklin Park.
Pearl Market and North Market Downtown are great markets for sourcing fresh produce, flowers and hand-made crafts. North Market is covered and offers seemingly never-ending food and dining options, as well as spots selling beer and wine, jewelry and meats and cheeses.
In terms of dining and nightlife options, Downtown is your spot. Less student-centered than University District, Downtown sees thousands of young professionals hit its breweries, bars and clubs every weekend.
As Columbus is well-known for its craft beer, check out the Columbus Ale Trail, where you can visit several breweries, get in a free tasting and receive a certified embroidered patch of trail completion.
Funny Bone Comedy Club is great for a fun date and Axis Nightclub features nightly drag queen performances.
The area of Downtown is extremely walkable and you can get to many attractions and activities by foot.
But, if you feel like taking a tour of the city while also getting in some history, Columbus City Adventures shuttles around visitors to all the main points of interests while also including facts about Columbus.
The COTA bus also provides transportation around Downtown. If you’re up for getting in some exercise, Downtown Columbus offers 46 CoGo stations around the area to rent bicycles.
Hotels, motels and even AirBnB’s on the outskirts of Downtown are all located here and aren’t usually too expensive when booked early.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN COLUMBUS IN DOWNTOWN
- ($$) Hotel LeVeque, Autograph Collection
- ($$) Hilton Columbus Downtown
- ($) Hampton Inn & Suites Columbus-Downtown, Ohio
2. Short North and Italian Village, where to stay in Columbus in hip and trendy districts
The adjoining districts of Short North and Italian Village are certified cultural and diversity hotspots, each with unique atmospheres and hip attractions.
Located on the main strip of High Street, these neighborhoods are incredibly welcoming to all walks of life, with distinct immigrant populations that have transformed the areas’ culinary and cultural scenes.
Art murals decorate rustic buildings and galleries, while small shops, tattoo parlors and bars line the brick streets. Short North and Italian Village are two foodie destinations,
Students, tourists, young families and working professionals alike will all agree that Short North is one of the hippest, trendiest neighborhoods in all of Columbus, giving it the reputation as the “heart and soul” of Columbus.
Once a home for artists and bohemians in the 1960s, Short North fell into a period of decay and violence until a revival in the 80s, when multiple art galleries opened up. Since, gentrification has completely revitalized the area, but much of the gritty, counter-cultural community feel of the area still dominates.
Filled with casual eateries, vintage clothing and record shops, eclectic coffee shops and artistic performances, Short North is always bustling and all together boundary-pushing.
You’ll know you’re in Short North when you see the 17 lighted arches rising above the main street, welcomed in by arts murals and restaurants below.
Victorian Village is located to the west of Short North, while Italian Village borders the east. You can hit all areas in just one day, but you may find you want to stay just a bit longer.
During Halloween, Short North hosts HighBall Halloween and Masquerade on High, a live fashion show, bar crawl and street parade that takes over the entire area.
With a new theme every year, HighBall Halloween sees thousands of fashion and food lovers descend to Short North to drink, eat and party on the street, decked out in elaborate costumes and accessories.
Another major visitor attraction of Short North is the Gallery Hop, when galleries and business owners collectively stay open until late on the first Sunday of each month to showcase their work.
Musicians and artists also perform on the streets to large crowds on the packed sidewalks.
Short North also has a great range of restaurants and bars, serving up everything from classic American fare to international cuisine.
Short North is home to some of the best coffee spots in Columbus, including One Line Coffee, offering a great selection of batch brew and pour over lattes and espressos for your caffeine fix.
Victorian Village is a quaint and leafy neighborhood located within the overall Short North neighborhood, aptly named for its late- 19th- and early-20th-century homes with stately Queen Anne and Gothic Revival architectural styles.
Goodale Park, Columbus’ most popular park and site for music festivals, is also located here and is great for biking, walking and picnics.
Italian Village, also located just north of downtown Columbus, is a culinary haven and residential suburb, as well as a designated historic district.
Once an immigrant neighborhood in the late 1800s, there are significant Italian influences on the area, including Italian crafted buildings and residencies.
But, the area was also once home to a large Irish and African American population as well, giving the neighborhood a distinct, multi-cultural history that still dominates today.
The Italian Village Park was built in dedication to Carl Proto, a Columbus native, and has a playground and several picnic areas. St. John the Baptist Italian Church is also located here and is the main distinguishing feature of the area.
Services were originally spoken in Italian and served as a way to bring the entire Italian community together in worship. Now, all are welcome to mass and a major celebration happens here on the feast day of St. John the Baptist in the fall.
The day marks a major Italian Festival, with live music, parades, pizza and sausage stalls all set up in front of the church, drawing in visitors from all over Ohio.
To take in some old architecture, stroll along the beautiful row houses near East Russell and Kerr streets, preserving the classic history of the area.
Italian Village is also the perfect place to go on a bar crawl or food tour. For next level brews in an old-style pub setting, visit Little Rock Bar for live acoustic music. St. James is another great bar for dancing to the music from a classic jukebox.
Fox in the Snow, a coffee shop located in a renovated Mason garage, is a recent Columbus success story that serves up incredible baked goods and lattes.
Short North and Italian Village both have some cool, trendy hotels and smaller, boutique inns near Goodale Park. Recent influxes of visitors have upped accommodation prices in recent years, but you’re still likely to find a good discount when you start looking.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN COLUMBUS IN SHORT NORTH
3. University District, the Ohio State University’s buzzing student hub
If there’s one thing the city of Columbus is known for, it’s being home to the famed and prestigious The Ohio State University.
Originally opening its doors in 1873, Ohio State is now home to nearly 50,000 undergraduate students and nearly 15,000 graduate students, making the main campus in Columbus the third-largest university campus in the United States.
University life is dominated by over 1,000 student organizations and Ohio State’s athletic prowess, with one of the biggest college football programs in the country.
Beyond the university itself, University District is also home to the Battelle Institute and Wexner Medical Center, two of the most senior leading scientific and technology institutions in the United States.
These sites and University District’s diverse range of restaurants, bars, attractions and shopping sites have led this area to be Columbus’ most densely populated.
If you’re coming to tour the university or are looking to get out and have a good time, University District is a great place to stay in Columbus.
University District’s young population has lead the area to be a modern hub of diversity, culture and urban living. But picturesque architecture and buildings and centuries-old traditions give University District a classic, old-school neighborhood feel.
13 different neighborhoods, each with a unique style, atmosphere and population, make up University District. With this, there’s so much to explore.
One can’t-miss, heart-pumping attraction is (of course) attending a Ohio State Buckeyes football game at the famed Ohio State Stadium.
Commonly nicknamed “The Horseshoe,” the stadium is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can hold almost 103,000 spectators.
The excitement of a game day in Columbus is an unmatched feeling, as thousands of fans and visitors in scarlet and grey tailgate around the campus and rally war cries throughout the night.
Be sure to walk around campus before and stroll along the historic Oval, a large, grassy lawn with “The Five Brothers,” a circle of five historic oak trees honoring five fallen OSU students.
Here, students congregate, picnic, play lawn sports and lay out in the Columbus sunshine.
The 18,000-seat Schottenstein Center hosts Ohio State’s hockey and basketball teams, as well as major concerts of touring bands and musicians.
All of University District has a student feel and thus an exciting and dynamic atmosphere runs throughout campus year-round.
University District has a distinct multicultural and artistic feel, shown in the constant rotation of exhibitions and showcases held throughout the year.
The Wexner Center for the Arts is an internationally-recognized, leading arts venue located on Ohio State’s campus. The center regularly hosts concerts, films, educational seminars and arts performances ranging from dance, jazz, electronica and much more.
The Wexner Center Film/Video Theater shows independent and classic films, while the black box theater is an intimate venue for plays and cabaret-style concerts.
If you come in late July, you’ll also be able to catch the famed Ohio State Fair, one of the largest state fairs in the U.S.
With more than 70 heart-pumping fair rides, 200 food vendors with sugary and salty snacks, live magic, petting zoos, clowns and much more, the fair is a family-favorite tradition dating back to 1850.
Clintonville is located within University District and is a vibrant spot in its own right. Clustered around N. High Street are indie and thrifting boutiques, record shops and several great green spaces and biking trails.
The Park of Roses is an incredible spot and one of the largest public rose gardens in the U.S. You’ll see hundreds of varieties of roses, herbs and perennials blooming along one mile of paved walkways.
The Clintonville Farmer’s Market is another popular attraction, selling fresh produce and local goods during the warmer months.
The Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum hosts the largest collection of cartoons and comics in the world and is free for the public throughout the year.
If you’re looking for incredibly diverse options for nightlife, University District is your place. While you may have to compete with students looking to have a good time post-exam, there’s many lowkey bars and exciting clubs that are worth checking out.
Ace of Cups is great for live entertainment and great cocktails, as well as weekly karaoke. Brothers Drake Meandry hosts some of the best jazz acts in Columbus, as well as fantastic local beer.
Newport Music Hall is commonly referred to as “America’s Longest Continually Running Rock Club,” and often hosts live rock performances throughout the year.
Similarly, there’s a ton of restaurants, ranging from casual to high dining.
Get a New York-style pizza slice at Adriatico’s or a plant-based burger from vegan spot Eden Burger. Jack & Benny’s is great for diner-style brunch, recognized as the best breakfast spot in Ohio by Ohio magazine.
Because the University District is home to a major university, options for accommodation are plentiful. There are major hotels who often give discounts to students and visiting families, as well as smaller boutique inns and suites.
Accommodation can get a bit expensive in this area, especially if a big football game is happening, so book early for the lowest prices. Because this area is so close to university and offers so much to do, University District is a great place to stay in Columbus.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN COLUMBUS IN UNIVERSITY DISTRICT
- ($$) Residence Inn by Marriott Columbus OSU
- ($) Staybridge Suites – University Area OSU, an IHG Hotel
- ($) Fairfield Inn & Suites Columbus OSU
4. Polaris, where to stay in Columbus for shopping
Located in north Columbus, Polaris has seen significant growth in the past decade. Originally, the area was built to hold a shopping center for local residents and at the time was the largest shopping mall in the state.
Now, Polaris features hundreds of restaurants, bars and entertainment options, as well as residences and office buildings, making the neighborhood a thriving metropolis within a greater city and drawing in thousands of tourists.
This area is very family-friendly, safe and has a wealth of accommodation options, making it a great area to stay in Columbus.
The main attraction here is, of course, the Polaris Fashion Place, with tons of stores, dining options and regular events and exhibitions throughout the year. People from all over Ohio and even adjoining states come to explore this premiere destination for both shopping and living.
The shopping mall itself is two levels with a surrounding retail plaza, including anchor stores H&M, JC Penny and Saks Fifth Avenue. The mall itself is part of the 1,200 acre POLARIS Centers of Commerce real estate development, which houses even more commercial and residential development.
At the Polaris Fashion Place, you can find almost anything, including spas and salons, a bridal shop, furniture stores, car and auto parts and even banking services. The mall is huge, so give yourself at least a few hours to explore it all.
The dining options here are similarly unrivaled by anywhere else in Ohio. From fast food chain favorites to casual international eating to upscale, date-night dining, Polaris has a food option for everyone to enjoy.
Many restaurants also host event spaces for corporate meetings, birthday parties or happy hours.
The Magic Mountain Fun Center is a family-friendly amusement park located in Polaris which is perfect for kids young and old.
Offering incredible, heart-racing and fun activities like laser tag, adventure golf, go-karting, water bumper boats and a massive arcade, kids can play to their heart’s desire. And, there is no admission or entrance fee, instead operating on a “pay-as-you-go” system.
The Polaris Founder’s Park is a pocket park near the fun center also worth checking out. The Park is dedicated to Robert C. Echele, who founded the Polaris Centers of Commerce company and was inspirational to the area’s development.
There’s also a gazebo here, as well as Japanese-inspired gardens and a 35-feet high wind sculpture.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is only a 20-minute drive from Polaris and is certainly worth a visit. Home to 10,000 animals from around the globe, the zoo also features the Zoombezi Bay Water Park and a 18-hole safari golf club.
The zoo also has its very own conservation center, dedicated to donation and conservation efforts protecting endangered species worldwide.
Out of all the areas on this list, Polaris has the best network of hotels within the Polaris Shopping Palace.
With 14 hotels ranging in price and accommodation style, Polaris is a leading area in hospitality done right and is within close proximity to both Downtown and University District.
While there aren’t as many activities or sights directly within Polaris, it’s still a great place to stay in Columbus if you’re coming for a conference or event or just want to access the rest of the city.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN COLUMBUS IN POLARIS
- ($$) Hilton Columbus/Polaris
- ($) Drury Inn & Suites Columbus Polaris
- ($) Homewood Suites by Hilton Columbus/Polaris
Wherever you decide to stay in Columbus, you can’t go wrong with choosing an area on this list. Columbus is perfect for both an extended stay or even a short stop as you continue on a road trip adventure.