Top 10 Things to do in Indianapolis
Located at the intersection of the major interstate highways, Indianapolis is much more than a historic road junction. Today, it’s a busy, yet pleasant and affordable midwestern city that cherishes its history and is rapidly developing. National landmarks, monuments to its rich literary background, accessible urban parks, large-scale sporting events – Indy has it all. We have compiled a list of things to do and see in Indianapolis, in no particular order, to help you navigate between its numerous attractions.
Indianapolis Museum of Art
Located at Newfields – a huge complex that includes an art and nature park with beautiful gardens, an historic early 20th-century mansion, and a beer garden – the IMA dates back to 1883. It hosts over 54,000 works of art, featuring artifacts from all over the world, from Africa to the Americas, and spanning over 5,000 years. There’s Gauguin and Rembrandt, Chagall and Matisse, Hopper and O’Keeffe. The local Neo-Impressionist collection is regarded as the most comprehensive one in North America. Japanese art, particularly paintings, scrolls, and screens from the Edo Period, is well represented here. Textile and fashion section includes gems ranging from Baluchi rugs to antique lace and custom-designed costumes by Givenchy, Chanel, and Balmain. Contemporary art has been increasingly displayed by the IMA in recent years. In short, this museum is truly encyclopaedic – and its surroundings are exceptionally nice, too. Discover the 10 best museums in Indianapolis.
Address: Newfields, 4000 Michigan Road, Indianapolis, IN 46208-3326
Cost: adults $20, seniors $18, children aged 6-17 $13, younger kids go free
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
In a city nicknamed the Racing Capital of the World, home to one of the oldest continually operating race tracks around the globe, and known for its huge love of sports, a trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is a must. Located inside the oval of the famous race course, the 1909-built Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the museum itself dates back to 1956. Inside, you can see automobiles – including over thirty Indianapolis 500 winning cars that span over a century of racing, looking sleek, elegant, and futuristic – as well as passenger vehicles that have been manufactured in Indiana. Various drivers’ equipment, photographs, trophies, models, and toys are also part of the collection. Of course, you can sit behind the wheel of a real race car, too!. This museum is a great way to spend time in Indianapolis with kids.
Address: 4750 W 16th St, Indianapolis, IN 46222
Cost: adults $15, seniors $14, children aged 6-15 $8, younger kids go free
Indy is known for its parks, trails, and green spaces, among other things – Central Canal, in our opinion, is the highlight of its urban nature locations. Stroll, jog, cycle, or paddle, or have a quiet picnic by the water and do some duck-watching. There’s plenty of culture along the way, too (the canal is a downtown waterway, after all): watch out for sculptures and installations, snap a few photos of the vibrant underpass murals, or head towards one of the many cultural institutions in the vicinity: NCAA Hall of Champions, Indiana State Museum, Eiteljorg Museum, Indiana Historical Society, Kurt Vonnegut Museum & Library. Clean and tranquil, the Canal is the place to go to see the city from a different perspective – pedestrian and relaxed.
Address: Indianapolis, IN 46204
Indiana War Memorial & Museum
Indianapolis is home to the most sizeable collection of monuments dedicated to wars and veterans in the country outside of Washington. Among those, the biggest concentration of architectural grandeur infused with patriotic pride can be found at the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza. This is a large downtown complex that includes a few buildings, monuments, and urban spaces honouring the locals who served in the military conflicts that the US took part in, from the American Revolutionary War to our times. The tall neoclassical structure of the museum hosts firearms and flags, technical equipment and memorabilia – plus, there is a solemn Shrine bearing the name of the Indiana locals who fought in WWI.
Address: 55 E Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46204
Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library
Vonnegut, the acclaimed American writer, was an Indy native – and this local museum has been striving to uphold his legacy, commemorating the author and trying to bring forward his message of humanism and freedom of expression, since the place opened its doors in 2011. It hosts a collection of books and letters, personal items and art works of Vonnegut. At the same time, the place is much more than a museum but also one of the key cultural nodes of the community, organising classes and workshops, and trying to be an educational resource for the residents. Small, cosy, with friendly curators and a shop to buy books and souvenirs, this museum is the place to go when you think the world has gone mad and our civilisation is doomed – trust us, you’d feel better!
Address: 543 Indiana Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46202
Cost: adults $12, seniors $10, students $8
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
Located in Indy’s downtown White River State Park, the Eiteljorg Museum is home to what is considered the finest collection of Native American art in the world. Named after the businessman and philanthropist Harrison Eiteljorg who had donated his art collection to the institution, the museum tells the stories of the indigenous people of America and the American West with art that ranges from the 1820s to the present. Works by renowned artists such as Andy Warhol and Georgia O’Keeffe are also on display. The unique architecture of the museum’s building has been inspired by Native American art, and outdoors, you’ll find sculptures and gardens that contribute to the aesthetically pleasing atmosphere of the space.
Address: 500 West Washington Street Indianapolis, IN 46204
Cost: adults $18, seniors $14, youth aged 5-17 $10, younger children go free
Lockerbie Square Historic District
The oldest intact residential area of Indianapolis, Lockerbie Square Historic District was planned out in the mid-19th century, and is a charming little neighbourhood with tree-lined cobblestone streets and lovely old houses. It includes residential, commercial, religious, and educational structures that were built between 1855-1930 and represent various architectural styles including Federal, Italianate, and Queen Anne. Among the famous residents of the neighbourhood was the poet James Whitcomb Riley, who was known to give out candy to local children on his regular walks. His Victorian residence is currently one of the local museums. Other notable buildings include Das Deutsche Haus-Athenaeum and two German churches, a reminder that a large German immigrant population used to live here in the 19th century, and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the Gothic Revival style. Overall, it’s a beautiful part of town for a walk on a sunny afternoon.
Address: 342-332 N Park Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46202
Indiana Medical History Museum
One of the more obscure treasures of Indianapolis, this museum is located on the grounds of what was formerly Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane, and is devoted to the emergence of scientific psychiatry. The building that it occupies is officially the country’s oldest surviving pathology lab. The collection holds a multitude of medical items and devices, including an iron lung, autopsied brains and other specimens, a chemical lab with various contraptions, an autopsy room, and a retro-looking 150-seat teaching amphitheatre. Definitely not for the squeamish, this museum might be a bit morbid, yet utterly fascinating. Plus, there is a nice garden with medicinal herbs.
Address: 3270 Kirkbride Way, Indianapolis, IN 46222
Cost: adults $10, seniors $9, students $7, children younger than 17 $5
The legendary car race also known as the Indy 500 takes place annually on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over Memorial Day weekend (the last weekend of May), and is one of the most important automobile races and sporting events in the world. The inaugural race was held back in 1911, and since then the event has become a staple of Indianapolis. The race was put on hiatus only twice, both times because of the world wars: from 1917 to 1918 and from 1942 to 1945. The competing vehicles are professional-level open-cockpit purpose-built ‘Indy cars’ that produce a range of 550–750 horsepower. The speedway itself, a 4 km-long oval track, is a historic structure that encircles the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum you’ve already read about in this list. So, just in case you can’t make it to the event, head straight to the museum!
Address: 4790 W. 16th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46222 (ticket office)
Cost: ticket prices for the race day vary and start at $40 (advance)/$50 (event day).
Crown Hill Cemetery
Last but not least in our list is Indianapolis’ famed cemetery. Crown Hill is not just a burial ground or a solemn park: it is also an important cultural and historical space, a conservatory, home to a few architectural gems, final resting place of the city’s major figures, and basically a collection of works of art in a darkly beautiful natural setting. Many of its structures were designed by renowned architects, the most impressive ones being its Gothic chapel and gate. Among the notable people buried here are a president, an infamous bank robber, over 60 racing legends (this town sure loves racing), Kurt Vonnegut’s family, and the poet James Whitcomb Riley (we’ve already pointed you in the direction of Indy’s historic structures commemorating their life and work). Union and Confederate soldiers, and veterans of the wars are also interred here (remember, Indiapanolis cherishes its military history). Don’t feel like being a tombstone tourist? Well, we can recommend climbing up the highest hill in the county, the Crown, that gave the cemetery its name, and watching the sunset. It’s actually quite nice over there.
Address: North Gate at 38th St. & Clarendon Rd. 700 West 38th Street