K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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You probably know Indianapolis is all about car racing and the Colts, and while it’s worth visiting for its sports offerings alone, you’ll find much more than that when it comes to things to see and do in this city.
Starting off with one of its main attractions, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway draws visitors from every continent to visit the Racing Capital of the World. It’s internationally renowned for hosting the world’s largest single-day sporting event in the world, the Indianapolis 500, annually on Memorial Day weekend. It also hosts many other major racing events throughout the year, as well as the Indianapolis Hall of Fame Museum, the opportunity to play 18 holes of golf on the Brickyard Crossing Golf Course or even travel over 150 mph in an Indy car. Visitors can also take informative guided tours of the Speedway, which includes visits to the victory platform, garage area, and Gasoline Alley hospitality suite.
Situated downtown in White River State Park, the Indianapolis Zoo is a zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden all in one. It houses some 250 species and 2,000 varieties of plants in simulated natural habitats, immersing visitors in places like an Asian temperate forest and the African Savannah. You can even race a cheetah, touch sharks, view dolphins underwater and feed birds while they rest on your arm. Polar bear and penguins can be found in arctic land, while the White River Gardens hosts a 5,000-square-foot conservatory as well as magnificently landscaped outdoor garden rooms.
Mass Ave, as its affectionately called, is a five-block area filled with art galleries, restaurants, theaters and a wealth of eclectic, independent boutiques and quirky shops as the cultural heart of the city. It’s home to the country’s oldest shoe store, Stout’s Shoes, which opened its doors in 1886 as well as The Best Chocolate in Town. You can’t miss the 38 foot-tall hometown hero and author Kurt Vonnegut gazing down as you stroll the avenue, and you won’t want to miss The Anthenaeum, where you can find a massive theater, a fantastic German restaurant, a beer garden and more.
Noted for its impeccably preserved Queen Anne and Italianate-style architecture, the Lockerbie Square Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the oldest remaining residential neighborhood in downtown Indianapolis. Free walking tours include visits to 25 historic residences, built between 1855 and 1930, including the famed James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home. It served as the residence of the famous poet James Whitcomb who was revered nationally for his Hoosier dialect poetry for nearly a quarter-century and it boasts an impressive collection of elegant Victorian furnishings.
The Indiana State Museum is situated in White River Park, housed in an impressive steel, brick, and glass building that’s a work of art in itself, and unveils many of the state’s secrets through unique exhibits and hands-on experiences. It spans three floors showcasing events, characters and stories that have helped shape the state’s history with nearly a half-million artifacts focused on Indiana art, science and culture as well as hosting its largest IMAX theater. Snacks and light meals can be enjoyed at its Farmers Market Cafe.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis offers a variety of astronomy-based shows. It also features a range of permanent and traveling exhibits, including a mummified dinosaur named Leonard, a 1968 locomotive and a restored 1917 carousel. The planetarium is a unique area in which a rotating selection of real and rare iconic spacecraft and other objects from space history pair with a dynamic light-and-sound experience. They tell the stories of the history of space exploration. The first iconic object that is currently featured is the Liberty Bell 7. It was the second U.S. capsule ever flown into space and was piloted by Indiana native Lt. Colonel Virgil Ivan “Gus” Grissom, in 1961. The planetarium is part of a larger exhibit called Beyond Spaceship Earth.
The 8-mile Indianapolis Cultural Trail is a pedestrian and bike path that links neighborhoods, cultural districts and entertainment venues downtown. Along the way, you’ll find all sorts of fun things to do, including sculptures and other artworks, green spaces, and beautiful gardens as well as local shops, cultural districts and multiple eateries. Tours of the trail are available in which you can learn about the places it traverses through, including the cultural districts and historic neighborhoods as well as the works of art.
Thousands of people walk through historic City Market, shopping for produce and groceries, but few realize that just below their feet are miles of interconnected tunnels, built over a century ago. The catacombs, with their limestone and brick archways, were once used to transport and store meats and produce that would be sold at the market before refrigeration was available as the subterranean area stayed cooler than the streets above. Today, much of this area still remains impressively intact and is considered only one of a few catacomb sites that still exist in the country. While you can’t head down on your own, you can schedule an appointment through the City Market or join a tour, which are especially popular around Halloween.
The Indiana Medical History Museum is located in the old pathology building of the Central State Hospital for the Insane. This fascinating museum is kept just like it was over a century ago and oldest surviving pathology facility in the country. It has an autopsy room, an amphitheater for medical students, labs and photo archives as well as old hospital records. You can even view some of the vintage instruments and tools that were frighteningly once used.