Indianapolis Cultural Trail: Insider Guide

Helen H. Richardson / Getty Images

The Indianapolis Cultural Trail is eight miles long, connecting six cultural districts that spread over downtown and branch outward into other urban neighborhoods. The trail was constructed parallel with the streets it traverses with special pavers and landscaping, creating a safe place for cyclists and pedestrians to travel the city. Its route takes it past every major city museum, the White River State Park, the downtown canal, and through Fountain Square, Fletcher Place, Indiana Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue, and the Wholesale District. The Cultural Trail links into 40 miles of greenway trails, so residents and visitors can see the whole city on foot or by bicycle. It features seven public art projects, five acres of public gardens designed to drain off stormwater, 86 bike racks and so much more.

Must see on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Glick Peace Walk

The Peace Walk is, without question, the most moving section of the Cultural Trail. It honors 12 prominent people, or luminaries, whose contributions to our society brought light to the world. Each of the honorees or luminaries has a lighted (illuminated) sculptured likeness surrounded by a landscaped garden. Because of the lighted sculptures, the Peace Walk delivers more impact at night. Trail users can step off the trail into each luminary’s garden and read about his or her accomplishments. The 12 luminaries are:

  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Andrew Carnegie
  • Thomas Edison
  • Albert Einstein
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Jonas Salk
  • Mark Twain
  • Booker T. Washington
  • The Wright Brothers

Swarm Street

Another must-see at night is Swarm Street, which connects downtown with the two urban neighborhoods of Fletcher Place and Fountain Square, both of which are part of the Cultural Trail. Swarm Street is a section of the trail that goes underneath a parking garage that straddles Virginia Avenue. It looks like a dark tunnel in the daytime and was even darker at night until artist and poet Vito Acconci were tapped to create an installation there. Inspired by swarms of birds and fireflies, Acconci embedded a thousand LED lights in the pavement that goes under the garage, and another thousand in a network of steel overhead. They are activated by sensors, so as cars, cyclists, and pedestrians approach, they begin twinkling and flickering, resembling swarms of fireflies, and turn off as you leave. The lighted swarms show up in the daytime, too, illuminating the dark tunnel for trail users.

Poet’s Place

Poet’s Place is on Alabama Street south of its intersection with Vermont Street. a blue sign stands there, imprinted with a poem written by Dr. Elizabeth Weber, English professor at the University of Indianapolis. The poem, “City Generation,” is about Weber’s relationship with Indianapolis. Poet’s Place was established in honor of the late Jim Shackleford who wasn’t a poet in the traditional sense of the word, but was, instead, a city leader and champion of the Cultural Trail, and is known as the trail’s true poet. He called the trail, “the canvas on which the community can contribute its character and creativity.” Pure poetry.

Where to Stay Near Indianapolis Cultural Trail

The Alexander Hotel

An artsy hotel located right on the trail. It’s named after Alexander Ralston who designed the layout of Indianapolis. The hotel offers a “Cycle City package for guests who want to use the trail, complete with complimentary bicycles for the length of their stay.

The Conrad Hotel

Also on the trail, it has everything a hotel would offer that’s named for Conrad Hilton and is just around the corner from Monument Circle. It, too, offers the free use of bicycles for its guests.

Best and Worst Time to go to the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

The worst time to go is on a weekend when there’s a major event downtown because parking will be difficult and multitudes will be using the trail. The best time is on weekdays when many people are at work and kids are in school. You will never have the cultural trail to yourself because it’s so popular, but you will have a lot more room to explore it when the crowds are thinned out.

Food on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Bluebeard

This restaurant pays homage to Indianapolis’ favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, both with its name, which is the same name as one of Vonnegut’s novels and with a portrait of Vonnegut inside hanging on a wall. Bluebeard’s gourmet menu changes daily and features organic, seasonal dishes, with most of the ingredients sourced locally. You won’t want to miss the bread, which is baked daily by Bluebeard’s own bakery.

Indianapolis City Market

The trail runs right by City Market, a European-style place with stalls and kiosks of eateries, bakeries, wine and cheese shops, growers, and more, it’s a great place to stop for a meal or refreshments.

Milktooth

If it’s coffee or breakfast or brunch you want, Milktooth is the place. It’s open until 3 p.m., so guests can enjoy the restaurant’s trendy, healthy foods for lunch, too, even with alcoholic drinks. It’s the in place to go, so try to get there before the crowds surge in.

Parking near the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Since you don’t have to start your Cultural Trail experience at its beginning but can access it at any point, you can park anywhere within the trail’s eight miles that is easiest for you. The parking garage at the White River State Park is right on the trail, for one idea. There is also parking along Massachusetts Avenue, Virginia Avenue, Washington Street, and Georgia Street. Some of the parking is metered, so make sure you plan ahead for that.

Transportation Alternatives at the Indianapolis Cultural Trail

If you don’t want to drive to the trail, you can bike there on the Monon Trail or any of the other greenway trails that are connected to the Cultural Trail. Or, you can take the IndyGo bus system, or a taxi or get a ride from Uber or Lyft. The Indianapolis Pacers established a Bikeshare program along the trail, which placed 25 bike stations on the trail and 250 bicycles available for rent. You might want to check out the Blue Indy car rental system of electric cars.

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