Top Ten Things a Tourist in Indianapolis Must Do

There is a lot to do in Indianapolis, and more often than not it is free or nominally priced. What you want to do in Indianapolis depends on what kind of person you are. Bicycle nuts, for example, love the Cultural Trail and the Monon Trail, while geeks and nerds find a second home at Game Paradise, the city’s only board game library. Here are the top ten things a tourist in Indianapolis must do.

10) Drink coffee at a local coffee shop.

Look out, Seattle, downtown Indianapolis takes its independent coffee seriously. The downtown area is home to several independent coffee shops, each with java that competes with the chains. Four of the five best places to get a unique cup of coffee are located in downtown–the Sol Rey at Bee Coffee Roasters is a must-try. Want to simply kick back with a bottomless cup of joe while you surf the Internet? Quill’s Coffee, located on the Canal, is the perfect place to kill an hour or two.

9) Enjoy a craft beer.

Indiana is known for its craft beer industry, and locals are passionate about which brewery, winery, or meadery (yes, we have a place that makes mead, it’s New Day Meadery) they get their libations from. The best place to get local beer in Indianapolis is the Tomlinson Tap Room, located in Indianapolis City Market, as it sells only local beer. However, many of the breweries, wineries and the meadery offer free or low-cost samples so you can try before you buy. Popular breweries include Sun KingFountain Square BrewingBIER Brewery and Tap RoomUnion Brewing Company(which features a cinnamon roll beer), Triton Brewing Company, and Flat 12 Bierworks.

8) Tour the Canal Walk.

There are many ways to do this, ranging from walking to riding a Segway. An ambitious project that bankrupted the state (the goal was for the Canal to connect the Erie Canal to the Ohio River–stop laughing! We aim high in Indianapolis!), this is one of the best-kept secrets in town. When the weather is nice, you have the option of riding a gondola or renting a paddleboat or kayak. Especially worth visiting is the U.S.S. Indianapolis Memoriallocated on the Canal’s North end, which commemorates the lives lost in the worst disaster in U.S. Navy history.

7) Eat a tenderloin.

A pork tenderloin sandwich is the unofficial state dish, and if you want to start an argument in Indianapolis, ask where to get the best tenderloin. Ideally the pork loin should be pounded paper-thin with a mallet (just go with it), breaded, deep-fried and served on a bun only one-fourth to one-half the size of the meat. There is a 1998 documentary about tenderloins titled In Search of the Famous Hoosier Breaded Tenderloin (Mug-N-Bun Drive-In is located in Indy) and the dish was born at Nick’s Kitchen in Huntington. Another guaranteed way to start an argument is to ask what goes on a tenderloin–if you want to look like a local, absolutely nothing, but a little mayo is acceptable. Vegetarian or vegan? No problem! You can enjoy a tenderloin made from seitan at Three Carrots Restaurant in Indianapolis City Market.

6) Visit the Anne Frank Peace Garden at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum.

If you have children, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum is a must-visit, although it can be expensive. The museum is the world’s largest children’s museum, with five floors of interactive exhibits ranging from an Egyptian mummy to an exhibit that lets you dig for dinosaur bones. But the best kept secret part of the museum is the Anne Frank Peace Garden, which is located just off the path to the main entrance and is free. In addition to a statue of a page of her diary and a sapling of the tree she saw from the Secret Annex, there are several child-size statues of world-famous monuments, ranging from the Great Sphinx to the Great Wall of China.

5) Visit Monument Circle.

The heart of the Circle City, Monument Circle is home to several landmarks, the best-known being the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. You can take an elevator to the top for a decent 360-degree view of downtown, and the Col. Eli Lilly Civil War Museum in the basement is a must-visit. Fun fact: Only Washington, D.C. has more war memorials than Indianapolis. South Bend Chocolate Company has the best hot chocolate in town; they melt one of their chocolate bars and add the syrup to the milk. The hot chocolate is also available with mint or with cinnamon and chile.

4) Visit City-County Building’s Observation Deck.

One of downtown’s best-kept secrets, the City-County Building’s Observation Deck offers the best view of the city. Look west to view most of the city’s landmarks, east to view the heliport, and north to see the Pyramids office buildings featured on the introduction of the Eighties sitcom One Day at a Time.

3) Explore the Cultural Trail.

The Cultural Trail connects six of the downtown cultural districts: Wholesale District, Indiana Avenue, The Canal and White River State Park, Broad Ripple (via the Monon Trail), Massachusetts Avenue (“Mass Ave” to locals), and Fountain Square. It also connects to the historic Fletcher Place neighborhood. The Cultural Trail is very bike friendly, but the Pacers Bike Share program gets expensive quickly as you have to check the bike in every half hour or be penalized. You’re better off going to Bicycle Garage Indy where you can rent a bike for the day for a flat rate. Popular destinations include New Day Meadery in Fountain Square, the Indianapolis ZooWhite River Gardens, the Indiana State Museum, and the Canal.

2) Take a lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Going for a ride on the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum will get you marked as a tourist, but it’s worth it, especially if you’re a fan of what locals call “The Race” (the Indianapolis 500). Prices vary, with the basic one-lap narrated tour on an IMS bus being the cheapest option. Faster options are more expensive. One option even lets you drive the car yourself at a top speed of 130 mph. Go to for more information.

1) Visit White River State Park.

So we’re 1,000+ miles from the nearest ocean–that doesn’t mean you can’t pet a shark or interact with dolphins underwater at the Indianapolis Zoo! So it’s the Twenty-First Century–that doesn’t mean you can’t learn about how cowboys and Native Americans lived and expressed themselves at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art! So you don’t know what a Foucault pendulum is–go to the Indiana State Museum to see one in action. There’s plenty to do in the park’s 250 acres, such as take in an Indianapolis Indians baseball game, visit the NCAA Hall of Champions, enjoy a concert on Farm Bureau Insurance Lawn, or catch a movie at the IMAX Theater. You’re really limited only by your imagination.

Enjoy Indianapolis!

Indianapolis Cultural Trail: Insider Guide

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 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

nother 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 was 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, the 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 is 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, 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 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.

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.