Best Things to do in Indianapolis, Indiana

The 15 Awesome Things to Do in Indianapolis

Indianapolis gets a lot of coverage in May when the Indy 500, one of the biggest races in the world, comes back to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But once the racing fans leave the city, Indianapolis stops getting the attention it deserves. Delve a little deeper, and you’ll find that there’s much more to Indy than its world-famous race.  

The city has a strong German heritage, as it was a major settlement for German immigrants in the early 19th century. Today, there are many festivals and museums, as well as Indianapolis cuisine, that pay homage to this history. And there are plenty more places to explore that discuss the many other cultures that have shaped this fascinating Midwestern city.

From green parks and landscaped gardens to one-of-a-kind museums and historical sites, there’s so much to see and do in Indy. Looking for what to do in Indianapolis during your getaway to the Midwest?

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite things to do in Indianapolis, from a living history museum like no other to the biggest children’s museum in the world. Stick to this list, and you’re bound to have an amazing time in the Indiana capital!

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1. Journey into Your Imagination at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Unique Things to do in Indianapolis, Indiana: Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

Traveling with kids? Then, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is one of the absolute must-do things in Indianapolis for you and your family. As the world’s largest children’s museum, there’s so much to do that you’ll likely end up spending the whole day here.

There are exhibits of all kinds, both indoor and outdoor. From life-size dinosaurs to their own International Space Station to a train ride taking you back to the 1890s, there’s something that will spark any child’s imagination. 

Science lover? They’ll love exploring ScienceWorks. Got a little actor? They’ll have a blast with the plays at Lilly Theater. Sports fan? With 12 outdoor sports experiences and three indoor exhibits, they’ll get to live out all their sports star fantasies at the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience.

Throughout the day, you’ll also find tons of events to really immerse your kids in the exhibits. They’ll examine fossils, learn to play different sports, and get up close to live animals. This museum might be for children, but the whole family is bound to have fun here.

2. Discover an Entire World in Newfields

Fun Things to do in Indianapolis, Indiana: Newfields

What’s Newfields? A better question might be: “What isn’t Newfields?” With 152 acres to explore, this massive campus belongs on your Indianapolis bucket list.

One highlight of the campus is the Indianapolis Museum of Art, an expansive art museum with one of the most comprehensive collections of Neo-Impressionism paintings in North America. You’ll also find galleries that’ll transport you to Asia, Ancient Greece, South America, and much more.

Or head over to the Lilly House, a National Historic Landmark that dates back to 1907. This French-inspired home received a grandiose garden in the 1920s before it was purchased by the Lilly family in 1932, who then grew the property by acquiring the neighboring lands.

They donated the 56 acres to the Art Association of Indianapolis to build an art museum. This land would later form the building blocks of Newfields. 

Today, you can tour the Lilly House to see much of how it would have looked in the 1930s, with much of the furnishings having belonged to the Lilly family. You’ll also learn about the history of the estate and the families that have called it home.

Always free to visit is the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, a 100-acre sculpture park that marries experimental artwork with natural beauty. Here, you’ll find a 35-acre lake, woodlands, wetlands, and the largest native pollinator meadow in Indianapolis.

For more natural beauty, stop by The Garden at Newfields, a 52-acre collection of plants and flowers that are always in bloom. From year-round evergreens to the beautiful changing leaves of fall to the bursts of color in spring and summer, you’ll be immersed in tranquility and technicolor when you walk along the winding paths here.

Newfields is also home to many events and festivals throughout the year, like their Harvest Nights in the fall, featuring fall-flavored treats, haunted happenings, and much more. Be sure to check out any events coming up before your trip!

3. See the Animals at the Indianapolis Zoo

Must do things in Indianapolis, Indiana: Indianapolis Zoo

Part non-profit zoo, part aquarium, and part botanical garden, the 64-acre Indianapolis Zoo offers one of the best things to do in Indianapolis, especially if you’re traveling with family. Home to more than 1,400 animals and over 200 unique species, you never know just what you might see when you spend a day here.

Check out the award-winning Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center to see the largest group of orangutans in any American zoo. This research center is dedicated to learning about how we can better protect critically endangered orangutans in the wild. 

Hang out in the Plains to see the animals of Africa’s savannahs, step into the Desert dome to see the creatures who prefer living in 80-degree heat year-round, marvel at the flora of the Hilbert Conservatory in the White River Gardens, explore land both temperate and tropical in the Forests, and meet the undersea creatures of the Oceans.

The zoo is dedicated to conservation, so you’ll find many learning experiences throughout the park. You’ll also be able to get up close to some of the animals with animal experiences, such as their Dolphin In-Water Adventure, the only opportunity in the Midwest to swim with dolphins. 

But it’s more than a chance to meet these animals. You’ll also learn all about what makes these critters unique. Other animal experiences include their Sloth Adventure, Rhino Adventure, and Elephant Bathing Experience. The zoo also has a collection of rides, opportunities to feed the animals, and animal chats and presentations with the on-site Animal Experts.

4. Travel Back in Time at Conner Prairie

Located in nearby Fishers, Conner Prairie is a living history museum that preserves the William Conner home, a National Historic Landmark. Here, you’ll find a recreation of life in the 19th century, making it a great outing if you’re traveling with history lovers.

Explore the house itself, step inside an 1816 Lenape Indian camp, interact with the people of 1836 Prairietown, or experience what life was like during the Civil War in 1863 after a Confederate raid on Dupont, Indiana. You can even learn about the history of human-crewed flight and take to the sky yourself in a hot-air balloon. 

More than just a history museum, Conner Prairie also teaches you about science, animals, and nature. Children have multiple play spaces to explore, from a Civil War-themed splash pad to a four-story treehouse. You can also take part in Nature Walks and Animal Encounters to get up close to the flora and fauna native to the land, as well as the animals who played an essential role in the lives of the villagers. 

5. Spend the Day Learning at the Indiana State Museum

Indianapolis, Indiana Things to do: Indiana State Museum

One of the top Indianapolis attractions, the Indiana State Museum is about all things Indiana, showing you all about the lives of those who called the land home from prehistoric times to the present day. Along your journey through the past, you’ll learn about scientific advancements, artwork of different cultures, and much more.

What makes a visit to this museum one of the top things to do in Indianapolis is the fact that storytelling is at the heart of every exhibit. The museum works to weave the tales of the people and cultures of Indiana to truly immerse you in everything you’re seeing. 

Best Things to do in Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana State Museum

The exhibits are always changing, showing off unique sides of Indiana’s history that are little discussed elsewhere. But there are also galleries that are permanent fixtures, like the R.B. Annis Naturalist’s Lab, which encourages hands-on exploration focused on different forms of science like geology and archaeology; First Nations, which explores how Native Americans built their communities throughout time; and the Hoosier Way, which focuses on the creation of the identity of Indiana from the Pioneer Era.

6. Take a Gondola Ride at White River State Park

Best Things to do in Indianapolis, Indiana; White River State Park

Along the banks of the White River, you’ll find one of the best places to do some Indianapolis sightseeing. White River State Park covers 267 acres and offers plenty of recreation opportunities to get outside and explore Indianapolis’s outdoors.

The home of the Indiana State Museum and the Indianapolis Zoo, White River State Park has several attractions that you’re not going to want to miss. Immerse yourself in a mix of Native American and Western art at the Eiteljorg Museum, experience the interactive exhibits of the NCAA Hall of Champions, or see the Indianapolis Indians play at Victory Field. And there are always shows happening at the TCU Amphitheater.

There’s also a great deal of natural beauty to behold in this park. Take a gondola ride in the summer or stroll through the fall foliage of the River Promenade, which also features stunning stone-cut carvings that line the path.

7. Go Kayaking at Eagle Creek Park

Indianapolis, Indiana Bucket List: Eagle Creek Park

Covering about 1,400 acres of water and 3,900 acres of land, Eagle Creek Park is the largest park in Indianapolis and one of the biggest in the whole of the US. Spending a day here is one of the top things to do in Indianapolis if you’re a lover of the great outdoors. 

If you’re looking for outdoorsy Indianapolis activities, there are several paths to traverse, covering over 16 miles of trails. Eagle Creek Outfitters makes it easy to explore the whole park, including if you want to get out on the water. 

Fun Things to do in Indianapolis, Indiana: Eagle Creek Park

You can rent a hybrid mountain bike for the trails or pick up a kayak, canoe, paddleboat, stand-up paddleboard, pontoon boat, or sailboat to spend the afternoon on the beautiful reservoir. If you’re visiting in the summer, you may also want to take a full moon paddle tour, offered on Friday and Saturday evenings. 

There’s even fun to be had for your furry family members with the park’s Bark Park dog play area. Or you can have some fun in the trees by hanging out in the Go Ape Treetop Adventure.

As the weather gets better, you can play a round on the park’s championship golf course or roll out a blanket for the multiple concert series. Or when it turns cold, you can use the park’s trails for some cross-country skiing. 

8. Stroll through ARTSPARK at the Indianapolis Art Center

The Indianapolis Art Center is situated on a 12-acre campus and is one of the best free things to do in Indianapolis. Founded during the Great Depression, the art center is designed to create accessibility in art and pave the way for the evolution of art.

Exhibitions are constantly changing and showcase local and internationally renowned artists’ work. Explore multimedia displays and the future of art, or step into the past and see works from cultures throughout time. There are also often student displays, so you can see the up-and-coming artists who have enrolled in the arts center.

Also free to explore is the ARTSPARK, nestled into the gardens outside the art center. These interactive sculptures create a playground where nature meets vibrant displays of color. 

Classes and workshops are always happening here, though they do cost an additional fee. Whether you’re a beginner artist, a professional looking to pick up a new skill, or a child hoping to take their first art class, you’ll find what you’re looking for at the Indianapolis Art Center.

9. Enjoy a Day at Garfield Park

Must do things in Indianapolis, Indiana: Garfield Park

Garfield Park is the oldest city park in Indianapolis and one of the best Indianapolis attractions. This scenic park is filled with things to do to keep you busy all day long, whether you’re looking to simply stroll through beautiful grounds or want to immerse yourself in Indianapolis’s art scene.

The Garfield Park Arts Center is focused on showcasing diversity in art, with performing arts spaces, visual arts galleries, and a literary arts library. The galleries are free to the public, but you can also take classes here for an additional charge.

To see beauty of a more natural nature, you can check out the Conservatory and Sunken Gardens. The rainforest-themed conservatory features a world-class orchid collection and is always illuminated in color.

The exterior Sunken Gardens are European-style formal gardens, with its stunning fountains only adding to its beauty. Throughout the year, you’ll find many events and seasonal displays livening up the gorgeous space even more.

Need to cool down from a hot summer day? Take a dip at the Burrello Family Center & Aquatic Center. Kids will love the water-filled play structure, while adults will enjoy getting to relax by the water.

Throughout the year, you’ll also find many concerts and shows happening at the MacAllister Center for the Performing Arts. It’s home to the Symphony in the Park, where the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performs throughout the summer.  

10. Attend an Event at the Indianapolis Artsgarden

What to do in Indianapolis, Indiana: Indianapolis Artsgarden

The stunning glass dome of the Indianapolis Artsgarden is home to many events of all sorts, making seeing a show here one of the most fun Indianapolis activities. The seven-story icon is perhaps one of Indianapolis’s greatest symbols. Throughout the year, you’ll find more than 250 free and public performances, so there’s a very good chance there’s something happening while you’re in town.

The Artsgarden mainly has rotating exhibits, with artwork from local artists who capture the soul of Indianapolis. But the event center goes further to truly immerse visitors in different cultures. 

In addition to art showcases, you’ll also find dance performances, original plays, local musicians, and much more. It’s a celebration of all forms of art, with the people of Indianapolis always being at its heart. 

11. Go Duckpin Bowling

Indianapolis, Indiana Things to do: Duckpin Bowling

Looking for nostalgic things to do in Indianapolis? Give duckpin bowling a try! Don’t worry – you’re not bowling with ducks. Instead, this game, which may trace its roots back to before 1900, has you bowling with just a three-pound ball with no finger holes.

The pins are shorter and more rotund, too. It may be more challenging than regular bowling for some people, but luckily, you get three throws per turn than the standard two. 

Duckpin bowling used to be a big deal in the US, but nowadays, it’s hard to find a duckpin bowling alley – unless you’re in Indianapolis. Over in the old Fountain Square Theatre Building, you’ll find Atomic Bowl and bowling here is one of the most unique things to do in Indianapolis!

With its retro design, you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time here. While you may be able to just drop into other bowling alleys and snag a lane, it’s recommended that you reserve one in advance here. After all, something so unique is bound to fill up fast.

12. Explore the History of the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Unique Things to do in Indianapolis, Indiana: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

The Indy 500, called the largest single-day sporting event in the world, is likely Indianapolis’s most famous event. Whether you’re a racing fan or not, you’ve likely heard of this prestigious race. And when you come to Indianapolis to check out the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the home of the Indy 500, you’ll likely find yourself wrapped up in the excitement. 

Dating back over 100 years, there’s a lot of history to explore about this race and its home track. If you’re visiting in May, you just may be lucky enough to see the race yourself. But if not, you can still visit the track and see where the magic happens. There are many other races and other events happening here throughout the year to grab a seat for as well.

You can also venture through the history of the sport of racing in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, located within the speedway’s famed oval. Here, you’ll find automobiles and other artifacts from over a century of the Indy 500’s history, as well as vehicles from NASCAR, Formula One, drag racing, and other racing leagues. You can also check out the speedway’s Hall of Fame here. 

13. Try a Pork Tenderloin Sandwich

If you went to Indianapolis and didn’t try a pork tenderloin sandwich, did you even go to Indianapolis? When you think of Philadelphia, you think of the cheesesteak. And New Jersey’s sandwich is made up of Taylor ham, egg, and cheese on a bagel. Indianapolis has the pork tenderloin sandwich.

You’ll find this sandwich, comprised of seasoned, breaded, and deep-fried pork tenderloin on a bun, on the menu at many of Indianapolis’s restaurants. It’s a tradition that dates back over 100 years and traces its roots to Huntington, Indiana.

It was supposedly born out of the German immigrants’ desire for wiener schnitzel, and thankfully, pork was plentiful in the region. Thus, the pork tenderloin sandwich was born!

One of the most famous offerings of pork tenderloin sandwiches is found on the menu of The Aristocrat, where the meat is pounded thin and perfectly seasoned. Or you can go to one of the city’s oldest bars, Billy O’Neal’s Pub & Eatery, to find a massive serving alongside a smaller option for those who know that their eyes are usually too big for their stomachs.

14. Catch a Game at the Lucas Oil Stadium

Indianapolis, Indiana Bucket List: Lucas Oil Stadium

The Lucas Oil Stadium is the home of the Indianapolis Colts from the fall into the winter. If you’re in town during that time, catching a game is one of the must-do things in Indianapolis. But that doesn’t mean the stadium isn’t worth a trip for the rest of the year.

The stadium hosts tons of events throughout the year, from concerts to US Olympic team trials. But even if you’re not in town during an event, you can still check out the stadium with their behind-the-scenes tours. During your one-hour tour, you’ll see the field, locker rooms, press box, and other unique features of the stadium. 

You’ll learn about the history of the building, the Colts, and the famous events that have been held there. Tours are typically held three times on Fridays, with exceptions made for event days and holidays.

15. Explore the Ruins at Holliday Park

Indianapolis, Indiana Things to do: Holliday Park

Nestled on 94 acres, Holliday Park is filled with some of the best things to see in Indianapolis. With more than 3.5 miles of trails, there’s plenty of natural beauty to take in here.

You’ll hike past natural springs, wetlands, and the spectacular White River. Or take in even more stunning green spaces in the gardens. From the arboretum with over 1,200 trees to the historic Rock Garden, you’ll find tranquil grounds all around.

What to do in Indianapolis, Indiana: Holliday Park

Little ones are bound to have some fun on the playground, but there’s even more fun to be had in the Nature Center, which offers hands-on activities to teach people of all ages about the natural world outside our doors. But perhaps the biggest highlight of the park is the Ruins at Holliday Park

What was once a New York City building was torn down to make room for a more modern skyscraper. The ruins were relocated and found a home in Holliday Park. Today, they’re surrounded by a children’s water table, a fountain, and many new gardens. The park now hosts a summer-long outdoor concert series in their honor called Rock the Ruins.

There you have it—the 15 best things to do in Indianapolis. What’s your favorite thing to do in Indianapolis? Drop us an note and let us know!

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About the Author

  • Jacqueline Gualtieri

    Jacqueline is a writer and editor pursuing the freelance life to explore the world. Born and raised in New Jersey, she spent her college years in Boston before settling down with her partner and puppy in Monterey, California.

    When she’s not writing, you can often find her planning her next trip. Road trips are her favorite, whether it’s driving across the country or simply exploring a new city in her own backyard. She loves uncovering the history of every new place she goes.

    Jacqueline has a restless passion for learning and makes it a goal to pick up a new skill every year. She’s picked up embroidery, crocheting, knitting, and cross-stitching, but she’s hoping to master more languages to help her in her travels. She’s also a published author, with short stories and poetry appearing in several anthologies.

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