Downtown Indianapolis is home to culture, history and a rapidly developing tourism industry. The vibrant and diverse city honors its past while celebrating the changing faces of its community. Whether you're in town for the weekend or passing through on a road trip, there are several fascinating things to do in Indianapolis.
When downtown, don't miss out on the chance to bike the most scenic and inspiring route in town. The Indianapolis Culture Trail is an 8-mile walking and cycling path that connects cultural districts, venues and attractions. While the trail makes traveling through downtown a lot more convenient, it's true appeal is the way it has brought the surrounding communities together. Millions of dollars in public art and lush greenery line the road, as well as restaurants and cafés, providing miles of social spaces and beautiful urban landscapes.
Art is an integral part of Indianapolis culture, and the city has invested tremendously in local projects to bring the community together. Indianapolis artist Pamela Bliss paints murals celebrating locally-grown heroes and legends. On Michigan Street, her depiction of Indiana Pacers superstar Reggie Miller is a stunning tribute to the former Guard. Artist ALKEMI worked with the community to complete a stunning, photorealistic mural of Indianapolis-based poet and artist, Mari Evans, on Massachusetts Avenue. Be sure to pack your walking shoes and hit the pavement to admire these impressive works of art.
When major chain retailers pulled out of the Lafayette Square shopping complex in the 1990s, they left behind dozens of empty buildings and desolate parking lots. Ethnic restaurants and grocers began filling the vacuum, forever changing the face of the neighborhood while growing the economy. Today, the area known as the International Marketplace in Lafayette Square covers 2 square miles, with numerous international grocery stores and shops, and over 80 restaurants providing a taste of the world. To get there, take the bus from downtown near Monument Circle, or ride a bike the seven miles along the Indianapolis Culture Trail.
The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site celebrates one of Indiana's most prestigious and accomplished citizens: Benjamin Harrison. His elegant, 10,000 square foot Victorian-style home remains decorated with original furniture, paintings, political memorabilia and other artifacts. There are also rotating exhibits throughout the year, focusing on stories from American history. If you're in town on the first Friday of the month, try making reservations for Coffee with the Curator. This monthly event is an opportunity to learn more about the history of the U.S. presidency and gain exclusive access to unexpected artifacts.
The true heart of Downtown Indianapolis resides at the center of Monument Circle. The plaza is usually crowded with locals enjoying lunch on the weekdays, or tourists paying their respects to the 285-foot tall Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. The neoclassical obelisk, dedicated in 1902, commemorates the bravery of Hoosier veterans that served in all wars before World War II. Climb the stairs to the observation deck for 360-degree views of the city free of charge, then stick around for the light show. Shining a Light, a seasonally-themed production, begins at dusk 365 days a year.
Every Memorial Day Weekend, fans from all over the globe gather in Indianapolis for the largest single-day sporting event in the world. Located just five miles from downtown, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is home to the world-famous Indy 500 as well as NASCAR and similar racing events. During the offseason, you'll find concerts and music festivals on the calendar, as well as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for diehard fans of auto racing. Travelers hoping for a bucket list adventure may wish to save up for the Indy Racing Experience. This ticket buys you a shotgun seat in a real race car with a professional driver. Travel at speeds up to 180 mph an inch above the ground, and walk away with some of the best vacation photos ever.
Stretching from Washington to 11th Street, the Central Canal Walk is a scenic waterside promenade serving locals and tourists alike. The three-mile loop through the Canal and White River State Park District is perfect for burning off those extra vacation calories or taking a break between visiting tourist destinations. From sports venues to museums and architectural surprises, White River State Park has something for everyone in the Circle City. Go for a morning jog past the museums and gardens downtown, or take a sunset ride in a gondola. Be sure to charge your smartphone or camera, as you'll find plenty of Instagrammable spots along the way.
While Indianapolis is famous for its sports teams, the Indiana Pacers and the Indianapolis Colts, the city also values its developing arts culture and appreciation of nature. Newfields is a 152-acre campus just north of central downtown, and home to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, beer gardens, a 100-acre art and nature park, and historic sites. Spend the afternoon picnicking on the green, or enjoy a free tour of the IMA's gardens on summer weekends. The most scenic route to Newfields from downtown is by way of the White River Trail. The path leads from Monument Circle and follows the river for seven miles past public artwork and green spaces.
On April 4, 1968, Democratic Party candidate Robert F. Kennedy arrived in Indianapolis to address voters at a campaign rally. Instead, he broke the news of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination to a shocked crowd, improvising a speech calling for compassion and wisdom in difficult times. Many have recognized Kennedy for bringing peace to Indianapolis on that fateful night. The Landmark for Peace memorial at Martin Luther King Jr. Park beautifully commemorates that moment at the very site of Kennedy's speech.
The pork tenderloin sandwich was not invented in Indiana, but locals enjoy this dish so much it's considered the unofficial state sandwich. An updated take on traditional German schnitzel, tenderized pork loin is breaded in cracker crumbs, deep-fried to a golden brown and served with condiments on a small-but-mighty bun. There's no wrong way to eat this sandwich, either. Locals will often eat around the edges, cut the sandwich in half, or trim the excess meat to assemble a thicker sandwich. Nick's Kitchen in Huntington popularized the original Indiana recipe, but you can find this delicious Indy staple throughout downtown.