When most people think of Indianapolis, the first thing that comes to mind is usually the Indy 500 annual car racing event. And not much beyond that. But Indiana's largest city is so much more than just a racetrack. Indy, as its residents affectionately call it, might not have the sweeping skylines or the bustling population of flashier metropolises; but it is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in America in its own understated way. With its perfect amalgamation of towering skyscrapers and natural beauty, Indianapolis is full of surprises and definitely worth visiting in your lifetime.
First popularized on the east coast in the early 1900s, duckpin bowling has all but fizzled out. Yet the game still survives and thrives in all its old-school glory in Indianapolis' Fountain Square Theater Building, which devotes two of its floors to it. Duckpin bowling balls are slightly smaller than softballs and have no finger holes, and the pins are short and squat, making this vintage version of bowling somewhat more challenging than traditional ten-pin. For this reason, bowlers are generously allowed three frames instead of the usual two.
Famous for hosting the Indy 500, the biggest all-day sporting event in the world, this speedway in America's heartland draws hundreds of thousands of spectators annually. The big race might only happen once a year, but opportunities to explore the raceway from behind the wheel abound. And the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, located onsite, is a must-see.
Built during the early 20th century by James Allison, co-founder of the Indy 500, this elaborate estate features a sunken conservatory, a music room with a two-story pipe organ, and an aviary with Tiffany stained glass windows that formerly housed exotic birds. Outside the majestic manor, you can enjoy tranquil ponds, manicured landscapes, greenhouses, and orchards, all of which rest on a cliff that overlooks wetlands. Allison clearly spared no expense on his home turf, and it shows.
Pork tenderloin sandwiches are made with a thinly pounded seasoned pork cutlet that has been breaded and then deep fried, similar to Wiener Schnitzel. These addictive sandwiches are an Indiana staple and hugely popular across the Midwest. You can find them in eateries all over Indianapolis, so make sure to try one when you're in town.
Indianapolis has quite the underground scene, but not in the way you might think. Beneath City Market lies a network of mysteriously interconnected catacombs, which were constructed in the 1880s and are easily some of the best preserved in the world. This 20,000-square-foot network of subterranean tunnels was originally used to transport meat and produce in the days before refrigeration. You can experience the city's dark side from May through October, the first and third Saturdays of each month. Make sure you book tickets a day in advance online.
Holliday Park would be magical even if it wasn't dotted with the remains of a demolished New York City skyscraper, but it is. These remains also make it one of Indianapolis's most compelling attractions. The park's acres of natural beauty and reflecting pools will make you feel like you've stepped straight into a fairytale, especially when you come across rows of Greek columns, limestone statues, and ornate stone pedestals that have been repurposed as park benches. These striking architectural features once adorned the St. Paul skyscraper in NYC, built in 1898 and torn down in the 1950s.
You're never too old to fall in love with Indianapolis' larger-than-life children's museum. From the moment you see the enormous dinosaur out front, standing up against the museum to peer through the windows. This massive museum is the biggest in the world, covering 472,000 square feet and 29 acres of land. It features year-round and rotating exhibits, world-class shows, and events that will reawaken childlike wonder in even the most cynical soul.
One of the largest municipal parks in the country, this breathtaking natural landmark spans across 3,900 acres of land and 1,400 acres of water in northern Indianapolis. With unbelievably beautiful hikes through lush woodlands and incredible water attractions, like canoeing and kayaking, this sublime oasis will make you forget you're in the middle of the city.
Located on Mass Ave, The Rathskeller, which opened its doors in 1894, is the city's oldest restaurant still in operation today. Built to resemble a Bavarian inn as well as a Munich beer hall, the storied German restaurant is part of the historic Athenaeum, Indianapolis' enormous and ornate German-American clubhouse. But don't let its age fool you. With a fantastic variety of craft and German beers, a huge menu, and many themed dining rooms, The Rathskeller is as thriving as ever. Don't forget to check out the Biergarten out back.
Going by the name alone, it's no secret that Indiana's unofficial state dessert is a sweet tooth's dream come true. Sugar cream pie was originally dubbed "desperation pie" when it was invented in the 19th century. Its lack of seasonal ingredients meant it could be made year-round and could feed large crowds without spoiling too quickly; the original recipe doesn't even call for eggs. There's no shortage of sugar cream pie in Indiana. Sadly, it's fairly rare elsewhere -- so make sure to savor a slice while you're there.
The eight-mile Indy Cultural Trail is relatively new, but it's become one of the country's best pedestrian and bike paths. It weaves through five cultural areas of downtown, and you'll pass glorious green spaces and art installations along the way and have the opportunity to hop on a gondola. Since its 2013 opening, the Cultural Trail has attracted millions of people for recreation or en route to a sports match, and you can create a whole weekend itinerary around the trail. You can book various themed tours too. Some highlights: the Glick Peace Walk, Ann Dancing, Fountain Square Theatre, and Milktooth for brunch.
Newfields is another cherry on top of the Indy cake. It's a 152-acre campus with numerous attractions, including the historic house and gardens of the Lilly pharmaceutical family, the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 acres with its multitude of modern sculptures, and a beer garden. But the pièce de résistance is the encyclopedic Indianapolis Museum of Art. Its main gallery features an enviable array of classic European masters. Other sections cover art from around the globe, including Africa, the South Pacific, and China, and many American pieces by artists like Edward Hopper.
Lucas Oil Stadium is the home of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, a team that's had moderate success over the years. The stadium has a retractable roof and window, which allows it to be both an indoor and outdoor venue. The Drum Corps International Championships occur here, as do other events like Monster Jam.
If you like your museums to be immersive, the Indiana State Museum brings the past to life with dozens of sensory displays, including Amish quilts, a real mastodon skeleton, and a mallet that Lincoln lifted with his own two hands. This place is the gold standard when it comes to Midwest museums. Catch an IMAX movie after browsing the family-friendly exhibits, or walk along the canal.
This 267-acre park at the edge of downtown contains many natural and cultural destinations in one place. The Indiana State Museum is here, as is the NCAA Hall of Champions, the Indianapolis Zoo, and the impressive Eiteljorg Museum. You may be able to catch a minor league game at the Victory Field ballpark too.
This adobe museum focuses on Native American art and craftsmanship and realistic Western paintings and sculptures by the likes of Georgia O'Keeffe. If cowboys, Indians, and the Wild Wild West have always piqued your interest, you'll love the exhibits here. Children and adults are welcome in this edifying space; you can expect to spend at least two hours exploring.
Thousands of animals and bucketloads of fun await at Indianapolis Zoo. You'll find eye-popping creatures like Brazilian rainbow boas, adorable red pandas, and the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center. Look out for the clever orangutan highway that lets these intelligent primates venture through the entire zoo. If you're keen on premium adventures, you can play with a dolphin, feed a sloth, touch a rhino, bathe an elephant, paint with a penguin or walrus, or take a photo with an aardvark, a rare sight in captivity.
You don't need to go to the White House to see how a former president lived. Each president had a home of their own, so there are dozens of interesting residences around the nation, and one happens to be in Indianapolis. Benjamin Harrison was born in Ohio but lived and served as governor in Indianapolis. You can visit his 16-room home built in 1874, where he died in 1901.
The Hilbert Circle Theatre is home to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1980. It has 1,660 seats and accommodates 87 musicians. The Neoclassical facade looks warm and inviting at night, and you can watch movies with the orchestra providing the music—now that makes for a memorable night out.
The Lockerbie Square Neighborhood dates back to the mid-19th century and is named after an early resident. The area was made famous by the poet James Whitcomb Riley, and its architecture contains many styles, including Federal, Italianate, and Queen Anne designs. The German heritage in Lockerbie Square is clear as day too.