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.

01Spare some time for duckpin bowling

Red bowling ball is making a strike on wooden lane

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 slightly more challenging than traditional ten-pin. For this reason, bowlers are generously allowed three frames instead of the usual two.

02Race over to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

pit road service during the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana.

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.

03Marvel at the Allison Mansion

Photo by deb metz on Unsplash

Built in 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 which overlooks wetlands. Allison clearly spared no expense on his home turf, and it shows.

04Taste a tenderloin sandwich

Fried pork tenderloin sandwich with fries

Pork tenderloin sandwiches are made with a thinly pounded seasoned pork cutlet that has been breaded and then deep fried, very similar to Wiener Schnitzel. These addictive sandwiches are an Indiana staple and are hugely popular all across the Midwest. You can find them in eateries all over Indianapolis, so make sure to try one when you’re in town.

05Comb through the catacombs

Catacombs

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 were 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.

06Reflect on the reclaimed ruins of a New York skyscraper

Photo by Kara Eads on Unsplash

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.

07Check out the largest children’s museum in the world

Children's Museum Dinosphere T-Rex and Triceratops dinosaur fossil skeleton bones fighting in epic battle

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. Covering 472,000 square feet and 29 acres of land, this massive museum is the biggest in the world. It features year-round and rotating exhibits, world-class shows and events that will reawaken childlike wonder in even the most cynical soul.

08Escape to Eagle Creek Park

Fall Foliage

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.

09Eat in Indianapolis’ oldest restaurant

Pretzel and beer at night

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.

10Savor a slice of sugar cream pie

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA skyline over Soliders' and Sailors' Monument at dusk

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.