The best things to do in Indianapolis

While the state capital of Hoosier is perhaps best known as the home of the Indy 500, Indianapolis is more than just a city for racing enthusiasts. It’s a place where public art, professional sports, bike paths, universities, museums and parks merge into a vibrant city.

Plan to explore Indianapolis on wheels—bicycle or scooter are two popular modes of transportation—or by kayak via its central canal. You can even hop in a race car and spin 180 mph around the oval-shaped Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the thrill of your life.

Here are our picks for the best things to see and do in Indianapolis.

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Bike the Indianapolis Culture Trail

The best way to explore the backdrop of the hit 1979 film Come off (about a working-class teenager obsessed with the Italian cycling team) is on a bike. The Indianapolis Culture Trail, an 8.1-mile-long bike path, runs through downtown Indianapolis and features spurs that take cyclists through three city neighborhoods.

The northeast spur runs along Massachusetts Ave before connecting to another popular trail, the Monon Trail. The southeast spur follows Virginia Ave through the Fountain Square neighborhood, a commercial historic district. The south fork of the trail connects the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

The pleasant bike path is dotted with more than 61 works of public art. Download the free trail map and rent a bike from any of the Indiana Pacers Bikeshare stations along the trail.

Explore the natural and cultural wonders of White River State Park

The 267-acre White River State Park is Indianapolis’s prized urban green space. Located along its namesake White River, the park has trails, trees, and cultural gems. Catch a movie on Indiana’s largest movie screen (it’s over six stories high) at the IMAX or watch a baseball game at Victory Field. Meet the behemoths of prehistoric Indiana, see the world’s best-documented collection of Amish quilts, and learn about the Hoosiers who made their mark on the world at the Indiana State Museum. The park’s Eiteljorg Museum shines a light on Indiana’s Indigenous peoples through its extensive collection of artwork by historic and contemporary Indigenous artists.

Stroll along Indiana’s Central Canal or rent a paddle boat and enjoy the city from the water © fllphoto / Getty Images

Paddle or walk the Indiana Central Canal

Dug in the early 1800s to serve as a commercial waterway, Indiana’s Central Canal provides a 3 mile waterfront promenade for cyclists, walkers and runners. The art-lined public canal walk begins at 10th Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street and heads south past several landmarks including the USS Indianapolis Memorial, Garden Watanabe and the Indiana State Museum, before arriving at White River State Park. Rent a swan pedal boat or kayak from Wheel Fun Rentals at Canal Walk to get out on the water and soak up the scenery.

Embrace the bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

The Indy 500 is perhaps motor racing’s greatest spectacle. Considered part of the Triple Crown of motorsport (along with the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Monaco Grand Prix), the race takes place on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile-long oval track, built in 1909. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum houses one of the world’s largest collections of vintage race cars, including more than 30 Indy 500 winners. Photographs and other vintage memorabilia showcase the history of over 100 years of the Speedway.

Take a behind-the-scenes tour and learn about the Speedway’s rich history. Visitors can also stand for a photo op on the same podium as the famous race winners and ‘kiss the bricks’ at the start/finish line. NASCAR champion Dale Jarrett started the tradition of kneeling and kissing the sidewalk in tribute to winning drivers.

Cars race around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Fly around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a professional Indy driver © Grindstone Media Group / Shutterstock

Ride in a real Indy race car or take slower loops on an indoor go-kart track

If you want to experience the thrill of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, hop in a real Indy race car and spin around the iconic oval with the Indy Racing Experience. You’ll feel the g-force when you’re sitting in the passenger seat next to a professional Indycar driver as you race down the track at 180 mph.

To experience the exhilaration of motor racing without the tingling of the bones, Speedway Indoor Karting offers go-karting on its mini superspeedway, a smooth oval-shaped track that promises an adrenaline rush at speeds of up to 40 mph.

Stroll through the galleries, theaters, restaurants and shops of Mass Ave

Massachusetts Avenue, known as “Mass Ave” to locals, is a five-block historic district, where the arts intertwine with commerce. Pick up a pair of shoes at Stout’s Footwear (the nation’s oldest shoe store), treat yourself to a Flying Cupcake, sip a pint of German lager in the historic Rathskeller Biergarten or catch a classic play at the District Theater .

Paint with an elephant, touch the skin of a rhino or feed a sloth at the Indianapolis Zoo

The Indianapolis Zoo is home to more than 3,800 animals, including red pandas, Brazilian rainbow boas, and warthogs. The zoo’s Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center, a research facility dedicated to orangutan conservation, is home to 10 of the apes. Innovative cable highways allow orangutans to travel throughout the zoo.

If you’ve ever dreamed of painting with an elephant, touching the rough skin of a rhino or feeding a sloth, check out the zoo’s menu of unique animal adventures.

Immerse yourself in art immersed in nature at Newfields

Surrounded by 14 hectares of land, the historic Oldfields-Lilly House and Gardens is the former estate of pharmaceutical millionaire Eli Lilly. Tour the home and grounds designed by renowned landscape architecture firm Olmsted Brothers, then browse the collection of 54,000 works at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) on site. The eighth largest encyclopedic art museum in the United States, the IMA features rotating exhibitions and a permanent collection that includes an extensive collection of Neo-Impressionist and Japanese paintings from the Edo period. End your visit with a glass of sparkling wine on the garden terrace of the on-site beer garden.

Exterior of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis
See dinosaurs come to life at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis © Russ Vance/Shutterstock

Explore the largest children’s museum in the world

A life-size dinosaur peeks through a window at the massive Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where children are invited to listen, touch and climb the exhibits. Its five floors are packed with so many fun exhibits that kids won’t even realize they’re learning while playing. Kids will want to spin on the 1917 Broad Ripple Park Carousel, build toy boats to float along the waterway at ScienceWorks, and spend a day with the dinos at Dinosphere, a time-traveling sound and light experience until the end of the Cretaceous. 65 million years ago. Outdoor exhibits include the Avenue of Champions which features statues of 16 heroes from sports history, a speedy mini-track with pedal-powered racing cars, and the 25-foot-tall Fantasy Tree House of Sports.

Stroll through the Bottleworks neighborhood

The boutique Bottleworks Hotel, an Art Deco gem that once housed the executive offices of the Coca-Cola Company, is at the center of the 12-acre pedestrian Bottleworks district. The newly restored neighborhood was the largest Coca-Cola bottling plant in Indiana before it closed in 1964. The Garage Food Hall, the city’s first food hall and a community-focused market with 20 local vendors and regional independents, occupies two former delivery truck garages. . Watch an independent film at the Living Room Theater or challenge your friends to a game of foosball, pinball or duckpin at Pins Mechanical Company. Get a Lime scooter share so you can get around the chic center of restaurants and shops on wheels.

Beer being poured into a glass at a brewery in Indianapolis, Indiana
Have a beer with friends while touring the Circle City industrial complex © Paul Velgos / Shutterstock

Visit the studios and meet the artists of the Circle City Industrial Complex

Indianapolis’s largest and perhaps most vibrant community of artists occupies the half-million-square-foot Circle City Industrial Complex (CCIC). Once upon a time, the Schwitzer Corporation, one of the first auto parts manufacturers, produced turbochargers here; today, artists work and collaborate in massive space. Every first Friday, CCIC hosts an open studio event, inviting visitors to connect with local artists through special exhibitions, installations, and live art-making events. Sample a “precision craft beer” at the dog-friendly Centerpoint Brewing, where a 30-barrel brewing system produces 3,000 barrels per year, or a cocktail from 8th Day Distillery, makers of gin, rum and even absinthe . Or, play a game of the new genre sport of fowl hunting – an exuberant game that combines football, bowling and cornhole – at Fowling Warehouse. The first person to knock down an opponent’s 10 pins (positioned in a typical bowling configuration) with a soccer ball wins.

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