Indianapolis is known as the Sports Capital of the World, serving as host to the Indianapolis 500, the Pacers, the Colts, and in 2022, the College Football Playoff National Championship. However, there is more to this city than at first glance. Indy has activities for all types, whether you’re a sports lover, history buff, or nature enthusiast. Staying downtown will save you time, as most of these attractions are easily walkable.
Whatever you choose while visiting Indianapolis, you can guarantee your family will have a wonderful time. Here are nine fantastic things to do in Indianapolis for the whole family.
1. White River State Park
Bring the whole family to experience culture, art, sports, and nature within White River State Park.
This 250-acre green space in the middle of downtown Indianapolis is the perfect place to start your Indy adventure, with its stunning view of the city skyline, public art, 3 miles of walking trails, and a central canal that runs alongside cultural, educational, and recreational attractions.
I spent almost a full day enjoying the abundant activities within this urban oasis. Besides strolling through the nationally renowned museums, you can rent kayaks and paddle boats to cruise around the canal. Or you can take a ride on a gondola.
White River State Park is the perfect place to relax, get fresh air, walk the trails around the canal, or stay for a late-night concert. It offers countless things to do all in one place.
Pro Tip: During the summer, Old World Gondoliers offer daily rides through the canal at 3 p.m., 5 p.m., and 7 p.m. You need to make reservations online to secure your spot.
2. Eiteljorg Museum
Eiteljorg is one of only two museums east of the Mississippi exploring Native American and American Western art. Plan on spending an hour or two wandering through the museum, viewing the exhibits that tell a complex story of Native Americans.
The museum has two floors filled with special short-term exhibits that change periodically throughout the year, as well as permanent collections. Within the Native Art in North America area, you can learn about the culture of three Native American groups in Indiana and their emotional story of how they lost the right to their lands in the past. Today, Native American locals are teaching the younger generation how to persevere and maintain their traditions to pass them down to future generations.
Eiteljorg is more than an art museum filled with photographs, multimedia, and sculptures; it also has hands-on activities for the kids. Children can dress in authentic costumes, hop into a stagecoach, try basket weaving, and build a tipi. The Eiteljorg Museum is a fabulous destination that will have you feeling like you escaped to the West.
3. Indiana State Museum
The Indiana State Museum has three floors of amazing galleries showcasing the story of the Hoosier state. The exhibits are in chronological order, so you can follow the flow of time from the rise and fall of the dinosaurs to the American Revolution, and from Indiana statehood to how American pioneers created the Hoosier identity. There are over 500,000 objects to see and plenty of hands-on activities for children of all ages to enjoy.
I lingered watching the pendulum swing with the earth’s rotation and in the exhibit with photos of Hoosiers and how they are famous. The highlight, though, was the Popular Culture exhibit, which was fun to see how many of the items I had growing up. Who had the Trivia Pursuit board game, Cabbage Patch Kids, an Atari, and a Rubik’s Cube?
Pro Tip: There are ramps and stairs leading from one exhibit to the next, but if you need them, there are elevators available to reach all floors.
4. Indianapolis Zoo
The Indianapolis Zoo is the first institution to be triple-accredited as a zoo, aquarium, and botanical garden. The zoo is mapped out into five sections — Oceans, Deserts, Plains, Forests, and Encounters — that cover over 64 acres. Your kids will love the encounters where they can watch them train elephants and pet sharks. Plan to spend at least a half-day in order to see all of the 3,800 animals.
As one of the world’s leading conservation organizations, the Indianapolis Zoo contributes globally to conservation research, climate change research, and breeding projects for endangered species. They do a great job teaching visitors how essential conservation efforts are and show you how to help the Earth and the animals that live in it.
Pro Tip: Buy your tickets online and save 50 percent. Pick the Total Adventure Package for animal feedings and unlimited rides, especially on the safari jeep roller coaster, where you can see the biggest group of orangutans in North America high in the sky.
5. Monument Circle
Monument Circle is where you’ll find the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. This monument commemorates the courage of Hoosier veterans who served in wars before WWI. An observation deck at 274 feet offers a 360-degree view of the city skyline.
The best time to visit Monument Circle is at night to see the spectacular light presentation, Shining A Light. It usually repeats nightly at 9:45, 10:15, and 10:45 p.m. The best viewing area is on the south steps of the monument to see the surrounding buildings lit up. What a great way to wind down a busy day.
Pro Tip: If visiting over the holiday season, the monument is decorated with 2,400 lights, making it one of the largest Christmas trees in the world.
6. Mass Avenue Cultural Arts District
Located just a few blocks northeast of Monument Circle, Mass Avenue is the heart of the city’s arts district. You can go to the theater, browse art galleries, get a quick bite to eat, or plan a full night out. While walking the 5-block area, you will see tons of gorgeous street art, including larger-than-life murals of famous Hoosiers, like Kurt Vonnegut and Mari Evans. You can spend a couple of hours browsing through the boutiques lining the street, which offer unique gifts for family and friends.
Pro Tip: Check out the Ann Dancing sculpture. Seeing the lady dancing in a box is quite a sight — and make sure to check out all four sides, as her shimmy is different.
7. An Evening Out In The Bottleworks District
You’ll find the uniquely reimagined Bottleworks District at the end of Mass Avenue. This cultural district used to be the world’s largest Coca-Cola Bottling Plant during the 1920s–50s and is now filled with bars, restaurants, boutiques, and plenty of other entertainment. This is a great area to end up in after a day of exploring.
If you are hungry, you must visit The Garage Food Hall, where they have plenty of options for the entire family, including burgers, pizza, and ethnic foods. If you encounter bad weather on your trip, check out the Living Room, which has eight movie screens, or Pins Mechanical, which has duckpin bowling and over 40 pinball machines to enjoy.
And be sure to try Modita, an Asian-inspired fusion restaurant offering fresh and unique ingredients for dinner. You will need to make reservations if you walk in from the street, as there is no guarantee that you will get a table as they continually sell out. Modita opens every day at 4 p.m.
Pro Tip: To find the original Coca-Cola spiral staircase, enter the Bottleworks Hotel lobby with all its amazing bronze accents, walk past the billiards table, and then through the shiny bronze doors to see the impressive staircase.
8. Children’s Museum Of Indianapolis
The ultimate five-level playground can be found at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The museum has enough interactive exhibits for the entire family to be kids for a full day.
Your children’s ages will determine which exhibit you visit first. You can immerse yourself into the world of dinosaurs, discover about a child’s life in different cultures, see the largest water clock, or ride the 1917 Carousel.
But, wait, there’s more! There is a complete sports experience outside for you to enjoy. The complex has 12 mini courts and fields where you can teach kids how to play sports, whether basketball, football, golf, or drag racing.
Pro Tip: Purchase tickets online before your visit, as prices increase as the day gets closer.
9. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Did you know there is a museum right in the middle of the famed oval speedway? The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum displays several past winners’ vehicles and the Borg-Warner Trophy. Your family can choose from a variety of guided tours that will take you through Gasoline Alley, a lap around the oval, a stop at the start/finish line, and the basement’s rare vehicle collection. Visiting the Indiana Motor Speedway Museum with your family can bring a whole new generation into the love of racing.
Pro Tip: To park at the museum, enter Gate 2. If an event is going on, parking is across the street, and buses are available to the museum.
For more on the wider Hoosier State, read: