-- Indianapolis is one of the Midwest’s great cities. It’s a business hub. It’s user-friendly. And it’s teeming with everything the discerning traveler is after -- from cultural venues and historical landmarks to vibrant entertainment and cutting edge dining. There are many stops in Indiana’s capital city that are worthy of any visitor’s to-do list.
These are just a few of our favorites:
Skip the Pool, Hit the Reservoir Hotel pools are a great amenity, but Geist Reservoir is a must-see for any water enthusiast. Located northeast of downtown Indianapolis, this is one of the largest manmade lakes in the country. There are lovely waterfront homes here, and it’s popular with avid boaters and fishermen. Visitors should check out Dauntless Sailing School, which offers sunset sails for groups of two to 12 aboard its 28-foot performance cruiser. The vessel departs every Saturday from June through October. The company also offers beginner through advanced sailing instruction.
Skip the Race, Tour the Track The Indianapolis Motors Speedway is legendary; the annual races it hosts – from the Grand Prix to the Indy 500 to the Brickyard 400 – draw thousands of fans. But you don’t have to have a race ticket to marvel at this haven for speed. The IMS, located about five miles west of downtown, offers 90-minute narrated ground tours every March through November, which includes a bus ride around the 2.5-mile oval plus stops at the Victory Podium, Gasoline Alley and the legendary Yard of Bricks at the finish line. Also visit the Hall of Fame Museum, which always has more than 70 vehicles -- from Le Mans-winning Ferraris to historic Formula One cars – on display.
After the Speedway, Visit the Factory Walking distance from the IMS is the Dallara IndyCar Factory, which gives a glimpse into how some of the world’s fastest cars are made. Visitors get to check out blueprints and design concept drawings. The wind tunnel models and display screens at the hands-on Interactive Zone detail the engineering process behind IndyCars. And the iRacing simulators let you feel what it’s like to get behind the wheel.
Skip the Gym, Hit the Trail The Indianapolis Cultural Trails allows you to play tourist and stay fit at the same time. This urban path covers eight miles – a perfect venue for jogging, biking or just taking a stroll – and showcases varied works of public art along the way. The trail is an ambitious urban project -- a $63 million development that opened in May of 2013 – and connects six of Indianapolis’ eclectic cultural districts.
Skip Downtown, Hit the ‘Hoods Speaking of this city’s cultural districts, they should be part of any tourist’s itinerary. Each oozes personality and offers myriad cultural and shopping opportunities. We like Broad Ripple, situated north of downtown, for its funky shops – antiques, vinyl records, old books galore – as well as its sidewalk cafes and lively nightlife. The vintage finds also abound at Fountain Square, just southeast of downtown, where an afternoon of antiquing usually leads to an evening of world-class dining, and where 3rd Friday festivities during the summer bring free live music to the plaza.
Skip the Store, Shop the Market For a truly organic shopping experience, check out the Indianapolis City Market. This renovated historic landmark houses dozens of local artisans and locally driven businesses. The Tomlinson Tap Room features 16 rotating taps of Indiana craft beer. Jams sell seasonally at Circle City Sweets. And fermented finds reign supreme – from homemade sauerkraut to kombucha teas -- at Fermenti Artisan. The Original Farmers Market -- a pageant of in-season produce, cheeses, spices and meats -- happens every Wednesday from May to October.
Skip Ground Level, Go Below Don’t leave City Market before you head underground. There’s an amazing expanse of Romanesque catacombs that are the remains of a large building that once stood here. Tomlinson Hall dates back to the late 1800s but it burned down in 1958, and while the remains were ultimately torn down, the brick arches under the ground were left. You can tour them the first and third Saturday of every month, from May to October, for a fee.
Catch a View, Head Up For another neat sight, head up. You’re bound to see the Soldiers & Sailors Monument in the heart of downtown, but this is also an attraction you can climb. The observation deck puts you 275 feet off the ground, offering sweeping views of the city. Climbing the 330 steps to the top is free, and there’s a small charge for the elevator ride. This is also a gallery, with art pieces built right into the monument, and there’s a wonderful Civil War museum in the lower level.
Skip the Ice Cream Shop, Visit the Creamery A farm visit can make a daytrip out of Indianapolis. Traders Point Creamery is in Zionsville, about 20 miles north of Indianapolis, and is a leader in the organic dairy industry. This is a USDA-certified artisan creamery that’s home to a herd of more than 100 Brown Swiss cows. And the yogurts, cheeses and ice creams they produce have a following all their own. For $2, you can take the family-friendly Farm Walk; give yourself about an hour to cover the 1.3-mile trail that features a variety of wildlife. You can catch the daily cow milking at 4pm each day. Save time for the ice cream tasting.
Skip the Zoo, Visit the Cats No, you actually shouldn’t skip the Indianapolis Zoo; close to 4000 animals are featured at this wonderful attraction in White River State Park, that’s also home to an aquarium and botanical garden. But the Exotic Feline Rescue Center is a great daytrip for any feline lover, or wildlife aficionado. This 200-acre property is a haven for exotic cats that have been abused or abandoned; more than 200 big cats from about a dozen species live there today. Public tours are offered everyday but Monday, priced $10 for adults, $5 for kids. The EFRC is located in Centerpoint, an hour west of Indianapolis.
Gabe Saglie is Senior Editor for Travelzoo, which features a bevy of Indianapolis hotel specials, as well as local deals at http://www.travelzoo.com/local-deals/Indianapolis/deals.