Although it’s a city built on speed, Indianapolis, Indiana, has a decidedly unhurried pace. Even better, many of its top attractions are free or very low-cost, making this an inviting destination for any budget.
Make time to play
Nearly a century after its inception, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’ ingenious exhibits and hands-on displays still ignite the imagination of over a million children and their grownups each year.
Passing beneath the towering Dale Chihuly sculpture Fireworks of Glass, you’ll enter a universe of exploration. There, you can discover exhibits such as National Geographic’s Treasures of the Earth, which contains a replica of the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Seti I (father of Ramses the Great), and a replicated archeological dig site of the tomb of China’s first emperor, Ying Zheng. There’s also a planetarium, theater, play area for the youngest visitors, a restored 1917 carousel, and, at the Science Works and Biotech Lab, interactive displays on the natural and physical sciences.
Another can’t-miss permanent exhibit is Dinosphere®. This place gives kids the chance to excavate fossils, marvel at a variety of dinosaur skeletons, meet real, live paleontologists, and real, formerly live dinosaurs. Dino stars include Bucky the Teenage T. rex, a mummified dinosaur named Leonardo (that’s right—mummified—not just a skeleton), and Dracorex hogwartsia (“Dragon King of Hogwarts”).
Get outside (or stay inside) and explore
In the heart of the city is the art of the city. Artsgarden, a $12 million, seven-story steel and glass dome spanning a downtown intersection and creating a venue where approximately 300 free and public performances are staged each year. Displays of African-American art coincide with February’s Black History Month, poetry readings are held during April’s National Poetry Month, and holiday selections are performed during the Mistletoe Music Festival later in the year. But any time is fine to take in displays and presentations by established and emerging artists, speakers, and musicians who take the stage during the lunch hour music series, at Garden Jams, and during special events. And if you don’t get your fill of art here, the Artsgarden also acts as a “cultural concierge” to connect you with art and activities around the city.
Hit the track
Although the most exciting race in America only lasts a few hours, the legend of the Indianapolis 500 spans more than a century. Even when the highest-capacity sports venue on earth (with 257,325 seats) is quiet, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) is full of excitement. Catch sight of more than two dozen Indy 500-winning cars as well as racing-themed photos, artwork, trophies, and a racing Hall of Fame. For a few bucks more, you can enjoy an assortment of tours—including a 90-minute narrated tour of the famed Brickyard and Gasoline Alley.
Taste (and smell, see, hear, and touch) the city
Opened in 1886 with only beef and farm-fresh produce displayed on counters and carts, the Indianapolis City Market has cemented its place as a foodie favorite. In the century-plus since, local farmers and traveling dealers have added poultry, fish, dairy, home-baked goods, and so much more to the mix, making this a one-stop hot spot.
Whether you’re working your way through on free samples or you stashed away enough cash to stock up on everything from flowers to jewelry or even a bicycle, a trip through these aisles is sure to engage all five senses. Upstairs, ample seating and a rotating assortment of on-tap Indiana craft beers, canned craft brews, and locally produced wines at Tomlinson Tap Room make this not just a market, but a gathering place.
Rising nearly 300 feet above Downtown Indy, you’re sure to be awed by the towering Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Magnificent bronze and ornate marble sculptures accent the base of the tower and at the apex of the monument stands the statue of Victory—a fitting symbol for a winning city.
This monument commands the intersection of Meridian and Market and became the first monument in America dedicated to the common soldier. An instant classic since its 1902 dedication, it remains one of the most popular destinations in the city. Inside, you’ll find a Civil War Museum on the lower level, and on the upper level, you’ll find the observation deck offering a panoramic view of the city skyline. Outside, city life swirls around the circle with retail centers, concert halls, and a theater around the perimeter.
Truthfully, the list of fun, low-cost and free things to do in Indianapolis goes on and on. Stop by for a weekend visit to take in all these stops, and then plan your return trip to get to everything else you discover along the way.
When you’re ready to hit the road, let the “Crossroads of America” send you west to St Louis!