Indianapolis, however, offers more than just sports appeal. As the 13th largest city in the U.S., it blends a friendly small-town charm with the amenities of a cosmopolitan center. This combination helps entice more than 20 million tourists to visit each year.
Indianapolis started out as a sparsely populated area of woodland. Only scattered Indian villages were present in 1821 when it was founded as the state capital of Indiana; it was chosen for its central location. The city’s population grew in the mid-19th century after the Madison & Indianapolis railroad, running through the city, was completed. Indianapolis soon became a regional transport hub for nearby cities like Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Columbus, and Louisville. In the late 19th century, the city turned into a major automobile manufacturer and an industrial center of the Midwest. Unfortunately, Indianapolis suffered in the 1970s like other “Rust Belt” states, as part of the overall manufacturing decline of the United STates. In recent years, however, the city has witnessed a revitalization of its economy, aided by tourism and real estate.
Sports is the main attraction of Indianapolis, specifically motor racing. Each year, the Indy 500, the NASCAR Allstate 400 Brickyard, and the Formula One United States Grand Prix draw millions of visitors to the city. The Indy 500 and the NASCAR Allstate 400 Brickyard, in particular, happen to be the two largest (single-day) sporting events in the world. Both races take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which is also home to a Hall of Fame Museum that is devoted to auto racing. The museum not only commemorates past winners of the Indy 500, but also features a comprehensive trophy collection and displays of vintage race cars including classics dating back to 1911, as well as 30 Indy 500-winning cars.
While the Indy 500 and Allstate 400 are single-day events, the O’Reilly Raceway Park hosts a six-month season of motor races that include the Kroger Speedfest, Craftsman Truck Series, NASCAR Busch, and five USAC races.
Besides motor racing, Indianapolis also offers a cultural and arts scene. You can visit the Indiana Repertory Theatre for plays, comedies, and musicals, or grab tickets to listen to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra at Hilbert Circle Theatre.
Indianapolis has a number of memorials and monuments to commemorate its history. In fact, only Washington, DC has more. The most prominent of the memorials is the Monument Circle, which features a 284-foot Soldiers’ & Sailors’ Monument that pays tribute to the Indiana men who served in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War. At the top of the monument about 32 stories high, there is an observation tower that provides a panorama of Indianapolis’ skyline.
USS Indianapolis Memorial
The U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial is another notable monument that sits on the east bank of Central Canal. This memorial honors the Indiana men who died on the U.S.S. Indianapolis when it sunk during WWII.
White River State Park
At the core of Indianapolis’ downtown is the White River State Park, which encompasses the Indianapolis Zoo and the White River Gardens. The Indianapolis Zoo exhibits about 4,000 animals that are highlighted by two elephants. The zoo also has an aquarium full of marine creatures, including dolphins. The White River Gardens, on the other hand, packs 5,000 square feet worth of tropical plants and themed gardens, supplemented by seasonal botanical shows.
Also located within the White River State Park is the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. The culture, history, and art works of Native Americans are on display there. And every summer, the museum holds a festival showcasing the works of Native American artists across the nation.
At the Indiana History Center, the state’s history is retraced through interactive exhibits, one of them featuring the largest Abraham Lincoln collections in the U.S.
Finally, you’ll also find the NCAA Hall of Champions at the park. The Hall features displays and films honoring the notable athletes and coaches who have contributed significantly to Indiana’s state teams.
Indianapolis Museum of Arts
The Indianapolis Museum of Art is among the largest general art museums in the country, boasting 50,000 works of art – from paintings, to sculptures, to photographs, to textiles. The collection is both domestic and international, featuring Asian, European, and African American pieces. Outside the museum is the Oldfields-Lilly House and Gardens, which is a museum home that is furnished inside by restored, antique period pieces.
The Conner Prairie is one of Indianapolis’ more popular attractions. It is a living history museum where you can experience a recreated 19th century pioneer village, Indian Camp, Victorian farm, and historic house and gardens. The gimmicks include genuine frontier village activities like a barn dance, wedding celebration, and baseball game.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the world’s largest children’s museum, housed in a five-story complex. There are 11 galleries and over 100,000 artifacts related to history, natural sciences, culture, and the arts. Most of the exhibits are hands-on and interactive. The highlight of the museum is Dinosphere, which showcases dinosaur art galleries and displays of fossils, artifacts, and dinosaur skeletons.