Easily within driving distance for more than half of the country's population, Indianapolis has set out to make itself an attractive tourist destination by combining diverse cultural opportunities with first-class hotels and fine shopping and dining. Revitalization of the downtown core, where modernized nineteenth-century buildings stand adjacent to futuristic structures, has made Indianapolis an architecturally interesting city.
The street grid, modeled after Washington, D.C., makes the center-city Mile Square a compact and convenient area for walking tours. In Monument Circle the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument observation platform offers a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding countryside. The Indiana War Memorial Plaza, a five-block downtown mall providing urban green space, contains a 100-foot granite monolith, flags from all 50 states, and a fountain at University Square. The plaza houses the national headquarters of the American Legion; a museum of martial history is located in the Memorial Shrine building.
Indianapolis has turned its attention back toward the city's most prominent natural feature—the White River. Ignored for generations, the river is now the centerpiece of White River State Park, a 250-acre urban greenspace just blocks from the city's commercial heart. The park is home to the Indianapolis Zoo, the White River Gardens, the NCAA Headquarters and Hall of Fame, the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial, Victory Field, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art, the new Indiana State Museum (opened in 2002), and Indiana's only IMAX movie theater. Common spaces in the park attract personal events, such as weddings, family reunions, and picnics, to large festivals, concerts, and even conferences. The Lawn, opened in 2003, features a waterfront bandstand and space for 5,000 people.
The Indianapolis Zoo, the first urban zoo to be built in several decades, houses more than 2,000 animals. The zoo is located on 64 acres in the urban White River State Park. The whale and dolphin pavilion presents shows with bottlenose dolphins, beluga whales, and false killer whales. Piranha and giant snakes live in a simulated Amazon forest; the desert conservatory, covered by an acrylic dome, features plant and animal life from the world's arid regions.
Capitol Commons contains the Indiana Statehouse, which houses the governor's office and the General Assembly. Garfield Park, home of Garfield Park Conservatory, features more than 500 examples of tropical flora, rare carnivorous plants, and tropical birds; the park contains formal gardens, fountains and limestone bridges. The Scottish Rite Cathedral, built of Indiana limestone, is the largest Masonic temple in the world; its 54-bell carillon can be heard city wide.
Victorian architecture enthusiasts can visit the well-preserved James Whitcomb Riley Home; built in 1872, it was the residence—during the last 23 years of his life—of the Hoosier dialect poet who created Little Orphan Annie. The President Benjamin Harrison Home is a 16-room Italianate mansion, completed in 1875, where much of the original Harrison family furniture is displayed. The Massachusetts Avenue Historic Fire Station was restored in 1988 as a museum equipped with a children's fire safety laboratory.
Arts and Culture
The Indianapolis Art Center is a not-for-profit community arts organization whose mission is to make art accessible to all residents of Indianapolis. The center consists of the Marilyn K. Glick School of Art, designed by architect Michael Graves and comprising 13 art studios, a 224-seat auditorium, a library, and a gift shop; the Cultural Complex, which features a Fiber Studio and individual artist's studios, as well as the Writers' Center of Indiana; and ARTSPARK, opening in 2005. The 12-acre campus sits on the edge of White River and features a riverfront deck, outdoor stage, and sculpture gardens.
The Indianapolis renaissance is most evident in the city's dedication to the renewal of its cultural life. Artsgarden features an eight-story, 12,500-square-foot glass dome suspended over a downtown intersection. The $12 million Artsgarden is linked by skywalks to the RCA Dome, convention center, hotels, and Circle Centre. The Artsgarden serves as a performance, exhibition, and marketing space for the Indianapolis arts community, hosting 350 events annually. A number of historically significant nineteenth-century buildings have also been refurbished in order to present local arts organizations in the best possible environment.
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1930, performs year-round in the restored historic Hilbert Circle Theatre and at parks and elsewhere throughout the city and state. Indianapolis Opera presents four full-scale operas per season. The Indianapolis Children's Choir has received international acclaim and has been performing since 1986. The Madame Walker Theatre Center, honoring the country's first female self-made millionaire, houses the Walker Theatre, where "Jazz on the Avenue" concerts are held on Fridays.
Ballet Internationale is a professional resident troupe that performs at Murat Center. Clowes Memorial Hall on the campus of Butler University is home to the Indianapolis Opera and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. Dance Kaleidoscope is the city's contemporary dance troupe.
An active theater community contributes to the city's cultural life. The Indianapolis Civic Theatre, the nation's oldest continuously active civic theater group, performs at Marian Hall Auditorium at Marian College—the groups' interim home while plans are being made to build a new, multi-purpose community theatre facility. The Indiana Repertory Theatre, the state's largest equity theater, presents more than 300 performances annually and is housed in the restored Indiana Theatre. European-style performances are the specialty of American Cabaret Theatre, formerly of New York City. Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre presents Broadway shows, concerts, and dinner. Off-Broadway plays are staged by Phoenix Theatre, presenting 16 shows annually in a restored church in the Chatham Arch Historic District.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) is located in a wooded cultural park. The Museum of Art holds the largest American collection of works by the nineteenth-century British landscape artist J. M. W. Turner. The J. W. Holliday Collection of Neo-Impressionist art, an extensive collection of Japanese Edo-period paintings, and the Robert Indiana Love painting, with a matching outdoor sculpture in large rusted letters, round out one of the most impressive collections in the Midwest. In 2003 and 2004, various parts of the museum were closed as part of a $74 million construction project, adding 164,000 square feet to the museum and renovating 90,000 square feet of existing space. A new entry pavilion, as well as new galleries and the new Deer-Zink Events Pavilion, two new restaurants, and an expanded museum shop were part of the expansion. Parts of the new IMA were opened to the public in May 2005 during a grand reopening celebration; remaining galleries will reopen in phases through 2006.
On the grounds of the IMA is the Oldfields-Lilly House & Gardens, featuring an eighteenth-century French-style chateau, formerly the residence of J. K. Lilly Jr. and now open for tours. The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park offers 100 acres of natural, wooded landscape, with paths, waterways, and opportunities for visitors to experience "interaction of art and nature."
The Children's Museum is the world's largest museum of its type and one of the 20 most-visited museums in the country. The 400,000 square foot facility features a variety of hands-on exhibits and touchable scientific experiments as well as a planetarium. Favorite exhibits include an Egyptian mummy, a Victorian carousel, and the largest public collection of toy trains. In "Passport to the World," children learn about foreign cultures through toys from around the world. Each year more than 1.1 million people visit the Children's Museum. The Eli Lilly Center for Exploration at the museum allows children to explore and experiment with current issues. A $50 million renovation was completed in 2004, opening the new Dinosphere exhibit, an immersive dinosaur experience that allows visitors a close-up look at how dinosaurs may have lived.
The award-winning Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement, a living history museum, presents an authentic recreation of Hoosier life in the 1800s. The Indiana State Museum chronicles the history and culture of the state and features a collection of more than 400,000 artifacts and an IMAX theater. The National Art Museum of Sports is housed in the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis campus' University Place and contains ancient and modern art depicting sports motifs; 40 sports are represented in 800 paintings, sculptures, and paper works. Other museums in the city are Indiana Medical History Museum, Hook's Discovery & Learning Center, and Indianapolis Motor Speed-way and Hall of Fame Museum.
Festivals and Holidays
Each year Indianapolis presents a host of festivals and fairs that celebrate the city's history, traditions, and ethnic heritage. The most elaborate is the month-long annual 500 Festival in May, which combines events associated with the Indianapolis 500 race as well as other activities, like the Mini Marathon and 5K races, a parade, Mayor's Breakfast, a Kids' Day, and others. The St. Benno Fest in March celebrates the city's German heritage. April holds the Indiana International Film Festival, one of two film festivals in the city. Midwestern artists present their crafts and art work in June at the Talbot Street Art Fair. The Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration celebrates African American heritage over 10 days in July at the Indiana Convention Center.
Oktoberfest takes place in early September, followed by Penrod Arts Fair, a commemorative celebration of Indianapolis author Booth Tarkington's most famous character, with art exhibits and entertainment at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. A three-day International Festival is held in late October; the Heartland Film Festival in October celebrates independent and theatrically-released films. The Madrigal Dinners ring in the year-end holiday season on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis with a grand banquet that recreates the customs, dress, and songs of medieval England. Other festivals and events are hosted throughout the year as part of the universities and museums events schedules; others are held throughout the warmer months as part of the park district's event schedule.
Sports for the Spectator
Best known for the Indianapolis 500 and the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard (formerly the Brickyard 400), Indianapolis made a conscious and successful effort in the 1980s to become an amateur sports capital and a major league city, a distinction that is undisputed today.
Motor sports abound at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with three major events and a multitude of smaller ones. The Formula One U.S. Grand Prix began there in 2000; the celebrated event happens annually in mid-July. Since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 has fielded international racecar drivers testing their mettle at speeds above 200 miles per hour for 200 laps around the track; the "Indy 500" attracts more than 350,000 spectators and is held each Memorial Day weekend. The Allstate 400 at the Brickyard features NASCAR racing in August.
The 57,890-seat RCA Dome is home to the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League (NFL). In early 2005, plans were finalized for a new stadium for the Colts, with groundbreaking on construction slated for August. The RCA Dome hosts many athletic events, and will be the site of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Division I Women's Basketball Championship (Final Four) in 2005 and the Men's Final Four in 2006 and 2010. The RCA Dome also houses the National Track & Field Hall of Fame.
The Indiana Pacers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) moved to the 15-story, $183 million arena, Conseco Fieldhouse, in 1999; the structure blends old-style grace with modern conveniences. The Women's National Basketball Association expansion team, the Indiana Fever, also call Conseco Fieldhouse home. The Indianapolis Ice, a minor-league affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks, play hockey at the Pepsi Coliseum. Kuntz Stadium, a soccer-only stadium, hosts the Indiana Blast soccer team. Professional tennis takes place at the Indianapolis Tennis Center.
The Triple-A Indianapolis Indians play baseball at Victory Field in White River State Park, an open-air, 13,500-seat stadium.
Sports for the Participant
Indianapolis's commitment to sponsor world-class amateur athletic competition has made available excellent facilities to the public. The Major Taylor Velodrome—named for the first African American to win a world championship in any sport—is a state-of-the-art oval bicycle track with a 28-degree banked concrete surface; it is open to the public from March to October. Joggers can try out the track at the Indiana University Track & Soccer Stadium; the university's natatorium offers public facilities, including swimming pools, weight rooms, and a gymnasium. The Indianapolis Tennis Center makes 24 tennis courts available for public use.
The Indy Parks and Recreation Department maintains more than 10,600 acres of land comprising 173 parks; among them is the 4,395-acre Eagle Creek Park, the country's largest municipally owned and operated park, which features a competition-quality rowing course. The park system includes 26 recreation, family, and nature centers; basketball, tennis, and sand volleyball courts; 13 golf courses; softball and baseball diamonds; football and soccer fields; and 22 swimming pools/aquatic centers. Indy Greenways is a series of paved pathways throughout the city; residents walk, run, bike, and skate on the paths.
Shopping and Dining
Circle Centre Mall, covering two city blocks in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, provides tourists and residents with many shopping, dining, and entertainment options. In addition to anchor stores Nordstrom and Parisian, Circle Centre has more than 100 specialty shops, restaurants, and nightclubs, plus a nine-screen cinema, a virtual-reality theme park, and the Indianapolis Artsgarden. Skywalks link Circle Center to seven hotels, the Indiana Convention Center, the RCA Dome, the Indiana Government Center, and offices, shops, and restaurants. Circle Centre has spurred a development boom in adjacent blocks, including the addition of a Hard Rock Cafe and several upscale restaurants.
The Indianapolis City Market, housed in an imposing nineteenth-century building, opened in 1886. Known for its fresh vegetables and meats, the year-round farmer's market is a favorite spot for downtown workers who lunch at small specialty shops. Broad Ripple Village, known as the "Greenwich Village of Indianapolis," is a renovated neighborhood of antique and other shops, art galleries, and nightclubs; a canal and paved walking trail run through it. Recent years have seen a revitalization of Massachusetts Avenue, a Soho-like downtown area of art galleries, dining establishments, and coffee houses. The Fountain Square neighborhood, which boasts both classic and trendy eateries, 1950s-style diners, dance and jazz clubs, antique shops, and bookstores, also attracts regular patrons and visitors.
Indianapolis enjoys its share of good restaurants serving a variety of ethnic and traditional food, ranging from Nouvelle American cuisine with a Hoosier touch to authentic German and French specialties. Health food restaurants are popular, as are Japanese, Middle Eastern, coffeehouses, Italian, and Mexican. Mystery Cafe gives patrons a chance to dine and solve a "Who Dunnit."
Visitor Information: Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, One RCA Dome, Suite 100, Indianapolis, IN 46225; telephone (800)311-INDY
Discuss this city on our active forum.