Indianapolis Travel Guide

Overview

The downtown of Indianapolis, Indiana, has undergone a makeover. New restaurants, new hotels, a new library, an expanding convention center and a state-of-the-art sports facility have helped change the face of the city's skyline.

Lucas Oil Stadium, a 63,000-seat multipurpose facility, features a retractable roof and walls that open to showcase the skyline. Built primarily as the home of the Indianapolis Colts, the stadium was the site of the 2012 Super Bowl. It's also used on occasion for the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Indianapolis, also known for its auto-racing heritage, is home to the world-famous Indianapolis 500, NASCAR's Brickyard 400 and the National Drags. The U.S. Grand Prix of Indianapolis will use the road track at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Visitors also can take in games of the NBA's Indiana Pacers or the NFL's Indianapolis Colts.

Cultural tourism hasn't taken a backseat, however. With expanding museums and officially designated cultural districts chock-full of galleries, shops, restaurants and public sculpture, the city's focus remains on the arts and tourism. Indianapolis visitors also can enjoy the famous Indianapolis Zoo.

Geography

Andrew Ralston, who worked with Pierre L'Enfant on the street layout for Washington, D.C., imposed diagonal streets on the typical midwestern city layout when designing the plan for Indianapolis. He plotted a square with mile-/kilometer-long sides named North Street, South Street, East Street and West Street.

At the center of the original plat is a circle, intended to enclose the governor's mansion on a slight rise in the flat topography of the city but now the location of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Meridian Street, which bisects Monument Circle, is the city's major north-south road. It also divides east and west addresses. The city's major east-west street is Washington Street (a block south of the Circle), and it serves as the dividing line between north and south addresses. Washington Street also marks the original location of the National Road when it came through town in the late 1820s.

The White River meanders through the city from the northeast to the southwest, eventually joining the Wabash River at the border with Illinois. The major suburbs to the north are Zionsville, Carmel, Noblesville and Fishers. To the south are Greenwood and Franklin, with Greenfield in the east and Plainfield, Avon, Danville and Brownsburg in the west. The Indianapolis International Airport is located between Plainfield and Indianapolis.

History

Modern-day Indiana is dotted with former towns and ceremonial sites constructed by ancient tribes, but at the time of colonial expansion, the native people there were nomadic hunters. Rivers were a principal mode of transportation for both the natives and early settlers. During the early days of the white migration into the area, most newcomers arrived via the Ohio River on flatboats. They settled in towns not far from its banks.

The first state capital was Corydon, but by 1820, legislators decided that a modern state should have a capital closer to its geographic center. A group rode north on horseback, eventually choosing a site at the confluence of the White River and Fall Creek. Although neither waterway proved navigable for commercial traffic, the center of the state became an early transportation hub, with the National Road (now U.S. Highway 40) and, later, railroads, airports and interstate highways connecting Indianapolis with the rest of the U.S., earning the city the nickname "Crossroads of America."

The automobile industry shaped the city's early history, as it produced such famed brands as Stutz and Marmon. The industrial base has subsequently changed, but its legacy lives on in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Speedrome and the Indianapolis Raceway Park.

In 1969, Indianapolis became one of the first municipalities to experiment with consolidating city and county governments, an effort now entering its second phase. The city's public-private partnerships—business and civic leaders working with politicians to spur economic growth—have added energy to this midwestern city. From the push for amateur-sports development in the 1980s to the current effort to develop cultural tourism, the city remains a top innovator.

Sightseeing

Downtown is a walker's paradise and a good place to start your visit to Indianapolis. Sky Walk connects Circle Centre Mall with many downtown hotels via a covered walkway. It's ideal for exploring downtown during the cool or inclement weather.

White River State Park has transformed the landscape in the western part of downtown, and with such a wide range of attractions, it's unlike any other park in the city. It is home to the Indiana State Museum, the Indianapolis Zoo and the impressive Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. White River Gardens includes both outdoor gardens and a conservatory with year-round blossoms. Check the events calendar at http://www.visitindy.com.

Adjacent are the NCAA Hall of Champions, Victory Field (home of the Indianapolis Indians baseball team), the state government complex and the Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis campus.

The Indianapolis Canal Walk begins in White River State Park and is a good place to take a pleasant stroll, jog or go in-line skating. You can rent paddleboats, bicycles and surrey bikes in warm weather or opt for a Segway tour or a Venetian-style gondola ride. Along the way, you'll find cafes where you can stop for a latte or lunch. Enjoy the free Concerts on the Canal series outside the Indiana History Center on Thursday evenings during the summer. Stop at the Medal of Honor memorial on your way to the memorial dedicated to the battleship USS Indianapolis (sunk in World War II), at the north end of the walkway.

You can't miss the Indiana State Soldiers and Sailors Monument—it's in the middle of Monument Circle (note that the statue at the top, Lady Victory, faces south). These are just some of the many memorials in Indianapolis, which is second only to Washington, D.C., in the number of monuments honoring U.S. military veterans. A little farther north is the Indiana War Memorial (home of a military museum), a Korean War memorial and the national headquarters of the American Legion.

Indianapolis has its share of interesting architecture, some of it dating from the late 1800s. You can visit the President Benjamin Harrison Home, the restored abode of the 23rd U.S. president; the James Whitcomb Riley Home, the Victorian residence of the popular Hoosier poet; and the Morris-Butler House, a Victorian mansion turned into a museum of decorative arts. The Riley home is in the historic district of Lockerbie Square, which has cobblestoned streets and many charming, restored carpenter cottages. Take a stroll along Massachusetts Avenue—a cultural district known to locals as "Mass Ave." It's lined with public sculpture, art galleries, restaurants, nightspots and theaters. Take advantage of one of the frequent Friday evening gallery walks along the avenue for a fun evening of art viewing and people-watching.

Consider attending a jazz concert or Latin night at the Egyptian-influenced art-deco building housing the Madame Walker Theatre Center—a great way to celebrate a weekend in the city with locals. We also recommend that you visit one of the cultural districts for their wide array of specialty shops, restaurants, music and nightspots. In the warmer months, the restaurants add outdoor cafes.

A drive north on Meridian Street takes you past the War Memorial Plaza, Scottish Rite Cathedral, Children's Museum of Indianapolis, Governor's Residence (although the governor doesn't actually live there) and dozens of magnificent homes dating from the first half of the 20th century.

Consider a White River Park Pass for discounted admission to seven attractions in the downtown area: Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the IMAX Theater, the Indiana State Museum, the Indianapolis Zoo/White River Gardens and the NCAA Hall of Champions and Indians games (AAA baseball) at Victory Field. US$47 adults, US$35 children ages 3-17. Purchase online at http://www.inwhiteriver.com/about-the-park/wrsp-park-passes.

Nightlife

Both downtown and the Broad Ripple area are good places to experience the city's nightlife. Many of the downtown areas are within walking distance of the recommended hotels. To reach Broad Ripple, Fountain Square and much of Mass Ave, you will need a car or taxi.

Stroll around Circle Centre Mall and then go south toward Union Station on Meridian Street downtown. Amble along Broad Ripple Avenue and the side streets to the north. Try the Chatterbox Jazz Club on Massachusetts Avenue, or go a couple of blocks farther to the Kellerbar in the Rathskeller. For local color (and live blues), try the Slippery Noodle Inn.

Generally bars and clubs stay open until 2 or 3 am, but some do close early if they are not busy.

Downtown has dozens of watering holes, ranging from sports bars to martini bars, that attract locals and visitors alike. Many are smoke-free.

Dining

Indianapolis long relied on locally owned restaurants to dish out both innovative and traditional fare using fresh fish from the Great Lakes, corn-fed beef, and fresh vegetables and fruits from local farms, but an increasing number of ethnic options have been added to the mix.

Some of Indianapolis' best dining venues are just north of the city center. Lined up along 86th Street or clustered in Broad Ripple Village, you'll find everything from classic Italian to Asian fusion.

The city has great dining downtown, too. Shapiro's Delicatessen and Bakery is a culinary landmark, known for its sturdy kosher foods. Plate-size steaks have been the specialty at St. Elmo's Steak House since 1902, and hearty German cuisine is still served at the Rathskeller, the city's oldest restaurant. Trendy restaurants are popping up along Massachusetts Avenue and in Fountain Square.

A no-smoking ban is in place for restaurants within the city.

General dining times are 11:30 am-2 pm for lunch and 5-8 pm for dinner, although some restaurants often stay open late.

Expect to pay within these general guidelines for a dinner for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than US$10; $$ = US$10-$20; $$$ = US$21-$30; and $$$$ = more than US$30.

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