Most visitors to Indianapolis come for the famous ‘Indy 500’ race – one of the world’s best known sporting events. Around 500,000 visitors crowd into the city each May and watch the race, which is considered to be the largest single day sporting event in the world.
The famous “Brickyard” celebrates its centenary in 2009 and even when the race is not taking place, you can visit the Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, which offers a fascinating history of the race and the historic track. The Speedway complex even boasts a PGA golf course – with four holes actually inside the track.
Even if you are not a big race fan, a tour of the race track can be fascinating. The tour of the track itself includes a visit to ‘Gasoline Alley’, the victory platform and other locations that most race visitors don’t always see. Visitors to the museum can also see an authentic collection of racing memorabilia and trophies.
However, natives of Indianapolis like to point out that their city offers visitors more than just the world’s most well known car race. Other sports are almost as popular – the city has become known for its thriving spectator sports scene – football and basketball - as well as motor racing. The stadium where the Indianapolis Indians play was voted one of the best small ballparks in the country.
Indianapolis has gone to great lengths to keep its downtown alive – investing over three billion dollars in the area since 1990. The result is a thriving area in which to live and work. Downtown has an impressive ten performing arts venues as well as historic neighborhoods, museums and cultural attractions. And downtown boasts an impressive 200 restaurants and shops.
Indianapolis also boasts one of the largest children’s museums in the world and one that was recently voted best museum in the Midwest. On display is everything from carousels and doll houses to exhibitions on world cultures and archaeology. A recent addition is the museums newest exhibit, the Dinosphere – a hands-on display about fossils and science.
Another museum well worth a visit is the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art – one of the best of its kind in the world. On display are native American artifacts as well as a large collection of work by one of the artists most associated with the west - Georgia O’Keeffe.
The unofficial center of downtown is the area known as Monument Circle, which has a 284-foot tall limestone monument, built in 1902 as a tribute to soldiers from the state that fought and died in the Civil War. At the top of the monument is a statue of victory known locally as Miss Indiana.
For a spectacular view over the city, take the elevator to the observation deck, while the lower floor of the monument houses a civil war museum. And if you visit the city during Christmas, the monument is decorated with colored lights – locals call it the world’s tallest Christmas tree.
Downtown boast several distinct neighborhoods, all worth exploring. The Lockerbie Square area has some lovely renovated Victorian homes and cobblestone streets; while the area around Massachusetts Avenue is one of the most fashionable parts of the city and offers coffee bars, bookstores and several theaters.
One of the city’s oldest downtown areas is Fountain Square with its cluster of antique stores. For the biggest variety of shops, head for Circle Center which is modeled on a European street market and offers the convenience of covered walkways connecting it to several downtown hotels.
It’s hard to believe you are just 25 miles or so from Indianapolis when you visit the open air history museum at Conner Prairie. Over 30 carefully reconstructed buildings offer a glimpse of life in Indiana during the 19th century, made all the more realistic by actors in period costume. There’s also a reconstructed Indian camp and a collection of local pottery.
Indianapolis comes as a surprise to many visitors who think of the city only in terms of car racing. America’s 8th largest city offers a thriving downtown, great museums and cultural offerings and dynamic neighborhoods. And it’s easy to get to from just about anywhere, being in the center of Indiana – the “Crossroads of America”.