20 Top Things to Do in Indiana
Top attractions in Indiana
Sports and speedways long have been associated with Indiana, but other sides of the Hoosier State add appealing dimension.
Indianapolis has reinvented itself with pretty green spaces and cutting-edge museums, while striking landscapes survive beyond the state's patchwork of farms -- hulking sand dunes along Lake Michigan and pristine wilderness in the southern reaches (such as Brown County State Park, pictured at left).
Click ahead to find out about 20 of our favorite experiences in Indiana, from sampling the country life in northern Indiana's Amish country to treasure-hunting along Antique Alley east of Indy.
Children's Museum of Indianapolis
Five levels of interactive exhibits qualify as a must-see for visitors of all ages; plan to spend at least half a day at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. The new Take Me There: China exhibit gives you a chance to fly over the Great Wall of China and land in modern-day Beijing where you can learn to use chopsticks and play real Chinese instruments. Equally fascinating: the world's largest glass sculpture (a 43-foot tower by Dale Chihuly) and a moving exhibit about heroic children, including Anne Frank. (317) 334-4000; childrensmuseum.org
"Spirit of Jasper" train
The romance of rail travel returns to the southern Indiana countryside, where the beautifully restored Spirit of Jasper train takes summertime evening trips to the resorts at French Lick. Check the website for other train excursions, including 18-mile round-trip Ride and Dine trips. (812) 482-9229; spiritofjasper.com
Parke County's covered bridges
You'll find the nation's highest concentration of covered bridges (31!) in the Wabash River Valley, 55 miles west of Indianapolis. Maps from the Rockville visitors center show color-coded routes to the historical spans, many of which still are open to traffic. Another highlight: the annual Covered Bridge Festival in the fall. (765) 569-5226; coveredbridges.com
- Photo Courtesy of Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Indiana Dunes State Park
Yes, the surroundings are a bit industrial, but once you hit the sand, it's all sparkling Lake Michigan goodness. Most people come to Indiana Dunes State Park to swim or to slide down the huge dunes, some up to 100 feet tall. Inland, though, you'll find great trails. Check out the brochure that breaks down hour-, day- or week-long visits to the park (40 miles southeast of Chicago). (219) 926-1952; in.gov/dnr
- Photo Courtesy of Indiana Design Center
Carmel's Arts and Design District
Lavish new businesses in Old Town celebrate arts and style, while a snazzy interior design center in the Arts and Design District recalls Chicago's Merchandise Mart. And perfect acoustics and plush seats make the Palladium a must-do concert spot. (317) 571-2787; carmelartsanddesign.com
- Photo Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society
The Indiana Historical Society's impressive new Indiana Experience shares state history through technology and costumed interpreters. Three You Are There galleries create vignettes where visitors interact with interpreters; you might repair a 1924 Tin Lizzie or shop with 1945 rations coupons. Other exhibits include a swank Cole Porter room, where a singer croons the works of native son Porter; and Destination Indiana, a group of touch screen stations where visitors explore Indiana's 92 counties through stories. (317) 232-1882; indianahistory.org
- Photo Courtesy of Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Turkey Run State Park
Indiana's best all-around park (65 miles west of Indianapolis) has a large lodge; hiking trails through deep, wooded ravines; horseback riding; hayrides; and an impressive, year-round lineup of naturalist programming. Sugar Creek at Turkey Run State Park is great for fishing and canoeing (several liveries in the area provide rentals), but not for swimming. If you're itching for a dip, the Olympic-size pool at Turkey Run Inn fits the bill. (765) 597-2635; in.gov/dnr
The towns along old US-40 east of Indianapolis harbor nearly 1,000 antiques dealers, earning the 60-mile stretch the nickname Antique Alley. The highway, known as the National Road, dates to the early 1800s, and some of the merchandise you'll find here is even older.
Richmond, Centerville and Cambridge City are home to the lion's share of shops, but Knightstown, Lewisville and other hamlets have plenty to offer, too. Businesses cater to girlfriends on antiquing road trips, with splurge-worthy pastries and comfy lodging. (800) 828-8414; visitrichmond.org
- Photo Courtesy of The Elkhart County Convention and Visitors Bureau
Nappanee's Amish charm
Settled on the edge of north-central Indiana's Amish Country, Nappanee (population: 7,070) has a philosophy centered on the phrase "Embrace the Pace." The town has cultivated that spirit by supporting small businesses and an RV industry, and Amish and "English" neighbors live out the slogan in their daily interaction.
Nappanee's downtown has shops and restaurants housed in historic buildings, and family-owned shops pepper the countryside. More than 30 of these are featured on Nappanee's Shingle Shoppes Tour. Another big draw: the free Quilt Gardens Tour, showcasing colorful gardens and murals along a self-guided tour. (800) 250-4827; amishcountry.org
Brown County's arts and scenery
Seasoned shoppers know county seat Nashville (population: 769) as a great destination for cool boutiques, artsy finds and cooking with a Southern touch. But also come enjoy what inspired the area's first artist colonies a century ago: rolling hills and natural beauty. At Brown County State Park, secluded paths wind through the woods (left), and a panorama unfolds from just about every ridge. (800) 753-3255; browncounty.com
- Photo Courtesy of Columbus Area Visitors Center
Two-hour bus and walking tours highlight Columbus' striking architecture, including buildings by Eliel Saarinen, his son Eero Saarinen, I.M. Pei and other noted architects. (At left, visitors view Eliel Saarinen's First Christian Church and Henry Moore's Large Arch sculpture.) The hip, downtown Hotel Indigo perfectly complements the city's modernist spirit, and local restaurants hold progressive dinners and other special events. (800) 468-6564; columbus.in.us
- Courtesy of IMS Photo/Dan Helrigel
This Memorial Day weekend race in Indianapolis stokes major adrenaline as 33 drivers fly around a 2.5-mile track at 220 mph. Even racing novices can appreciate the wow factor. Vatican City, Yankee Stadium, the Rose Bowl, the Roman Coliseum and Churchill Downs could all fit inside the track at the same time. A crowd of about 325,000 attends the Indy 500. (317) 492-8500; indianapolismotorspeedway.com
- Photo Courtesy of Visit Indiana
In the center of downtown Indianapolis, Monument Circle includes the iconic 1902 Soldiers and Sailors Monument -- climb the steps or take the elevator to the top for a 360-degree view. Also nearby: an imposing collection of memorial buildings and landscaped open spaces including the Indiana War Memorial Museum, Indiana War Memorial Plaza, Veterans' Memorial Plaza, USS Indianapolis Memorial, University Park and American Legion Mall. in.gov/iwm
- Photo Courtesy of Conner Prairie
Plan a day trip to this premier interactive history park sprawling across 800 acres in Fishers (17 miles north of downtown). Costumed interpreters at Conner Prairie play historically accurate roles in areas including an 1836 town and one of Indiana's first farms. In the newest exhibit, visitors can also soar 350 feet above the prairie at the 1859 Balloon Voyage.
Check the website for special events held throughout the year, especially Follow the North Star, a compelling re-enactment of the Underground Railroad. (800) 966-1836; connerprairie.org
The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art
Most people don't come to Indianapolis with Native American and Western art in mind, but this jewel in White River State Park is absolutely worth a visit. The collections at The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art include ancient and modern art.
For a real deal, plan to visit in June when the Eiteljorg holds its annual Indian Market and Festival. A $10 ticket gets you admission to the museum and the fest, where 130 Native American artists, storytellers, dancers and singers converge. (317) 636-9378; eiteljorg.org
- Photo Courtesy of farm-bloomington.com
Bloomington's food scene
Bloomington (metro population: 185,000) offers a surprisingly diverse food scene. Indiana University students congregate at laid-back spots such as wrap shop Laughing Planet. More compelling, however, is the depth of Bloomington's dining scene, which relies heavily on local products. At eateries such as Farmbloomington, Restaurant Tallent and Scholars Inn, you'll find an array of intriguing dishes from saffron walleye to a pomegranate-kissed filet mignon.
- Photo Courtesy of Holiday World and Splashin' Safari
Santa Claus' family attractions
The big lure in this family-centric town is Holiday World and Splashin' Safari (left), with a plethora of colorful rides and slides that will elicit squeals from the backseat. (Grown-ups will cheer about the free pop, parking and even sunscreen.) In town, you can read kids' letters to Santa at the Santa Claus Museum or try frozen hot cocoa at Santa's Candy Castle.
But the area isn't all kitsch. Plan to visit a handful of Abe Lincoln sites, canoe on the Blue Riveror tour Marengo Cave. Lake Rudolph Campground provides RV rentals for newbie campers, or, if your crew prefers plusher digs, the Leavenworth Inn is lovely—and kids are welcome. (888) 444-9252; santaclausind.org
- Photo Courtesy of fallsoftheohio.org
Falls of the Ohio State Park
What's the draw to Falls of the Ohio State Park across the Ohio River from Louisville? Fossils. Tons and tons of them preserved in a rock bed along the river. Visit the excellent museum first, so that when you're down on the rocks, you know your tubes from your tusks. (812) 280-9970; in.gov/dnr
- Photo Courtesy of Winona Lake
Winona Lake's renaissance
This seen-better-days resort town (120 miles north of Indianapolis) is, well, seeing better days. Rehabbed houses along a European-style canal at Winona Lake hold a handful of shops and galleries. Two pretty, art-filled parks beg for strolls or picnics, and on the lake, the luxe Blue Heron Guest House offers stunning views. (574) 268-9888; villageatwinona.com
- Photo Courtesy of French Lick Resort
French Lick's Pete Dye Course
The designer's newest destination golf course at French Lick Resort hosted the 2010 PGA Professional National Championship. Memo to any golfer on the Pete Dye Course: Good luck keeping your focus on the game when 40-mile vistas of rolling Indiana countryside beg for attention. Golf packages available. (888) 936-9360; frenchlick.com