36 Hours in Indianapolis | Midwest Living

36 Hours in Indianapolis

Known as the Racing Capital of the World for its famous speedway and the Circle City for a landmark monument, Indianapolis offers a weekend of adventures that extend to top-notch museums, an attraction-filled downtown park and stellar restaurants.


On a roll @ 3 p.m.

Start your Indy experience along the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Celebrating its fifth birthday in 2018, the 8-mile urban bike/pedestrian path links five downtown cultural districts, each with its own personality. Public art installations like the Glick Peace Walk make the journey even more interesting. Walk a segment of the trail that fits your interests, or to see it all, borrow a two-wheeler from a Pacers Bikeshare station. Other ways to get around: pedal boats from Wheel Fun Rentals on the scenic Canal Walk, or Segways for zippy tours through White River State Park, home to several of Indy's best-loved museums. The historic City Market is a smart pit stop for locally produced snacks and foodstuffs, coffee or perhaps a pint of Indiana-made craft beer at the Tomlinson Tap Room upstairs.

White River State Park

White River State Park

Bird’s-eye view @ 4:30 p.m.

The iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument soars 284 feet tall on Monument Circle, the brick roundabout epicenter of the city (and the location that gives Indy its Circle City nickname). Take the elevator to the top of the limestone spire (or tackle the 331 steps), and you’ll be rewarded with great views from the 360-degree observation deck.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Check in @ 5:30 p.m.

The 100-room Le Meridien, a reimagined 1928 National Historic Property landmark, sits in a prime downtown location close to sports arenas, restaurants and shopping. Settle into a room with a soothing color palette of grays, blacks and whites. On the main floor, make a happy hour stop into Spoke and Steele to pair cocktails like the bourbon-based Le Mans Rough Rider with a charcuterie board of house-made sausages and specialty cheese.

Le Meridien

Le Meridien. Photo courtesy of Le Meridien.

The Indy special @ 7 p.m.

Indianapolis has been called one of America’s great steakhouse towns, and St. Elmo makes it easy to see why. The dining institution opened in 1902, and black-and-white photos of local and visiting celebrity guests through the years attest to its staying power. Savor the old-school ambiance as tuxedoed servers offer their recommendations for expertly prepared steaks and matching wines from a dizzyingly long list. The legendary shrimp cocktail comes with an intensely spicy horseradish sauce.

Catch a show @ 9 p.m.

After a relocation and a $1.2 million renovation, The Cabaret opens its 2018 spring and summer season on April 21 with a lineup that includes funny ladies Megan Mullally and Stephanie Hunt, Broadway icon Jennifer Holliday, and Tony Award-winner Rachel Bay Jones from Dear Evan Hansen.

Late night @ 11 p.m.

For live music and entertainment with a little bit of edge, head to the Fountain Square district where you can catch a rising star at hipster hangouts like Radio Radio, the Hi-Fi lounge and the White Rabbit Cabaret. If you work up an appetite again after dancing, Peppy’s Grill is a local fave for burgers and other diner eats and stays open 24/7.


Fuel up @ 9 a.m.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Along buzzy Mass Ave, you’ll have no trouble finding just the right place for your morning meal: perhaps Love Handle’s quirky variations on Hoosier classic biscuits and gravy; Benedicts and avocado toasts washed down with fresh cold-pressed juices at the Garden Table; or hot or iced butterscotch lattes garnished with a spritz of flamed orange peel at Coat Check Coffee in the historic Athenaeum building.

Massachusetts Avenue

Massachusetts Avenue

Pedal to the metal @ 10 a.m.

Immerse yourself in Indy’s racing heritage, starting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home to the Indianapolis 500, the NASCAR Brickyard 400, the INDYCAR Grand Prix, the Red Bull Air Race and other thrill-a-minute events taking place throughout the year. If you can’t time your visit to attend a race or practice session, no worries. You can still get a good taste of the history and traditions with a spin through the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and a guided lap of the famed 2.5-mile oval by bus. (P.S. Don’t think about it too much, just pucker up for the requisite kiss-the-yard-of-bricks photo op at the start/finish line.) Just down the street, the Dallara IndyCar Factory provides a deep dive into the state-of-the-art technology and engineering that goes into building modern racecars with simulators available.  

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo courtesy of visitindy.com

Lunch around the world @ 1 p.m.

Take your pick of ethnic cuisines at the International Marketplace on the near west side of town. Several dozen restaurants and international food markets offer flavors from Mexico, Japan, India, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Viet Nam, Peru, Cuba and other countries.

Culture stop @ 2:30 p.m.

Shift gears for an afternoon of art appreciation at the 152-acre Newfields campus. The rebranded Indianapolis Museum of Art encompasses the four-story main building, the historic Lilly House, beautiful gardens and the interactive Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. The main galleries at the museum feature American, European, Asian and Contemporary pieces; programming like summer and winter film series up the ante even more. Guests who visit in the spring enjoy the sights and scents of more than 250,000 blooming flowers throughout the grounds. During the warm-weather months, a miniature golf course showcases 18 themed holes designed by regional artists, and a seasonal outdoor beer garden serves local brews and quick snacks at picnic tables next to the greenhouse.

Indianapolis Museum of Art

Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. Photo courtesy of visitindy.com

Cool dinner at Ukiyo @ 6:30 p.m.

Open since January, the newest addition to local celebri-chef Neal Brown’s restaurant family is already garnering raves on the Indy dining scene for its sushi and elegant fish-based Japanese dishes. If you can get a reservation, try the omekase option of chef-selected dishes. (At lunchtime, Moon Rabbit Ramen pops up with steaming bowls of broth and noodles in the same space.)


Ukiyo. Photo courtesy of Ukiyo

Get in the groove @ 9 p.m.

The Jazz Kitchen hosts touring regional, national and international performers in supper club-style digs with Big Easy flair.  Or for a different listening experience, head to Bar One Fourteen, an intimate microbar that holds just 16 catch-em-if-you-can seats. Sip martinis and Palomas as you relax to a soundtrack based on vinyl playlists curated by the staff.


Brunch like you mean it @ 9 a.m.

Milktooth is on practically every must-eat-while-in-Indianapolis dining list, thanks to Chef Jonathan Brooks’ delicious brunch offerings such as fresh oysters, lamb patty melts, sweet and savory spins on Dutch baby pancakes and creatively filled Pop Tart-ish pastries. There’s also top-shelf coffee and boozy cocktails. You’ll have to wait for a table on the weekends, but it’s worth it.



Shop @ 11 a.m.

Find the perfect souvenir to cap off your stay in Indy at Broad Ripple Village’s eclectic boutiques and galleries eight miles north of downtown. Find Indiana-themed t-shirts at The Shop, gently used books along with board games and craft beer at Books and Brews, and women’s fashions at Marigold Clothing. You might have to snag some munchies for the road after catching a whiff of salty caramel wafting out from Just Pop In! gourmet-flavored popcorn. Wander down the Monon Trail to South Broad Ripple (“SoBro,” if you don’t want to sound like a tourist) to check out other local businesses like Locally Grown Gardens, the Gallery Pastry Shop and Plenty Lifestyle gift shop.


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