I first see it from below. Spirit, a Percheron draft horse, takes me on a carriage lap around Indianapolis’ season-long Circle of Lights display. I find candy-striped posts and Goliath-size toy soldiers, but the star is the iconic Soldiers and Sailors Monument, draped and twinkling to create one of the country’s largest Christmas trees.
Later, from a suite at the Conrad Indianapolis hotel, I’m at eye level with the top of the structure. From above, Monument Circle is the bulls- eye—a can’t-miss landmark that gives the Circle City its nickname. Roads and neighborhoods radiate from here, and starting in November, so does holiday fun. After this pit stop in the inner circle, I venture out for a lineup of only-in-Indy Christmas experiences.
Talk about a view—request one of the suites at the Conrad hotel with glimpses of the Monument Circle tree.
Six ways to play and stay
Laps and lights
I squint and lean into a hard left at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but no checkered flag waves ahead. I tap the brakes for parachuting reindeer, baby Jesus in a manger and other illuminated characters that line the track during Lights at the Brickyard. It launched in 2016 and marks a rare opportunity to drive your own car (or ride a bus) on the world’s largest racetrack (November 17–December 30, 2017). indianapolismotorspeedway.com/events
Crafts to the tune of electronica
The main draws at the Yelp’s Totally Bazaar are the vendors—150 Indiana artists and makers spread across six floors at the stunning Central Public Library. So go for the shopping. But stay late for the hot food, spiked drinks and DJ-spun Christmas carols. Admission to the show is free, but you must RSVP (December 7, 2017). yelp.com/events
Behind the glass wall by my table at Traders Point Creamery’s restaurant, wheels of cheese age on shelves, stacked like hatboxes. Here, just 20 minutes from downtown, farm and fork deliciously meet in a historical barn. Snag tickets early for Christmas on the Farm (December 9–10, 2017), or visit Sunday for brunch, evenings for a candlelit dinner, and anytime to buy tasty gifts. traderspointcreamery.com/events
Sleep on the rails
Don’t panic if you feel a rumble, I’m told at the Crowne Plaza at Union Station. It’s a pep talk for my stay in one of the hotel’s 13 Pullman cars. Now swanky rooms, they rest on retired indoor tracks, not far from where trains still pass. ihg.com/crowneplaza
Laughter erupts in Hilbert Circle Theatre when a turkey strips and belts out a truly ridiculous Nelly spoof: “I am getting so hot, I wanna take my feathers off.” Yes, this is an Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra performance—Yuletide Celebration, an annual variety show that’s the nation’s biggest of its kind, drawing local and national performers. Many families come every year for favorite scenes like a line of 15 tapping, high-kicking Santas, but new surprises always await (December 1–23, 2017). indianapolissymphony.org/yuletide
Where art and nature sing
On a walk outside the Indianapolis Museum of Art, a chorus of “What the …?!” drowns out crunching snow underfoot. It’s the only 50-foot tree I’ve seen made of toys. (Some get donated during the exhibit.) Also on the Newfields cultural campus: Tour the elegantly decorated Lilly House during the day, or experience Winterlights at night for gardens sparkling with 1 million bulbs. Visitors can make s’mores or sip drinks at fire pits (November 19, 2017–January 7, 2018). discovernewfields.org/calendar/winterlights
Extend the visit
Find our full-blown guide to Indy at midwestliving.com/indy.