At first glance, it seems that this city was made for the sports fan. With two professional sports teams conveniently housed in arenas right in downtown, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just a few miles away, attending a sporting event is a great excuse to come to Indy.
However, there’s more to Indy. It’s where Midwest small town hospitality meets the big city. It’s a place where you’ll have no problem finding things to do, but where you can do them at a relaxing pace. It’s where you’ll meet some of the nicest people in the country. It’s a place you should plan a weekend to see, but you can still experience a lot that Indy has to offer in just a day. Here are my picks for things to do if you find yourself in Indy for a short stay.
A Morning Stroll Around Town
Indy has been called “the most walkable Downtown in America” by Sports Illustrated and has been referred to as a walker’s paradise by WalkScore.com. For a short walk, just wonder around the central downtown area and mosey on over to Monument Circle.
To get a bit more exercise in before you start your day, consider the serene 3-mile Canal Walk along the tree lined promenade. Alternatively, you can take in some culture on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Although it’s an 8-mile walk that passes through six Cultural Districts, you can always shorten it to fit within your time frame and physical ability. Whichever way you go, one thing is for sure, you’ll have no problem finding your way around. Downtown Indy has maps and signage all around to help you figure out where you are and to point out relevant sights along the way.
Breakfast at the City Market
222 E. Market Street, Indianapolis, IN
There are plenty of places in the downtown area to grab a sweet or hearty breakfast, and the tourism board, Visit Indy, nicely lists them all out for you here. I opted to skip the sit down breakfast because I heard the farmer’s market was going on the morning I was in town. So instead, I grabbed my coffee and took a stroll over to the City Market to see what goodies I could find for a breakfast on the go.
The Original Farmer’s Market, as it is formally called, is conveniently set up next to the Indianapolis City Market, which is located in the heart of downtown Indy at Market Street, between Delaware and Alabama Streets. It’s one of central Indiana’s longest-running and largest farmers’ markets. However, you’ll only catch it on Wednesday mornings, May through October, from 9:30AM-1:30PM (rain or shine).
Don’t fret if you aren’t in town on Wednesday and miss out on the farmer’s market. You can still check out the City Market, an indoor market housing over 30 local artisan booths, including ethnic eateries, snack stands and gift boutiques. First opened in 1886, the Indianapolis City Market is on the National Register of Historic Places. If you have time, check out the tour of the Romanesque underground catacombs while there!
Tour of the Lucas Oil Stadium
500 S. Capitol Avenue, Indianapolis, IN
Whether you are a fair-weathered fan of your hometown team or a die-hard sports fan, a tour of the Lucas Oil football stadium does not disappoint. Home of the Indianapolis Colts and where Super Bowl XLVI was played in 2012, this tour takes you behind-the-scenes of a “state-of-the-art sports mecca” that can house 70,000 football fans and has a retractable roof. Check out my tour of the stadium here.
The stadium offers both public and private tours. Public tours are offered Tuesday and Wednesday at 11AM, 1PM and 3PM. Call the stadium to arrange a private tour on another day or time.
Lunch at Harry & Izzy’s Steakhouse
153 S. Illinois Street, Indianapolis, IN
There are so many places to grab lunch while visiting Indy. If you want to stay in the downtown area, expect a plethora of chain restaurants from Dick’s Last Resort to Capital Grill. If you prefer a place that is independently owned where the locals hang out, then take a short walk from the central downtown area over to Massachusetts Avenue where you’ll find more options. One thing is for sure, whatever you are in the mood for, you’ll find it without having to walk too far!
With so many options, you’d think it would be difficult to choose. However, if you are in town for just one day, the choice is simple: Harry and Izzy’s. The sister company of the famous St. Elmo Steakhouse next door (more on that when we talk about dinner!), this upscale American Grill offers great food, an exceptional staff, and beautiful decor.
The star on the lunch menu is the prime rib sandwich, and of course, the shrimp cocktail using the world famous spicy, signature cocktail sauce from St. Elmo. I also tried the filet mignon sliders (exceptional) with a delicious, rich French onion soup as my side. Fortunately, I was traveling with my husband, so I had a lot of help eating all of this food, but even he couldn’t finish the prime rib sandwich. It’s definitely big enough to share, unless you have a very big appetite.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum
4790 W. 16th Street, Indianapolis, IN
There’s a lot going on out at the Speedway for visitors. Depending on when you visit, you can stop in for a quick visit to the museum, join a grounds tour, or participate in an on-track experience. Needless to say, I wanted to do it all, but as my luck would have it, my timing was off. If this is important to you when visiting Indy, it’s imperative that you check the Speedway’s schedule as grounds tours and on-track experiences are not offered when there is an upcoming race.
During my visit in mid-May, the track was preparing for the 3rd Annual Angie’s List Grand Prix, so although I missed out on some activities, I did get a chance to see some cars practicing on the track, which was pretty exciting. Just the sounds of the engines filling the area as you approach the Speedway is enough to get your adrenaline pumping. However, as soon as you see the cars whizzing by on the track, I guarantee you will have a big smile on your face.
Souvenir Shopping at Silver in the City
434 Massachusetts Avenue, Indianapolis, IN
For those of you who need some retail therapy or must pick up some souvenirs for the kiddies or spouse back home, the Circle Centre Mall with its large department store, Carson’s, is located right in the center of the city. Alternatively, you can skip the downtown chain stores and head over to the cute neighborhood along Massachusetts Avenue. It’s just a few minutes’ walk from the Soldiers and Sailors Monument (the “Circle”).
The avenue has a few boutique shops that are locally owned, so it’s perfect for picking up a unique gift or souvenir while supporting small businesses. I especially liked Silver in the City, an eclectic shop that carried a few Indy souvenirs but specialized in silver jewelry and unique gifts for the home.
Happy Hour at the 1933 Lounge
127 S. Illinois Street, Indianapolis, IN
If you are looking for a casual spot for a happy hour drink, stop at one of the bars or restaurants along Massachusetts Avenue. If you prefer a an upscale lounge with a speakeasy vibe then make your way back downtown to the 1933 Lounge. Yes, I’m recommending you go back to what has become my favorite block in Indy, the one that houses Harry & Izzy’s, St. Elmo’s, and the 1933 Lounge.
Sure, they all may be related and all right next door to eachother, but each does offer a somewhat unique experience, and the cozy 1933 Lounge offers a great vibe for a drink before dinner. Try the signature drink the “Elmo Cola.” The drink is made with their exclusive “Infusion” (Maker’s Mark Bourbon, imported Italian Luxardo Maraschino Cherries and Madagascar Vanilla Beans) served with their famous Drunken Cherries and mixed with Coke or Diet Coke. Even if you are not a bourbon drinker, you should try this. It’s delicious, smooth, and you’ll get a buzz after just one (especially if you eat the cherries).
Dinner at St. Elmo Steakhouse
127 S. Illinois Street, Indianapolis, IN
In Indy, there is no other place to go for dinner than St. Elmo’s, Indy’s famous steakhouse. St. Elmo’s was honored in 2012 by the James Beard Foundation when it was recognized as one of America’s Classics and by Forbes as one of the world’s “10 Great Classic Restaurants Well Worth Visiting.”
Not only famous for their steaks, their also known for their shrimp cocktail appetizer. You will be asked if you want to place an order for it before you even get a chance to look at the menu! Practically everyone who eats here orders the shrimp cocktail, and you should give it a try, too (when in Rome!). I’ll warn you now, this cocktail sauce has a lot of horseradish in it! Although it gave me a bit of a head rush at lunch, I couldn’t resist ordering it again for dinner. If you really like the cocktail sauce, you can buy it at the restaurant to take home with you!
Where I Stayed
During my short visit to Indianapolis, I stayed at the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis, Downtown Union Station hotel. An upscale, yet comfortable hotel, it is located in the historic Union Station train station, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. With an exceptional location in the downtown area, you’ll have no problem getting to the arenas, stores, bars and restaurants when staying at this unique hotel. You can find more about my stay here.
Special thanks to Visit Indy for providing assistance with accommodations and tours while visiting Indianapolis. As always, opinions and recommendations are 100% my own. For more information and assistance in planning your visit to Indianapolis, check out Visit Indy’s website.