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Go There: There’s a Lot More to Indianapolis Than the Indy 500

Indy is a fun, safe, lively travel destination. Check out our tips for where to stay, where to eat, and what to do here any time of year.

By Winona Dimeo-Ediger on April 21, 2023

Buildings of Downtown Indianapolis IN at Dusk
Scott Crone

Welcome to Go There, a Livability.com series about travel and how to maximize your time in some of our favorite cities. Do you have a place in mind we should visit next? Let us know!

Today, we’re sharing our weekend getaway guide to Indianapolis, IN

This weekend, 135,000 people will descend on Indianapolis for the Indy 500. The iconic racing event is certainly a great reason to visit the Indy area. However, Memorial Day weekend isn’t the only time you should consider Indy as a travel destination. This fun, energetic city always has tons going on and a growing list of cool neighborhoods, restaurants, shops and bars to fill even the most ambitious traveler’s itinerary.

Looking for a welcoming, safe and accessible place to unwind and explore? I highly recommend checking out Indy. Read on for the scoop on where to stay, what to eat and what to do (and the very specific thing I did that you definitely should NOT do).

Bottleworks Hotel Exterior
The Addison Group

Where To Stay in Indianapolis

I live in Nashville, which is perhaps the shiny-new-high-rise-hotel capital of the world right now. So I can certainly appreciate the allure of a glass-walled luxury property and the requisite rooftop bar and infinity pool on the top floor. Still, sometimes the newness of these places gives me the feeling, even in my own city, that I could be sipping this $14 cocktail anywhere. This is why places like the Bottleworks Hotel are so special and important. The Bottleworks building was a Coca-Cola bottling plant and was recently converted into a hotel. The property is gorgeous and quirky. There are preserved details and historical tidbits woven throughout the lobby, rooms, hallways, bars and lounge areas.

Bottleworks Hotel Lobby

There’s a sense of history and place here that you can feel, that makes you feel anchored and connected to the city in a way a shiny new high-rise could never. My room was modern and beautiful in all the best ways, but even without the gorgeous terrace overlooking downtown Indianapolis, I always knew exactly where I was.

Where to Eat in Indianapolis

Question for America at large: why are we not talking about Indianapolis as a foodie city? We should be. The city’s distinct neighborhoods boast impressive and unique restaurant rosters. There is plenty to sample, from pizza at King Dough to empanadas at Livery to the growing list of local breweries like Metazoa and Sun King.

The Bottleworks District is an adaptive repurposed space in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana.
Courtesy of The Bottleworks District

My favorite spot is Garage Food Hall. The spot is a bustling food hall across the street from the Bottleworks, with everything from arepas to burgers to seafood. Of course, the lobster roll from J’s Lobster & Fish Market is an absolute must, but every single thing I ate here was phenomenal (and I ate a lot).

You can’t go to Indy and not order the fried chicken at The Eagle. But their sides — especially their mac and cheese — deserve some love too. The sexy speakeasy vibe at ball & biscuit cocktail bar is hard to beat. But the cocktails, like the cognac-sherry-ginger-lemon-vanilla concoction “The Bebe,” are even better. Oh! And don’t miss St. Joseph Brewery, an old church converted into a charming pub and brewery.

Dog at brewery in Indy
Cliff Ritchey

What to Do in Indianapolis

Indy is walkable and easy to get around, so it can accommodate the most packed itineraries. The city is also perfect for my favorite style of travel: wandering around, popping into little boutiques, and eating 6-8 meals a day (see above). The Mass Ave Cultural District is home to an eclectic mix of bars, theaters, shops and restaurants. Walking around on a Sunday morning, I stumbled across an outdoor concert set up in a tiny park. I got a coffee and hung out to soak up the music and watch the kids dancing on the grass. Between songs, the singer talked about the creative energy growing in Indy, and I could feel it all around.

I was told Fountain Square was the “cool hipster neighborhood,” so of course, I went to do all the required hipster activities. First, I ordered a fancy latte (and snapped photos for Instagram) at the beautiful and friendly Bovaconti Coffee. Next, I browsed amazing and well-priced vintage clothes at Zodiac Vintage and bought a t-shirt I’m obsessed with. Side note: it has been a while since I publicly ranted about how the Midwest has the best vintage shopping in the country, but it DOES.

I snapped pics of street art and browsed stores selling ceramics and succulents. Want to see the city from a different angle? Check out the best view of the city’s skyline at Highland Park. Then rent bikes and explore the miles of trails along the river, through downtown and beyond.

Livery in Indianapolis
Courtesy of Indy Chamber

What Not to Do in Indianapolis

Do not, as I did, refer to the Indy 500 as a Nascar event in a crowded restaurant. If you do this, as I did, the result is a record-scratch followed by stunned silence punctuated only by someone dropping their fork in shock on the other side of the room. Your kind host will whisper, “They’re Indy cars. It’s a totally different thing.” And you will apologize profusely for this devastating gaffe and hope you haven’t been banned from the city permanently because you really like it here and want to come back.

Market East District, Indianapolis
Courtesy of Indy Chamber

Local Obsession in Indianapolis

Indy doesn’t deserve to be pigeonholed as JUST a sports town. However, it is, undeniably, a sports-obsessed place and a place that does sporting events exceptionally well. While I was there, the city was safely, thoughtfully, and successfully hosting the NCAA tournament, and seeing March Madness games in person deserves a spot on every college hoops fan’s bucket list. But the opportunities to see live sports in Indy are long and diverse, from (ahem) Indy car racing to Pacers and Fever games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse or Colts games at Lucas Oil Stadium. Most people’s first experience with Indy is a sporting event, and if you have the chance to come here for a tournament or a game, DO IT — but do me a favor and schedule an extra day or two to experience all the great stuff this energetic and fun city has to offer.

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