Get ready for Indy: all you need to know before your trip to Indianapolis

With its vibrant public art, booming craft beer scene, iconic museums and a state park smack dab in its center, Indianapolis is much more than just the host city for the largest single-day sporting event on the planet, the Indianapolis 500.

While car culture is indeed king in Indy, countless public trails and a central canal make the capital of Indiana easy to explore by foot, scooter, bike, kayak or other means. Everywhere around town, public art installations shine.

It’s no surprise that many visitors flock to this vibrant Midwest metropolis. So here’s our list of everything you need to know before visiting Indianapolis.

Stay in the Fountain Square, Chatham Arch or Broad Ripple neighborhoods to experience small-town charm in the city

While Indianapolis is a major city, each of its neighborhoods has a distinct personality that lends a small-town feel. If you don’t want to stay in a hotel downtown, opt for a boutique hotel or Airbnb in a neighborhood that matches your mood.

Southeast of downtown, Fountain Square is dotted with 19th-century homes, green spaces and (naturally) fountains. Art galleries and local theaters thrive in Chatham Arch, part of the Mass Avenue Cultural District.

Home to Butler University, Broad Ripple Village offers a lively social scene. Indianapolis’ newest neighborhood, the Bottleworks District was once the largest Coca-Cola bottling plant in Indiana; today, it’s anchored by the luxury boutique Bottleworks Hotel (which once housed company executives’ offices) and a food hall with more than 21 local vendors.

Whether you choose to stay downtown or in a neighborhood enclave, you’re bound to experience Indiana’s small-town feel and meet down-to-earth, friendly people.

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Park your car and explore Circle City on foot

Indianapolis is known as “Circle City” because of Monument Circle, a plaza at the heart of the city where four streets converge: East and West Market streets and North and South Meridian streets. An appealing free attraction, the grand Soldiers and Sailors Monument rises at the circle’s center.

This intersection isn’t the only reason Indianapolis is called the “Crossroads of America”: the city is also at the junction of four major Interstate highways (Interstates 65, 69, 70 and 74).

Indianapolis’ downtown is on the smaller side and can be easily explored on foot. Thanks to its grid system, the city is easy to navigate – just be aware of a number of one-way streets. While public transportation is limited to the public bus system, the network is extensive.

You’ll likely have to hop in a car to visit key sites that are away from the city core, including the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With miles of paths crisscrossing the city, Indianapolis is a great place to explore by bike © Roberto Galan / Shutterstock

Indy has much to see by bike

Indianapolis was the backdrop for Breaking Away, a 1979 hit movie about a working-class teen obsessed with the Italian cycling team. Some 40 years later, the city remains a fabulous place to explore on two wheels.

Pick up your ride from the Indiana Pacers bike share, or catch one of the many Lime scooters found across the city.

Bike trails crisscross Indy. The 8.1 bikeway the Indianapolis Cultural Trail loops through downtown, with three spurs.

The northeastern one runs along Massachusetts Ave before connecting to another popular path, the Monon Trail, while the southeastern spur follows Virginia Ave into the Fountain Square neighborhood. To the south, a third spur connects the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Dress for fluctuating weather

Midwestern weather can swing from sunny and warm to rainy and chilly, so you’ll want to dress in layers. The summer’s average daily temperature lingers above 74°F, with an average high of 83°F during July, the peak month of summer. (Bring a swimsuit to cool off in a local pool or water park.)

The winter season lasts for a solid three months, from December through the end of February, with average daily highs below 46°F, so bring a good winter jacket.

Fall is one of the best times to visit Indianapolis, when the air is crisp and the trees are dressed in their autumnal best. Spring is lovely, too, with mild weather and flowers popping up in gardens across the city.

People in paddle boats pass one another in a canal in downtown Indianapolis, Indiana, Midwest, USA
Hop on a bike or in a boat to explore Indianapolis’ network of restored canals © Roig61/ Shutterstock

See downtown differently with an offbeat method of transport

You can also explore downtown Indianapolis with more unusual modes of transportation. Rent a swan pedal boat or kayak at Wheel Fun Rentals at Canal Walk and paddle the Indiana Central Canal, a 3-mile commercial waterway.

Otherwise, hop on a surrey, chopper, quad sport or deuce coupe and ride along the many trails of the 267-acre White River State Park, Indianapolis’ green jewel

Plan your visit around the Indy 500

Indianapolis’ key annual event, the Indy 500 brings thousands of spectators and loads of excitement to the 2.5-mile-long, oval-shaped track of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A permanent seating capacity of 257,325 makes it easy to find tickets.

Just be sure to reserve in advance: ticket sales usually open in late fall for the Memorial Day weekend event.

If you’re not here for the big event, you can still experience the celebrated race’s history year-round at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, which is home to one of the world’s largest collections of vintage race cars, including more than 30 Indy 500 winners.

The museum offers 30-, 60- and 90-minute tours that take visitors behind the scenes at the Speedway, which dates all the way back to 1909.

A pint of beer on the bar of Daredevil Brewery, Indianapolis, Indiana, Midwest, USA
Daredevil Brewery is one of many craft beer spots drawing crowds in Indianapolis © Daredevil Brewery

Download the Indy Craft Pass to best experience Indy’s hoppin’ brew scene

Indianapolis is an increasingly popular destination for craft-beer aficionados (and was recently voted a Top Five Beer City). Five blocks from the Speedway, Daredevil Brewing Co offers a wide array of craft beers plus a lively 8000-sq-ft patio.

Chilly Water Brewing Company pairs its hoppy IPAs with hoagies, while Bier Brewery specializes in Belgian dubbels and German hefeweizens. To enjoy a beer while touring the city, step aboard the Pickled Pedaler’s 12-passenger BYOB bike.

And be sure to download the Indy Craft Pass, a mobile passport app that maps out the city’s best craft breweries and distilleries: if you check in at eight locations, you’ll earn an Indy Craft Pass T-shirt.

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Don’t leave without trying a Hoosier pork tenderloin sandwich

You mustn’t leave Indy without sampling Indiana’s unofficial state lunch: the Hoosier pork tenderloin sandwich. This mega pork cutlet is served breaded, fried and nestled between two slices of bread. The sandwich is so popular that the state has even created a Tenderloin Lovers Culinary Trail.

You can find the sandwich on menus across town; we especially love the spicy version at the classic Steer-In drive-in restaurant.

Save room for a slice of Indiana’s state pie, too. Hoosier sugar cream pie is made from a single crust with a simple and simply delicious filling made from butter, vanilla, cream and brown sugar.