The top 5 day trips from Indianapolis: enjoy Tibetan culture, bourbon tours and foodie hot spots

As the host of the Indy 500 – the world’s largest single-day sporting event – Indianapolis has made a name for itself as the racing capital of the world.

If the engine revving from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway inspires you to go for a drive, the city has connections to all four major interstate highways, earning it the nickname “ the Crossroads of America.”

If you find yourself in the city for a sports game or a trip to the world’s largest children’s museum, don’t rush back home when you’re done. You’ll find plenty to do within a two-hour drive, whether you enjoy basking in nature or slowly sipping sour ales.

Here are five of the best day trips from Indianapolis.

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Bloomington is a center of Tibetan culture in the US © Craig Lovell / Getty Images

Bloomington, Indiana

Why go: Experience Tibetan culture

The small college town of Bloomington has a surprising infusion of Tibetan culture, thanks to the Dalai Lama’s late brother who was a professor at Indianapolis University.

While you’re in the city, you can learn about Tibetan heritage and visit one of only two Tibetan chortens in the country at the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. You can even try traditional Tibetan food at Anyetsang’s.

For a city with less than 100,000 people, Bloomington offers more than 350 places to eat. Stop by farm-to-fork restaurant Small Favors Bar to get a literal taste of Bloomington or The Elm for American fine dining with a twist of Mediterranean and North African flavors.

After you’ve filled up, head out into nature. Just outside of Bloomington is Monroe Lake, where you can take a dip, go fishing or rent a pair of jet skis to cool off in the summer.

How to get to Bloomington 

It’s a 51-mile journey to Bloomington from Indianapolis, and it’ll take about one hour and 15 minutes on Interstate 69. The most convenient way to get to Bloomington is by car, but if you’re at the Indianapolis International Airport, you can take the GO Express Shuttle.

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Why go: Take advantage of the downtown food scene

While it’s not as large as Indianapolis, Fort Wayne is perfect for the foodie family, with restaurants boasting creative concepts and various cuisines clustered in close proximity to one another.

Mercado On The Landing will temporarily transport you to the West Coast with its Cali-Mexican options, while Haru Sushi & Izakaya Japanese Restaurant has some of the freshest sushi in town. Fortezza Coffee can pull a few shots to give you a caffeine boost (don’t miss the Creme Brûlée french toast).

Getting that “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” vibe? Visit Copper Spoon, and pick one of its 100 cocktails, ranging from Adonis to Zombie.

After all the food samplings, take in Fort Wayne on foot along the Public Art Trail. Downtown is easy to stroll through, and the interactive Science Central provides a captivating portal of learning for children.

Just a few steps away is the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, where seasonal exhibits might make you forget that you’re in the middle of a bustling downtown.

If you’re a fan of the bold-printed Vera Bradley brand, the newly built Bradley Hotel offers exclusive prints you can purchase only at the property.

How to get to Fort Wayne 

It’s a straight shot on Interstate 69 to get to Fort Wayne from Indianapolis by car, and the route is about 125 miles. Barons Bus departs once a day from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne, dropping passengers off by the Botanical Conservatory.

The bus time is comparable to driving by car, and it costs approximately $20 per ticket.

Visitors crowd the Rhinegeist Brewery.
Cincinnati is known for its breweries, including the Rhinegeist © Luke.Travel / Shutterstock

Cincinnati, Ohio

Why go: Tramp through the underground brewery tunnels

In Cincinnati, you can take a trip through underground brewery tunnels from more than 100 years ago to see what one of the leading lager-brewing cities in the US was like before prohibition.

Cincinnati’s emphasis on innovation while integrating its rich history has lent itself to all kinds of thriving small businesses. Wonder what one of those tunnels would be like infused with life?

Four stories under street level, Ghost Baby is an underground bar built out of a brewery tunnel with live music, small bites and immaculate design.

Creative collisions like this happen often in Cincinnati, making it a perfect romantic day trip for couples that could easily extend into a weekend. For fine dining, the French and Italian restaurant Metropole is another example, sharing space with an art museum.

You can keep things more casual at Ohio’s oldest continuously operated public market, Findlay Market, which has dozens of vendors and foodie treats, from arepas to falafel wraps. Donut lovers will want to grab a Donut Passport to follow along the Butler County Donut Trail, but you’ll definitely need a car.

How to get to Cincinnati

The drive to Cincinnati takes about two hours from Indianapolis on Interstate 74. Barons Bus operates out of Indianapolis twice daily, as does Greyhound, but the bus takes about an hour longer than driving.

Amtrak has a three-hour train on the Cardinal line to get you to Cincinnati. But plan ahead – there are only three departures a week.

New Harmony, Indiana

Why go: Take an architectural tour through a utopian society

Originally the site of two different attempts at a utopian community, New Harmony has evolved since 1819 to become a hub for artisans who craft textiles, soaps and woodwork. The community also boasts sculpted art and world-renowned architecture.

New Harmony’s visitor center, the stunning Atheneum, was designed by modernist architect Richard Meier.

Meander through the New Harmony Harmonist Labyrinth and feel the world slow down with nothing but the puzzle ahead of you. Don’t worry about getting a little lost between the privet hedges – you’ll eventually find your way out.

Architectural enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Roofless Church, an open-air concept meant to encourage a space for all mankind to worship under one roof: the sky. While some find the quiet garden courtyard spooky, others find it serene.

The church was designed by Phillip Johnson, known for his modern architecture in New York. The minimalist design of the parachute-like altar makes the church a contrasting site in a town with more than a dozen buildings from the 19th century.

When you’re ready to shake off the silence, grab a bite and a break at Black Lodge Coffee Roasters, a small batch roastery and coffee shop that serves creative latte flavors like sorghum, sage and bourbon barrel stout.

The coffee shop also gives a glimpse into the New Harmony art scene through its monthly artist displays. For more art, the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art presents an impressive collection of fine art from international and local artists.

How to get to New Harmony 

The journey to this odd little town is longer than the average day trip from Indianapolis. But the drive to New Harmony is well worth it, at just more than three hours, or 180 miles, from Indianapolis. You can get there by taking I-69.

Buses and trains don’t operate between Indianapolis and New Harmony, so driving is the only option.

Close-up of bourbon in glasses in a row on bar
Don’t miss a bourbon tour on your visit to Louisville © Caia Images /500px

Louisville, Kentucky

Why go: Follow the bourbon trail

What’s a visit to Bourbon City without a bourbon tour? The Urban Bourbon Trail has a program that provides discounts for different bourbon restaurants and bars around town.

Even if you’re not drinking, Louisville is known for its vibrant city culture and culinary landscape, setting itself up to be one of the best Indiana day trips for museums and food.

The Muhammad Ali Center is an iconic, award-winning museum celebrating the Louisville local’s life. The interactive, three-story museum takes a deep dive into the story of the greatest boxer of all time while engaging visitors in civil rights issues of the 1960s and ’70s.

If you enjoy museums in general, the Louisville Legends Ticket will give you access to the Muhammad Ali Center as well as three other top Louisville museums:  the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory and the Frazier History Museum, which just so happens to be the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

While Louisville is known for its bourbon and sports legends, the city is also the birthplace of the Modjeska candy, a marshmallow caramel sweet. Muth’s is the sweet tooth’s paradise and the perfect place to try it.

When evening comes around, the rooftop bar at Copper and King presents a stunning view of the Louisville skyline and sunset.

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How to get to Louisville from Indianapolis

To get to Louisville from Indianapolis, drive 112 miles along I-65. The trip takes a little under two hours. Alternatively, you can take Greyhound to Louisville. Multiple buses make the trip every day between the two cities. Depending on the departure time you choose, Greyhound takes from two to three-and-a-half hours.