Indianapolis devotes the most land of any state in the country to its fallen soldiers and ranks number two, exceeded only by Washington, D.C., for having the most war memorials. Whether you are looking for a cheap way to get to know the city before delving in a bit deeper or you only have a little bit of time to spend here, I would recommend the informational, easy-to-follow and, best of all, free way to learn about downtown Indianapolis created by a group called Walk Indianapolis. Their “Self-Guided Audio Tour of Indianapolis Architecture and Landmarks” allows anyone to download 17 MP3 files from their website to an IPod or other mobile device and roam around the downtown area, learning a little bit while seeing the sights.
The tour begins at the Indianapolis Artsgarden, a cultural center found at the heart of the city and connected to the mall. There you can also find all sorts of information about the city in the form of brochures or ask the concierge (there from 10am-9pm Mondays through Saturdays and noon until 6pm on Sundays) any questions you might have about the city’s cultural happenings.
Three local architects then lead you from landmark to landmark with 2-3 minute blurbs about the history, architecture and cultural significance of each particular building, park or monument. Though just listening and looking will take about 45 minutes, you may want to take advantage of the free tours of the Indiana State House (more information available here), roam around the beautiful interior of Christ Church Cathedral and the Scottish Rite Cathedral, or explore the Indiana World War Memorial’s free military museum that “portrays the history of Indiana’s gallant veterans from the Battle of Tippecanoe, through the several wars in which we have been engaged, to the present.” All of the information including a print-friendly map and downloadable files can be found here.
Though you can enjoy a self-guided tour any day of the year, if you time your trip just right, it’s possible to enjoy some other special events at local Indianapolis hotspots. One beloved stop for locals on their way home from work on a Friday evening, Sun King Brewing Company offers free beer-tasting every Thursday (from 4-7pm), Friday (from 1-7pm) and Saturday (from 1-4pm) at their downtown warehouse. Established in 1948, this beloved beer cannot be found outside of Indiana and the brewery just recently expanded its distribution beyond the Indianapolis city limits, so if you’re looking for a local brew, Sun King is your place.
If you happen to be in Indianapolis on the first Thursday of any month, I definitely suggest stopping in to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum between 4 and 8pm when they offer free admission. Known as one of the best children’s museums in the world, the Children’s Museum has everything from a “Dora & Diego” room to exhibits devoted to Egypt, dinosaurs and even Barbie.
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail, a 7.5 mile pathway that connects five downtown cultural districts including Fountain Square, Indiana Avenue, Mass Ave, the Canal and White River State Park, and the Wholesale district), is a great way to experience Indianapolis by bike. If you happen to be riding through the city on a Wednesday between 11:30 and 1pm or a Thursday from 5:30-7:30pm during the summer months, you can stop and enjoy a free concert on the canal featuring a variety of different music groups from around the area.
Many other local museums and cultural areas offer admission-free days, so be sure to do a little research before heading this way. The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, for example, offers free tours and birthday cake on the former U.S. President and Indianapolis native’s birthday each year – on August 20th.