Things to do with kids in Indianapolis
Updated: Aug 25, 2020
Looking for things to do with your kids in Indianapolis? Whether you're visiting or new to the area, check out our favorite Indianapolis family-friendly activities that will keep kids of all ages entertained, active, cultured, and happy!
How we wound up in Indianapolis
I have no idea where I’m from because I’ve moved around so much. I grew up in rural North Carolina, hightailed it to historic Washington DC after college (see my DC blog post!), then moved to Bloomington, Indiana for grad school with a pit stop in Pittsburgh for work – until finally landing in the big city of Chicago for 16 years where I thought I would stay. After growing up in a small town, I fully intended to stay in or near a big city for the rest of my life, and Chicago fit the bill. Therefore, when my husband had a career opportunity in Indianapolis, I fought it like a petulant toddler. But life can throw you curveballs, and mine decided I wasn’t finished with Indiana. We packed up and moved three hours south of Chicago to a charming town called Zionsville in the cornfields of Indiana. And thank goodness we did, because life is much sweeter and easier here in Indiana. I guess this is where I’m from now!
Coming from Chicago, we were used to having the world at our fingertips – even if we didn’t take advantage as often as we’d like trying to work around the naptimes of two little ones. But with the kids being older, we were ready to start exploring Indy!
Indianapolis Canal Walk
Indianapolis Children’s Museum
First on our list was the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, the largest children’s museum in the world – and it’s in our new hometown! There are five floors of fun indoors including exhibits like Dinosphere, Chihuly’s Fireworks of Glass, Scienceworks, Beyond Spaceship Earth and Playscape, as well as ever-changing exhibits like American POP, the Chocolate Slide, and Mo Willems’ Pigeon and Pals. After you're done indoors, head outside and play 12 sports at the Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience. When we first moved here, the indoor Children’s Museum was one of my kids’ favorite things to do in Indy. Then they opened the Sports Experience and it’s one of their favorite things to do anywhere! Soccer, baseball, basketball, football, tennis, hockey, golf, drag racing, Indy 500, and a treehouse to play in! This museum is definitely a full day’s worth of fun. If it’s nice outside, you can spend two days here – one indoors and one out! Buy tickets online to save. Parking is free!
Indianapolis Canal - Colts Playspace, Paddle Boats
While there’s plenty of other great attractions, my kids’ second favorite Indy activity is smaller in scale and cost – the Colts Canal Playspace and paddle-boating the canal! The Colts Playspace is a new playground right on the canal, a gorgeous setting for strolling and watching the kids play. After the playground, we walked the canal to the boathouse and rented a paddleboat and cruised the canal. The first time we visited, we came twice in one week because we loved it all so much! After boating, we popped into the courtyard of the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art where they were having an outdoor concert. We grabbed a drink at the outdoor concession stand and watched the show. The building is beautiful and worth a stop if you have time. If you’re hungry and museum food isn’t your thing, several restaurants on the canal with outdoor seating will suit your fancy.
Colts Canal Playspace and Paddle-Boating
My daughter is an animal lover, so she never passes up a zoo opportunity. The Indy Zoo is big enough to enthrall kids of all ages but small enough to walk the whole zoo in part of a day and see tons of animals without being totally exhausted. Our favorite exhibits are the shark touch pool (although I don’t think my kids have had the guts to actually touch a shark), the dolphin show, Flights of Fancy (amazing bird houses you walk through that will delight even non-bird lovers like me), and the huge elephant habitats that seem to be spread out through a wide swatch of the zoo. You also can’t miss the Orangutan Center with gigantic platforms the orangutans climb and hang above you.
If culture is your thing, check out the Indiana State Museum and Newfields Museum of Art. The Indiana State Museum, located on the canal in White River State park, is ever-changing and is worth a look online to see if any of the special exhibits interest you. The permanent exhibits are mostly focused on Indiana history. We’ve gone twice – for the Star Wars exhibit, Cardboard Engineering, and The Art of the Brick (for LEGO lovers) – and stayed for an IMAX movie and play in the big, beautiful lobby. The building itself is a work of art! Current exhibits include The World of Hilarious Invention and Symphony in Color.
Newfields is a huge, beautiful campus that includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Lilly House and Garden, Miller House and Garden, the Beer Garden, and Fairbanks Park or 100 Acres, an outdoor nature park and sculpture garden. Everything except for 100 Acres is accessible from the same parking lot and requires an admission ticket. 100 Acres is free and is a favorite warm weather destination for our kids and dogs! The park surrounds a lake and is adjacent to the White River, so there’s water all around for rock-skipping and getting toes and paws wet. All the sculptures are climb-able as well! Around the holidays, Newfields is transformed into a winter wonderland with millions of lights all throughout the gardens and campus. It’s an annual tradition for our family! Buy tickets ahead online, as there’s no walk-ins for this popular event.
Museum of Art (top) 100 Acres (middle), Winterlights (bottom)
If you are game to travel outside of Indy, Conner Prairie is not to be missed! This Smithsonian outdoor museum allows you to immerse yourself in life in the 1800s, including Prairie town, Civil War Journey, Indian camp, hot air balloon rides, a 4-story treehouse and more! If you love outdoor concerts, check out the schedule for Symphony on the Prairie.
State Parks near Indianapolis
In addition to 100 Acres, Indianapolis and the surrounding towns are a nature lovers’ dream! In Indianapolis, White River State Park and the canal as well as Holliday Park and Marott Park right near downtown provide ample room to roam, hike, creek stomp, and play on the playgrounds. About 10 miles outside of downtown, Eagle Creek State Park is the largest park in Indy with 1400 acres of water and 3900 acres of land for hiking, biking, swimming, kayaking, sailing and even ziplining. And if you still haven’t had enough nature and are up for a drive, Turkey Run State Park is our favorite summer spot for tubing and is only an hour away. They also have hiking, cool suspension bridges, horseback riding, camping, fishing, and playgrounds. Brown County State Park is a 1 1/2 hour drive in the charming town of Nashville. As the largest state park in Indiana, it has it all! Check out Lake Monroe nearby, too. Plan ahead and rent a pontoon boat and spend the day tubing and floating in the beautiful lake. Fourwinds Lakeside Inn has boat rentals and a hotel right on the water if you're too tired to drive back after a day of boating. Not much in the way of food or nightlife in the immediate area, but Bloomington (the home of Indiana University) is about a 20-minute drive from Fourwinds.
Eagle Creek & Brown County State Parks (top), Turkey Run (middle), Lake Monroe (bottom)
Indianapolis Christmas Events
If you're in town over the Christmas holidays, be sure not to miss Newfields Winterlights as mentioned above. Our other holiday traditions include:
Carmel Christkindl Market for ice-skating and treats (month of December)
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Yuletide celebration (month of December)
Christmas festival at Dulls Tree Farm. October is even better for their pumpkin harvest festival.
Carmel Christkindl Market and ISO Yuletide (top), snowtubing and Dulls Tree Farm (bottom)
Best Places to Eat and Stay in Indianapolis
Indy is an easy city for tourists – friendly, safe, clean, no major traffic worries. Stay downtown and you have lots of places of interest within walking distance. My favorite hotels are The Alexander, an artsy boutique hotel in the heart of downtown, and the JW Marriott, a fancy hotel adjacent to the Indiana Indians minor league baseball stadium. Bring your car because you’ll want to get out of downtown at some point and it’s easy to drive and park in the area.
I wouldn’t call Indianapolis an epicurean’s city, but I also wouldn’t call my kids culinary connoisseurs, so I’ll give you the rundown of some our family favorites. If you’re up for exploring, Mass Ave is Indy’s version of restaurant row.
Old Spaghetti Factory - ask for the trolley car
Cake Bake Shop - Broadripple and Carmel locations. My kids carbo-load on the baguette bread, noodles and desserts. I love the soups, salads, and bread!
Napolese Pizzeria – one near Butler University and one in the Keystone Mall.
Nada in downtown Indy for cocktails and tacos. More for adults but they do have a kids menu.
Rick's Cafe Boatyard on Eagle Creek is a favorite for dining al fresco
Subzero Ice Cream – on Mass Ave in Indy and in downtown Carmel. Amazing ice cream they make right in front of you - like a science experiment!
Cake Bake Shop
If you have extra time while you’re visiting, stop by our charming little town of Zionsville, about 20 miles from Indy. The brick streets of our village are the home of many yummy restaurants, charming boutiques, and a bustling Saturday Farmers Market in the warmer months. When you’re tired of strolling, pop into The Scoop for an ice cream cone and walk down the hill to Lions Park, the heart of our town, for hours of play on multiple playgrounds and ball fields. And, of course, stop by and say hi! Tootsie and Teddy would love to play!
Heather Vergara is a former PepsiCo marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a Mom and never went back. In addition to family, Heather is passionate about kindness, community, travel and adventure, whole food, and sweating every day. Heather has an MBA in Marketing from Indiana University, an Executive Education certificate in Digital Marketing from Columbia University, and a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives with her husband, two kids and two furry dogs in Zionsville, Indiana.