Indianapolis, home of the 2012 Super Bowl, is the 14th largest city in the U.S. and one of the Midwest's famously friendly cities. The capitol of Indiana, it plays host to many conventions and sporting events--in non Super Bowl years, the most famous of those would be the Indianapolis 500--and has enough fun and free things to do make it an affordable family vacation destination.
Like most Midwestern cities, summer temperatures often exceed 90 degrees with daily winter highs hovering just above freezing. The most pleasant time to visit is the fall, when temperatures hover around 65 and rain is less frequent. It offers a combination of indoor and outdoor activities, some focused on history, others on sports and culture, to appeal to a wide range of visitors.
Indianapolis ranked No. 1 on hotel.info's 2008 Value for Money Index. The following list of free things to do Indianapolis can help make your next family vacation more affordable.
1. Indianapolis Museum of Art - The nation's 7th largest general art museum, the IMA offers free admission every day. The 152 acres include botanical gardens, a greenhouse, a restaurant, the Civic Theatre, and nature trails.
2. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis - Offers Free Family Nights sponsored by Target. The first Thursday of each month from 4-8 p.m. and Christmas Eve from 10 a.m.–4 p.m. are free. With its recent expansion, this is the largest children’s museum of its kind in the U.S.
3. Arts Garden - This glass-enclosed structure which is attached to Circle Centre Mall hosts more than 300 free activities, including dance performances, storytelling, visual art exhibits, musical performances, films, lectures, readings, fairs, and festivals. The Arts Garden also houses the Cultural Concierge, a centralized source for free maps, ticket information, visitor guides, and directions for Indianapolis arts events. This seven-story-tall glass structure is suspended 17 feet above the intersection of Washington and Illinois Streets.
4. Indianapolis Art Center - Home to many local artists, this space houses eight exhibition spaces, 13 state-of-the-art studios, a 224-seat auditorium, a library, a gift shop, a riverfront deck and stage, and sculpture gardens along the White River. Designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves.
5. National Art Museum of Sport - The National Art Museum of Sport is always free and contains art ranging from paintings to poems that were inspired by sports and sports figures. Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.
6. Concerts in the Park - The Philharmonic Orchestra of Indianapolis and Indy Parks present free Pops concerts during the month of June. Concerts include a mix of patriotic songs, jazz, light classical, movie themes and operetta. All concerts begin at 7 p.m. and parking is free.
7. City Market - Every Wednesday evening June through mid-August, free concerts feature Bluegrass, Jazz, and Pop music. Patrons can also sample the food – everything from BBQ to gyros. The Original Farmers' Market takes place each Wednesday from May-October with fresh Indiana produce, meats, cheeses, flowers and honey.
8. War memorials – Many of Indy’s monuments and memorials to fallen veterans are free. New to the scene is the USS Indianapolis Museum.
9. Indiana Historical Society - The Historical Society collects, preserves, interprets and shares information about the heritage of Indiana. Exhibits are housed along the canal. Free concerts on the Canal are offered every Thursday, June-mid August from 5:30-7:30 p.m. and free lunchtime concerts on the Canal are offered every Wednesday from 11:30 a.m. -1 p.m.
10. Indiana Black Expo - The largest African-American cultural event in the nation, IBE’s Summer Celebration showcases events focused on the arts, religion, business, economics, education, politics, sports, entertainment and youth activities. There are free concerts during the expo.
11. President Benjamin Harrison Home - The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, which was home to the 23rd President of the United States, offers free tours and birthday cake on Benjamin Harrison's birthday--Aug. 20. The home also features The President’s Theatre, a spot that is frequently used for theatrical performances and events.
12. Garfield Park Conservatory - This conservatory features more than 500 tropical plant varieties and a 15-foot waterfall. It features more than 10,000 square feet of plants from the world's tropics and the Sunken Gardens showcase three acres of European classical formal gardens. The conservatory offers several event and learning opportunities from flower arranging and picnicking to live jazz orchestra performances.