Indianapolis is the 16th largest city in the U.S. and one of the Midwest’s famously friendly cities. The capital of Indiana, Indianapolis plays host to many conventions and sporting events, most notably the Indianapolis 500, the Indycar race held each year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There are enough free and fun things to do in Indianapolis with kids to make it an affordable family vacation destination.
Indianapolis has remade its downtown into a hub of activity. If you haven’t been in awhile, you might not recognize the city, and all the new fun things to do, including many free things to do with kids. Even some world class Indianapolis attractions offer free admission on certain days during the year. For example, the Indianapolis Zoo, which boasts the incredible International Orangutan Center, is free on Martin Luther King Jr. Day each year. Also free on MLK Day are the terrific Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art and the Indiana State Museum.
Free Things to Do in Indianapolis with Kids
1. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Hands down, this is one of the world’s best children’s museums. It offers free admission each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day and Christmas Eve. On the first Thursday of each month, admission is a discounted $5 from 4-8pm. Buy your tickets online before you go to ensure you get a spot before it sells out. As an added bonus, parking at the museum is always free.
2. Indianapolis Artsgarden
This glass-enclosed structure 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 Artsgarden 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. Don’t miss a chance to stroll through. Even if there is no performance, it’s a peaceful spot to rest during a busy day exploring the city.
3. Indianapolis Art Center
Home to many local artists, this center 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. The building itself is a work of art, designed by world-renowned architect Michael Graves.
4. Free Summer Concerts
The Philharmonic Orchestra of Indianapolis and Indy Parks present free Pops concerts every summer. The concerts include a mix of patriotic songs, jazz, light classical, movie themes and operetta. All concerts begin at 7 pm and parking is free.
Indianapolis Concerts on the Canal are offered on Thursday nights from 6-8pm throughout the summer with free seating on the grass. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and a picnic dinner to keep the event free. Or buy food from the Stardust Terrace Café.
5. Indianapolis City Market
This public market offers free concerts on the first Friday of the month and hosts a farmers market on Wednesday mornings from May through October.
6. Walk, Bike or Run the Cultural Trail
The 8-mile $63 million Cultural Trail in downtown Indianapolis connects the city’s Cultural Districts. It’s a great way to explore the city. As a bonus, it’s flanked with $26 million in public art. Or just take a stroll along the 3-mile Canal Walk in downtown Indy. Download this file for a self-guided tour before you go.
7. War Memorials
Many of Indy’s monuments and memorials to fallen veterans are free. The USS Indianapolis was one of the worst at-sea naval disasters in history. But it also played a pivotal role at the end of World War II; it was the last U.S. ship to sink. Visit the memorial, on the east bank of the Central Canal downtown. At the Indiana World War Memorial, step inside the Shrine Room. It’s stunning and emotional, packed with incredible stories and history.
8. Workout Wednesdays
Start the day with Sunrise Yoga on the Canal. Bring your own yoga mat. Parking is free until 7am. Or, if you prefer a later day workout, choose the cardio and interval training class at noon on Wednesdays. Classes are offered throughout the summer.
9. Soldiers and Sailors Monument and Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum
Sitting on Monument Circle, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument is Indiana’s official memorial to the Hoosiers that served in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Frontier Wars and the Spanish-American War. It stands 284 feet, 6 inches high, only 15 feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty. The observation deck at the top offers 360-degree views of the city skyline from 275 feet up. Getting to the top is free if you’re willing and able to climb the 331 steps. If you prefer a ride, spend $2 to take the elevator most of the way, and then climb the final 31 steps. The elevator ride is free for veterans. The Monument is closed on all national and state holidays except for Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum on the lower level of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument explores the impact of the Civil War on the people of Indiana.
10. Rolls-Royce James A. Allison Exhibition Center
Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust Allison Branch is responsible for maintaining and promoting all aspects of the rich heritage of Allison, which became part of Rolls-Royce in 1995. It includes an extensive collection of aircraft engines made by Rolls-Royce and USA predecessor Allison Engine Company.
11. President Benjamin Harrison Home
The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, which was home to the 23rd President of the United States and the only president to hail from Indiana, offers free tours and birthday cake on Benjamin Harrison’s birthday, August 20. The tour covers three floors and 10 rooms of the house and includes a nationally significant collection of more than 10,000 artifacts. More than three-quarters of the objects on display are original to the Harrison family. The home also features The President’s Theatre, a spot that is frequently used for theatrical performances and events.
12. Indianapolis Museum of Art
While the museum itself is no longer free, its 100 Acres: Art and Nature Park at Newfields still is. Pack a picnic and let the kids run while you enjoy the scenery and large-scale quirky art installments. Funky Bones is probably the most famous piece inside the Park. It was featured in the New York Times Bestseller, The Fault in Our Stars, which was later turned into a movie.