Thinking about a holiday family getaway this holiday season? Check out what Indianapolis has to offer – the city comes alive during the holidays! We’ve listed some of our favorite attractions in and around the city, many of which have special events during the holiday season. As always, visit the individual websites for current details and admission fee information before leaving home.
Circle of Lights, downtown Indianapolis — One of the few FREE attractions on this list, the Christmas Tree at Monument Circle is a great Indianapolis tradition — each year the Soldiers & Sailors monument is decorated like a Christmas tree to celebrate the holiday season. A lighting ceremony happens annually the Friday after Thanksgiving, but you can see the lights until New Year’s Eve. Travelocity named the Circle of Lights one of the top five “must-see Christmas trees” in the nation. USA Today also listed the Circle of Lights as one the “10 Best Holiday Attractions.”
Jolly Days Winter Wonderland at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum — What more can we say about the ICM? See our review here. Jolly Days Winter Wonderland goes from Nov. 20, 2021 to Jan. 2, 2022, and includes making it snow in the Giant Snow Globe, meeting characters, “ice-skating” in your socks, exploring the Ice Castle, seeing special shows, and much more. (In 2021 the Yule Slide from previous years will not be operating.) Bonus: if you need to do some holiday shopping, this place has a great gift shop. Regular admission fees apply, with additional charges for certain special events.
Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg Museum, downtown Indianapolis — Jingle Rails is a G-scale model train wonderland containing nine working model trains that wind through a stunning miniature landscape. The trains travel around miniaturized Indianapolis landmarks, then west through iconic landscapes and out to 2021’s new scene: San Francisco! The Eiteljorg Museum, which immerses visitors in the diverse cultures of the West and Native America, has a family-friendly, hands-on exhibit on the ground floor, complete with a few “horses” and a stagecoach you can climb into and take a family pic. You can even build your “own” totem pole. 2021 dates for Jingle Rails are from Nov. 20 to Jan. 17, 2022. Regular admission fees apply. A bonus: kids 4 and under are free, and this museum validates parking in the lot underneath it.
Conner Prairie, Fishers — We raved about Conner Prairie when we went in 2015 — it’s one of the unique destinations for families that truly appeals to all ages. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s engaging with the reenactors, doing crafts, petting the animals or doing hands-on STEM learning (without realizing it). During “A Merry Prairie Holiday,” families can experience Christmas Eve traditions of the 1800s in Prairietown, watch an old-fashioned crankie show at the Potter Shop Kiln Shed, enjoy the “sock skating rink,” take selfies with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and more. New for 2021: The William Conner House will be transformed into a magical 3D projection mapping holiday show that will capture the feel and nostalgia of the holidays. Select dates between Nov. 26 and Dec. 22, 2021, so check the website for dates and admission, including special ASL tours.
Indianapolis Zoo — No it’s not free like St. Louis or Lincoln Park, but we happen to love the Indy Zoo. One of the zoo’s main attractions is the dolphin show, which is included in the admission fee). Their gorilla exhibit is a lot of fun, not to mention very educational about the importance of conservation. During Christmas at the Zoo, enjoy the special evening lights display that’s been nominated as one of the best in the United States. Visit a few of Santa’s reindeer in his barn, and look out for a Penguin Encounter when weather permits. In 2021 the lights are on (almost) every night from November 20 – Dec. 30, and are included with regular zoo admission.
Shapiro’s Deli, downtown Indianapolis — OK, so this isn’t a holiday attraction, but if you want to get a potato pancake for a nod to Chanukah, this is the place. The best Jewish soul food around for 200 miles (at least). Chicken soup with matzo balls, corned beef on rye, great fried chicken and more. There is a children’s menu with all the favorites, but the cafeteria style atmosphere makes this restaurant pretty kid friendly regardless. Bring home some rye bread, bagels or other noshes. There’s also a location at the airport, but for the full effect, go downtown. We don’t visit Indy without a stop here.
Winterlights at Newfields — Newfields is the name of the 152-acre campus that houses the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) as well as historic landscapes, gardens, performance spaces, and outdoor sculptures. Winterlights transforms Newfields into a winter wonderland with over a million and a half lights. Watch for the special “Latkes and Lights” Chanukah takeover (this year on December 5) when the windows of the Lilly House are lit up with Menorahs and Stars of David and special snacks include sufganiyot and latkes. Shopping for food and souvenirs is cashless: credit or debit cards only. Bring masks for the opportunity to visit inside Lilly House. The spectacle lasts from Nov. 22, 2021 to Jan. 2, 2022, with advance ticket purchase required.
Christmas Nights of Lights, Indiana State Fairgrounds — This drive-thru holiday light show offers “over 1 million lights synchronized to traditional and newer, rocking Christmas music played through your car stereo.” Tickets must be purchased in advance and are timed for entry during one of two 2-hour time slots; the entire experience lasts around 30 minutes. The show runs from Nov. 12, 2021 – Jan. 2, 2022, regardless of weather. Admission charged per car, and varies (!) according to the size of your car.
Celebration Crossing, Indiana State Museum, downtown Indianapolis — On the Friday after Thanksgiving Santa arrives by helicopter on the museum’s front lawn, lights a tree, and kicks off Celebration Crossing. Visit Santa’s Front Yard and Reindeer Barn, share your wish list with the man in red, and — NEW for 2021 — ride the ADA-accessible Snowfall Express train. Celebration Crossing runs until January 2, 2022 and is included in museum admission (events such as photos with Santa may cost extra).
Christkindlmarkt, Carmel — The Carmel Christkindlmarkt is an open-air Christmas market in traditional German style. Here you will find a blend of traditional German foods and gifts being sold from small wooden huts; the market surrounds an outdoor ice skating rink. Fun fact: the Carmel market hosts world-renowned woodworkers from the Erzgebirge region, who share their craft and culture through demonstrations. The Market is open on select days from Nov. 24 – Dec. 24, 2021, and entrance to the Market is FREE (there is a fee for skating and/or skate rental).
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
- Dr. Who North America, Camby: If you have any friends or family who are Dr. Who fans, then make a stop at the largest Dr. Who store in North America. They even have a small “museum” area full of 50-plus years of Dr. Who memorabilia and some merchandise that can’t be found anywhere else. And yes, get your pic taken with the TARDIS. Currently closed on Sundays, so make sure to plan your trip accordingly if you go.
- Mayberry Cafe, Danville, Indiana: In this picturesque town west of Indianapolis, there’s a TV-themed attraction you’ve probably never been to: the Mayberry Cafe. Complete with a police car parked out in front. This restaurant boasts of Aunt Bea’s homecooking, and I can personally vouch that you won’t leave here hungry. Make your kids watch a snippet of Andy Griffith on YouTube before you go so they get it. Very family friendly.
More city holiday fun: Chicago Fun for Families during the Holiday Season
Everything Holiday Season In and Around Champaign-Urbana
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