Find out what we think are the best things to see and do in Indianapolis on your family visit
Attractions to fit any family’s preferences, delicious food and more make Indianapolis a great destination for a road trip
There are many great cities just a short drive from Champaign-Urbana, Indianapolis winning the prize for the closest big city to home. Taking a break from our quaint college town nestled among the cornfields, we love the hustle and bustle that comes with visiting a city we can enjoy together as a family. Let’s talk about what makes Indianapolis a great place for a day trip or a weekend away.
Things to Know
Indianapolis is the largest city in the state of Indiana and is a city of over 800,000 people as of the 2018 census. When you factor in surrounding suburbs, the city offers even more opportunities to explore. The trip to Indianapolis takes almost exactly two hours from Champaign-Urbana, depending on where you’re heading in the city.
Where to Stay
Indianapolis is a large city and there are a lot of different options to set up as “home base” if you plan to make this an overnight adventure. The priciest hotels can be found throughout downtown and in surrounding areas. The airport is located southwest of the city, so if you are staying before a flight you will want to choose something on that side. Planning to do a lot of shopping? Find hotels near Keystone at the Crossing or in the nearby suburbs of Fishers or Carmel. With some exceptions, of course, the further you stay from downtown, the less expensive your hotel may be, with hotels to the south and the east costing less than the north or west.
What to Do: Top Outdoor Picks
You can visit Indianapolis any time of year (in fact, there are great reasons to visit in the winter), so we’re going to include both outdoor and indoor picks.
- The Indianapolis Zoo is a great destination and even has a roller coaster! The zoo tops our list for outdoor fun, all year long. For deals, look at Martin Luther King Jr. Day and select other days of the year.
- Conner Prairie in Fishers might be one of our favorite nature/history stops in the Midwest. With so many special events throughout the year and all kinds of great things to do any time of year (nature trails, museum and live-action learning), families will enjoy a visit to Conner Prairie with kids of all ages.
- The Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum is a playground for your biggest sports fanatics. Open March-October. (You’ll find this museum in our indoor picks too. It is just that remarkable!)
What to Do: Top Indoor Picks
Because the weather doesn’t always cooperate, or you may find yourself visiting the city in the middle of winter, you’ll be glad to know there are lots of things to do indoors.
- The Indianapolis Children’s Museum takes the prize here, hands down. With a hefty price tag to enter, we can assure you this is not your typical children’s museum. It is the largest children’s museum in the world, with some of the most impressive exhibits you can ever dream up. For deals, look for announcements around Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Presidents’ Day; you have to reserve free tickets online ahead of time and they will all be claimed before the day arrives.
- Shop at Indianapolis malls! This is one of the top things we hear Champaign-Urbana families travel to Indy to do. If you want to hit some big-city stores, head to The Fashion Mall at Keystone (not downtown) or Circle Centre Mall (downtown). Our preference is Keystone simply for the ease of traveling in and out and parking, but you may plan your trip with a different opinion.
- More overlap on our lists, but Conner Prairie is a great indoor option, too. The “back in time” experiences are an immersive museum experience for your family.
Where to Eat
- We love brunch in Indianapolis. Two favorites are Cafe Patachou (with loads of vegan options, if that’s something you look f0r) and Gallery on 16th (the ambiance can’t be beat).
- Shapiro’s Delicatessen is worth the drive all on its own. Some liken Shapiro’s to Manny’s in Chicago; we just know we love the “finest corned beef sandwich in the world,” according to USA Today. The matzo ball soup is top notch too!
- Another reason we hear of Champaign-Urbana families traveling to Indianapolis is to enjoy one of the Cake Bake Shop locations (there are two). But make a reservation before you drive — it often does not have walk-ins available, especially on weekends.
- Indianapolis is full of chain restaurant favorites, which we won’t list here. But if you’re looking for your nearest Cheesecake Factory, you’ve found it in Indy.
Other Things to Consider
Indianapolis during the holiday season is a treat! Many outdoor ice skating options and an incredible Christkindlmarket in Carmel that can’t be missed. While Indy is definitely close enough to be a day trip, your plans to make it a weekend will not be regretted.
Some ideas for trips you can take with your family:
- Road Trip: Visiting Indianapolis as a Family
- Best Midwest Summer Road Trips for Champaign-Urbana Families
- 31+ Unique Summer Day Trips from Champaign-Urbana
- Midwest Indoor Waterparks Within a Few Hours of Champaign-Urbana
- Winter Road Trip: Visiting Ice Castles at Lake Geneva, Wis.
- Visiting the Arthur Amish Area with Kids
- Spend a Saturday in Tuscola
- Peaches Aplenty at Okaw Valley Orchard
- Visiting the Indoor Waterpark at Grand Bear Resort Near Starved Rock
- How to Rent a Boat on Lake Shelbyville with your Family
- Road Trip: Visit St. Louis as a Family
- Visiting Imagination Grove Near Bloomington-Normal
- Road Trip: Visiting Wisconsin Dells
- Day Trip from Champaign-Urbana: Living Large in Casey
- Head North for Family Fun: What To Do On Your Chicago Trip
- An Insider’s Guide to a Springfield Getaway
- Effingham, a Trip to the Crossroads
- Winter Break Day Trip: Family Fun in Peoria
- Travel Back in Time at Lincoln Log Cabin