Downtown Indianapolis, Downtown Indy or the Mile Square whatever name it’s given, and it goes under the guise of all three, is an ever-expanding downtown district. Since receiving the moniker of Mile Square back in the early 1800s, the city’s founding district has grown to encompass six and a half square miles in total and become a boomtown which now includes nine neighborhoods, and is still in expansion.
Explore Downtown Indianapolis to discover tranquil canals with Italian-style gondoliers, a cathedral easily mistaken for a Scottish castle and a glass-roofed garden full of art. Go subterranean in spooky catacombs, stroll along fascinating cultural trails or be inspired by a museum dedicated to collegiate sports.
This is a downtown district full of surprising activities both cultural and social, so don’t miss out on any of these best fifteen things to do in Downtown Indianapolis while you’re there.
1. Gondola Canal Ride
If you thought the only place to hear a gondolier sing O Sole Mio while navigating canal waters was in Venice, you need to think again. Head to West Michigan Street in Downtown Indianapolis, and next to the waterside Fresco Cafe, you’ll find the moorings for Old World Gondoliers.
Take a thirty or sixty minute ride along Downtown’s Central Canal while being serenaded by a gondolier in full Venetian-style costume. The gondoliers carry between two to eight people or can be hired privately.
Don’t forget to tip the gondolier for his melodic accompaniment.
Also checkout the Indianapolis Massachusetts Avenue Food Tour
2. Scottish Rite Cathedral
The Scottish Rite Cathedral is a dominant landmark in Downtown Indianapolis which wouldn’t be out of place in the heather covered highlands of Scotland.
The cathedral was built in the late 1920s and is one of the biggest Masonic buildings anywhere in the world. Owned by a Freemason affiliated group, the cathedral contains many Masonic symbols as well as a sixty-six square foot dance floor in a columned, wood-paneled ballroom plus a one thousand seat theater.
Guided tours of the facility, narrated by a knowledgeable historian, are available several days of the week and there is also an on-site cafeteria for drinks and snacks.
3. Pacers Bike Share
Speed around Downtown Indianapolis sightseeing on a bright yellow bike from the Pacers Bike Share Scheme.
There are multiple bike stations all over Downtown Indy in convenient locations right next to many of the district’s main attractions. A day pass entitles the user to unlimited thirty-minute rides throughout an entire twenty-four hour period.
Cycles can be returned to any station though be aware exceeding the thirty-minute time limit does incur an extra small fee. The Pacers Bike Share is the perfect mode of transport to explore the Indy Cultural Trail.
If you’re interested in an indoor activity you may like this top rated Escape Room Mission
4. Indy Cultural Trail
The Indy Cultural Trail is an eight-mile-long paved pathway which interconnects the Downtown Indianapolis neighborhoods.
Join the trail on West Walnut Street or any other point along the route to cycle or walk through the district. Do the full trail, or break it down section by section, stopping off to enjoy the landscaped garden areas, multiple public artworks, and the Downtown sights and skyline.
Trail maps are downloadable from the indyculturaltrail.org website, and there are also guided cycle tours with bicycle hire included available from April to October.
5. Eiteljorg Museum
The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art is located on West Washington Street in Downtown Indianapolis. The gallery is dedicated to telling the story of America’s indigenous inhabitants and the history of the Wild West through the media of visual art.
The museum’s varied collections are housed in themed galleries distributed over the buildings several floors. The collections include traditional pieces of Native art such as totem poles and pottery as well as contemporary sculptures and paintings. There are also extensive exhibitions of Western artworks depicting the life and times of earlier eras from the pioneering days to the effect of Western movies on American society today.
6. St. Elmo Steak House
For a taste of classic Indianapolis fayre, book a table at the St Elmo Steak House on South Illinois Street in Downtown Indy.
The St. Elmo Steak House has been rustling up great food since it opened its doors in 1902. Though frequently renovated, the restaurant still maintains the welcoming atmosphere and décor of its founding years and has won several national accolades for both their service and food.
A don’t miss when in Downtown Indianapolis is the St. Elmo’s world-famous shrimp cocktail – it’s set many a taste bud on fire.
7. Old National Centre
For a night of live entertainment, music concerts theatrical drama or dance, the Old National Centre on North New Jersey Street is the place to go in Downtown Indy.
The ONC houses three venues – a two-thousand six hundred seat theater, a concert hall with a spectator capacity of one thousand eight hundred and a multi-purpose event room for over six hundred people.
Expect to see top billings at the ONC with shows ranging from the Hip Hop Nutcracker to live versions of Dancing with the Stars or individual performances from stars like Scott McCreery, John Legend or the all-time great rock band, Led Zeppelin.
8. Downtown Comics
For fans of the Big Bang TV series who have always wanted to visit a comic shop like the one in the program, do just that while in the Mile Square.
The Downtown Comics is a comic store on East Market Street in Downtown Indianapolis and a fun place to spend a few hours browsing both old and recently published editions of all the top comics.
Not just for geeks or fans of Comic-Con, the store also stocks collectible vinyl comic figurines and vinyl records. It’s a Downtown Indy marvel.
9. NCAA Hall of Champions
Combine a museum visit with a workout at the NCAA Hall of Champions on West Washington Street in Downtown Indianapolis.
The museum’s lower floor celebrates the achievements of those who have succeeded at any of the twenty-four collegiate games with exhibitions relevant to the sports and legends.
The upper floor of the museum invites visitors to participate with interactive game simulators for skiing and basketball plus a 1930s vintage gym.
10. Tomlinson Tap Room
The Tomlinson Tap Room is an old-fashioned, pub-style bar located in the Downtown Indianapolis City Market.
The Tap Room serves only locally crafted Indianapolis beers and wines which are rotated on a regular basis. Grab a pint after browsing the market stalls or just sit and sip while watching the hubbub of the market below from the Tap Room’s indoor patio.
The Tap Room also offers a small food menu with various sandwiches and light snacks like Beer Chicken Nachos which are the perfect compliment to a draft pint.
Related tour: Indy Beer Mile
11. Market Catacombs
Spend half an hour underground in Downtown Indy’s Market Catacombs to discover a different side to the district.
Listen to a fascinating narration about DT history before going down under into the dungeon-like basement of the old Tomlinson Hall to explore the twenty-thousand square feet of brick-arched passageways.
They’re dark, dusty and more than a little spooky, but according to numerous paranormal investigations conducted in the catacombs, the labyrinth is not haunted.
12. Indianapolis Artsgarden
The incredible Indianapolis Artsgarden is a must-see when visiting Downtown Indy. The futuristic glass-domed construction spans the junction of Washington and Illinois Street to a height of seven stories and serves not only as a pedestrian skywalk but as an art gallery and event venue too.
The Artsgarden hosts around two hundred and fifty free-entry music performances annually as well as daily lunchtime Garden Jams and monthly exhibitions showcasing local artists.
13. Downtown Indy Canal Walk
Take a leisurely stroll along the Downtown Indy Canal Walk and discover interesting public artworks and waterside eateries with great terraces for viewing the DT skyline.
The Canal Walk is a three-mile-long loop which starts in White River State Park and runs as far as 11th Street but can be accessed in Downtown Indy from several points including West Ohio Street and West New York Street.
Don’t miss spotting the Tent sculpture, a tower of colorful tiles which move in the breeze or popping into the Stardust Terrace Cafe for coffee.
Don’t want to walk? Then take a Segway tour of the Canal Walk or alternatively, rent a kayak or pedal boat and paddle up the canal to see the Downtown Indianapolis sights from on the water.
14. Circle Centre Mall
The Circle Centre Mall on Downtown Indy’s West Maryland Street is a popular spot in the district for shopping, dining out or going to watch the latest film releases.
The four-story mall covers over seven acres and has two levels completely dedicated to retail with top name stores as well as smaller, one-off boutiques.
The entire third floor of the Circle Centre Mall is a food hall housing numerous restaurants offering varied menus ranging from Chinese and Asian fusions to Italian cuisine and burgers.
The mall’s top floor houses a gaming arcade and a nine-screen cinema.
15. Slippery Noodle Inn
While the name Slippery Noodle Inn might bring to mind a Chinese restaurant, this bar on South Meridian Street in Downtown Indianapolis is anything but.
The Slippery Noodle Inn was first opened in 1850 and has been serving drinks to Indianapolis residents and visitors alike ever since even through the restrictions of the prohibition era. The bar has several historical features including a century-old bar and during its one-hundred and sixty plus years of being open served as a stopping point on the Underground Railroad.
As well as having a fascinating history, The Slippery Noodle Inn is Indianapolis’s premium blues bar and has live music on two different stages every night of the week. Don’t miss having a night out there; it’ll make your stay in Downtown Indianapolis the same as the bar is, absolutely legendary.