9 Free and Affordable Things to Do in Indianapolis


Situated along the west fork of Indiana’s White River, the city of Indianapolis is full of great things to see and do – with plenty of budget-friendly options among them.

An exterior view of Indiana State Capitol (Photo: Drew Tarvin via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

The state capital, known colloquially as Indy, is perhaps best known for hosting some of the world’s most prestigious racing events. But the city’s appeal extends far beyond its taste for speed, with a wide number of cultural and entertainment attractions, as well as several notable monuments dedicated to US veterans and war casualties. If you’re coming to Indy and would like to ensure your itinerary packs in plenty of top landmarks and attractions while staying within your budget, we’ve picked out 10 free or cheap things to do that you might consider for inclusion.

Indiana State Capitol

Located in Downtown Indianapolis, the Indiana State Capitol is not only visually arresting from the outside but also a goldmine of historical treasures for those who venture inside its grand confines. Built in the late 19th century, the Renaissance Revival-style statehouse draws large numbers of visitors throughout the year who join one of the free guided tours that are offered on weekdays. Tour pass through large portions of the building, with opportunities to stop for photos of its famous stained glass dome and ornately decorated rotunda, while expert guides provide fascinating facts about the history of the building.

Mon-Fri 8am-5pm Sat 10am-2pm Closed Sun

Indiana State Fair

Bright lights at Indiana State Fair (Photo: one sharp eye via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

One of America’s largest and most well-attended state fairs, tens of thousands of revellers flock to the Indiana State Fair each year to enjoy the glut of amusement park rides, farm animals, music concerts, and circus acts on offer. Some of the fair’s regular stand-out attractions include Super City, a hands-on interactive exhibit that allows kids to look and feel like a superhero; the Wine Garden, which serves up award-winning regional tipples; and the Animal Town interactive experience featuring multiple barnyard animals. Admission is $13 per person.

Indiana State Fairgrounds, Indianapolis / August each year

White River State Park

Nestled along the eastern and western banks of its namesake White River, White River State Park offers the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the city. Spanning some 267 acres, the vast urban park is packed with attractions including an amphitheatre hosting regular concerts, an IMAX theatre, a baseball arena, several zoos and a museum. While most of these sights require admission fees, the park also features miles of free-access walking and biking trails as well as public spaces dotted with striking artwork, making it one of the city’s best spots for a cheap and fun-packed afternoon.

801 West Washington Street / Tues-Sat & Mon 11am-5pm Sun 12pm-4pm

Water Lantern Festival

Floating lanterns at the Water Lantern Festival (Photo: Water Lantern Festival)

Held in over 100 American cities throughout the year, the Indianapolis edition of this dazzling – and, for many, emotionally moving – festival comes to Military Park, the city’s oldest urban park, each July. During the event, hundreds of lit lanterns are released into the park’s canal, creating a mesmerising spectacle with the lanterns generating light and reflections on the water. Lanterns can be personalised before being set free, with participants encouraged to include messages of hope, love, happiness, healing, peace, and connection. As well as the water display, there are also food trucks, games and activities, local vendors and live music. Adult tickets start at $28 and include a floating lantern.

Military Park / July each year

Indiana War Memorial Military Museum

Among Indianapolis’s distinguishing characteristics is the full-throated way in which the city celebrates and honours its past – and that is very much the modus operandi of the Indiana War Memorial Military Museum. Located within the Indiana World War Memorial Plaza, the free-to-enter museum is dedicated to the USS Indianapolis heavy cruiser, which played a crucial role in American naval history before it sank after being torpedoed by the Japanese Navy during WWII. Through an assortment of exhibits and artefacts, visitors to the museum can learn all about the story of the ship and those who sailed in her.

55 East Michigan Street / Weds-Sun 9am-5pm Closed Mon-Tues

Children’s Museum of Indianapolis

If you’re visiting the city with kids in tow, you may want to spare time to visit the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which is said to be the largest children’s museum in the world. Spread over five floors of exhibition space, the museum is packed full of exhibits and hands-on activities designed to entertain and educate kids and their families in equal measure. Themes covered include dinosaurs, pirate ships, space, ancient Egypt, sport, and toys from a bygone era. Highlights include the Power of Children exhibition which tells uplifting stories of children who have made a difference to the world.

3000 North Meridian Street / Mon-Sun 10am-5pm

An exhibit at Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (Photo: Dan Keck via Flickr / CC0 1.0 DEED)

Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Connecting three public spaces in Downtown Indianapolis, this sprawling 8-mile path offers visitors a street-level view of the people and places that define the city and the distinct culture present in its neighbourhoods. First opened in 2013, the trail meanders through six different districts and past an assortment of landmarks and attractions, including lush gardens and eye-catching public artworks. Guided tours of the trail are available, or you can navigate it independently for free.

Downtown Indianapolis

Indianapolis Art Center

A quirky art installation at Indianapolis Art Center (Photo: Serge Melki via Flickr / CC BY 2.0 DEED)

Indianapolis has a thriving arts scene and at its beating heart is the Indianapolis Art Center. Founded in 1934 on the banks of the White River, the 12-acre campus comprises an art studio and events space that play host to regular affordable arts classes for children and adults, and a busy programme of free exhibitions and community events, all designed to enhance people’s lives through art. Art class pricing starts at $10 per class with most running weekly for at least four weeks at a time.

820 East 67th Street / Tues-Fri 9am-10pm & Mon Sat 9am-6pm Sun 12pm-6pm 

Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park

Another mainstay of the city’s vibrant arts scene, the Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park is a 100-acre rural oasis situated in the heart of Indianapolis. Completely free to enter all year round, the park is sprinkled with contemporary sculptures and exhibitions that encourage visitors to connect with nature and consider their relationship with the environment. Highlights include Alfredo Jaar’s Park of the Laments, an immersive arts installation designed to transform visitors’ spatial experience as they transition through a concrete tunnel before emerging into an area filled with native plants.

1850 West 38th Street / Mon-Sun 8.30am-7.30pm

Indianapolis City Market

Inside the Indianapolis City Market (Photo: Adam Lusch via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

There are few better ways of getting to know a place than by taking in the sights, sounds and aromas of a local market. In operation since 1866, this huge food hall features over 30 artisan vendors, a farmer’s market and a craft beer bar, which together help attract locals and visitors alike who come to peruse and purchase the diverse wares on display. The market is also the starting point for daily guided tours of the Romanesque underground catacombs, a long-hidden ruin lying beneath the historic bazaar. Tours cost $12 for adults, $6 for children.

222 East Market Street / Mon-Tues 7am-4pm Fri 7am-9pm Sat 8am-6pm Closed Sun  

By Paul Joseph