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Did You Know … ?
- The winner of the first Indy 500 in 1911 (Ray Harroun) drove the first car with a rearview mirror.
- Indianapolis was purpose built to be Indiana’s capital.
- Elvis Presley played his last concert in Indianapolis in 1977.
- At the top speeds, an Indy 500 driver misses 50 feet of track when he blinks.
- Planners laid out Indianapolis as a one-square-mile city thinking it would never get any larger.
This is not news, but let it be noted here that Indiana’s capital is the home of the Memorial Day Indianapolis 500 (or, popularly, the Indy 500) auto race. It’s the world’s largest single-day sporting event, with 400,000 spectators — held in the world’s largest sports venue.
But, in Indianapolis, the Indy 500 is the tip of the iceberg for auto races and sports competitions in general. There are a few other big auto competitions, but scores of additional IndyCar, MotoGP, NASCAR and even drag races occur throughout the May-to-August season.
In addition, the city’s sports strategy has attracted more than 500 collegiate, Olympic, national and international sports championships and a Super Bowl in the last 40 years — and most recently, national cricket competitions. These supplement games featuring local collegiate and professional sports teams.
Auto races and team sports attract many out-of-towners, but sightseeing, history, culture and outdoor activities have their place, too.
Sightseeing may begin at Monument Circle, the spot the city’s 19th century designers meant to be the literal city center and site of the governor’s residence.
The governor lives elsewhere, and the circular 24-acre green space — which gives Indianapolis the nickname Circle City — is the site of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which honors veterans and has an observation deck for viewing the area. The monument is the starting point for those interested in war memorials. Indianapolis is second to Washington in number of such memorials, and it claims to devote more acreage than any U.S. city to honoring veterans. Since the Civil War, Indiana’s war casualties have been double the national average.
With one eye on tourism, Indianapolis tapped six areas as Indy’s Cultural Districts. They simultaneously appeal to several touristic interests with their historic buildings, nightlife (edgy and otherwise), restaurants, shopping and theaters.
Indianapolis is no place to seek mountains or rivers of consequence — though there are options for pleasure boating on in-city waterways. Visitors also can cycle for transportation or fun and try ballooning, skydiving or ziplining. Even the not so active are likely to enjoy hoofing it in the designated cultural districts and in the heart of downtown.
Things to do for Venturers
- See the area from a hot-air balloon. Or ramp up the excitement with a skydive.
- There are a couple of ziplining options in or near the city. Consider giving them a try. One comes paired with a canopy adventure that lets you swing through the trees.
- Seek out the nightspots in one of the city’s six designated cultural districts. Start with Broad Ripple Village, or head to Mass Ave. The latter also boasts the Theatre on the Square and Phoenix Theatre, both known for staging alternative shows. Or, look for jazz on Indiana Avenue, the city’s historic hub for African-American culture.
- Time your visit right and you could attend one of several major Big Ten or NCAA athletic competitions in basketball, football or swimming and diving.
- Attend the Indianapolis 500. Or, depending on your travel dates, consider the Brickyard 400.
- Take survival and disaster-preparedness classes at Willow Haven Outdoor in nearby Anderson.
Things to do for Centrics
- See the city from the seat of a bicycle. An eight-mile urban bike trail now connects all six of Indy’s cultural districts. Or, take a guided bike tour if you prefer.
- Tour the NCAA Hall of Champions or any of several other museums in White River State Park. In summer, hear a concert at the park’s outdoor amphitheater.
- If a Kurt Vonnegut fan, attend the November VonnegutFest. Indianapolis was the novelist’s hometown, so you can plan some sightseeing around the man.
- Travel 50 to 70 miles on a day trip to Columbus for the architecture (more than 60 public buildings designed by world-famous architects); to Parke County, Amish country and site of the October Covered Bridge Festival, or to Fairmont, actor James Dean’s hometown and site of several annual festivals in his honor,
- If yours is an arts agenda, consider the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the local symphony orchestra or the autumn Indy Jazz Fest. Haunt the cultural districts, too.
- Come to the Indiana State Fair in August, or choose the Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration, described as the largest cultural or ethnic event in the U.S.
Things to do for Authentics
- Take a bus ride around the site of the Indy 500, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway racetrack, weather permitting and assuming the track is not in use. Also, spend time at the speedway’s museum.
- Need wheels? Consider the city’s all-electric car sharing program. For quite different wheels, see the town in a horse-drawn carriage.
- Escort the kids, or the kid in you, to the Indianapolis Zoo. Ditto for the city’s Children’s Museum, the world’s largest (472,900 square feet).
- Schedule a visit to the home of President Benjamin Harrison.
- Take solemn note of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which honors the common soldier, and take in the views from its observation deck. There are other memorials to seek out, too.
- Enjoy a Venetian-style gondola ride in White River State Park.
For more information, consult Visit Indy at http://visitindy.com