United States

20 Unique Places to Visit in Indiana

by Paul Joseph  |  Published July 15, 2022

From its abundance of natural wonders to its glut of cultural and entertainment venues, Indiana is brimming with amazing opportunities for fun and adventure.  

The sun sets over the ocean at Indiana Dunes National Park (Photo: U.S. Department of the Interior via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Affectionately known as the “Hoosier State”, the midwestern US state, located close to the Great Lakes region, is a little off the radar of the majority of travellers. But this is very much a place that hides its light under a bushel. Indeed, venture beyond its bustling capital of Indianapolis and you’ll quickly discover an abundance of incredible sights, landmarks and attractions that beckon you to explore further. We’ve picked out 20 of the most unique you’ll find anywhere across Indiana.

Explore a jaw-droppingly beautiful national park

In a state awash with stunning natural landscapes, Indiana Dunes National Park stands out above the crowd thanks to its sheer, unrivalled diversity. Hugging 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan, the park spans some 15,000 acres and boasts over 50 miles of trails that lead you across rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, sunny prairies, meandering rivers, enticing beaches, and peaceful forests. The area is also one of the most biodiverse anywhere in North America, home to a remarkable array of plant and animal species

1215 North State Road 49, Porter / Mon-Sun 7am-11pm

Visit a museum packed with historical treasures

Nowhere is Indiana’s rich history celebrated and preserved more enthusiastically than at the Indiana State Museum. Spread across 12 venues dotted throughout the state, each one offers visitors the chance to engage with Indiana’s past and present, as well as to see how your actions can help shape its future. Throughout the venues are a huge collection of artefacts, exhibits and displays spanning art, architecture, history and science, all carefully curated to engage visitors through hands-on stories that put you at the centre of the action.

Venues across Indiana 

Sculptures on the lawn outside the Indiana State Museum (Photo: Luiz Gadelha Jr. via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Let the kids explore a children’s museum

Located just minutes from downtown, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis features five floors of fun and interactive learning across the arts, world cultures, sciences, and humanities. Kids can run, drive, jump, putt, and play while learning how to stay happy, healthy, and safe with a mix of outdoor and indoor exhibits. For cultural nourishment, Take Me There is an exhibit that transports visitors back to contemporary Greece where they can explore homes, learn about real families, shop in a market, and make traditional Greek foods, and study traditional music and dances.

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

A prehistoric skeleton at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (Photo: Dan Keck via Flickr / CC0 1.0)

Follow the trail of America’s most famous cat

Fairmount in east-central Indiana may be off the tourist radar of most, but one fun fact is that it’s the hometown of Jim Davis, creator of the comic strip Garfield. Happily for fans of the lasagne-loving fat cat, his presence continues to be felt across the town and beyond. From Fairmount to the surrounding cities of Marion, Gas City, and Upland, Indiana, as well as throughout east central Indiana, The Garfield Trail features fibreglass statues each measuring depicting Garfield in fun outfits or playful situations across some 14 locations, making for a great family activity with plenty of photo opportunities along the way.

Venues across Indiana

Discover an abundance of wildlife

Visitors to Indiana seeking some wildlife action need look no further than Wilstern Wildlife Park. Located in the town of Paoli (see below), the vast park offers visitors the chance to get up close and personal with a huge assortment of animal species. As well as encounters with exotic creatures including elephants, giraffes, otters, a grizzly bear and kangaroos, there’s also a captivating drive-through safari, plus horseback riding and a thrilling zipline. Visitors wishing to stay overnight can also book into rustic on-site cabins.

4229 US-150 West, Paoli / Mon-Sun 8am-5pm

Take a tour of a prestigious university

How do you get to Note Drame University? By working hard, that’s how. But all jokes aside, the most prestigious seat of learning in Indiana is also one of the most visited landmarks anywhere across the state and can be explored by joining a free public tour that offer a fascinating historical and social overview of life at the university. Tours run at various times throughout the year and include visits to the Grotto, Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Main Building (the Golden Dome), and the Hesburgh Library

Notre Dame / Various times throughout the year

A Roman Catholic church on the campus of the University of Notre Dame (Photo: JORGE ARMANDO GARCIA GALVEZ via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Enjoy the diverse delights of an historic downtown 

Much of the striking modern architecture and public art that has made the city famous can be found in the Columbus Downtown district. Here, along with dozens of restaurants, cafés, shops, museums and boutiques, visitors will discover an eye-catching mix of 20th-century masterpieces and 19th-century structures, together with a plethora of public street art, including works by such notable figures from the world of scuptural art as Henry Moore, Jean Tinguely and Dale Chihuly.

Pick from a plethora of activities in a vibrant state park 

The ideal antidote to the perpetual hustle and bustle of Indianapolis, White River State Park features green spaces, paved riverside pathways and vast expanses of shrub- and flower-lined lawns. Visitors can rent a boke, take a fun pedal-boat ride on the historic Central Canal, or kick back on the lawn and watch a free summertime concert overlooking the White River. For culture and other recreation, the park is also home to several notable museums, as well as the Indianapolis Zoo.

801 West Washington Street, Indianapolis / Mon-Sun 5am-11pm

A view over the water at White River State Park (Photo: adstarkel via Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Check out a fun-filled city

Nestled in the rolling hills of southern Indiana and home to the historic Indiana University, Bloomington combines the scale, energy and amenities of a large city with an abundance of natural beauty. A paradise for fans of the outdoors, the city and its surroundings are teeming with lakes, trails and forests, with action-packed activities including boating, fishing, hiking, horse riding, and biking all available. The city is also a big hit with booze lovers, with several distilleries, craft breweries and wineries located nearby.

Take a stroll through a covered bridge or three

They may not strike you as an obvious tourist attraction, but the 31 Parke County covered bridges in the Wabash River Valley – the highest concentration anywhere in the country – are so cherished that they’re celebrated each year at their own festival. Once called “kissing bridges” for their reputation as a place where courting couples could steal a kiss, the bridges attract nearly 2 million people each year during the 10-day festival. Whether it’s their history, a taste for nostalgia, or an interest in engineering, the bridges are a perpetual source of fascination for all who come to see them.

An eye-catching covered bridge in Parke County (Photo: GPA Photo Archive via Flickr)

Set off on an iconic byway adventure

Officially designated as one of the original 14 National Scenic Byways in the United States, the Ohio River Scenic Byway that starts in Southern Indiana and ends at the Pennsylvania border is a popular excursion for thousands of adventure-seekers every year. From discovering antique shops, artist studios and farm markets to paddling a canoe, exploring a cave, camping under the stars, touring stately mansions or sampling artisan wines, the 302 miles of scenic roadway offer almost endless opportunities for recreation and connecting with nature.

Indulge your need for speed

One of the world’s most famous speedway venues, Indianapolis Motor Speedway doesn’t just play host to professionals – it’s also packed full of attractions and activities for amateur enthusiasts too. Among them are the Speedway Museum, featuring historical race cars and other memorabilia, Gasoline Alley where you can hang out on the road the cars and pro-drivers take between the garages and the race track during the Indy 500, and an Indy Racing Experience that lets petrol heads take the wheel themselves on the Motor Speedway oval and road course.

4790 West 16th Street, Indianapolis

The entrance to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Photo: momentcaptured1 via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Marvel at horticultural works of art

For 15 years, The Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail in Indiana merges quilting, gardening, and art into a one-of-a-kind event featuring more than a million blooms, 17 gardens, and 25 hand-painted murals. The colourful patchwork of quilt-inspired gardens and super-sized murals deliver dazzling views in the communities of Bristol, Elkhart, Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee and Wakarusa. Every quilt garden and quilt mural has its own intricate pattern, with many featuring original designs and each with its own unique story.

Wakarusa / 24/7

Visit a charming small town

Indiana is packed full of quintessential American small towns and one of the most charming is Paoli. Situated in southern Indiana, the adorable little town morphs with the seasons; when the snow falls, locals and travellers alike flock to Paoli Peaks, for skiing, snowboarding and off-piste adventures. Then during warmer climes, when the flowers are in bloom, Hoosier National Forest teems with visitors. There’s plenty of opportunity to get active too, with meandering trails leading through enchanting landscapes a mecca for hikers. Be sure to check out historic downtown too, and in particular the fascinating Underground Railroad.

Tranquil and picturesque, New Harmony, also in southern Indiana, is a delight to explore. The town’s quaint historic district makes for a perfect morning stroll among the fine architecture, public art and museums. Settled by Harmonists, the town’s original vision was as a religious utopia, and while it may have never reached those lofty goals, it has maintained a pleasingly tranquil ambience into the 21st century. For nocturnal pursuits, visitors can enjoy local whisky in an inviting bar or embark on a night-time ghost tour.

A picturesque shopfront in New Harmony (Photo: GPA Photo Archive via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Hit the antique trail

Fans of antiques visiting Indiana can indulge their passion by embarking on the ultimate vintage treasure hunt. Spanning half a dozen towns, Antique Alley is a veritable goldmine of trinkets, all housed within historical buildings and shopping malls. There are two trails, both beginning in Richmond before following the Old National Road, with the epicentre being Cambridge City, which boasts more than a dozen antique shops & malls within a two-block radius.

Get wet and wild at a theme park

A family-owned theme park and water park located in the charming hamlet of Santa Claus in southern Indiana, Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari is jam-packed full of amazing rides and activities for families. Among the most popular are Thunderbird, America’s only launched wing roller coaster, and The Voyage, voted America’s number one wooden roller coaster. There’s also a busy programme of live entertainment including musical shows, a high dive show, and Santa’s Storytime.

452 East Christmas Boulevard, Santa Claus / Mon-Sun 10am-8pm

A daunting rollercoaster at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari (Photo: swrutherford via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Immerse yourself in Indiana’s rich natural history

Situated in Fishers, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park is a nationally acclaimed museum designed to inspire curiosity and foster learning about Indiana. Created by Eli Lilly in 1934, it was recently named an officially designated Site of Conscience thanks to its efforts in connecting past struggles to today’s human rights movements. Offering several themed areas throughout its 800 wooded acres, it combines history with science to encourage visitors to explore Indiana’s natural and cultural heritage through hands-on, immersive and interactive experiences.

13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers / Tues-Sun 10am-5pm Closed Mon

Pay your respects at a famous military monument

Located in Monument Circle in the centre of downtown Indianapolis, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument has come to symbolise the city and the state of Indiana as a whole. The limestone landmark was designed by Bruno Schmitz and constructed between 1887 and 1902 and includes sculptures by Rudolf Schwartz (who created the figures on the structure’s sides), George Brewster (who created the figure of Victory that caps the monument, as well as two astragals) and Nicolaus Geiger (who created the Army astragal). Visitors can take either the steps or an elevator up to the monument’s Observation level to enjoy views across downtown.

Downtown Indianapolis

The historic Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis (Photo: Zepfanman.com via Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

Embark on a nostalgic train ride

The vintage locomotives and passenger cars that comprise the Spirit of Jasper Train have been painstakingly restored, and today are a popular tourist attraction that evokes the glamour of rail travel at its heyday. After boarding at the train depot in the city of Jasper, you’ll be taken on a scenic 18-mile round-trip adventure, with restrooms, comfy seating and a cash bar at your disposal. There are also various themed tours available, including a Dine & Ride option featuring  a delicious sit-down dinner.

201 Mill Street, Jasper