Indianapolis was featured on the world stage as host city for the Super Bowl this past January. Media personalities and sports fans in town for the game were pleasantly surprised at just how dynamic and easy to navigate downtown Indianapolis can be. Sporting events, which aren't necessarily the most affordable entertainment option, are certainly a huge draw here. However, there are plenty of free options if you are seeking a cost-effective travel destination for all ages!
Free Art: Indianapolis is home to a number of spectacular museums, including the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The IMA is open daily and always free, with the exception of special exhibits. The surrounding gardens and grounds (also free) are breathtaking, particularly during the spring and fall, and serve as the perfect backdrop for a picnic. 100 Acres at the IMA is a terrific place to take the kids for a dose of culture, as well as a place to expend some energy while taking great vacation photos. Site-specific installations like "Funky Bones" offer interactive fun for the entire family.
Downtown Canal: One great way to explore Indianapolis for free is to take a walk (or jog if you're so inclined) along the Central Canal downtown. Aside from being a great option for picnicking and people-watching, the canal winds past the IUPUI campus, the Indiana State Museum, and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art. Visitors with an interest in naval history will appreciate the National Memorial to the survivors of the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis cruiser, located at the North end of the Canal.
Dearly Departed: Crown Hill Cemetery is hands-down the best local destination for history buffs and shutter bugs. You can stop by the main entrance, grab a map and do a free self-guided tour of the largest urban cemetery in America (docent led tours are also available for a modest fee). I love to leisurely wind my way through this massive cemetery and take pictures of historic headstones. However, if you're on a schedule, then reference your map to locate the final resting place of notables such as Jefferson Davis, Benjamin Harrison, James Whitcomb Riley and the infamous John Dillinger!
Craft Beer: The days of settling for domestic brews that all taste the same are long gone now that the craft beer movement has taken off in America. Indianapolis has a number of hometown breweries that have made a big name for themselves in a short amount of time. Develop your palette for craft brews at Sun King Brewery and Flat 12 Bierwerks, which are both located near downtown and offer free samples in their tasting rooms. Hours vary according to day of the week, so be sure to check their websites before stopping by.
Take Me Out to the Ballgame: Victory Field, home to the Indianapolis Indians, is located just west of downtown and features a terrific view of the skyline. Voted the "Best Minor League Ballpark in America," it's a great place to take the family for an exciting outing that won't break the bank. I particularly love the new "kids eat free on Sundays" promotion, which provides a free hot dog, bag of chips and drink to all kids age 14 and under. Kids 2 and under are always admitted free if you're sitting on the lawn or the child sits in your lap.
Children's Museum of Indianapolis: Use the money you saved during the trip and spring for the attraction voted best children's museum in America by Child Magazine. Trust me; your kids will be forever grateful! The Children's Museum is well worth the price of admission and large enough to spend an entire day in order to really get your money's worth. The museum often has coupons for discounted admission on their website, and if you happen to be visiting on the first Thursday of the month, admission is free from 4-8pm. Highlights include Dinosphere and a Dale Chihuly glass sculpture that extends 43 feet through the building's center.
Free tourist sites are available in almost every city across the country. Here are some tips for finding free tourist attractions:
Travel/Tourist Websites: The official tourism site for the city or state you are visiting is a great resource for fun and free things to do. Each site is run by the local tourism department. If you need help finding free activities, call or send an email. These cities want you to come visit and will happily provide you with all the information you need.
Local Visitor's Bureau: Make the local visitor's bureau your first stop. Tell them you are interested in free local activities, and see what they come up with. Best of all, you'll probably receive a few free maps while you're there (which means that you won't have to ask for directions or buy a map of your own when you get lost).
Ask Locals: Who knows better than residents the best of free things to do. Every town has a few hidden gems, and if you don't ask, you might not find them.
Call Before You Go: Before you head out to a tourist site, pick up the phone and ask a few questions. Many places offer reduced prices or free tickets on certain days and times or have free exhibits available. Don't be afraid to ask for discounts and specials.
TripAdvisor.com: This is a fantastic site with plenty of content and reviews generated by actual tourists. Before visiting an attraction, check out the reviews. Also look for hidden gems and other things to do.
This has been a guest post by Jennifer from Indianapolis, IN
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