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What Is Indianapolis Known For and Famous For?
When you think of Indianapolis, Indiana, what do you picture? The Indy 500, perhaps? The capital of Indiana? Indianapolis is nearly dead-center in the Midwest state of Indiana and is home to sports, culture, and family fun. “Hoosier Hospitality” is well known in this ultra-friendly and fun-loving environment that makes it especially unique.
Indianapolis most well known for the Indy 500. It is also home to the world’s largest children’s museum and many war museums. Its residents thrive when tailgating for their home sports teams and riding bikes to their favorite dining spots. From sports to leisure to food, Indianapolis is a secret gem.
Yes, it is the capital of Indiana, the state’s largest city, and often called the “Hoosier Capital.” But, there are other things this eclectic city is known for beyond racing and the Indy 500. All in all, there is an assortment of elements that make it an interesting, exceptional, and fun area. Read on to learn all about what Indianapolis has to offer.
Home to the Biggest Single-Day Event for Sports in the World
An article about Indianapolis’ fame cannot begin with anything other than the most celebrated race in the United States, the famous 500-mile race, the Indianapolis 500. This legendary race is held every May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, located seven miles northwest of the downtown area of Indianapolis.
If your visit to Indianapolis overlaps with the Indy 500, spending the day in the Snake Pit—the center of the racetrack—surrounded by the loud, fast 2.5-mile oval is a must. However, even if your trip to Indianapolis does not coincide with the Indy 500, stopping by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still a must due to its vast history of racing.
This renowned racetrack opened in 1909 and held its first Indy 500 in 1911, and the speedway hosts a museum that displays the greatest narratives and history of racing. Racing trophies, racing collectibles, and other historical artifacts retell the story of racing and the automotive industry. Yet, Indianapolis is not just known for the Indy 500.
More than 300,000 visitors visit Indianapolis each May to experience the world’s biggest single-day event for sports, and many believe it marks the beginning of summer. However, there are other races to see if you do not visit the city at that time. Be aware, however, that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is only used for three races each year:
- Indy 500
- Brickyard 400 NASCAR Race
- Red Bull Indianapolis G.P.
Also Home to the World’s Largest Children’s Museum
Indianapolis is not only known to race car lovers. The city also houses the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. This museum gives the city another “largest in the world” record. It spans over 29 acres (more than 400,000 square feet), making it the biggest children’s museum in the world for attractions and interactive exhibits.
This museum attracts more than a million visitors a year, maybe because it houses giant dinosaurs and some of the rarest fossils in the world. In fact, the museum is home to the skull of a newly-discovered dinosaur called Dracorex hogwartsia. For Harry Potter fans, this name means “Dragon King of Hogwarts” (J.K. Rowling gave her permission).
Dinosaurs do not stop with the famous Harry Potter namesake. The Dinosphere exhibit reconstructs the world dinosaurs lived in more than 60 million years ago. You can even see a mummified Brachylophosaurus and touch a real bone from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. There is fun for kids and adults, with exhibits on space, pop culture, music, and dance.
The museum itself is also famous for its Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience, which is open from March through November. You can walk through its Avenue of Champions that features statues of 16 sports heroes from Wayne Gretzky and DeMarcus Beasley to Pete and Alice Dye. The sports do not end there.
Sports in Indianapolis Are a City Staple
Indianapolis is also known for its professional sports, housing 11 professional sports teams. Football legend Peyton Manning once made the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts his home team and won a Super Bowl there in 2006. The Indiana Pacers have won three NBA Championships as the official NBA team, and the Indy Eleven represent soccer.
Although Indianapolis is known for numerous minor league sports teams, the four top national teams are as follows:
- National Football League: Indianapolis Colts
- National Basketball Association: Indiana Pacers
- WNBA: Indiana Fever
- United Soccer League: Indy Eleven
The Indianapolis Colts are known for being competitive in the AFC South, but this part of Indianapolis culture is more known for the city’s tailgating. Rain or shine, Indianapolis Colts fans are well known for tailgating downtown at Lucas Oil Stadium. They even have a “Park and Party” option in which you can reserve a spot for extra game day fun.
Lucas Oil Stadium also houses the Indy Eleven professional soccer team. Founded in 2013, these games have been known to be as exciting as their football counterparts. The stadium management also hosts tours for visitors who would like to see the press box and locker rooms of their favorite players, a dream experience for most superfans.
The Locals Do Not Drive, the Locals Bike
Indianapolis has some hidden gems that are not accessible with an average vehicle, which is why renting a bike and riding the eight-mile Cultural Trail is common. It has become a popular way to see the city’s attractions and sights. It runs right through the city’s downtown area. There are 29 bike-share stations scattered around Indianapolis.
The Indianapolis Cultural Trail connects six cultural districts, encompassing numerous trails and routes you can choose for exploration. If biking is not your thing, you can also leisurely walk the trail and see the sights on foot. The Monon Trail is a railroad converted into an 18-mile walking path through downtown and the Indianapolis suburbs.
However, you will not cover as much ground in the same amount of time as you would hopping on a bike. The locals tend to experience Indianapolis on two wheels and recommend these public spaces as nice spots to stop and enjoy nice picnics with friends and family:
- Lugar Plaza
- Downtown Canal Walk
- Georgia Street
All three of these locations are perfect for the family to relax and enjoy. Yet, the Cultural Trail does not only showcase lively public spaces, artwork, and architecture. It also magnifies Indianapolis’ restaurant scene. The trail highlights some of the city’s most amazing restaurants, making food another known characteristic of this eclectic city.
The Central Canal
The Central Canal was use as a water supply for the city and was later, in the 70s, designated an American Water Landmark. The canal is now mainly used as a walking path a 3 mile loop through the city.
Famous Culture and Famous People throughout Indianapolis
Once you have located the Cultural Trail that winds through Indianapolis’ neighborhoods, shops, and cultural districts, you can park your bike and enjoy the scene. Indianapolis is not only well known for its scenic views throughout the city but also for its collections of art at the famous Indianapolis Museum of Art.
This museum is well known because of its vast collection of art from African to Asian art to contemporary art, as well as two vast libraries that house thousands of collections and books. The lush surroundings have made the museum famous to locals and tourists alike. They perfectly accompany the museum’s extensive art galleries.
You can also gain culture by seeing who is from the city. Have you ever wondered what famous people, if any, come from Indianapolis? Well, look no further, as the list below is an impressive group of Indy’s most famous natives. American writer Kurt Vonnegut had even once joked that everything he is—jokes, attitudes, and adenoids—is Indianapolis.
- American writer Kurt Vonnegut
- Albert Von Tilzer, who wrote the song “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”
- Actor Brendan Fraser
- Former Vice President Dan Quayle
- American television presenter David Letterman
- American Idol candidate and now Queen frontman Adam Lambert
- Television journalist Jane Pauley
- American gangster John Dillinger
Crown Hill Cemetery
The city also houses the final resting place of some of the rich and famous the largest cemeteries in the United States – the exceptional and unique Crown Hill Cemetery. Those buried here include John Dillinger, Kurt Vonnegut’s sister Alice, President Benjamin Harrison, and American poet and author James Whitcomb Riley.
Fountain Square is a neighborhood known for its offbeat nightlife and vintage duckpin bowling alley. The neighborhood is home to several galleries, a craft cocktail bar, indie music venues and a retro dance club.
The Fountain Square Theatre in Indianapolis hosts comedy shows, burlesque performances and indie music concerts. There are also improv nights at the theatre that bring different performers from Indy’s burgeoning arts scene together in order to create experimental shows for audiences to enjoy.
The neighborhood was listed #5 on The Huffington Post’s list of Hipster-Friendly Neighborhoods.
Broad Ripple Village
Broad Ripple is a great neighborhood with many restaurants, bars, cafes, pubs, and clubs. This neighborhood has a lot of vibrance to it and really has its own personality. There are many indie shops in the area with tons of great, unique scores you can’t find anywhere else. This neighborhood is a must for anyone visiting the area.
Mile Square, also known as downtown Indianapolis, is the city urban core with many venues with events ranging from sporting events to party events The area is full of museums and historical monuments as well as a ton of other things to see.
Indianapolis is Well Known to Foodies Across the Country
Whether you are on a bike or on foot, the city is also known for its vast and varied restaurants. The city is known for its food scene, not because it is affordable, not because it is eclectic, but because it is that good. From pizza to vegetarian dishes, to brunch, to farm-to-table, Indianapolis has a reputation for being a city for foodies.
The Indianapolis food scene may not be as well known as those of Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles, but that does not mean it is any less impressive. In 2016, Zagat named Indianapolis number 15 of the 26 hottest food cities, beating out Nashville, San Francisco, and even New York and Chicago! So, what makes the food so memorable?
Indianapolis is known for its vibrant brunch scene, and one famous must-visit is Milktooth. The chef, Jonathan Brooks, was named in Food and Wine magazine as one of the best new chefs of 2015. Brunch is served all day, allowing you to get your fix of sour-cream biscuits and ancient-grain porridge at 12:00 pm, 12:00 am, or anytime in between.
Not only is Indianapolis known for its brunch, but also its creativity and sustainability. Bluebeard’s shareable plates are nationally known, and restaurants like The Garden Table work with local farmers. The city’s only four-diamond restaurant, Vida, showcases a farmhouse atmosphere. No matter the cuisine you crave, you will find it here.
The History of Indianapolis’ Food is Well Known
How do famous food and history combine? Indianapolis boasts a deep history when it comes to food. Did you know that the Wonder Bread you eat was made by Indianapolis-based Taggart Baking Company in 1921? This company was the first major one to distribute sliced bread, and it was housed in the city of Indianapolis.
If you have ever heard of Van Camp’s Pork and Beans, that is another treasure from the Hoosier Capital. Indianapolis’ Gilbert Van Camp was a grocer in the city and found that customers liked his recipe for pork and beans so much, he started selling it to more people. The rest is, well, history!
There is a vast and varied list of historical eats that make Indianapolis stand out in the memories of so many, allowing it to thrive like it does today:
- Fried pickles
- Pulled pork
- Pork tenderloin sandwiches
- Country fried steak
- Sugar cream pie
- Square (yes, square) donuts
- The Hoosier sandwich
- Anything with bacon
Indianapolis Has the (Second) Most War Museums in the World
Not only does Indianapolis house the world’s largest children’s museum, but it also has the second most war museums. It is second only to Washington, D.C. (which is home to the Smithsonian!) Indianapolis is home to 33 commemorations and is first, however, in the total amount of acreage dedicated to soldiers lost during the wars.
It starts with Monument Circle. Monument Circle is the heart of Indianapolis, a focal point that people use as a meeting spot within the city. The circle itself is constructed around the towering Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, a 284-foot-tall landmark built in 1888 to commemorate the Hoosiers who fought in the American Civil War.
Indiana War Memorial
The Indiana War Memorial is also no small wonder, with 30,000 square feet of a chronological history starting with the Revolutionary War through today. Famous artifacts include weapons, uniforms, and equipment. The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum houses 9,000 square feet of the Civil War’s story from an Indiana perspective.
Indianapolis is also home to the American Legion National and Indiana headquarters at the American Legion Mall, Indiana’s War Memorial’s Shrine Room, and the Eiteljorg Museum of American and Western Art. Memorials are sprinkled throughout the streets of the city that are similar to those at the Smithsonian but still unique to the Hoosier City:
- World War II Memorial
- Korean War Memorial
- Vietnam War Memorial
Some other Oddities that Make the Hoosier City Famous
There are other random facts about Indianapolis that do not fit into a cookie-cutter category but make it famous nonetheless. For example, Elvis Presley may not have been from Indianapolis, but he did play his last concert at Indianapolis’ now-demolished Market Square Arena just three months before his death in 1977.
Some other famous facts about Indianapolis are:
- It is the largest major city in the United States that is not situated on a navigable river.
- It was not always the capital of Indiana and replaced Corydon in 1821.
- One of Indianapolis’ most popular bars, the Slippery Noodle Inn, was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, was frequented by gangsters, and was where the gangster John Dillinger was shot.
- When the Indy 500 started in 1911, the winner received a prize of $25,000 and tickets for spectators were only $1.00.
- The Indy 500 winners take a celebratory sip of (no, not champagne) milk. The American Dairy Association even keeps a list of the drivers’ milk preferences to make sure they pick the right one for race day.
- Indianapolis is home to the nation’s largest Christmas tree.
- The Funky Bones sculpture in the city was featured in the film “A Fault in Our Stars.”
Even the Name “Indianapolis” Itself Carries Some Fame
Indianapolis also bodes more nicknames than most other cities. For example, you may have also wondered why Indianapolis is called the “Crossroads of America.” This nickname represents the fact that the city has the most interstate legs in the United States. This is just one of the many nicknames that have made this city famous.
- Indy (meaning Independent or Indiana, also short for Indianapolis)
- Circle City (Because the major streets cross at a circle)
- India-no-place (seen as a lighthearted derogatory name for the city)
- Railroad City (for its historical ties to this type of transportation)
- Hoosier City (and the residents are Indy Hoosiers)
- Naptown (created by jazz musicians in the 1920s)
Maybe it has so many nicknames because they are all easier to say and spell than Indianapolis, which was actually made by an Indiana Supreme Court judge by simply sticking the name Indiana with the Greek word for city. The name Indianapolis was born, and so was the vast array of features that have made this city famous for so long.
Now that you know what Indianapolis is known for and the famous eats, treats, buildings, and people, you can visit and enjoy some of its “Hoosier Hospitality.” The museums abound, the professional sports teams are staples, and the food has made Indianapolis a foodie city above New York, Chicago, and San Francisco.
From world-class military and cultural museums to history-making sporting events to its Midwestern hospitality, Indianapolis is famous for an eclectic array of features. So, now you have a better understanding of why Indiana’s capital city is famous for much more than the Indy 500. Not that having the largest single-day sporting event is too shabby.