Things to Do in Downtown Indianapolis

IMG_20190511_111031829_LUCiDAfter 18 months of working and going to school full time I FINALLY completed my master’s degree at Purdue University! I went back and forth about walking at commencement—it seemed kind of silly, especially since I completed the degree virtually—but I really wanted to see campus, and I wanted to mark the accomplishment. #BoilerUp!

While I had been to Indiana before, I had never spent time in West Lafayette or Indianapolis and was pleasantly surprised by all we ended up seeing and doing.

Here are a few things to add to your to do list the next time you find yourself in Indy.

Indy Canal Walk

If you enjoy the urban outdoors, I would highly recommend our first stop—the Indy Canal Walk. This three-mile loop walking path will take you along residential buildings, a park and play area, waterfalls, and historic buildings. You can also rent paddle boats and navigate the canal itself!

We lucked out with a beautiful spring morning the day of our visit, and my favorite part of our stroll was encountering some families of ducks and geese splashing around in the water and on the banks. Ducklings and goslings are so cute!

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Athenaeum Tour

As luck would have it, we were in Indy on the second Saturday of the month–the day the Athenaeum hosts free guided walking tours of the building previously known as Das Deutsche Haus! We met my in-laws, who had driven over for a combined Mother’s Day/commencement celebration with us, and we headed to in get our tickets. There were a fair number of people waiting for the tour—enough that the women leading the event had to break us into two groups.

The building is incredible—its history even more so. Built by German immigrants in 1894, the social club was meant to help the community retain its cultural heritage and promote “a sound mind in a sound body” through physical, intellectual, and artistic pursuits. Following WWI, anti-German sentiment in the U.S. forced many similar institutions across the U.S. to close. Das Deutsche Haus was renamed in the Athenaeum in 1918 and continued to function until the 1980s when membership declined to such an extent that the Athenaeum Foundation took over the building as a historical site.

If you’re there on a day tours are not being offered, I still recommend you head inside and take advantage of the funky coffee shop and the halls of museum display information. There is a lot you can learn through the self-guided tools, although we were able to access some additional rooms and floors thanks to our guide.

While the architecture and history of the building’s use were interesting, I especially enjoyed the artifacts on display, including a hutch filled with oddly themed beer steins! The area now operated by the YMCA still houses some vestiges of the ‘sound body’ pursuits of its early occupants, including ladders against the back wall that both men and women could climb to stay in shape.

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Rathskeller

After our tour of the Athenaeum we decided to grab lunch at the building’s restaurant, the Rathskeller. We checked out the more formal dining area, which used to only be open to members, and while it was very interesting—from the big fireplaces to the wall hangings and German artifacts on display—it didn’t quite fit the mood we were in.

Instead, we headed to the Frenzel Keller Bar–a former outdoor patio that was enclosed in 1907 and converted to a social area. We enjoyed the taxidermy and décor in this area, which was added in the 1930s, as well as the amazing lineup of German fare. I am always a fan of hot pretzels, especially with the spicy mustard that accompanied these! (Note: You get one free hot pretzel with each Athenaeum tour ticket purchase!).

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City Sights

After lunch we all needed a walk so we set off on foot to check out a few other downtown highlights. From incredible architecture to street performers to monuments and statues to ‘Ann Dancing,‘ the electronic dancing lady on Massachusetts Avenue, everywhere we turned there was something new to discover.

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We only had about 12 hours in Indy, but we made the most of it! There was lots more on our list of things to see and do so I’m sure we’ll be back.

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