The 5 Best Day Trips from Indianapolis: Enjoy Tibetan Culture, Bourbon Tours and Foodie Hotspots – Lonely Planet Travel News | Candle Made Easy

As the host of the Indy 500 – the world’s largest one-day sporting event – Indianapolis has earned a reputation as the racing capital of the world. If the revving engines of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway inspire you to take a ride, the city has connections to all four major interstate highways, earning it the nickname “The Crossroads of America.”

If you find yourself in town for a sports game or a trip to the world’s largest children’s museum, don’t rush home when you’re done. You’ll find plenty to do within a two-hour drive, whether you enjoy sunbathing in nature or slowly sipping sour ales.

Here are five of the best day trips from Indianapolis.

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Bloomington is a center of Tibetan culture in the US © Craig Lovell / Getty Images

Bloomington, Indiana

Why go: Experience Tibetan culture

The small university town of Bloomington has a surprising infusion of Tibetan culture thanks to the late brother of the Dalai Lama, who was a professor at Indianapolis University. While in town, you can learn about Tibetan heritage and visit one of only two Tibetan chortens in the country at the Tibeto-Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. You can even taste traditional Tibetan food at Anyetsang’s.

For a city of less than 100,000 people, Bloomington boasts more than 350 restaurants. Visit the farm-to-fork Small Favors Bar for a literal taste of Bloomington or The Elm, for American fine dining with touches of Mediterranean and North African flavors.

After refueling we head out into nature. Just outside Bloomington is Monroe Lake, where you can swim in the summer, fish or rent a pair of jet skis to cool off.

How do I get to Bloomington?

It’s a 51-mile drive from Indianapolis to Bloomington, and it takes about an hour and 15 minutes on Interstate 69. Bloomington is most conveniently reached by car, but if you’re at Indianapolis International Airport, you can take the GO Express Shuttle.

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Why go: Take advantage of the downtown food scene

Though not as big as Indianapolis, Fort Wayne is perfect for the foodie family, with creative concept restaurants and diverse cuisines in close proximity to each other. Mercado On The Landing temporarily transports you to the West Coast with its Californian-Mexican options, while Japanese restaurant Haru Sushi & Izakaya offers some of the freshest sushi in town. Fortezza Coffee can pull a few shots to give you a caffeine boost (don’t miss the French Toast Creme Brûlée). Do you get that “somewhere at 5 o’clock” vibe? Visit Copper Spoon and choose from 100 cocktails, from Adonis to Zombie.

After all the food sampling, explore Fort Wayne on foot along the Public Art Trail. Downtown is easy to wander, and the interactive Science Central provides an engaging learning portal for kids. Just steps away is the Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, where seasonal exhibits will make you forget you’re in the middle of a busy downtown. If you’re a fan of the bold Vera Bradley brand, the newly built Bradley Hotel offers exclusive prints that can only be purchased on site.

How do I get to Fort Wayne?

It’s a straight shot down Interstate 69 to get from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne by car and the route is approximately 125 miles. The Barons Bus runs once a day from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne, taking passengers to the Botanical Conservatory. The bus time is comparable to driving and costs about $20 per ticket.

Visitors crowd into the Rheingeist brewery.
Cincinnati is known for its breweries, including Rhinegeist © Luke.Travel / Shutterstock

Cincinnati, Ohio

Why go: Hitchhike through the underground brewery tunnels

In Cincinnati, take a tour of underground brewery tunnels dating back more than 100 years to see what one of America’s premier lager-brewing cities looked like before Prohibition.

Cincinnati’s emphasis on innovation while incorporating its rich history has lent itself to all types of thriving small businesses. Wondering what one of these tunnels would look like if filled with life? Four floors below street level, Ghost Baby is an underground bar built out of a brewery tunnel with live music, small bites and immaculate design. Creative collisions like this often happen in Cincinnati, making it a perfect romantic day trip for couples that could easily stretch into a weekend. For fine dining, French and Italian restaurant Metropole is another example that shares space with an art museum.

For a more casual experience, head to Ohio’s oldest continuously operating public market, Findlay Market. There are dozens of vendors and foodie treats here, from arepas to falafel wraps. Donut lovers should get a donut pass to follow the Butler County Donut Trail, but you definitely need a car.

How do I get to Cincinnati?

Driving to Cincinnati from Indianapolis on Interstate 74 takes about two hours. Baron’s bus leaves Indianapolis twice a day, as does Greyhound, but the bus takes about an hour longer than the trip. Amtrak has a three-hour train on the Cardinal Line that takes you to Cincinnati. But plan ahead – there are only three departures per week.

New Harmony, Indiana

Why go: Take an architectural tour of a utopian society

Originally the site of two different attempts at utopian community, since 1819 New Harmony has grown into a center for artisans making textiles, soaps and woodwork. The community also boasts sculptural art and world-renowned architecture. New Harmony’s visitor center, the stunning Atheneum was designed by modernist architect Richard Meier.

Stroll through the New Harmony Harmonist Labyrinth and feel the world slow down with only the riddle in front of you. Don’t worry about getting lost among the privet hedges – you’ll find your way out eventually.

Architecture enthusiasts shouldn’t miss the Roofless Church, an open-air concept designed to create a space for all humanity to pray under one roof: heaven. While some find the quiet garden courtyard spooky, others find it relaxed. The church was designed by Phillip Johnson, known for his modern architecture in New York. The minimalist design of the parachute-like altar makes the church a place of contrast in a city of more than a dozen 19th-century buildings.

When you’re ready to shake off the silence, grab a bite and a break at Black Lodge Coffee Roasters, a small roastery and cafe that serves creative latte flavors like sorghum, sage, and bourbon barrel stout. The café also provides a glimpse into the New Harmony art scene through its monthly artist shows. For more art, the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art presents an impressive collection of fine art from international and local artists.

How do I get to New Harmony?

The journey to this strange little town is longer than the average day trip from Indianapolis. But it’s worth the drive to New Harmony, just over three hours or 180 miles from Indianapolis. You can get there by taking I-69. Buses and trains do not run between Indianapolis and New Harmony, so driving is the only option.

Close up shot of bourbon in glasses in row on bar
When visiting Louisville, don’t miss a bourbon tour © Caia Images /500px

Louisville, Kentucky

Why go: Follow the Bourbon Trail

What would a visit to Bourbon City be without a Bourbon tour? The Urban Bourbon Trail has a program that offers discounts at various bourbon restaurants and bars around town. Even when you’re not drinking, Louisville is known for its vibrant urban culture and culinary landscape, making it one of Indiana’s top day trips for museums and food.

The Muhammad Ali Center is a famous, award-winning museum that celebrates the lives of Louisville residents. The interactive, three-story museum delves deep into the history of the greatest boxer of all time and engages visitors with civil rights issues of the 1960s and 70s. If you like museums in general, the Louisville Legends Ticket gives you access to the Muhammad Ali Center, as well as three other top Louisville museums: the Kentucky Derby Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory, and the Frazier History Museum, which just happens to be be the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

While Louisville is known for its bourbon and sports legends, the city is also the birthplace of Modjeska candy, a marshmallow caramel candy. Muth’s is a sweet tooth’s paradise and the perfect place to try it.

As evening falls, the Copper and King’s rooftop bar offers stunning views of the Louisville skyline and sunset.

How to get from Indianapolis to Louisville?

To get to Louisville from Indianapolis, drive 112 miles along I-65. The journey takes a little less than two hours. Alternatively, you can take Greyhound to Louisville. Several buses run daily between the two cities. Depending on the selected departure time, Greyhound takes two to three and a half hours.

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