Indianapolis sports travel guide
Our city guides are meant to showcase the best of a metropolitan area from the perspective of a sports fan visiting to watch a game or two. Here’s our guide to the best of Indianapolis sports travel.
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Indianapolis has established itself as a center for sports in many ways, what with various large-scale events (Super Bowls, Final Fours and the like) taking place there and the Big Ten football championship game and NFL scouting combine among the events happening annually. But two sports in particular are an indelible part of the city’s sports identity.
Basketball will always be king in Indiana, as evidenced by the popularity of the movie “Hoosiers” and the prevalence of the sport in gyms and field houses throughout the state. Meanwhile, the spotlight during the month of May is reserved for auto racing, with events leading up to the Indianapolis 500 — which is always held the day before Memorial Day.
Thanks to the Colts, football plays a huge role in the city’s culture as well, and various other events around town make “Circle City” a city worth visiting nearly year-round for the sports fan.
This guide strives to help you make the most of your Indianapolis sports travel vacation.
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The landscape: Where to watch sports in Indianapolis
The two major professional sports venues in Indianapolis are located downtown, and both are hard to miss — which makes it convenient for visitors on sports travel vacations. The Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium is located on the southern edge of the downtown core, near the city’s sprawling Indiana Convention Center, while the Pacers’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse — also home to the WNBA’s Indiana Fever — is just a few blocks away, on the other side of the train tracks that cut through the area.
The old venues for both teams were also located downtown, not far from where the current stadiums are now. The RCA Dome, which hosted the Colts from 1984 to 2007, stood just across South Street from where Lucas Oil Stadium is now; the site of the Pacers’ old home, Market Square Arena, is a few blocks north of Bankers Life Fieldhouse and is now the site of businesses and apartments.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is west of downtown in the appropriately named town of Speedway.
• Bankers Life Fieldhouse: Home of the Pacers and Fever. Located at 125 S. Pennsylvania Street in downtown.
• Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Home of the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400. Located at 4790 W. 16th Street in the town of Speedway.
• Lucas Oil Stadium: Home of the Colts. Located at 500 S. Capitol Avenue.
The strategies: Arriving and getting around Indianapolis
Indianapolis International Airport (IND) is located southwest of the downtown area and serves most major U.S. cities. Each of the prominent U.S. carriers (American, Delta, United, Southwest) as well as budget options such as Spirit and Allegiant, operate service out of IND.
The city’s location makes driving a popular option for visitors. Interstates 65, 69, 70 and 74 all converge on Indy; Louisville and Cincinnati are about a two-hour drive away, while Chicago and Columbus are about three hours away.
Greyhound operates a large bus depot offering service to each of the cities mentioned above; the depot is part of Union Station at 350 Illinois Street, a short distance from Lucas Oil Stadium. Amtrak also runs service to Union Station on the Hoosier State line from Chicago, as well as the Cardinal line between Chicago and New York.
Where to stay
With the Indiana State Capitol, the Indiana Convention Center, the sports venues and countless other attractions nearby, downtown is full of hotels that can suit most budgets. The Marriott chain in particular has a heavy presence, with several of its brands within walking distance of the convention center and Lucas Oil Stadium. Train and bus travelers might find the Crowne Plaza Downtown convenient — it’s attached to Union Station.
Clusters of hotels can also be found near the Indianapolis International Airport, and might be just as convenient location-wise for visitors attending events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Click here for more information on hotels in the Indianapolis area.
Interstates 65, 70 and 74 all meet in the downtown area, while Interstate 465 is the loop highway that circles the city and provides access to the airport (and runs near Indianapolis Motor Speedway).
The city’s bus service is run by a transit service called IndyGo. The authority is currently building a system of three rapid-transit bus lines to better service destinations outside the downtown area. A system map can be found here.
Both Lucas Oil Stadium and Bankers Life Fieldhouse rely on numerous private parking lots and structures in the downtown area for most of their parking inventory. Parking passes can be purchased in advance for events via the ParkWhiz service.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is surrounded by lots both on the speedway grounds and on nearby blocks. Tailgating and camping are popular pursuits for Indy 500 and NASCAR events. For more information, click here.
The highlights: Points of interest in Indianapolis
Even if your reason for coming to Indianapolis is sports travel, the region has so much more to offer. Here are just some of the things to see:
Museums, memorials and more
Many of Indianapolis’ cultural attractions are within easy reach of the traveler staying downtown. A lot of them can be found at White River State Park, where you can find the Indiana State Museum, Eiteljorg Museum of Native American art, Indianapolis Zoo and, most notably for the sports traveler, the NCAA Hall of Champions (adjacent to the NCAA’s headquarters).
Even if a big race isn’t approaching, there’s still reason to visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The IMS Museum is open year-round and offers tours of the facility, including the chance to ride around the track and kiss the famous brick finish line, as so many past champions have done.
Indianapolis also has numerous monuments commemorating past wars and battles. The most prominent is the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, located in downtown’s Monument Circle; underneath the obelisk is the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum. A few blocks north is the Indiana World War Memorial, which also houses a museum.
History of literature
Perhaps surprisingly, Indianapolis holds a distinguished place in the history of American literature, with a number of accomplished authors and poets hailing from the city. Arguably the most well-known is Kurt Vonnegut — the museum and library dedicated to the “Slaughterhouse Five” author’s legacy is located inside downtown’s Circle Center Mall.
Not far from downtown in the Lockerbie Square historic district is the James Whitcomb Riley Museum, the former home of the 19th-century children’s poet.
Eat like a local
Indianapolis, or more broadly the state of Indiana, lays claim to a number of dishes — most prominently the pork tenderloin sandwich, the beef Manhattan (essentially an open-faced pot roast sandwich) and sugar cream pie. These items can be sampled at restaurants throughout the city, but a good starting point for food is downtown’s Indianapolis City Market, home to more than 20 food and drink vendors.
St. Elmo Steak House, likely the city’s most well-known restaurant to visitors (or, at least to viewers of the Indiana-set sitcom “Parks and Recreation”), is worth a visit to all but the budget-conscious. Its most popular item, interestingly enough, might just be the shrimp cocktail — the restaurant sells bottles of its spicy shrimp cocktail sauce.
Other hot spots for Indy cuisine include Virginia Avenue in the Fletcher Place neighborhood south of downtown (one restaurant here, Milktooth, recently made a list of the world’s best), and Massachusetts Avenue in the city’s arts district.
There are more options for your Indianapolis sports travel trip than just the Colts and Pacers. For starters, you can also catch minor-league baseball downtown — Victory Field, just across West Street from the Indiana Convention Center, is home to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians (currently an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates).
There are several college campuses in Indianapolis but the one that most sports fans likely recognize is Butler University — its men’s basketball team is currently a member of the Big East Conference but enjoyed its highest prominence when it made back-to-back NCAA championship games in 2010 and 2011. The Bulldogs’ historic home gym, Hinkle Fieldhouse, is nicknamed “Indiana’s Basketball Cathedral” and was used as a filming location for the movie “Hoosiers.”
More major college sports can be found at Indiana University and Purdue University, both members of the Big Ten. The two campuses are more than 50 miles from downtown Indianapolis — IU in Bloomington, Purdue in West Lafayette.