From the late Victorian era to the mid-20th century, Indiana was a powerhouse of industry and agriculture, but middle-class Hoosiers were determined to make it their capital Indianapolis more than a crossing in a cornfield. The museums they founded were so extensive and innovative that they still stand out today.
Frame a visit to Indianapolis’ museums around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, located in Monument Circle, a circular park that anchors downtown Indy. Its limestone spire is 84.5 feet tall, almost as tall as the Statue of Liberty. A short drive north of downtown Indy are its crown jewels: the Children’s Museum and new fieldsthe campus, which includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art and adjacent gardens.
Half a mile west of Monument Circle you will find the White River State Park, with its wealth of museums, including the worth seeing Eiteljorg Museum and the Indiana State Museum. If you fancy a stroll, the on-campus museums at White River State Park offer the perfect combination of cardio and culture.
Here’s a look at Indianapolis’ top six museums.
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
Best museum for families
You’ll know you’re in a museum that doesn’t take itself too seriously when you spot a giant dinosaur poking its head through the museum’s glass wall. One of the oldest and largest children’s museums in the world Children’s Museum of Indianapolis offers multiple floors of hands-on learning for kids ages 2 and up. Most exhibits offer learning experiences for all skill levels, so everyone in the family can find something to nudge, pull, or learn from. In a miniature village, preschoolers can explore buildings scaled specifically for them, while school-age children can admire exhibits about trains, Greece and history. The attraction of the full-fledged carousel knows no age limits.
The museum refreshed and expanded its Dinosphere exhibit for March 2022, and visitors will travel back in time to hear the earth tremble beneath the dinosaurs’ feet and hear them screech overhead. Kids can crawl through a secret tunnel and emerge amidst the foliage of an exhibit for a 360-degree view from a baby dinosaur’s point of view. Be sure to visit the Dinosaur Art Gallery on the second floor, where you can feed your art into an animation projector and watch your dinos dance across the wall. The museum’s paleontologists host field children’s demos and questions in their lab.
Outside, the 17-acre sports park invites visitors to try golf, basketball, baseball and other popular sports under the watchful eye of statues of great Hoosier sports legends. Nobody grows old from the Children’s Museum – Kids at Heart should check the website for adult-only evening events.
Indiana Historical Society
Best Museum for Traditional Artifacts
President Abraham Lincoln famously arrived in southern Indiana as a 7-year-old child and left as a 21-year-old man, but he’s not the only famous Hoosier. special exhibitions in Indiana Historical Society show people who defied the stereotypes of this agricultural state, such as Jewish merchants who built elaborate department stores in the Golden Age, musicians and masters of craft and art.
See how a digitally animated piano mimics the touch of Indiana-born musician Cole Porter, who evoked jazz as the original American music genre. The society’s history laboratory gives visitors a rare glimpse into the brushes, chemicals, and techniques curators use to preserve and display irreplaceable artifacts.
Art Museum of Indianapolis
The best museum for lovers of gardens and traditional western art
That Art Museum of Indianapolis is the centerpiece in a tiara of gardens and smaller historic outbuildings. The museum’s main gallery displays paintings and sculptures ranging from the classical 17th-century European masters to Ghanaian sculpture. The collection is particularly deep in American art from the 19th to mid-20th centuries, with works by masters such as Albert Bierstadt, Edward Hopper and Claes Oldenburg.
The gardens closest to the museum are formal and well maintained before merging into a natural area. The site includes several restored small historic buildings, allowing visitors to create an itinerary that integrates visual art, architecture, and nature.
The best museum for Americana geeks
That Eiteljörg Museum has transformed its original collection of conqueror-centric art into a platform that tells the story of the American West through the perspectives of Native Americans, settlers, artists, naturalists, early environmentalists, and industrialists. Its collections still include the frozen fury of prancing horse sculptures and wandering cowboys captured by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, but the pieces are now presented on an equal footing with works by Native American artists. Curators have expanded the vision to include special exhibitions such as The West as Interpreted by Andy Warhol. The museum hosts an Indian market and festival throughout the summer, complementing its extensive collections of native textiles, pottery and sculpture.
Best Museum of Living History from Multiple Perspectives
In 1802, 25-year-old William Conner married Mekinges, a Delaware Native American woman, and began to forge connections and lay claim to a lavish expanse of rich lands. His home is the centerpiece of this museum, which packs the full breadth of living history into its exhibits, almost all of them outdoors.
Its variety of historical interpretations and integrated activities make Conner Prairie one of the premier living history museums in the country. Lenape camp invites children to explore tents and Native American industries, such as methods of hollowing canoes out of logs. Overlooking the meadow, just a short walk away is the actual home that William built and filled with children from two marriages, one to a Native American woman and one to a white woman.
The adjoining barn houses sheep, goats and other vegetation controlling species. Walk past the wooden fence into Prairietown, where rough hewn houses and a shop, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop and lumber shop are inhabited by local re-enactor settlers from the 1850s.
Conner Prairie is a half-hour drive north of Monument Circle in the suburb of Fishers.
Indiana State Museum
Best museum for immersive state history
The Lively sets the standard for Midwestern state museums Indiana State Museum brings energy and focus to the state’s natural and human history for visitors to see at its state parks. Stand next to a real mammoth skeleton, hold replica pioneering pickaxes used by the prairie pioneers, and rest your shoulder on a two-person saw to experience what it was like to live in different Indiana habitats through the ages.
Visitors can see an actual hammer hoisted by Lincoln and compare fossils with artistic renderings of the ancient animals. The museum oversees 11 other historic sites across the state and links them into timelines so you can put your road trip stops in context.