Thinking of a family vacation this holiday season? Check out what Indianapolis has to offer – the city comes alive during the holidays! Just two hours from Champaign-Urbana, Indianapolis is very accessible by car — and in fact, we find the traffic much more manageable than Chicago.
There’s something for everyone during the Indy holiday season, from lights to markets to Santa sightings and holiday trains.
We’ve listed some of our favorite attractions in and around the city, many of which have special events during the holiday season. As always, check individual websites for up-to-date details and ticket price information before leaving home.
(We wish there was a bus or train connection from Champaign-Urbana to Indianapolis, but hey, nothing’s perfect).
Circle of Lights, downtown Indianapolis — One of the few FREE attractions on this list, the Monument Circle Christmas Tree is a big Indianapolis tradition — each year the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial is decorated like a Christmas tree to celebrate the holiday season. A lighting ceremony is held annually on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but you can see the lights through New Year’s Eve. travel density named the Circle of Lights one of the nation’s five must-see Christmas trees. United States today also listed the Circle of Lights as one of the “10 Best Holiday Attractions”.
Christmas Market, Carmel — The Carmel Christkindlmarkt is an open-air Christmas market in traditional German style. Here you will find a mix of traditional German food and gifts sold in small wooden huts; The market surrounds an outdoor skating rink (be sure to reserve your skating time in advance). Check the calendar for special events like a menorah lighting, a Saint Nicholas Day celebration, meet Santa and more. Worth knowing: Carmel Market is home to world-renowned German woodworkers who share their craft and culture through demonstrations. The market is open on select days from November 19th to December 30th, 2022 and entry to the market is FREE (a fee applies for skates and/or skate rental).
Celebration Crossing, Indiana State Museum, downtown Indianapolis — On the Friday after Thanksgiving, Santa Claus comes down in a helicopter to the front lawn of the museum, lights a tree and starts Celebration Crossing. Visit Santa’s front yard and reindeer barn. Ride the ADA-accessible Snowfall Express train. One of the things we love about Celebration Crossing is the VARIETY of Santa experiences – Santa Josiah, Heart 2 Heart Santa and a few others. Celebration Crossing runs from November 25 to January 1, 2023 and is included with museum admission (events like photos with Santa Claus may cost extra).
Jolly Day’s Winter Wonderland at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum — What else can we say about the ICM? See our review here. Jolly Days Winter Wonderland is open Nov 25, 2022 – Jan 1, 2023and includes manufacturing Snow in the giant snow globe, meet characters like the Clauses, ‘ice skate’ in your socks, explore the ice castle, watch special shows and more. After a break in 2021, the Christmas slide is BACK. Bonus: If you need to do some Christmas shopping, this place has a great gift shop. Regular admission prices apply, with additional fees for certain special events.
Jingle Rails at the Eiteljorg Museum in downtown Indianapolis — Jingle Rails is a G-scale model railroad wonderland featuring nine working model trains that meander through a stunning miniature landscape constructed from natural materials and decorated with festive lights. Trains travel around miniature Indianapolis landmarks and then west through native villages and landmarks like the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. The Eiteljorg Museum, which immerses visitors into diverse Western and Native American cultures, has a family-friendly hands-on exhibit on the ground floor, complete with a few “horses” and a stagecoach you can hop on and take a family photo. 2022-23 dates for Jingle Rails are from Nov. 23 to Jan. 13, 2023. Regular admission prices apply. A bonus: children under 4 are free, and this museum validates parking in the lot below. (Note: If you’re staying in downtown Indianapolis, bring your room key for a discount!)
Conner Prairie, fisherman — We raved about Conner Prairie when we visited in 2015 — it’s one of those unique family destinations that really appeals to all ages. There’s something for everyone, whether it’s engaging with the reenactors, making crafts, petting the animals, or hands-on STEM learning (without realizing it). During A Merry Prairie Holiday, families can experience 19th-century Christmas Eve traditions in Prairietown, see an old-fashioned tramp show at Potter Shop Kiln Shed, enjoy the ‘sock rink’ and take selfies with Santa and Mrs. Claus , and more. Our favorite might be meeting Trinket Puddingmoon, Santa’s official list leader; Check in and find out which list you made (naughty or nice, of course). New for 2022: From 1836 Prairietown to 1863 Civil War Journey, a new array of holiday lights is sure to dazzle and delight. Select dates between November 25th and December 22nd 2022 so check website for dates and entry including special ASL tours.
Indianapolis Zoo — No, it’s not free like St. Louis or Lincoln Park, but we love the Indy Zoo. Did you know it was the first zoo in the US to have Christmas lights? During Christmas at the Zoo, enjoy special evening lighting that has been nominated as one of the best in the United States. Visit some of Santa’s reindeer in his barn and look out for a penguin encounter, weather permitting. 2022 burn from 19.11. – 30.12. The lights go on (almost) every night and are included in regular zoo admission. New this year, meet new holiday characters Sprinkles and Holly and enjoy their nightly storytelling.
Shapiro’s Deli in downtown Indianapolis — OK, so this isn’t a holiday attraction, but if you want to get a potato pancake for a Hanukkah nod, this is the place. Best Jewish soul food within a 120 mile radius (at least). Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls, Corned Beef on Rye, Great Fried Chicken and more. There’s a kids’ menu with all the favorites, but the cafeteria vibe still makes this restaurant pretty kid-friendly. Bring home rye bread, bagels, or other treats. There’s also an airport location, but for the full effect, head downtown. We don’t visit Indy without stopping here.
Winter Lights at Newfields – Newfields is the name of the 152-acre campus that houses the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) as well as historic landscapes, gardens, performance spaces and outdoor sculpture. winter lights transforms Newfields into a winter wonderland with over a million and a half lights. Look out for the special “Latkes and Lights” Hanukkah takeover (this year on December 18), when the windows of Lilly House are illuminated with menorahs and Stars of David, and special snacks include sufganiyot and latkes. On December 15th, Newfields and Arte Mexicano en Indiana are teaming up for the Las Posadas acquisition of Winterlights, which will feature musical performances and decadent Mexican hot chocolate and delicious churros. Santa Claus and carol singers will be at Winterlights on select nights. The spectacle runs from November 20, 2022 to January 8, 2023, with advance ticket purchase required; Prices vary.
Christmas Nights of Lights, Indiana State Fairgrounds – This drive-thru Christmas light show features “over 1 million lights synced to traditional and newer rocking Christmas music played through your car stereo.” Tickets must be purchased in advance and are timed for entry in one of two 2-hour time slots; The whole experience takes about 30 minutes. The show will run from November 11, 2022 to January 1, 2023, regardless of the weather. Admission is charged per car at a cost of $30 per car (up to 8 passengers must travel together in a single vehicle). Group rates are available.
OFF THE TOURIST PATH
- dr Who North America, Camby: If you have friends or family members who Dr. Who are fans, then make a stop at the largest Dr. Who store in North America. They even have a small “museum area” filled with memorabilia from Dr. Who from 50+ years and some merchandise not found anywhere else. And yes, have your picture taken with the TARDIS. Currently closed on Sundays so plan your trip accordingly if you go.
- Mayberry Cafe, Danville, Indiana: This quaint town just west of Indianapolis has a TV attraction you’ve probably never seen: the Mayberry Cafe. Complete with a police car parked in front. This restaurant prides itself on Aunt Bea’s home cooking and I can personally vouch that you won’t leave hungry. Have your kids watch a snippet of Andy Griffith on YouTube before you leave so they understand. Very family friendly.
More fun on city vacations: Chicago Fun for Families during the holiday season
Want local ideas for holiday (or everyday) fun? Check out our calendar of events. Looking for more? Subscribe to our Home for the Holidays newsletter.
Everything about the holiday season in and around Champaign-Urbana