Cruising Circle City: Exploring Indy’s Cultural Trail
Leah Walker June 9, 2013

I’ve been fortunate to travel a lot, especially in the past year. In that time, I’ve pretty much known what to expect prior to visiting locales. I thought the Amalfi Coast would be beautiful. It was. I believed that Jordan’s vistas would be amazing. They were. I can’t remember the last time I was truly surprised by a place, until my recent trip to Indianapolis.

Indy Cultural Trail Store

You read that right—Indianapolis—the one in Indiana. Known mostly for the world-famous car race, the Indy 500, this Hoosier state capital is an incredibly underrated Midwestern city. If its neighbor to the north, Chicago, is the sexy and flashy, Angelina Jolie, then Indy is the girl-next-door, Jennifer Aniston. Wholesome, friendly, approachable, and beautiful–Indianapolis doesn’t play coy or hard-to-get and surely will capture your eye if given the chance. In fact, she’s pretty easy to get to know. All you have to do is follow the trail.

Indy Cultural Trail

The full name is Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene & Marilyn Glick and comes from Indiana real estate developer, Gene Glick and his wife, Marilyn. They donated $15 million to the project to go along with $12.5 million from other sources. This eight-foot wide bicycle and pedestrian path opened in May 2013 after twelve years of planning, six years of construction, and $63 million.

Indy Cultural Trail Art

There’s nothing else like Indianapolis’ Cultural Trail in the United States or probably the world, with the closest being the bike-friendly, Amsterdam. The city closed a lane of traffic along selected downtown streets and connects Indy’s five cultural districts: Fountain Square, Indiana Avenue, Mass Ave, the Canal and White River State Park, and the Wholesale District.

Indy Cultural Trail Fountain Square

The eight-mile Cultural Trail loops around the city and takes visitors past museums, parks, monuments, restaurants, and shops; it essentially serves as a self-guided tour to some of the best attractions and activities Indy has to offer. The trail is a great way for visitors to get a feel for the city and hit the high points in a little amount of time. Though, it’s not simply for visitors; locals use the trail to easily move in between neighborhoods and even commute to and from work.

Indy Cultural Trail Flowers 2

Since I’m a believer that the journey is just as important as the destination, my afternoon bike ride around the Cultural Trail was probably one of the most fun things I’ve done in quite some time. And since I was cruising around with the director of the Cultural Trail, Kären Haley, I got all the background and some great tid-bits on the project. But, having learned from Michael Hodson’s Costa Rican bike nightmare, I decided it best not to film or take notes along the way.

Indy Cultural Trail Flowers 3

Here are my take-a-ways on my afternoon cruising along Indy’s Cultural Trail:

Visitors and locals alike can rent a bike at Indy Bike Hub, which is a YMCA in downtown. For as little as $15 for one hour or $40 for the entire day, you get a super-comfortable bike and helmet. Since the Cultural Trail runs right in front of the YMCA, it’s easy to get started from there. {Psst…A little birdie told me that a bike share program like in Paris and Rio is in the works.}

Indy Bike Trail
Indy is a flat city, so you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to take on the trail.

The people in Indianapolis are really friendly, so if you nearly hit one of them with your bike you’re not going to be verbally abused. I may or may not know this due to first-hand experience.

Indy Cultural Trail Art 1

The landscaping along the trail is simply stunning. It’s meticulously manicured with some of the most beautiful flowers and greenery around. The cool thing is that the beds have been designed so that something is always in bloom no matter the season. Can you imagine how difficult that must be during an Indy winter? Awesome!

The path is easily followed thanks to the pretty pavers that make up the trail, as well as the painted logo on the city streets. You’d have to be an idiot to get lost.

Indy Cultural Trail Art Grate Smell

The artwork was the biggest surprise and probably my favorite aspect of the trail. Each piece is special and has an interesting story behind it. In my mind the most unique is the Chatham Passage. At first glance, it looks like an ornate grate embedded in the trail, but take a whiff. In fact, it’s essentially a giant Glade Plug-in that gives off a fresh laundry scent.

Indy Cultural Trail Art Bus Stop

Don’t think that a regular bus stop along the Cultural Trail will do. Nope. They have poetry emblazoned across what looks like stained glass. Catch it at the right time of the day and the words are projected on the sidewalk in front of the bus stop. There’s also a brightly colored Looking through the Windows piece that was created based on house windows seen throughout the neighboring area.

Indy Cultural Trail Art Care/Don't Care

Even a regular-looking crosswalk sign is art. Instead of the usual “Walk/Don’t Walk” this art piece is called and reads Care/Don’t Care. It certainly made me do a double take. And the four-sided LED display called Ann Dancing in the Mass. Ave. Cultural District is fun and even made an appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Indy Cultural Trail Art Dancing Ann

As if $15 million wasn’t enough for the trail, Marilyn and Gene Glick also donated $2 million for the Peace Walk public art that is dedicated to humanitarians like the Wright Brothers, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, and Jonas Salk. You can watch about the creation of the Peace Walk here.

Indy Cultural Trail Art Peace Walk

Murals are everywhere. Artists created 46 of them in honor of Super Bowl XLVI that was held in the city in 2012. My favorite is the giant one of Indy native, Kirk Vonnegut, Jr. by Pamela Bliss. It’s located near Ann Dancing in the Mass Ave. Cultural District.

Indy Cultural Trail Mural

I was pleasantly surprised by my trip to Indianapolis. Although I’d been there seven years ago for a Final Four, I didn’t get the chance to really explore the city. Seeing that the Cultural Trail wasn’t built at the time, I’d say that my most recent visit was well-timed. In fact, I’m already plotting my return where you can be sure that I’ll set out by bike once again.

I was a guest of Visit Indy, but in no way was I swayed to write a positive review by the cloudless, sunny skies, the colorful art installments, or the honey wine I drank along the Cultural Trail. As always, opinions are my own.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

33 Comments

  1. Hi Leah, I too found this city amazing, probably often underrated. SATW held its annual convention there last year. I particularly liked the Culture Trail and canal, Vonnegut mural, and the fact that Indy has the most war memorials outside Washington DC. Did you get a chance to dine at St. Elmo Steak House, one of the best in the nation? I wrote a blog on that alone! Hope TBEX was productive. Going to France next … Brittany, Normandy, Loire Valley and Paris. Happy Travels.

    1. That’s so awesome, Richard! When will you be in France? I’ll be there at some point in July. First Houston then Barcelona and next France? Ha!

    1. I’m not sure if Indy is your sort of place, but they do have some very cute shops, fab restaurants, and great museums that you’d enjoy. 🙂

    1. Thanks so much, Maralyn. I can’t wait to hear what you think after your trip. Let me know if you need any recs.

  2. I’m glad to hear of an American city creating opportunities for walkers, runners and cyclists to get out and enjoy their city while also experiencing arts and culture. I’m really looking forward to experiencing this first hand in the future.

    1. One of the routes that I will write about later takes you through White River Park and by the zoo. It has a great view of the city. Oh, and the canals are wonderful. That’s another post though.

  3. I love reading about places people were really surprised about. My surprising travel destination was Latvia, I really wasn’t sure what to expect but it ended up being on my favourite list!

    1. I find that when you go into a place without many expectations you end up being quite pleased. I was that way with Prague. I adore that city and knew very little about it. Same with Indy.

    1. It was certainly a post card worthy day. Sunny…not too hot…breezy…I couldn’t have asked for better weather to experience the trail. The Peace Walk was very profound. I didn’t get to spend enough time there.

  4. First off, I’m really digging the new page design! Secondly, lol @ “The one in Indiana”! Ah, Indianapolis…. I’ve been there a few times but haven’t done the Cultural Trail. Seems like a great way to spend a day or two and see quite a bit of the city. I’m so glad you enjoyed your time there and that you’re showing the world some more of what the Midwest has to offer!

    1. Hahahaha…well, I just wanted to make sure that people knew what state it’s in. After all, Kansas City is in Missouri. 😉 I think Indy would be a great long weekend trip for you and the family from Chicago. They have all kinds of transport to explore the Cultural Trail in White River Park. You can load up the kids in this four-seat golf cart looking thing and cruise around the park. It’s pedal powered, so you’ll have to do a little work, but it looked like fun. Think about it!

  5. Well the fact that it is an idiot-proof trail sways me a bit more toward this venture! It is a great idea for tourism and I could be into exploring the Jennifer Aniston of cities!

    1. If you’re so inclined, you can bar hop around the Cultural Trail while exploring all the offerings of the various districts. Could be fun.

    1. There’s lots of cool sculptures throughout. One of my favorites that I didn’t get a picture of was the tree stump. It looked like a real tree stump. Had it not been pointed out to me I wouldn’t have known it was actually art.

  6. Love getting out and exploring – looks like they have put loads of thought into making this a great experience for tourists and pretty sweet for locals too! Love the poetry inspired glass…nice touch.

    1. It was a labor of love for the city and I say kudos to them. It was money well spent in my mind. They actually had a state-wide contest to get the poetry for the bus stops. Can you imagine being a winner and driving by your poem every day? So cool!

    1. Yep, DJ, you’ll have to venture out of Florida and head up to Indy. I hear they have hotels and golf courses (and doughnuts), so you’d surely love it. 🙂

  7. Very interesting concept! I had not heard of it – thanks for sharing it with so many pictures!

    1. There’s lots of really cool museums that I think you’d enjoy along the trail that I think you’d enjoy, Raul. Keep a look out for flights to Indy from Atlanta. I think it would be a great weekend trip for you.

  8. I need to do this. Now that I love biking, it’s the perfect way to see a city. PS love the scarf!

    1. Yep. I think this would be right up your alley. Don’t count on it for real exercise though. It’s about a 2 out of 10 in terms of difficulty. A bar and restaurant crawl would be a very cool thing to do one Sunday afternoon. #RWINDY?

  9. This post makes me want to wander Indiana. Glad to know I don’t need performance enhancing drugs to be able to make the circuit. Love the new page although I will miss Leah blasting off.

    1. Yeah, Ted. It’d be a cool trip from Chicago. I’m pretty sure you can rent a kayak or canoe to venture through White River. I know that would be up your alley. Plus they have beer there, so you know, you’d be ok. Thanks for the love on my new design. I’ll send you a copy of my old design and you can put it on your fridge. 😉

  10. I was there a few years back as well for a Final Four. Was impressed with the city. Hearing about the trail has me thinking a return day trip. Great pictures highlighting!

    1. You should, Aaron. It wouldn’t be that far from Detroit. Grab a bike and get going around that trail. It’s the best $40 you’ll spend.

  11. Thanks for the great review! I’m planning a move back to Indy after being away for 10 years. I’m coming from a major metropolitan city that is not bike or pedestrian friendly. It is great to hear about the development of the trail from an adventurous woman’s perspective. Your insight made me that much more excited to get out and explore! Bike is the best way to see any city, in my opinion and you are correct, the people there are so nice!

  12. I’m out on the trail almost every day and these are some of the best photos of the trail I’ve seen out on the many stories & blogs written about it – glad you enjoyed your spin around Indy!

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