10,000 steps Indianapolis: a downtown guide

10000 Steps Indianapolis- a walking guide

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve come around to the use of an activity tracker, particularly when it gets me outside and seeing new things. In honor of that, I figured I should show off my city in a way that helps other fanatics get in their steps for the day. Yes, all 10,000 of them.

May I present 10,000 steps Indianapolis, an easy way to get in all of your steps for the day as well as get a feel for what downtown Indianapolis has to offer!* Are you ready?

*FYI, 10,000 steps is around 5 miles! With stops and everything included, this would take up pretty much a whole afternoon/evening.

A photo posted by Polly Barks (@letslovelocal) on

1 | the Central Library and Indiana War Memorial

The 10000 steps Indianapolis tour starts at the Indianapolis Central Library rather arbitrarily (well, actually, it’s close to my house) so get yourselves a few blocks north of downtown to start.

At the front of the library is the original 1917 Indiana limestone library building which overlooks the American Legion Mall. The original building retains its old-world charm with a large study area in its wooden-paneled halls. As beautiful as the 1917 building is, it became clear an addition was needed as Indy grew and the new addition quickly became a welcome modern compliment to the older building.

Pro tip: head to the sixth floor to get a perfect sunset shot of downtown Indianapolis. There are many tables facing that window so be sure to grab a book or bring your laptop while you wait for the sun to set.

As you head south down Meridian Street, be sure to stop for a photo op at the Scottish Rites Cathedral, a Freemason enclave open for tours Thursday through Saturday.

At the far end of the American Legion Mall is the Indiana War Memorial. Head inside to the see the museum dedicated to Hoosier soldiers throughout history and take time to reflect in the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Shrine Room. Afterwards, climb to the top of the steps for a photo op of downtown Indianapolis’ historic buildings.

Indianapolis Canal Walk and the Indiana State Museum

2 | the Canal Walk and Indiana State Museum

To continue the 10,000 step Indianapolis trek, head west on West New York Street to hit the Canal Walk.* Part of Indy’s central canal excavated in the 1800s, the formerly utilitarian commerce path has been repurposed into a bucolic pedestrian area. You can simply walk the canal, rent a bike from the bikeshare program, or even rent a paddle boat or gondola!

*If you’re looking for an extra dose of culture, head one block north and follow West Vermont Street to visit the Vonnegut Memorial Library just next to the canal walk.

As you head further south on the canal, follow the curve and you’ll soon see some of Indy’s most culturally significant museums: the Indiana Historical Society, the Indiana State Museum, and the Eiteljorg Museum. While the museums may be a bit pricey, all are worth a visit depending on what your interests are.

Indiana Statehouse

3 | the Indiana Statehouse

Make your way back downtown and follow the gently faded green dome to the entrance of the Indiana Statehouse (FYI: the public entrance is up the steps on the Capitol Street side). The 1888 structure is relatively young as far as political institutions go but manages to retain an old-world charm.

The interior of the statehouse is absolutely stunning although the low light makes it a bit tricky, photography-wise. Best of all, the public is totally free to wander around at will and kind staffers will even offer to open up locked rooms for you if you look interested enough. (At least in my experience.) Tours are available Monday through Saturday but if you prefer to fly solo, I’d suggest heading to the second floor to mingle with staffers watching the proceedings on a small TV and then to the third floor to capture some photos of the statehouse from above.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

4 | the Circle

Of course the must-see of Indianapolis’ central circle is the massive Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Created in the late 19th century to honor the common sailor, the monument has become an indelible part of Indianapolis’ downtown. Towering at 285 feet high, inside the base of the monument is the small Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum and a gift shop. If you’re very brave, you can take an elevator up to the cramped observation deck for just $2. Alternatively, you can also get your exercise for the week by trudging up all 331 stairs and be rewarded with a view of the surrounding area.

If you’re looking for other great nearby ideas, you could try:

  • South Bend Chocolate Co: satisfy your sweet tooth (and get some sugar in you for the long hike ahead!) with some of this Indiana-based chocolate!
  • Christ Church Cathedral: built in 1857, the church is the oldest structure on the Circle. Head inside for some quiet contemplation on the beautiful interior
  • Hilbert Circle Theater: home of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the National Historic Register building can hold up to 1,700 audience members

A photo posted by Polly Barks (@letslovelocal) on

5 | the City-County Building Observation Deck

Is there anything better than feeling like you have a little secret between you and your city? That’s the way the almost-secret City-County Building Observation Deck feels. The observation deck is not very well advertised despite being in a major government building and the home to a collection of Indy-specific memorabilia.

Be sure to ask the receptionist at the lobby to point you in the right direction of the totally free way to see Indianapolis from above!

Indianapolis City Market - 10,000 Steps Indianapolis

6 | the City Market

Since 1886, the iconic brick Indianapolis City Market building has operated as an open space for food sales. Originally an open-air market, today the building offers excellent cuisine and a community gathering

place. Today the market offers two floors: the first floor is made up of 32 different stalls while the second floor is an overlooking balcony with some vendors and plenty of table space for chowing down.

Be sure to try:

  • The Tamale Place: creating their tamales using the traditional Mexican recipe, The Tamale Place offers a sizable range of (huge!) tamales that come in under $4 each
  • Circle City Sweets: each of their sweet creations is not only delicious, but beautiful. They also have recently started offering a range of sweet and savory breakfast options
  • Mile Square Coffee Roastery: a full espresso and pour-over bar from this small-batch roastery is available on the top floor of the market

Mass Ave Indianapolis

7 | Mass Ave

The final stop of the 10,000 steps Indianapolis tour is Mass Ave, one of Indianapolis’ most hopping locations. For eating, shopping, and walking like a hip young thang, there’s no place better than Massachusetts Avenue – just be sure your budget can handle the diagonally-facing street!

For shopping, try Silver in the City (jewelry and offbeat gifts), Global Gifts (international fair trade goods), Homespun: Modern Handmade (contemporary homemade goods), and Indy Reads Books (used books in an amazing space).

If you’re feeling peckish, Bakersfield Tacos, Tequila & Whiskey Bar, Mesh on Mass, Yats (cheap!) or head to the far north end of Mass Ave for Black Market. Drinks must include Ball and Biscuit (pre-Prohibition cocktail list!), Saint Joseph Brewery, or Old Point Tavern.

For a full list of everything happening on Mass Ave, check out the Discover Mass Ave website!

Now the question becomes: would you undertake the 10,000 steps Indianapolis tour with me? Have you ever done something similar in another city?

  • Indy is really great looking! I’ll have to visit sometime 🙂

    • Yes! Do it & you’ll have a built-in guide who will force you to tour al day long 😉

  • I love the idea of a travel guide based on the number of steps you take! I find when I’m exploring somewhere on foot, I get to see so much more. Plus, 10,000 steps (or more!) never hurt anyone.
    Elizabeth recently posted…Aga Khan Museum SundayMy Profile

    • I definitely prefer walking to traveling any other way. Once you get going too fast, you miss all the little details which make a place so special!

  • Ray

    You definitely can get a good workout at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument! I walked up all 330 steps during my visit this past Memorial Day Weekend, and nearly passed out from exhaustion from the climb. Looks like I need to start doing some “10,000 steps tours” around my hometown of Toronto then! 🙂
    Ray recently posted…Indianapolis 500 Accommodations – La Quinta Inn & Suites Indianapolis DowntownMy Profile

    • Yeah, I walked up one day last winter when it was frigid – can’t imagine how rough it would be if it were even a little hot!

      And that would be great! I’d love to see that guide to Toronto!
      Polly recently posted…Road trip hack: the ultra-quick pit stop picnicMy Profile

  • Monica Willits

    We followed this on Saturday! It was a fantastic day:-) The library had a guided tour pamphlet that showed us a few stopping points. The war memorial… No words! Seriously fantastic(and Free? Crazy) the Canal walk was like being in San Antonio Texas and I hope they light it up at Christmas. Stopped at Rock Bottom brewery for lunch. Food was yummy. Beer was nothing I’d go out of my way for. We skipped the Soldiers and Salors monument only because we had been there before. The state building gave me chills knowing President Lincoln had been there. Totally heart broken that the county-state building was not open on Saturday. The city market was open but only a couple vendors serving(still worth the stop) we started at 11:00 and finished at 5:00 p.m! It was an AMAZING day!! We had the best time. Even our 14 year old son loved it!! Thank you for providing such a hands on FREE way to see a city!! We plan on going back to see the things that were closed, or we just could not make it to. This was a 5 star day!

    • Monica, what a great comment! I’m so happy you were able to explore Indianapolis – for free which is my absolute favorite way to do anything!

      I agree re: Rock Bottom – unfortunately downtown is still plagued by tons of uninspiring chains!

      Again, thanks so much for reading my post and letting me know it was useful!
      Polly recently posted…Road trip hack: the ultra-quick pit stop picnicMy Profile

      • Monica

        Useful is an understatement! My husband said to me a few days later “Can we do that in another city next weekend?” I looked around but your 10,000 steps post is the only one I have found. It is a such a fantastic concept. I hope you do more of these! Thanks again:-)

  • 10k step guide! what a neat idea!!! There can be a whole series of itineraries like that!
    The food market looks really fun – I am ALL about the markets right now. I should go eat something…

    • City markets are really enjoying a revival here in the States right now which I totally love! So much good stuff, so little room in my stomach.
      Polly recently posted…Eat, See, Do: Noblesville GuideMy Profile