If you are still looking for an affordable Summer destination from Chicago, and don’t want to spend too long on the road, then Indianapolis may be just what you need.
Indianapolis is a strange city – it is quite large (14th largest city in the US), but rarely do you hear much about it.
The city certainly isn’t very high on the list of destinations for people to fly to, and I doubt you’ll ever hear anyone in New York or Los Angeles talking about spending their Summer vacation in Indy.
Despite this, the city has quite a lot to offer, though maybe not enough to spend a week in the area, there is plenty to do on a long weekend.
How to get there
Getting to Indianapolis from Chicago is simple – though it can be rather time consuming. With bad traffic in the Chicago area, you could spend 3 hours just trying to leave the city.
The drive is about 180 miles, and will take about 4 hours (with no bad traffic). Of course, if you hate driving, you can also fly, but the total time and cost involved with that trip really does not make sense.
Alternatively, you could consider Amtrak. At just $38 per round trip, the train is a very affordable option. Sadly, the Amtrak schedule to Indianapolis is quite useless, and most of the trains involve either a very late arrival into the city, or a very early departure back home.
Finally, for an even cheaper way to get into Indianapolis, you can reserve a seat on Megabus. Seats on the bus start at just $1, and the trip takes just over 4 hours.
Where to stay
There are 100’s of places to stay in Indianapolis – varying from upscale downtown hotels to the many chain hotels located around the city.
A convenient location to spend the night is the Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites Indianapolis East.
This location is just 10 minutes from the Children’s Museum, and its location means you can drive clear from any traffic heading to the racetrack.
Rooms at this hotel start at just $89, and the rate includes free breakfast and Internet Access.
The hotel is right off the highway, and the vicinity is home to loads of restaurants and other facilities.
What to do
Indianapolis is home to the largest children’s museum in the world – though when I visited the museum, I was not terribly impressed with the number of “hands on” attractions available for kids.
Admission to the museum is $14 for adults and $9 for children, which means a family of 4 will spend close to $50 just to get in.
The Indianapolis Children’s museum does not participate in any reciprocal admission programs and some of the exhibits cost extra, in addition to your entry fee.
Of course, nothing says Indianapolis more than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Speedway itself is actually in Speedway, Indiana and the entire area around the complex is a great place to spend some time.
Unless you love being stuck in traffic and paying $10 for a drink, I recommend staying clear of this area on race days (the schedule can be found here).
The Motor Speedway Museum is open every day of the year (except Christmas), and admission is just $3. A lap on the actual track is an additional $3.
When you leave Indianapolis, be sure to leave early enough to take advantage of 2 great attractions on the way home. About 70 miles outside Indy (between Lafayette and Merillville) is the Fair Oaks dairy farm. This massive multiple farm dairy facility has a modern visitors center with various indoor and outdoor attractions. The highlights of the facility are the “birthing barn” and a bus tour through an actual working dairy farm.
The birthing barn is quite amazing, and several times a day you can sit behind a large glass wall and watch the resident vet assist with the birth of a baby. Of course, you’ll need a bit of a strong stomach, as this is a real birth, not a video tape with edits. Outside the birthing barn is a traffic light, showing whether a birth is in progress.
The dairy farm tour takes about 45 minutes, and drives to one of the Fair Oaks farms a mile from the visitor center. The tour takes your around the barns (each housing 1400 cows), and then drops visitors off at the milking parlor, where you can watch from a viewing room and see 100’s of cows being milked on the massive carousel.
Before you leave, you can buy some fresh milk, ice cream or cheese from the Fair Oaks store/restaurant. With over 20 different varieties of cheese, you are bound to find something you like. Samples are handed out all the time, so even if you don’t leave with a bag full of cheese, you’ll be able to taste their products.
The next attraction on the way home is the Albanese candy factory and outlet store. This may sound like your average candy store, but it is in fact one of the largest candy outlets in the world.
The store sells thousands of different varieties of candy, nuts and snacks. During the week, the facility offers tours, but you are also free to stand and watch their massive chocolate fountain (think Willy Wonka massive!).
So there you have it – a budget friendly destination from the Chicagoland area. Be sure to check out our other budget friendly summer vacation destinations!