How many reasons are there to visit Southern Indiana? At least 500 or so.
Indiana is a state of plains, trains and automobiles. Besides the famed Indy 500, there’s a world-class children’s museum in Indianapolis — the state’s No. 1 tourist attraction not counting that little motor jaunt around an oval track — a nifty set of ski slopes in Lawrenceburg, and a world-class amusement park. Also worth noting as Indiana’s top tourist attractions are the riverboat casinos that dot the picturesque hamlets along the Ohio River — among them, Grand Victoria II Resort in Rising Sun, Belterra Casino Resort in Belterra, Argosy Casino in Lawrenceburg, and the Horseshoe Casino Hotel in Elizabeth.
Other Hoosier hotspots include Conner Prairie in Fishers, a living-history museum that re-creates an Indiana frontier town, populated by actors who play village residents (circa 1836). And don’t overlook the Crowne Plaza hotel in Indianapolis, which is housed inside a railway station (where you can actually slumber in one of 26 authentic Pullman train cars).
If you’re an architecture buff, consider a drive to Columbus, where city planners showed considerable foresight in hiring some of the 20th century’s most notable contemporary architects — I.M. Pei, Eliel and Eero Saarinen, and Cesar Pelli among them — to design the library, city hall and other civic structures.
If National Historic Landmarks are your thing, the tiny town of Madison showcases more historic homes per square block than just about any other. Head first to the Lanier Mansion, a renovated 1844 Greek Revival beauty — complete with lush gardens — that’s labeled the “crown jewel” of Madison’s Historic District.
For fans of tunnel boat races, the “Roar of Thunder” riverboat regatta at Lesko Park lake in Aurora is a must. Every August now for 10 years, the lake has been a stop on the Powerboat Superleague points circuit.
And dedicated shoppers shouldn’t miss out on Nashville, with more than 90 specialty and craft shops, a half-dozen antiques stores, 10 art galleries, and dozens of restaurants and food shops. (Nearby is the terrific Brown County State Park and Abe Martin Lodge, a great place to stay overnight.) Or you can sample Metamora, a once booming canal town that’s evolved into an arts-and-crafts mecca featuring dozens of antique and knick-knack shops.
Here are some other destinations in Southern Indiana to contemplate:
Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
On the road with your children? Then don’tmiss the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, perhaps the biggest and best children’s museum in the world. Next to the Indy 500, it’s the city’s biggest draw. Major attractions include the SpaceQuest Planetarium and the Lilly Center for Exploration, designed by teens for kids to explore a variety of topics. Whether the kids love dinosaurs, carrousels, model trains or magnets, the Children’s Museum has an interactive exhibit or science display to please.3000 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. $12, $7 for children 2-17 and seniors 60 and older (free on Christmas Eve, Dr. Martin Luther King Day and other select holidays). (317) 921-4000 or www.childrensmuseum.org.
This community features authentically costumed interpreters who guide you into the past. Eli Lilly, president of the Indiana Historical Society, purchased the house and property of William and Elizabeth Conner back in the 1930s with the idea of creating this open-air, living history museum. Divided into five areas on the prairie’s 1,400 acres, Conner Prairie explores how Indiana residents lived in the 1800s. Visitors can chat with doctors, innkeepers, schoolmasters, cooks and the like.13400 Allisonville Road, Fishers. 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. $11, $7 children ages 5-12 (free to 4 and younger), and $10 for seniors 65 and up. (317) 776-6006 or www.connerprairie.org
Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art
The museum collection showcases paintings, sculpture and pottery as well as artifacts from Native American tribes throughout the plains. The new Perelman Wing — a 45,000-square-foot addition — doubles the Eiteljorg’s public space and includes galleries, classrooms, a library, a technology lab, a cafe and gardens. 500 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Guided tours at 1 p.m. daily. $8, $5 children 5-17 (4 and under free), and $7 for seniors 65 and older. (317) 636-9378 or www.eiteljorg.org.
Take the kids and hop aboard Blitzen’s Airplanes or Comet’s Rockets, or take a turn on Prancer’s Merry-go-round (do you sense a theme here?). Seriously, Holiday World has some whammo coasters that have nothing to do with X-mas, including the brand-new Voyage wooden roller coaster (measuring 1.2 miles long with a record five underground tunnels). The editors ofAmusement Today magazine recently ranked the Raven as “Best Wooden Coaster” in America, and the destination also won “Friendliest Park Staff” and “Cleanest Park” in the same national survey. No faint praise for this family-oriented (and smoke-free) theme park, which prides itself on serving unlimited free soft drinks, free sunscreen and free parking. Splashin’ Safari is the adjoining water park, which is included with admission.452 E. Christmas Blvd., Santa Claus. 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. $36.95, $28.95 for those under 54 inches or older than 60, free to children 3 and younger. (812) 937-4401 or www. holidayworld.com.
Horseshoe Casino Hotel
Formerly Caesars Indiana Casino/Hotel, the re-branded Horseshoe Casino Hotel Southern Indiana offers a fresh gambling experience. Located a few miles from Louisville, Horseshoe is one of the world’s largest gaming vessels and — after a $50-million renovation — offers more than 2,000 slot machines, as well as 80 table games including blackjack, roulette, baccarat, craps tables and poker room.11999 Casino Center Drive SE, Elizabeth (off Indiana Highway 111), (866) 676-SHOE or www.harrahs.com
Indiana State Museum & IMAX Theatre
This facility focuses on the furnishings, social history and heritage of Indiana. The collection includes objects that have had a significant economic or technological impact on Hoosiers, as well as agricultural displays. The building itself is an exhibit, as well, with 92 sculptures representing the state’s 92 counties built into the exterior. A six-story IMAX theater screens films in 3-D.650 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. $7, $4 children, $6.50 seniors. Combo ticket for both museum and IMAX film $12.50, $8 children, $11 seniors. (317) 232-1637.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway & Hall of Fame Museum
There’s that little auto race each Memorial Day Weekend, sure, but also consider a visit anytime to see the Hall of Fame Museum, a tribute to the sport and its top winning cars and drivers. Some 75 vehicles in the collection include the Marmon “Wasp,” which won the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911, the Boyle Maserati, the Duesenberg #12 Murphy Special, the Blue Crown Spark Plug Special, Dave Evans’ #8 Cummins Diesel Special (the first car to complete the Indy 500 without a pit stop in 1931), plus four cars driven to victory by A.J. Foyt Jr. Bus tours of the 2.5-mile oval depart from the museum’s front doors.4790 W. 16th St., Indianapolis. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. $3, $1 children ages 6-15, children 5 and younger free. Track tours are an additional $3, $1 children ages 6-15, children 5 and younger free. (317) 481-8500 or www.indy500.com.
Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens
From Siberian tigers and polar bears to whales and dolphins, just about every species can be found here. The adjoining White Water Gardens, meanwhile, show off thousands of flowers and plants on 3.3 acres that include the Hilbert Conservatory.1200 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Combo admission to both zoo and gardens $13.50, $8.50 for kids 2-12 (children 1 and younger free), and $8.50 seniors 62 and older. (317) 630-2030 or www.indyzoo.com and www. whiterivergardens.com.
Perfect North Slopes
Before you dismiss Southern Indiana as all flatlands, consider Perfect North Slopes. This popular resort offers snow skiing and tubing all day and night, plus a ski school for novices, racing clinics and racing camps.19074 Perfect Place, Lawrenceburg. In season, 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Lift ticket $40 (ages 13-59), $35 (ages 7-12 and 60 plus). Tubing $20, $10 for 6 and younger. (812) 537-3754 or www.perfectnorth.com.
While other states have turned their historic railroad terminals into museums and malls, or allowed them to be shuttered altogether, Indianapolis’ Union Station is now a fully functioning Crowne Plaza hotel, where you can sleep in one of the more than two dozen Pullman train cars parked on the tracks.123 W. Louisiana St., Indianapolis. Open daily 24 hours. Room rate for train car is $169. (317) 631-2221 or www.crowneplaza.com.
White River State Park
Southern Indiana’s only urban state park, White River is located in the heart of downtown and encompasses Victory Field (home to the Indians AAA ball team and named bySports Illustrated as the “best minor league ballpark in America”). The River Promenade offers bicycle rentals, while the Governor’s Lawn is the site for various civic events, such as the Vintage Indiana Wine and Food Festival and for rock concerts.801 W. Washington St., Indianapolis. Dawn to dusk hours. Free. (317) 233-2434. ■The Hatfield Inn
Bed and Breakfast
Relax in the serene setting of The Hatfield Inn, an 1810 farm house, just minutes from Cincinnati or Dayton.Enjoy an afternoon of fishing or simply relax on the patio.With all the comforts of home, this is an inn you will return to again and again. 2563 Hatffield Road, Lebanon