The best time to visit Indianapolis is at the end of spring or beginning of fall. This is when the weather is at its most pleasant, and you can be free to enjoy everything from the city's museums and budding restaurant scene to its parks and outdoor concert venues.
If you are interested in seeing the Indianapolis 500, the end of May—right around Memorial Day weekend—is the best time to visit Circle City. However, if you're not into IndyCar racing or crowds, you should plan your trip for the first week or two in June. You could also book a flight for September or the beginning of October, when the weather is relatively mild and you can best enjoy the outdoors, humidity free.
The Weather in Indianapolis
Indy sees extreme weather patterns at both ends of the scale. In the winter, temperatures can dip down to -20 degrees F—and can soar past 100 degrees F in the summer. The weather is also unpredictable, and it is possible to experience all four seasons in a week or even a day, especially in the spring (March and April) and fall (mid-October to November).
If you are planning a trip to Indy in the winter, be prepared for sleet, snow, and wind. For summer travelers, you can expect humidity and the occasional thunderstorm. Coming in the spring or fall? It depends on what month you're visiting, but do not be surprised to experience a mix of seasons.
The Indianapolis 500
"The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," this 500-mile IndyCar race is the biggest event of the year for Hoosiers.
Tickets for the following year go on sale in June. For Race Day, general admission prices start at $35, whereas reserved seating—which comes with General Admission access—starts at $50. The Indy 500 takes place on the Sunday before Memorial Day. In 2020, it will be held on Sunday, May 24. You can buy your tickets to the event on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway website.
If you plan to attend the Indy 500, book your flights and hotel sooner rather than later, as prices do increase at this time of year.
Indiana winters are quite harsh. The average temperature in January is 34 degrees F, but it is not unusual to experience temperatures in the negative teens and 20s. Factor in sleet, snow, and wind, and you're going to need your heaviest winter gear (thermals included) if you intend to be somewhat comfortable.
This is the best time of year to visit the museums, check out an event at the Palladium, or hole up in one of the city's many breweries—but if you don't mind the cold, Indy lights up (figuratively and literally) around the holidays.
Events to check out:
- Christmas at the Zoo: The first zoo in the country to celebrate the holiday season, the Indianapolis Zoo has been wowing visitors with its annual Christmas lights event for over 50 years. Get a picture-perfect moment under the Tunnel of Lights before winding your way through a mirror maze. If you have kids in tow, you can also get a photo with Santa and meet some of his reindeer. Warm up with hot drinks, festive choral music, and wintery train rides.
- IPL Yuletide Celebration: For over 30 years, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra has been putting on what has now become a beloved Hoosier Tradition: the "Yuletide Celebration." Featuring performances with tap dancing Santas, the "Holly Jolly Dollies," and "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," this annual show is sure to put you in the holiday spirit.
- Carmel Christkindlmarkt: It's no Eastern European Christmas market, but there is something unexpectedly charming about a Christmas market in the suburbs of Indianapolis. Located in Carmel, Indiana, head here for live music, ice skating, and woodworking demonstrations. Just coming to shop and eat? The gift and food stalls offer everything from Polish pottery and German-made jewelry to schnitzels, Bavarian pretzels, and glühwein.
- Jolly Days Winter Wonderland at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis: The largest children's museum in the world transforms into a festive landscape come holiday season. You can have breakfast with Santa or explore an Ice Castle—but the best part? Every year, the museum turns the main staircase into a 47-foot slide, a purely magical experience.
Spring is incredibly unpredictable in Indianapolis. The weather fluctuates rapidly, switching from a balmy 60 degrees F one day to a frigid 15 the next, and a rainy 55 degrees F the day after that—especially in March and April. You have to be prepared to deal with all four seasons if you come during this time of year.
However, it does start to get nice towards the end of May, which is when the Indy 500 occurs. If you are coming to the city for the big race, be sure to book your flights and accommodation early to avoid paying a hefty price. Not into racing? You should come after Memorial Day to avoid the Speedway crowds.
Events to check out:
- The Indianapolis 500: In addition to Race Day, there are multiple events leading up to the main attraction that you can partake in. The IPL 500 Festival Parade is a huge spectacle, drawing more than 300,000 people to downtown Indy with floats, balloons, marching bands, and competing Indy 500 drivers. For music fans, you can hit up Miller Lite Carb Day—a rock n' roll concert at Speedway—or the Firestone Legends Day Concert, which hosts the biggest names in country music every year (Luke Bryan will be headlining in 2020).
Indianapolis summers are known for their humidity, heat, and thunderstorms. The weather at the beginning of June can be quite lovely, but you still should be prepared for the unexpected.
Although Indy doesn't get crowded like other major U.S. cities, summer is still the busiest time of year because kids don't have school. If you're going to a ticketed event or Fourth of July celebration, you can expect big crowds—but none that compare to the one you'd see at the Indy 500.
Events to check out:
- Symphony on the Prairie: Every summer, flocks of people head to the Connor Prairie Amphitheatre for picnicking and classical music, courtesy of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Book a ticket for the Star Spangled Symphony to round it all out with a fantastic fireworks display.
- Catch a Concert at Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center: At 228 acres, Ruoff is the largest outdoor music venue in the state. From Frank Sinatra to Coldplay, Future, and Blink 182, Ruoff has been welcoming the world's most popular artists to Noblesville, Indiana, since 1989.
- Fourth of July: On the 4th, the city offers up a whole host of activities for people of all ages. The main attraction, though, is the IPL Downtown Freedom Fest, which includes food trucks, games, and a fireworks show to celebrate our nation's birthday.
- The Indiana State Fair: The Indiana State Fair has everything you could possibly expect from a midwestern state fair: amusement park rides, farm animals, concerts, and fair food. Don't be afraid to try the duck-fat fries poutine and deep-fried chocolate cookie ice cream sandwich!
If you're into outdoorsy activities, September and the beginning of October is the best time of year to visit the city. The weather is most mild, and you can be comfortable walking around in jeans and a light sweater.
If you are going to an Indianapolis Colts game (or are going to be in the city when there's a game), be wary of crowds, You will want to carve out extra time to make sure you get to where you need to go.
Events to check out:
- Watch an Indianapolis Colts Game: Football is a big deal to Hoosiers, and the Indianapolis Colts are even bigger. Get swept up in the craze by checking out a game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
- Get Scared by the Headless Horseman: Conner Prairie's annual fall festival, Headless Horseman, is a favorite tradition among the locals. Take a haunted hayride through the grounds, where you will be chased by—you guessed it—the Headless Horseman. There's also a haunted corn maze, graveyard mini golf, and spooky storytelling. If you don't like being scared, you can still join in on the fun. The festival features bounce houses, pumpkin bowling, and non-spooky corn mazes as well.