Cultural attractions bring thousands and thousands of people to downtown Indianapolis throughout the year.
But during the holidays, everything feels extra special.
Icicles of blue lights flash while the sounds of a winter ice storm tinkle around you during Newfields’ Winterlights extravaganza. Meet reindeer and penguins while spotting animals made out of thousands of tiny lights at the Indianapolis Zoo.
Watch model trains chug through reproductions of the Grand Canyon, Yosemite Falls and downtown Indianapolis at the Eiteljorg Museum, or hop on a train yourself for a journey through a forest while animals celebrate the coming winter at the Indiana State Museum.
Over the next month or so, Indianapolis’ cultural attractions are putting a festive foot forward. Visitors can once again take part in some of central Indiana’s most beloved holiday traditions, and make some new memories at reimagined events.
Here is what to find at museums and zoos throughout the area in the coming weeks:
Christmas at the Zoo
Details: Indianapolis Zoo, 1200 W. Washington St.; 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 19-Dec. 30, open until 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tickets included with admission.
What: Zoos all over the country have made holiday light displays an annual tradition. But the first zoo to do it remains among the best in the U.S.
The Indianapolis Zoo kicked off the holiday light display in 1967, becoming the first zoo in the country to do so. They’ve been doing it for more than a half-century, and have only made it bigger and better each year. Visitors can find special activities, interactive animal experiences, and food and drink.
The hub of the celebration is Santa’s Village, located in the zoo’s Bicentennial Pavilion. Visit with Santa, decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus and interact with real reindeer in the specially decorated North Pole buildings. The Polar Pathway brings people through a glowing tunnel of lights. Encounter penguins up close every evening. For the adults, sip on a holiday-themed cocktail at Tinsel Tavern.
Details: Nov. 19-Jan. 16, Eiteljorg Museum, 500 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets included with admission.
What: Traveling across the country to see the United States’ unique landscape isn’t possible for most local residents this holiday season. But people can still see such as Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone and the Las Vegas Strip in stunning detail at the Eiteljorg Museum’s Jingle Rails event. Nine working ultra-sized G-scale/gauge model trains chug over nearly 1,200 feet of track, all arranged among recreations of famous landscapes made entirely of natural materials.
Trains will start in downtown Indianapolis, with the Soldiers & Sailors Monument and Lucas Oil Stadium, before pushing westward to places such as the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge.
Jingle Rails has a new spacious home inside the museum this year, with the opening of the newly expanded Allen Whitehill Clowes Sculpture Court event space. Visitors will have additional space to better enjoy Jingle Rails with new child-friendly activities, including train tables with wooden toy trains, magnetic tiles for assembling your own train, an “I spy” activity and a reading nook filled with train-themed children’s books.
Details: Newfields, 4000 N. Michigan Ave., Indianapolis; 5 to 9 p.m. Nov. 20-Jan. 8. Tickets are $29 for adults, $25 for seniors age 55 and older, $22 for youth ages 6-17 and free for children 5 and under. Members pay $22 for adults, $15 for youth.
What: This is art on an entirely different scale. Across the grounds and gardens of Newfields, more than a million and a half glowing lights turn the landscape into a winter wonderland during Winterlights. The holiday display has become one of the most popular cultural activities in the area, bringing hordes of visitors to Newfields, the home of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, throughout November, December and early January.
The Landscape of Lights features dancing illumination set to music from “The Nutcracker” in front of the stately Lilly House. In the Ice Storm Walk, visitors can almost feel the biting winter weather under a mesmerizing tunnel of muted lights and tinkling music.
An all-new sculpture, “Big Piñata,” by Monterrey, Mexico-based art collective Happy Rebels invites whimsy and magic into the season. “Astraeus,” another new sculpture by local artists Owens + Crawley, lights the way through the woods as guests wander from Lilly House to Winter Market. Colorful blossoms in the new Glowing Garden add yet another new element to the festivities.
Details: Nov. 25-Jan. 1, Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St., Indianapolis; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, with extended opening on Dec. 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27. Tickets included with admission.
What: Santa Claus makes a grand entrance for the opening of the Indiana State Museum’s Celebration Crossing event, when the jolly fat man kicks off the festivities arriving in a bright red helicopter at 11 a.m. on Nov. 25. From that point on, the museum is filled with special activties and events in honor of the holidays.
Snowfall Express, a working train operating on the museum’s third floor, features forest animals putting on their warm winter clothes, baking cozy meals and enjoying winter sports, all set to a jolly soundtrack. Participate in activities on Santa’s Front Yard, and meet the jolly old elf himself. See the majesty of the 92 County Tree, learn about Rudolph and friends at the Reindeer Barn and take part in special activities such as Santa’s Holiday Breakfasts and Winter Wonderland Workshops.
Details: Nov. 25-Jan. 1, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, 3000 N. Meridian St.; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, closed Mondays, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
What: There’s only one place in central Indiana where kids can explore an ice castle, create a winter wonderland on demand in the giant snow globe, and “ice skate” in their socks on a specially created rink. Jolly Days returns to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis with a wealth of holiday cheer and seasonal activities for the whole family.
Explore the nooks and crannies of the Ice Castle, and bring a letter for Santa to put in a special mailbox. The Yule Slide, a visitor favorite that has been closed for the past two years, is back for kids to zoom down. And don’t forget to meet Santa Claus himself, as he’ll be meeting with children during special times from Nov. 25 to Dec. 24.