Holiday Attractions Near Indy

Holiday Attractions Near Indy: Your 2020 Guide

Holiday celebrations are a time-honored tradition in Indianapolis and the surrounding area. Despite all of the upsets that 2020 has seen, this holiday season is still jam-packed with things to do and see in the area.

Christmas at the Zoo

From 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. (10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays), from Nov. 21 through Dec. 30, the Indianapolis Zoo is hosting its annual Christmas event. Indy’s zoo was the first in the nation to hold this kind of event, and they’ve had 52 years to perfect it!

Some of the featured attractions this year include extra hours to meet the Jolly Old Elf himself. Santa will be meeting visitors in his study from 12:30-4 p.m. daily from Dec. 12-23. You can also take the kids to Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen to get a cookie decorating kit or check out Santa’s sleigh and some reindeer in the nearby barn. 

Other features this year include one of Indy’s most spectacular light displays, a Penguin Encounter and a Mistletoe Kisses Gazebo. There are some great photo-friendly opportunities here for the entire family!

A Merry Prairie Holiday

Glittering lights, thoughtful storytellers, and warm fires will transport you to the holiday traditions from yesteryear as Conner Prairie’s grounds are transformed into a winter wonderland of holiday fun.

For $20 per person ($10 for members), you can marvel at the expansive light displays, enjoy music and entertainment by local artists, and indulge in tasty holiday treats. Take a spin on Kringle’s Carousel or zip down the 150-foot Polar Bear Plunge sledding hill, then step into historic Prairietown to experience 19th century Christmas Eve traditions. Delight in the holiday cheer from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., Fridays through Sundays from Nov. 27 to Dec. 20, and on Dec. 22 & 23. 

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, Conner Prairie has taken significant steps to make A Merry Prairie Holiday safe for everyone by closing the Welcome Center except for restrooms, removing midway games and wagon rides, and reimagining Visit with Santa. Enjoy a delicious breakfast and a socially-distanced visit and photo op with Santa in the Featherstone Barn from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 12 or Dec. 19. Advance timed tickets are required.

The Festival of Trees

What’s Christmas without Christmas trees? If you love the myth, magic and beauty of Christmas trees and Christmas decorations, you don’t want to miss the Festival of Trees at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center.

The Indiana Historical Society hosts this annual event that showcases more than 50 elaborately decorated Christmas trees that you can see, including a 30-foot beauty in the center. Attendees can browse the site while listening to holiday tunes, and the kids can visit with Santa for story hour. You can also take part in scavenger hunts for The Elf on the Shelf or look for the Weihnachtzgurke (traditional German pickle ornaments) that are hidden around the premises. 

This year, the Festival is also going high-tech. You can enjoy the sights and sounds without ever leaving your couch through your tablet, computer or smartphone. Holiday hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays, and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays from Nov. 13 to Jan. 9. The theme, this year, is called “Life Is a Gift.”

Sullivan Santa Express

Is there anybody who doesn’t find trains and train rides enticing at this time of year? Holiday train rides are a favorite for many families — and the Santa Express at Sullivan Hardware is one of the best!

You can watch model trains wind their way through charming holiday towns, wander around an enchanted forest full of Christmas trees and let the kids whisper their holiday wishes to Kris Kringle. Then, take the whole family on a short, open-air train ride. Tickets are sold by the group, so one purchase entitles parents, grandparents and kids to all ride together (and there are some necessary precautions in place to handle concerns about the pandemic).

A ride on the Santa Express is $50 per family during the week and $60 on weekends, but you can take the Bullet Express (which goes through Bear Country, Kringles Grocery and Santa’s Workshop but doesn’t stop for a visit with Santa) for just $25 per family.

Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure

Speaking of trains, from Nov. 21 until Jan. 18, you can experience a favorite holiday tradition unlike any other at Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure at the Eiteljorg Museum.

Nine G-scale model trains wind 1,200 feet through a winter wonderland of downtown Indianapolis landmarks (Monument Circle, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Lucas Oil Stadium, and more) before venturing to the American West to see Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful, Golden Gate Bridge, and much more. Don’t forget to take a family photo with the near-life-size train engine model!

Advance tickets are required for all visitors — including members — and must be purchased/reserved online. The exhibit can be visited between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays, and from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays, or you can watch a live stream of Jingle Rails anytime the museum is open. All aboard with general admission of $8-$15.

Jolly Days Winter Wonderland

From Nov. 21 through Jan. 3, your whole family can enjoy the Jolly Days Winter Wonderland at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum (although Santa is only on the premises from Nov. 27-Dec. 24, after which he has to return to the North Pole to prepare for next year).

Aside from visiting with Santa, you can meet several Christmas characters that are familiar to kids and adults alike, including Mr. Scrooge, Mrs. Claus and more. There’s an Ice Castle to explore, a letterbox that kids can use to get their wish lists directly in front of Mr. Claus, a Giant Snow Globe and a spot where you can skate in your socks on a magical “ice” rink.

There are various workshops with Santa being held throughout the month, where guests can pitch in and help the elves get ready for their big night — but space is limited, so tickets are required. The fee ranges between $7 and $16.25 per person (which is a small price to pay for some great family memories).

Some Important Things to Remember When Making Your Holiday Plans

There’s plenty of holiday spirit and joyful tidings to be had this season, but the pandemic is still causing a great deal of concern for safety. With that in mind, there are restrictions currently in place that mean you should plan all of your special events and trips in advance.

While things are constantly in flux, at the time of this writing, Marion County has placed the following limits on events:

  • Bars are permitted 100% of their outdoor occupancy but only 25% indoors
  • Restaurants can use 100% of their outdoor capacity, but only 50% indoors
  • Music venues, museums, tourism spots and cultural sites are only permitted to use 25% of their capacity at a time
  • Seasonal events are limited to 25% capacity at most 

If an event you’re interested in attending requires tickets, get them in advance. In addition, there is still a countywide mask mandate in effect, so make sure that everyone in your party has one on hand.

Snowflakes are falling, the home fires are glowing, and it truly is the most wonderful time of the year — so take this time to celebrate with those you cherish the most.