The midwest is full of charming small towns that offer more than meets the eye. Located near Indianapolis, the town of Carmel is one of Indiana’s best-kept secrets. Home to a lively arts district, booming food scene and plenty of things to do that are full of family fun it is no wonder that Carmel, Indiana keeps families coming back again and again.
How To Get To Carmel, Indiana
Carmel, Indiana is located just north of Indianapolis, Indiana. Carmel is easily accessible from Highways 31, 32, 37 and 38 as well as I-69 and the Indianapolis Beltway I-465. If traveling by air, Carmel is roughly a half-hour from the Indianapolis International Airport.
Best Times To Visit
Carmel has fun festivities going on year-round however the best time to visit Carmel would be in the late spring to fall. With warmer temperatures, visitors to the area have the opportunity to experience more of the town and enjoy the outdoor spaces. During the winter months, Carmel offers tubing, and during the holidays a spectacular Christkindlmarket.
Top Things To Do In Carmel, Indiana
The Monon Trail
A highlight of any visit to Carmel, Indiana would be discovering the Monon Trail. This rail to trails paved path spans a good portion of Central Indiana and cuts right through the city of Carmel. Bring your own bike or rent one at a bike share station for only $3/hour.
The trail offers plenty of space for cyclists, dog-walkers, runners and those out for a leisurely stroll. The Monon Trail is a great way to spend the day exploring Carmel as it connects to many of Carmel’s major attractions and other trails throughout town. A great time to visit the trail is during the fall to enjoy the beautiful colors of the fall foliage along the trail.
Read about the Fun Family Activities Along The Monon Trail.
The Waterpark at the Monon Community Center
Located directly off the Monon Trail is the Waterpark at the Monon Community Center. This fun-filled water park is home to two great kids areas, a lazy river, and waterslides. Be sure to try your hand at surfing before hitting up the concessions for an afternoon snack. Admission is affordable but on a hot summer day, the park does get very crowded. The best time to go would be right when the park opens or toward the end of the afternoon.
Museum of Miniature Houses
A true roadside attraction worth swinging into is the Miniature Museum. This museum is one of the few museums that is solely devoted to the world of miniatures. It is home to thousands of miniatures that has every detail accounted for. Learn all about the fine art of miniatures and their history. Admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and military and $5 for children 3-9 years old.
Sun King Spirits
Imagine a gourmet food court that meets a distillery, welcome to Sun King Spirits. An open seating concept allows guests to find the ideal seating arrangement and then wait staff will take your drink order. After you have placed your drink order, you can choose from one (or more!) of the food vendors! After your order is placed a pager will notify when your order is ready. Note: You pay separately at each food vendor. Located right off the Monon Trail, this is a great location to grab a drink and a delicious bite(s) to eat.
The Center For Performing Arts
A gorgeous building that commands your attention is The Palladium, a world-class internationally-renowned concert hall. With a variety of shows, visitors can enjoy symphony orchestras, jazz bands, comedians and more. The Studio and the Tarkington are a short walk across the nearby Central Green and offer more intimate shows and performances. Check showtimes and upcoming performances to know who will be performing while you are visiting Carmel, Indiana.
Carmel’s Central Park is one area that you will want to spend a good amount of time exploring. Paved trails take you through marshes, prairies, and woodlands. The park is home to the Monon Community Center and Water Park, a skate park, a dog park, and a wonderful playground.
Entry to the park is free (water park is a separate fee), restrooms are on-site with water available. The playground is geared towards all children, from a toddler area to tunnels there is plenty of entertainment to be had. In addition to the older kids’ play area, Central Park has a toddler section, a splash pad, and a picnic area. A highlight for families is that there is no mulch in the play areas!! This park is handicap accessible and has been designed for kids with disabilities in mind as well.
Books N Brews
Grab a gourmet grilled cheese, ice-cold brew and a literary classic and settle in for your meal. Books N Brews only has shelves and shelves of books but also tons of board games. Come with a group or sit down with your family for dinner and game night all in one. The restaurant does offer a 21 up a section for those looking for a more adult setting.
The Japanese Gardens near City Hall
This peaceful and tranquil spot is ideal for meditation or simply pausing to enjoy a beautiful day. The pond does have a few resident ducks who seem to be fed quite regularly. The park is small but does have benches and picnic tables available. The park is open to the public and has access to the Monon Trail. There is also a nearby parking lot.
Carmel Fire Museum
Kids of all ages will love this hands-on museum, especially if they are a fire truck enthusiast. The museum is home to many antique firetrucks, gear, and memorabilia. Kids will particularly love the ride-on firetrucks and sitting behind the wheel of a few of the big trucks.
The museum does not keep regular hours as it is a volunteer-run. Be sure to call to schedule a time or check to see when they will open. The volunteers are known to take their trucks to public events and festivals as well. Admission to the museum is free, however, donations are greatly appreciated.
Terrace Clay Shopping and Playground
This outdoor shopping mall is home to over 80 stores and deemed the best place to shop in Carmel. With an array of delicious restaurants, it is easy to refuel after your shopping adventures. This boutique shopping area is also home to a fun playground and dog park.
More Great Things To Do While Visiting Carmel Indiana
Carmel Arts District
Take a stroll down Carmel’s Main Street to take in the beauty of the Arts and Design District. Trendy boutiques, captivating galleries, and popular restaurants are just a few of the gems you will discover. Local artists can be seen painting beautiful scenes throughout the town.
The Monon Trail cuts straight through the heart of the Arts District which is an ideal stop for cyclists and those seeking a relaxing walk. Throughout the Carmel Arts District, there are seventeen life-sized sculptures beckoning for you to come to find them. These sculptures portray realism in the sense that everyone can relate to them.
The journey to find all seventeen will have you discovering many of the darling little nooks and crannies of this small town.
Flowing Well Park
Spouting water since 1902, the well located at Flowing Well Park has become a staple for travelers and locals looking to fill their containers for a refreshing drink. The water comes from an underground reservoir at a rate of 15 gallons-per-minute
Watch as residents come to fill their gallon jugs, water bottles and more! Ensure that you take a stroll on the nature trail that runs along the Cool Creek; it is ideal for small children, dogs, and those looking for a serene hike.
Carmel Farmers Market
We enjoy living like the locals while we travel and one of the best ways to do that is by visiting the neighborhood farmer’s market. Located in the space between the Palladium concert hall and the Tarkington theater, the Carmel Farmers Market happens every Saturday from 8:00 – 11:30 am. During the months of October through March, the market is held indoors at the Wire Factory.
The bounty at the Farmer’s Market is quite impressive. Endless stands of produce, blooms, food vendors and artisans attract your attention and your dollars. Live music drifts through the air giving it a vibrant ambiance and makes it difficult to leave. After snagging lip-smacking BBQ from Rosie’s, we noodled around to find fresh peaches, hot sauces, and more. We even ended up leaving with twelve ears of the best sweet corn to take back home with us!
Every September local porches in Carmel, Indiana transform into stages as visitors line the streets with blankets and chairs to listen to local performers. The porches are scattered through a quaint local neighborhood with a variety of performances happening at various times throughout the day. Admission is free to the public and the event is kid-friendly and dog-friendly.
Upon entering Porchfest, you are given a lanyard with the lineup and schedule so you can plan your visit accordingly. We recommend walking the streets to listen to all the different performances happening. Local food vendors and sponsors have booths scattered throughout the streets. Wine and beer were available for purchase but had to be kept within festival limits.
Tina’s Traditional Tea Room
This tea room located in the heart of the Carmel Art District is serving up a traditional British menu and proper afternoon tea. Taking great pride in creating an authentic experience Tina’s hand-picks each recipe including hard to find British favorites. They are kid-friendly which special menu items for the little princesses and princes that dine with them. Reservations are required as this charming tea room fills up quickly.
Cake Bake Shop
Dive into the most divine slice of cake at the Cake Bake Shop by Gwendolyn Rogers. There is a reason this place tops the list as one of Oprah’s favorite things. From delectable chocolate cake to world-famous mint chocolate chip the options are endless. The scenery is straight out of a fairytale with unicorns, flowers, and crystal chandeliers around every corner. It is dazzling.
While not technically in Carmel, Conner Prairie is located in nearby Fishers and is not to be missed. This one-of-a-kind outdoor museum takes visitors back in town to experience historic towns, early aviation and more. Climb a four-story treehouse, see how the people of Indiana lived in 1836 or even take an 1859 Balloon Voyage.
The Balloon Voyage is a unique experience that will suspend guests 370 feet in the air under a helium balloon. The gondola allows riders the opportunity to walk around to capture breathtaking views at all angles, once you’ve reached your flying altitude. Overall the ride lasts roughly fifteen minutes.
Throughout the year Conner Prairie hosts fun festivals and events such as the Headless Horseman and a Merry Prairie Holiday will keep all give guests another reason to return.
Admission into Conner Prairie is $9 for adults, seniors, and children. Admission is free for children under two. There is a separate fee for those wishing to hop aboard the Balloon Voyage and weather can prohibit the balloon from flying.
Discover the magic of the holidays by stepping into a traditional old-world Christkindlmarkt. Every holiday season Carmel transforms the space between the Palladium concert hall and the Tarkington theater into a festive German wonderland. There is no fee to walk around and get into the spirit but be ready to do a little shopping, eating and ice-skating.
With everything from nutcrackers to ornaments, there are over 50 wooden booths selling German imported products. I recommend grabbing a glass of Gluhwein while you mull over what unique treasures you will be bringing home.
Take in the iconic German Gluhwein Pyramide while you nosh on one of the many German specialties such as pretzels, bratwurst, stollen, lebkuchen and more. They even offer a Kinderecke (Kids Corner) and a Kulturecke (Culture Museum).
It is easy to see why this midwestern small town won our hearts. Hospitality is a way of life that locals embrace and there is always a smile around every corner. This is one hidden gem that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Carmel is a great town to discover during a Northern Indiana Road Trip.