Columbus, Indiana is a perfect day trip from Indianapolis. Not too far and with plenty of attractions, great food, and shopping. If this type of Indiana day trip is something you enjoy, here are the best things to do in Columbus Indiana.
What is Columbus Indiana Known For?
One of the coolest things about Columbus, Indiana is the amazing amount of beautiful and unique art and architecture. For a fairly small town, it’s quite astonishing. You’ll discover over 90 buildings and public art installations in this town of just under 50K people.
In 1957, the Cummins Foundation was founded by Irwin Miller to encourage the community to use prominent architects to design schools by offering to pay the architect’s fees. This began with schools and expanded into other buildings. Before too long, Columbus Indiana became well known globally for its modern architecture.
Unique attractions in Columbus, Indiana
With such a rich history, viewing the many art installations and buildings by famous architects are among some of the best things to do in Columbus Indiana. And luckily, there are multiple ways to enjoy these unique attractions.
1. Architecture Bus Tour
Probably the most complete architecture tour in Columbus is the bus tour offered by the Visitors Center. The tour lasts 2 hours and includes a narrated ride around town learning about and viewing some of the architectural highlights. There is a bit of walking when you hop off the bus at some of the locations, but it’s minimal.
This tour fills up quickly, so make sure to book in advance if it’s the one you are interested in!
2. Architecture Walking Tour
There are actually several options if you prefer a walking tour. The first one is through the visitors center and includes a guided walking tour of downtown Columbus. It lasts about an hour and a half and you’ll even get to go inside some of the architectural wonders of Columbus.
The second option is a “do-it-yourself” walking tour. With this option, you can download an app that will help guide and educate you as you enjoy the downtown architecture. There are 18 stops on this tour, all of which have an audio clip sharing the history and importance as well as a few pictures of the outside and inside.
The app is very well done, and it’s a fun and easy way to enjoy downtown in your own timeframe. And, it’s FREE!
3. Architecture Driving Map
If you want to enjoy ALL of the art and architecture in Columbus, for a small fee you can pick up a map at the Visitors Center, hop in your car, and start driving. There are a lot of places to check out, so I’d suggest picking a section of town and concentrating on one area at a time.
We live close enough that I actually keep the map in my glove compartment and if we happen to be in the area, we’ll pick a few buildings and explore!
4. Public Art
In addition to the amazing architecture in Columbus, the city has an extensive Public Art collection. From the majestic Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans to the Large Arch by Henry Moore, you’ll find beauty all over the city.
Most of the installations are highlighted on the driving map, so purchasing it is well worthwhile whether art or architecture is your jam. All of them are listed on the Visit Columbus website, so that’s another resource to locate and learn about the art Columbus has to offer.
5. Miller House
The Miller House is a mid-century modern residence designed by famous architect Eero Saarinen. Eero Saarinen is probably best known for designing the St. Louis Arch. The interior of the house was done by Alexander Girard, and the gardens by landscape architect Dan Kiley.
The only way to see the interior of the house is to take the tour which originates at the visitors center. If you enjoy mid-century design, the Miller House is an exemplary example.
Insider tips: children under 10 are not permitted on the Miller House tour, and you will be asked to remove your shoes and wear socks while touring the house or wear shoe covers.
Things to do in downtown Columbus Indiana
The heart of Columbus is absolutely its downtown area, and with the Visitors Center located downtown, it’s the ideal place to begin your visit. Plus, it’s very walkable which is a nice way to get the feel of a place!
6. Downtown Boutiques
Downtown Columbus is adorable. Within the few blocks that comprise downtown, you’ll encounter a number of unique boutiques. You’ll also find a wonderful little bookstore – the second oldest independent bookstore in Indiana!
Strolling the streets and browsing the local shops is a great way to get a feel for the community AND you’ll get to enjoy some of the art and architecture as you walk.
In fact, I’d recommend downloading the app, and using it as you shop downtown to learn more about the history and the buildings you encounter.
7. Bartholomew County Historical Society Museum
Just a few steps off the main downtown streets is the Bartholomew County Historical Society Museum. Located in the McEwen-Samuels-Marr House (listed on the National Register of Historic Places), the museum houses two permanent exhibits that relate to the history of Bartholomew County as well as several temporary exhibits.
Although not a large museum, it’s quite interesting and the docents are happy to show you around and share a bit about the museum and some of the special highlights.
8. Columbus Visitors Center
Really when you are deciding upon what things to do in Columbus Indiana, your first stop should be at the Columbus Visitors Center.
The visitors center is where all the tours originate, and where you can purchase any maps you’d like to help you get around. The staff is super friendly and knowledgeable (they helped me download the app for the free downtown walking tour) and can help you make the most of your visit.
In addition to the information you’ll gather, the visitors center is home to the beautiful Dale Chihuly glass pieces Yellow Neon Chandelier, and Persians. If you’ve ever visited the Bellagio in Las Vegas or the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, you’re probably well aware of Chihuly!
There is also an extensive gift shop full of locally crafted items unique to Columbus.
Kid-friendly things to do in Columbus Indiana
Even if you have kids with you that aren’t interested in art and architecture (and realistically most kids aren’t), there are plenty of kid-friendly things to do in Columbus Indiana!
And maybe, just by enjoying the fun kid stuff with them, you can sneak in a little art and architecture during the visit – stealth learning!
9. The Commons
The Commons has a playground like no other. When our kids were little and we’d end up in Columbus, this was always the first stop.
With an eye-catching two-story climbing tower and multiple areas for younger kids and toddlers to explore too, it’s a terrific way for kids to have fun and get some activity at the same time!
The Commons itself is a striking glass building and home to the public art installation Chaos I as well as several restaurants and event space.
Just across the street, and not to be confused with The Commons is Kidscommons. A wonderful children’s museum located in downtown Columbus, it’s the perfect stop for elementary and younger kids.
Lots of hands-on learning and interactive exhibits will ensure your children will have fun while they learn! Plan on spending an hour or so exploring and enjoying all Kidscommons has to offer. Be sure to ask about the world’s largest toilet when you visit!
When you are ready for an ice cream break (and who isn’t after a fun day of playing and exploring), Zaharakos should be your first choice.
Zaharakos has been a historic landmark (and ice cream parlor) in Columbus for over 100 years! The building is beautiful inside and out and retains much of its early 1900s charm.
After you devour your delicious ice cream treats, you can check out the connected museum which houses a Welte Orchestrion (self-playing organ) and other “soda-fountain” memorabilia. It’s quite interesting and full of gorgeous antiques.
Outdoor things to do in Columbus Indiana
With all Columbus Indiana has to offer, it’s no surprise that there are numerous active and enjoyable outdoor things to do!
12. People Trails
Throughout Columbus are more than 27 miles of paved trails called People Trails as they allow anything people-powered (bikes, walking, scooters, etc.).
The trails run all around town, near rivers, creeks, and beautiful farmland. Bring your bike or just lace up your sneakers and get out and explore!
13. Green Goddess Plant Bar
Although technically not outdoors, The Green Goddess Plant Bar IS outdoor-related. This lovely plant shop is full of beautiful succulents, air plants, and more. They also will help you create your own terrarium!
As the name suggests, it’s also a bar! So you can enjoy a beer or other drink while you shop and create your terrarium. Fun and unique – just like Columbus.
14. Mill Race Park
Designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh, this large (85 acres) park is on the river and in addition to what you’d typically find in a park has an observation tower, covered bridge, and amphitheater.
Of course, you’ll also discover playgrounds, basketball courts, and picnic shelters, so it’s an ideal spot to spend a sunny afternoon soaking up the sun and having fun.
Columbus Indiana Restaurants & Breweries
There are dozens of amazing places to eat and drink in Columbus – with a city so full of art and architecture it’s no surprise that the food scene is wonderful too. I can’t even begin to share all the delicious choices, but here are a few favorites.
15. Ramen Alley
We stumbled upon Ramen Alley while exploring the downtown using the downtown guided app and decided a bowl of ramen sounded like a perfect way to warm up and re-energize for the rest of the day.
Located down an alley, this hidden gem is not only beautifully decorated, but it also serves some pretty amazing ramen. The menu is limited to a few appetizers, rice bowls, and ramen, but it was still hard to decide what to order as everything looked and smelled delicious.
We settled on splitting a spicy Miso Bowl with a few gyoza as an appetizer and it was perfect. Spicy, warm, and full of flavor with ramen that still had a bit of bite to it. YUM!
16. Lucabe Coffee
Every downtown needs a delicious coffee shop and lucky for Columbus residents they have several. We chose Lucabe Coffee for an afternoon break and found it delightful.
First the name – love it. Lucabe is a mix of the owners’ kids’ names – and the idea is that Lucabe is not only a wonderful coffee shop but a place where kids are welcome. There is even a cute kids’ corner where kids can play while their parents relax over a delicious drink.
There are plenty of working spots tucked all around the coffee shop, so it’s easy to find a corner and set up shop if you need to get some work done.
And of course, the coffee was delicious. Lucabe uses beans roasted from a nearby Louisville, Kentucky roaster. With yummy coffee, plenty of places to relax, and friendly staff it’s a great little coffee shop!
17. Upland Pump House
As a huge fan of Upland’s sour beers, Upland Pump House was high on my list of places to check out on our last trip to Columbus.
The restaurant/brewery is located in a 1903 historical building that was once a pump house designed by architect Harrison Albright. It’s a truly beautiful building and Upland has done a wonderful job of restoring it and creating a welcoming and lovely brewery.
Upland Brewing Company is out of nearby Bloomington, Indiana and so is well known throughout central Indiana for its delicious beers. This location was no exception.
We split the Baby Wedge and indulged in a few different Upland beers – a PawPaw Sour and Two of Hearts (a fruited gose). I’ve had both before (and enjoyed them) but either in cans or bottled and there is just something better about a beer straight from the tap!
18. 450 North Brewery
450 North Brewery is one of my all-time favorite places to visit on a lazy afternoon. A little bit outside of Columbus, it’s a restaurant, brewery, and winery we’ve visited dozens of times. It’s just always good!
Although the menu changes from time to time, you can always find their delicious wood-fired pizzas and plenty of tasty drink options.
In addition to typical beers, 450 North specializes in smoothies – which are heavily fruited and thicker beers. So yummy! They create tons of fun and flavorful combinations and I haven’t had one yet that wasn’t delicious.
If that’s not your speed, you can also find their own versions of hard ciders (yummy) and even wine from Simmons Winery.
It’s fun to do a wine tasting, order a pizza and a flight of beer and then sit outside on the sunny deck to enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
Where is Columbus Indiana Located?
Columbus Indiana is conveniently located less than an hour south of Indianapolis and 70 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky. With such a great location it’s a terrific day trip or weekend getaway!
Where to stay when visiting Columbus Indiana
Although there are several chain motels located along the I-65 Interstate, I’d recommend staying in downtown Columbus. It’s more fun to immerse yourself in the city and the choices are wonderful.
Inn at Irwin Gardens
If you like a bed & breakfast experience, choose the Inn at Irwin Gardens. Built in 1864 for the Irwin family, the building has been used as a residence or Inn for many years.
The Inn also has beautiful and extensive gardens. And even if you don’t choose to spend the night there, you can call the Inn or the Columbus Visitors Center and arrange for a tour of the house and grounds. In addition, the grounds are open to the public for free several days a week during the summer and fall. Check the website for current days and times.
Columbus Hotel Indigo
Not a bed & breakfast type? No worries, I’m really not either, so I’ve got you covered with another fantastic choice located within walking distance of downtown Columbus. The Hotel Indigo (an IHG property) is my top choice for an overnight when visiting Columbus.
Like most Hotel Indigo’s, this one embraces the local history and culture and is not only architecturally pleasing but has its own gallery showcasing local artists. Plus, there is an adorable dog that will welcome you when you visit!
👉 Ready to book your stay in Columbus, Indiana? Find the best rates on The Hotel Indigo here on Booking.com
Conclusion: The best things to do in Columbus Indiana
Columbus Indiana is truly a unique, vibrant, and interesting town to visit. With its rich history, world-class architecture, and art, it’s a hidden gem located right in the middle of the state. With all the things to do in Columbus Indiana, it’s an ideal choice for multiple day trips or weekend getaways!
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