Last Updated on October 8, 2022 by JaimeSays
About five years ago, when I was making my daily slog in reverse traffic from Chicago to my office in the suburbs, an ad campaign on the highway caught my attention. It was for Columbus, Indiana. There were two or three billboards in a row that touted all the can’t miss things to do in Columbus, Indiana. It spoke of architecture, history, and less than a 4 hour drive. At the time, I couldn’t convince my family or then boyfriend, now husband, to take a day off for a visit. When my cousin’s Indiana based baby shower came in the mail, however, I knew I had my chance! I told my family we were taking an extra day so we could try all the fun things to do in Columbus, Indiana.
In the Indianapolis Area? Check out Where to Eat in Indianapolis before your visit!
1) Spend the Night at a Historic Bed and Breakfast
Columbus, Indiana was incorporated as a city in 1864, so there is a lot of history to see. Why not temporarily live some history by staying at an historic inn of Columbus? They’re so beautiful, they are a can’t miss stop of things to do in Columbus, Indiana. May as well get up close and personal as well!
The Inn at Irwin Gardens is a truly breathtaking place to behold. I visited in late spring as flowers were in bloom and greenery was lush. The gardens are open to the public on Tuesday and Sunday afternoons June through October, from 2 – 6 pm. As it was a Friday, I peeked through the fences and viewed the grounds from a distance. I had no clue that such a beautiful place was in the area, and wished I had arranged for a stay. This multi-generational home has been built and rebuilt 3 times since 1864, with the current iteration displaying its 1910 building. The Pompeii inspired gardens truly are a gem of this estate, so mark this as a can’t miss between April-October. You can also schedule a guided tour here.
2) Check out the I.M. Pei Designed Library
If you hear the name I.M. Pei, maybe you think of the British National Gallery or Paris’ Louvre Pyramid. You probably aren’t thinking about Columbus, Indiana! The library is open to visitors, so we just popped in for a quick bathroom break. It actually reminds me a bit of the library at my university with a very 1970s vibe!
3) Grab a Burger (and a Beer) in the Oldest Home in Columbus
Some people like to find the most Michelin star adjacent restaurants in a town, but that’s not usually my style. Having lived in Chicago for over a decade, I like to think I have eaten at some of the best restaurants the world has to offer. When I’m traveling, while I want to eat well, I also want to experience the areas culture. Joe Willy’s Burger Bar does just that. Set within the confines of a Queen Anne Victorian home circa the 1800’s, it is quite a sight. Creaky floors, ornately carved staircases, tasty food, and friendly service all deliver a can’t miss thing to do in Columbus, Indiana.
4) Take a Self-Guided Architecture Walking Tour Down the “Avenue of The Architects”
As every good traditional city plan goes, streets are often arranged as numbers intersecting the names of significant historical figures and area greenery. This is the same with Columbus, Indiana. The most well known thing to do in Columbus, Indiana is related to architecture tours. While there are several guided tours, you can also lead yourself Park near or on Fifth Street, and make sure to walk the length of it from Lindsey to Chestnut, and bring your camera. Use this handy guide from the city Visitors’ Bureau to get more information.
If you are looking for more Midwest Architecture tours, I’m sharing all about some of my small town favorites!
5) Visit The Midwest Equivalent of Paris’ Centre Pompidou
As soon as I saw the AT&T Switching Station in Columbus, Indiana, I immediately thought of Paris. The brightly colored functional pipework just screamed Centre Pompidou.
6) Tour the Miller House and Garden
Of all the must see things to do in Columbus, Indiana, the guided tour of the Miller House and Garden is my top pick. This roughly 90 Minute guided tour starts at the Visitors Center and includes an in-depth walk through of interior and exterior of this residential commission by Eero Saarinen. Best known for his works of the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport and St. Louis’ Arch, this was one of very few residential commissions he completed.
7. Visit the Best Ice Cream Shop in Indiana
Zaharakos Ice Cream Shop was established in 1900. To this day, it continues to serve the people of Columbus, Indiana with tasty soda floats, sundaes, and milkshakes. In addition to the tasty treats, most of the fixtures are original, meaning nostalgia abounds! The shop also contains a small period museum and a general store of goods exclusively made in America.
8. Bike, Walk, Golf, Explore
There are great ways to enjoy outdoor recreation in Columbus, Indiana. Visit Columbus offers several bike route maps on their website. Check out Mill Race Park, voted one of the top 100 parks in the US by Landscape Management, this park embodies design, sustainability, and accessibility.
9. Don’t Miss Out on the Visitors Center
The Columbus Indiana Visitors Center is awesome. There is a gift shop full of architecture based goods and games, and original Chihuly sculpture spanning several floors.
I highly recommend spending at least two days in this hidden gem of the Midwest. The educational opportunities are great for adults and teens, and there is plenty of fun and food to be had as well. If you’ve visited Columbus and have anything to add, drop a comment below!
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