Indiana, despite being one of the smaller states in the USA (it’s ranked #38 in terms of area), boasts no end-of-fun towns to visit. From Madison’s historic architecture and vibrant cultural scene to that “other” Nashville and the automotive history of picturesque Auburn to the wonderfully named Santa Claus with its year-round Christmas theme, each of these destinations offers an authentic taste of “The Hoosier State.”
For ideas and inspiration and to learn more about the fascinating history and cultural scene in this Midwest state, check out these six most vibrant towns in Indiana that are worth including on your travel itinerary.
Madison is located on the banks of the Ohio River, one of the longest rivers in the USA, and has long served as an important river connection with Kentucky. These days, Madison’s bustling historic district is a big draw for day-trippers and road-trippers and ranks as one of the largest in the country. In fact, the Madison Historic District covers some 133 blocks with over 1,800 well-preserved points of interest consisting of architectural styles from Greek Revival to Victorian.
A good time to visit is during the Madison Regatta, an annual hydroplane racing event in June that attracts race fans from far and wide. Another popular event is the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art which celebrates local and regional artists with crafts with performances and workshops. Nearby Clifty Falls State Park is another fun thing to do in Madison for its rugged canyons, waterfalls, and hiking trails.
While not quite as vibrant a place to visit as its counterpart in Tennessee, Nashville, IN, certainly makes for a fun alternative. This cultural hotspot is home to the prestigious Brown County Art Colony which can trace its roots back to the 1870s. Little wonder, then, that the town's quaint streets are lined with galleries, boutiques, and studios where local artists display their talents, from handcrafted jewelry to intricate paintings capturing the beauty of the surrounding area. The Brown County Art Guild and the T.C. Steele State Historic Site are two other landmarks to include on your Nashville itinerary.
The autumn months are a great time to visit when the surrounding hills become a stunning tapestry of reds, oranges, and golds and attract leaf-peepers and photographers from across the region. is a great place to visit at any time of year. Indiana's largest state park, Brown County State Park, covers nearly 16,000 acres with miles of hiking and biking trails, horseback riding, and scenic overlooks.
Named after the Potawatomi Chief, Shipshewana was established in the early 1830s in the heart of Indiana’s Amish country. This unique small town offers a fascinating glimpse into the much simpler Amish way of life, with the Menno-Hof Amish/Mennonite Information Center being the first port of call for most visitors. This popular attraction provides a glimpse into the history and beliefs of the Amish and Mennonite communities through interactive exhibits and tours.
Other fun stuff to do includes visiting the Shipshewana Auction & Flea Market; open May through to September it’s the largest shopping experience of its kind in the Midwest. Nearby Pumpkinvine Nature Trail is another must-visit that offers scenic pathways through fields and forests.
Auburn is known as the "Home of the Classics" for its connection to the car industry and makes for a fun getaway. The star of the show here is the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum. Housed in the original Auburn Automobile Company's art deco headquarters, this world-class museum showcases some of the most innovative cars of the past, including the luxurious Cord and elegant Duesenberg brands.
Auburn's automotive heritage is celebrated during the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Festival. Held each summer, the ACD Festival, as it’s known, features parades, car shows, and auctions across downtown Auburn. While there, check out the attractive Neoclassical DeKalb County Courthouse.
Seriously? A town called Santa Claus? You betcha! Located roughly mid-way between Louisville, KY, and Evansville, IN, Santa Claus is as famous for its year-round Christmas spirit and whimsical charm. A festive spirit is on display throughout the town and its attractions, most notably at Holiday World & Splashin' Safari, a fun theme park with Christmas-themed rides, exciting roller coasters, and a water park.
Another popular attraction is the Santa Claus Museum & Village, a great local history museum with displays and a quaint old hilltop church, an original post office, and even a 22-foot-tall Santa statue for a unique selfie. To prove you’ve been here, visit the Santa Claus Post Office and send yourself a postcard with the town’s unique postmark.
Zionsville’s brick-paved Main Street is lined with the kind of unique shops, art galleries, and cozy cafés that simply shout out “classic Americana.” Known for its many urban trees and well-preserved historic buildings, the Traders Point Eagle Creek Rural Historic District is a lot of fun to explore on foot. In addition to its heritage buildings, this attractive downtown area attracts tourists year-round with events like the annual Zionsville Fall Festival and the Christmas in the Village parade, both as popular with out-of-towners as they are with locals.
The Zionsville Farmers Market is another big draw for its local produce and artisan crafts, while the quirky AFCA Antique Fan Museum is home to one of the world’s largest collections of these whirling wonders.
The Final Word
For those seeking an alternative to the big city attractions of Indianapolis and Fort Wayne, these six enchanting small towns – Madison, Nashville, Shipshewana, Auburn, Zionsville, and Santa Claus – each offer a unique yet authentic look at the “real” Indiana. From Madison's historic riverfront and Nashville's artistic soul to Shipshewana's Amish heritage, Auburn's automotive legacy, and the year-round Christmas cheer of Santa Claus, these six most vibrant towns are more than just travel destinations: they embody the rich diversity of Indiana.