Indiana has vast stretches of farmland punctuated by cities and towns, yet the ten biggest cities in the state are far from rural communities. These large population centers offer cultural experiences, unique entertainment, fine dining, and varied shopping options that any visitor or resident can appreciate.
Known as both the “Hoosier State” and the “Crossroads of America”, Indiana has long had a connection with amateur sports, in particular high school basketball, which has become synonymous with the state. Indiana is also recognized as home of the Indianapolis 500, which takes place every May in the state’s capital.
Here are the ten biggest cities in Indiana, ranked from highest to lowest population:
The largest city in the state is its state capital with a population of 887,642 during the 2020 census. The downtown is centered around Monument Circle, with grids of streets radiating from the center.
Known as the “Amateur Sports Capital of the World”, Indianapolis is home to the NCAA Headquarters, USA Track and Field, USA Gymnastics, USA Diving, and other governing bodies in sports. It’s also home to two professional sports teams, the Indianapolis Colts and the Indiana Pacers, along with minor league baseball, hockey, and soccer teams.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is the largest in the world and consistently ranked among the top in the country. It features an enormous Dinosphere, a Playscape for toddlers, and an outdoor Sports Legends Experience. The Indianapolis Zoo is also often among the top in the country, with animals in large habitats and the facility connected to a botanical garden.
Indianapolis was founded in 1821 and established near the center of the state to be easily reached from the farthest communities within its borders. Today it has become a destination for national conventions, with a network of hotels and restaurants connected to the major convention center in the heart of downtown.
Fort Wayne, IN
One of the oldest cities in Indiana, Fort Wayne was built by Anthony Wayne in 1794 to protect the area from attack by the British. Known as “Mad Anthony”, Wayne was a former American Revolutionary War general initially sent to the area to suppress the Native Americans. The fort bearing his name was decommissioned in 1819 and was torn down more than thirty years later.
Today, Fort Wayne is a vibrant city in the northeastern part of the state. It’s well-reputed for its outdoor parks, recreational opportunities, minor league teams, and Children’s Zoo. In 2020 the city’s population was 263,886 making it the second-largest city in the state.
Fort Wayne is situated at the convergence of three rivers: the St. Mary’s, St. Joseph, and the Maumee. The annual Three Rivers Festival is one of the top events in the area, with weeklong activities celebrating the city. Most activities are free and include concerts, art, an interactive children’s festival, and plenty of food.
Located in southwest Indiana along the Ohio River, Evansville boasts a university, baseball, and entertainment for every type of visitor or resident. The city has several museums and a zoo, plus the USS LST Ship Memorial, a decommissioned tank landing ship on the National Register of Historic Places.
With the University of Evansville downtown, the regional college draws plenty of students and faculty to the area. The city is also home to manufacturing and health sciences and has its own television and radio stations.
Evansville’s Bosse Field is one of the oldest ballparks still in use in the country and was the site of filming for the movie, A League of Their Own. Today the stadium is home to the Evansville Otters, part of an independent baseball league.
Although Evansville is relatively isolated from larger cities, it has grown to be a hub for southwestern cities and towns. In 2020 its population was 117,298.
The city’s human history goes back to 8,000 B.C. when the first native people roamed the area. Angels Mound State Historic Site, along the banks of the Ohio River, follows the native inhabitants who lived in the region and built these mounds between 1000 and 1450 AD. Present-day Evansville was founded in 1812 and is one of the oldest established communities in the state.
South Bend, IN
Located in northern Indiana just before the Michigan border, South Bend is well-reputed for being home to the University of Notre Dame. The city is also a thriving destination beyond simply being a college town.
South Bend had 103,453 residents in the 2020 census and continues to grow. Its name comes from the community’s location along the bend on the southern part of the St. Joseph River. The area was inhabited by the Potawatomi for centuries, and today they operate the only tribal casino in Indiana.
The city boasts several unique museums such as the Studebaker National Museum, The History Museum, and the Snite Museum of Art. Shops, restaurants, and art galleries can be found spread throughout South Bend.
South Bend is renowned for health care and manufacturing, with several hospitals in the area. Although the economy was hurt when the Studebaker plant closed in the 1960s, today it’s home to auto manufacturer AM General and Honeywell Aerospace.
Just 20 miles north of downtown Indianapolis, the expansive city of Carmel has exploded over the past two decades. Once a small railroad town, it has grown into a center of culture and development featuring its three-venue Center for Performing Arts.
A number of bike paths and greenway trails connect Carmel with other nearby communities. The Monon Trail, a former train route, passes through smaller communities to reach downtown Indianapolis. Furthering Carmel’s appreciation for arts and culture, murals and public works of art are incorporated into many public spaces along trails, sidewalks, and roads.
The city’s Midtown features modern architecture modeled after historic buildings in surrounding small towns. These buildings are filled with pricy dining and shopping experiences. The bustling community hosts a wide number of events throughout the year.
Carmel’s population of 99,757 residents in 2020 is a far cry from the nearly 600 residents a century earlier. The town was not much more than a general store when it was established in 1837, but today the push for development has propelled the city into one of the largest in the state.
Located in Central Indiana, Fishers has also grown significantly in the past two decades with enormous development. Most reasons to visit are related to shopping and experiences, such as IKEA and Top Golf. Still the community has a stellar school system and low crime rates.
The community of 98,977 people in 2020 began as a railroad stop in 1872. The town was initially slow to develop and had only a population of 388 in the 1960 census. When I-69 was built alongside the small town, it rapidly grew into a big city just half-an-hour northeast of downtown Indianapolis.
While the abundance of development has hampered traffic in the area, the city has a wide range of leisure activities to enjoy. Conner Prairie, central Indiana’s living history museum, is an educational experience for youth and adults alike. Summer weekends, the site hosts live concerts.
Fishers boasts several breweries, wineries and distilleries, plus golf courses and its own municipal airport. Most shopping and dining options are chains, but there are an abundance of choices for everyone.
It’s speculated that they were so impressed with the blooming flowers in the area that they named it Bloomington. Located a few hours south of Indianapolis, it was established in 1818 by settlers from surrounding states.
Bloomington’s perhaps best known for Indiana University, which contributes significantly to the town’s population. In fact, 79,168 people were counted in the 2020 census, making the population lower than in 2010 because so many students had left college due to the pandemic.
The vibrant downtown is a big college town filled with bustling pubs, restaurants, and coffee shops. it’s often recognized as one of the most picturesque communities in the state. The tree-filled campus is only part of the c ity’s beauty, with several lakes and a national forest within Bloomington’s boundaries.
Aside from the university, Bloomington is liked for its hilly surroundings and local Oliver Winery. It’s also recognized for having two of the largest Buddhist centers in the Midwest. The Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and the Gaden KhachoeShing monastery have resident monks and are open for visitors to learn about interfaith prayer and Buddhism.
Hammond is better known as a suburb of Chicago than its own independent community, yet it’s the seventh largest city in Indiana with a population of 77,879 in 2020. A portion of Hammond borders the south end of Lake Michigan, making it a bit of a beach town on the Great Lakes. Visitors can enjoy access to several beaches and the Hammond Lakefront Park and Bird Sanctuary.
Despite its proximity to Chicago, Hammond is really just an Indiana small town with several arts and entertainment experiences. Visit the Challenger Learning Center for its laser show and planetarium. Try the White Ripple Gallery for art shows, or adults can visit the Horseshoe Casino on Lake Michigan.
Hammond’s location at the crossroads between Indiana and Illinois made it a busy stop for stagecoaches first, then railroads and automobiles. The town’s population skyrocketed in the 20th century, declining in the 1970s. Much of its economy relies upon industry and light manufacturing.
Lafayette benefits from proximity, nestled just a few hours south of Chicago and an hour north of Indianapolis. Across the Wabash River, its sister city West Lafayette is home to Purdue University, making Lafayette an ideal location in Indiana.
The vibrant downtown districts are filled with historic buildings and plenty of choices for shopping and dining. Throughout the area are specialty shops and art galleries in addition to a variety of attractions like museums, gardens, and the zoo.
The city was founded in 1825 and quickly became a center of trade with its location on the river. It was boosted by the development of the Erie Canal and additional railroad routes in Indiana.
Although Lafayette had a population of 70,783 in 2020, it feels significantly larger due to its neighbor. The two combined communities offer a variety of events throughout the year and access to many parks and nature areas.
Noblesville was platted in 1823 and officially incorporated in 1851 when the railroad came through. With 69,604 residents in 2020, the community has grown consistently in the past 50 years along with population increases in surrounding communities.
One of Indianapolis’ many suburbs, Noblesville is primarily known for its picturesque courthouse square surrounded by boutique shops and restaurants. This tenth largest city in the state is also home to the popular Ruoff Music Center, which features top musicians and groups in the summer months.
The city’s urban park, The Commons, hosts live concerts, the farmers’ market, and other events throughout the year. For more outdoor experiences, visit Strawtown Koteewi Park, which was once home to the state’s Natives. The park has a natural history center, an archaeological exhibit, zip lines, archery, and equestrian trails.
To experience the most of what the state’s largest cities have to offer, Central Indiana has the highest concentration of activities within a short distance. Just outside of Indianapolis, the cities of Fishers, Noblesville, and Carmel are only a quick drive away.
However, the sparser-populated cities to the far north and south showcase plenty of activities, education, and entertainment. Whether visiting the ballpark in Evansville or the zoo in Fort Wayne, there are a wide range of experiences in every corner of the state.