Nestled along the Wabash River, the historic village of New Harmony in southern Indiana is a great spot to spend a relaxing and laid-back day. Located just south of Interstate 64, right between Saint Louis and Louisville, it’s easy to find and makes for a wonderful day trip.
The town is steeped in tradition and blessed with beautiful architecture, a unique arts and culture scene, and charming shops and boutiques. There’s truly something here for every visitor. Here are a few of our favorite ways to spend a perfect day in this town that’s just as sweet as its name.
Learn About The Town’s History
To get your bearings once you arrive in town, we suggest heading to the Atheneum Visitors Center. Operated by the University of Southern Indiana’s Historic New Harmony program, this award-winning architectural marvel is a terrific starting point to learning more about and fully appreciating the history of this little town.
In 1814, a group of German immigrants seeking religious freedom founded New Harmony. They quickly became a self-sufficient spiritual society. But the German settlers didn’t stay long. About 10 years later, they sold the entire town to a wealthy industrialist, who again sought to establish it as a center for enlightenment. Scientists, educators, and theorists flocked to New Harmony, eager to take part in its second utopian vision.
That vision is still evident today, with numerous historic sites scattered around town. I strongly recommend signing up for the 2-hour tour with Historic New Harmony so that you don’t miss the historic highlights and accompanying anecdotes that make this place so special. If you’d like to go at it on your own, New Harmony is very walkable. Or consider renting a golf cart from the New Harmony Inn Resort to save on steps.
Visit The Institutes
A large part of New Harmony’s past was its strong emphasis on self-improvement and education. Several of the centers dedicated to the pursuit of betterment that were built early in the town’s history still stand today and still pursue their original missions.
The Working Men’s Institute, founded in 1838, is part museum, part library, and wholly enlightening. Founded to bridge the education gap between the rich and the less wealthy, this was a place dedicated to education for all. Housed in a gorgeous Victorian building that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the museum, library, gallery, and archives are all worth a peek. The institute’s counterpart, the Women’s Institute & Gallery, also includes a library, as well as a carefully curated gift shop filled with incredible products by local artisans.
Take In The Art
It should come as no surprise that New Harmony, with its strong ties to education and culture, is packed with places where you can admire — and purchase — fine art.
Start your own art excursion at the Hoosier Salon. This nonprofit artists’ collective has roots dating back decades; it supports and showcases the work of Indiana artists. The Hoosier Salon also hosts annual exhibitions, workshops, and artist retrospectives.
The Mason-Nordgauer Fine Arts Gallery is committed to growing a diverse, national network of both collectors and creatives. It offers works for sale by both up-and-coming and established artists, including paintings, glasswork, sculptures, ceramics, photography, prints, and mixed media.
Founded in 1975 and located right on Main Street, the New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art provides a nonprofit space for Midwestern artists to display and exhibit their work in a professional setting. Also open to the public, the gallery hosts seven curated exhibitions a year.
And make sure to wander past an extraordinary piece of living outdoor art: the Tree of 40 Fruits. These two trees were created by an art professor at Syracuse University. Thanks to careful grafting and constant care, these two trees, located near the Atheneum, each grow 40 different kinds of fruit. They are a marvel to behold and were created with conversation in mind, since each features many heirloom varieties.
Browse The Boutiques
In addition to the art galleries, New Harmony is full of plenty of other unique places to shop. From antiques to handcrafted home goods, you are bound to find all sorts of treasures to bring home!
Lowry Hollow, a home decor store, features a mix of old and new furniture and gems. It’s located in The Mews, a group of four Victorian-era buildings with a total of 11 shop spaces. It would be easy to spend most of the day exploring this space! Firehouse Antiques offers a mix of vintage items in a lovingly restored fire station. Foodies and kitchen enthusiasts will love Capers Emporium. From kitchen gadgets to gourmet items, you’ll find everything you need to set the perfect table. And for an olfactory treat, head to New Harmony Soap Co., where you’ll find a whole host of treats, including scented soaps, body balms, shampoos, and aromatherapy accessories.
Connect With Nature
New Harmony is also a terrific place to slow down and connect with nature. One has to imagine that that was one reason why its original settlers chose this lovely spot for their utopian community.
Harmonie State Park, located about 4 miles south of town, is situated right on the banks of the Wabash River. It features gentle hiking trails in a pristine and serene landscape, plus plenty of gorgeous, shady picnic spots.
In town, the Jane Blaffer Owen Sanctuary pays homage to New Harmony with a walkable, open-air garden and sculpture garden. The sanctuary is open to the public, and all are welcome to wander here. The entire complex has a relaxing, meditative vibe that brings to mind New Harmony’s original purpose. Make sure to take the time to stroll by the sanctuary’s Roofless Church. This park, sectioned off from the rest of the sanctuary by a brick wall and gilded gates, is truly special. Pathways lead to a centrally located nondenominational modern dome, which was completed in 1960. While the structure itself is wholly captivating, the idea that the block around it — without a roof or limits — is actually a place of worship as well is what really gives visitors pause.
The Harmonist Labyrinth, built in 1939 and located just south of downtown, also brings to mind what the town’s founders were seeking. The labyrinth’s hedges, planted in circles emanating out from a tiny stone structure, bring a feeling of peace and contentment that reflects the overall vibe of New Harmony.
Chances are that during your exploring, you’ll work up an appetite. While New Harmony has several terrific dining options, you should put the Yellow Tavern near the top of your list. This historic eatery was first established in 1815, then rebuilt after a fire in 1908. Today, it’s the perfect place to grab some pub appetizers, or perhaps a pizza, burger, or beer. Word to the wise: No plastic is accepted here, so make sure you’ve got cash or a checkbook.
For a bite that’s a bit fancier, the Red Geranium Restaurant, located in the New Harmony Inn Resort, offers fine dining in a charming setting, complete with a lakeside view and adjacent bar.
Go Ghost Hunting
As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, New Harmony has a long and storied history, with its utopian community roots and landmark buildings on nearly every corner. And with that past come spooky stories and tales of paranormal activity. If you dare, consider an evening walking tour of the town once the sun goes down. Haunted New Harmony’s ghost walks last about 90 minutes and will give you a fascinating new appreciation for the people who founded New Harmony… and might not have ever left! Custom tours are available during the off-season for groups of four people or more.
Pro Tip: While this article has focused on how to spend a perfect day in New Harmony, consider making it a weekend. The tranquility of this special place merits at least an overnight! The town has many quaint inns and bed and breakfasts — the Leather Leaf Inn and the A.C. Thomas House are terrific examples. There are plenty of cottages available on homesharing websites if you require more privacy, and for a stay that includes additional amenities, the aforementioned New Harmony Inn Resort fits the bill nicely.