Omaha is the largest city in Nebraska by population and an excellent destination for a getaway. There’s a little bit of everything in this city, so people with all interests can find something to do and love while they’re there.
As you plan your trip, you may feel overwhelmed with what you should or shouldn’t make time for. If you’re wondering what to do in Omaha, you’re not alone. Before you hit the road, consider these best things to do in Omaha, Nebraska.
Table of Contents
- Fun & Best Things to do in Omaha, Nebraska
- 1. Visit Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
- 2. Learn About the History of the Western US at The Durham Museum
- 3. Admire Fine Art at the Joslyn Art Museum
- 4. Bike from Nebraska to Iowa
- 5. Wander Through the Old Market
- 6. Visit Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park
- 7. Enjoy the Greenery at Lauritzen Gardens
- 8. See the Trains at Kenefick Park
- 9. See Naval Ships at the Freedom Park Navy Museum
- 10. Visit the Site of the Malcolm X House
- 11. See Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral
- 12. Spend a Day at Fun-Plex Waterpark and Rides
- 13. Spend Some Time Outdoors at Standing Bear Lake
- 14. Attend the Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival
- 15. Walk Around the Lewis and Clark Landing
- 16. Visit the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters
- 17. Hop on the Omaha Barley Bus for Local Beer Tastings
Fun & Best Things to do in Omaha, Nebraska
1. Visit Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Whether you’re a kid or a kid at heart, the Henry Doorly Zoo is a great way to spend a few hours while in Omaha. Henry Doorly has a zoo and aquarium, which is a unique concert. Many cities have separate establishments, but now you can see all kinds of animals in one activity. The zoo and aquariums are 160 acres with various animals and plants for you to learn about and observe. They have over 17,000 animals throughout the zoo and aquarium.
They have exhibits featuring animals from the African grasslands, the Asian highlands, jungles, and more. Some of their most popular exhibits include their gorilla and orangutans.
These fascinating creatures are beautiful and exciting to see. Plus, be sure to take some time for the sea lion show. These intelligent and funny animals perform for fish while animal trainers teach you about them.
In the aquarium, you can see plenty of marine life. Something people of almost all ages will love is their stingray beach. Here, you can gently pet the wings of stingrays as they swim. The aquarium even has a 70ft tunnel where you can see sharks swimming above you!
As you tour the zoo and aquarium, you can learn about their part in conservation and donate if you want to.
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2. Learn About the History of the Western US at The Durham Museum
If you’re fascinated by history, The Durham Museum is the perfect place to visit while in town. The Durham Museum is in a restored, art deco building that used to be the region’s busiest train station. The building was restored in 1995 to its former glory from it was when it opened in 1931.
As you wander through the various exhibits, you’ll learn all about the history of Omaha and the surrounding areas. They have permanent exhibits and some temporary ones. You can look online to see what traveling exhibits are there during your visit.
Permanent exhibits include the Baright Home and Photo Gallery. You’ll see remakes of cottages from the 1800s and what they called working cottages. They have a Bekins Moving and Storage truck model, which tells the story of a prominent Omaha company.
There are plenty of other permanent exhibits, but some of the most famous ones include authentic trains that used to travel through Omaha when traveling by train was popular.
They have lifesize trains and model trains.
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3. Admire Fine Art at the Joslyn Art Museum
To see some of the finest art Omaha has to offer, make sure the Joslyn Art Museum is on your itinerary. The museum was first built back in the 1920s and opened as an art museum in 1931. Sarah Joslyn gave Omaha this museum as a gift to celebrate her late husband.
You’ll be impressed by how beautiful the building is when you arrive. The outside is covered in beautiful, white, and cream marble. The museum features permanent and visiting exhibits and a handful of sculpture gardens.
The Joslyn Art Museum is Nebraska’s largest art museum and features exhibits with Greek pottery, indigenous artwork, the Maximillian Journals, and more.
One of the best parts about the Joslyn Art Museum is that it’s one of the few Omaha attractions that won’t cost you a penny. The Four Points by Sheraton is a great lodging option if you want to stay downtown near the Joslyn Art Museum.
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4. Bike from Nebraska to Iowa
Have you ever wanted to bike between two states? While in Omaha, you can! Check out the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge which allows you to cross the Missouri River on a 3,000-foot footbridge. It’s the only pedestrian bridge in the United States that connects two states.
You can bike or walk from Omaha, Nebraska, to Council Bluffs, Iowa. As you cross the bridge, you’ll find a plaque that marks the border of the two states. It’s one of the most popular things for locals to do, and it aids Omaha tourism.
It’s a great thing to do in Omaha this weekend or anytime throughout the year. People love the pedestrian bridge because it’s an activity that both adults and kids will love.
It’s near the Lewis and Clark Landing, the Lauritzen Gardens, and a short walk from the Old Market, so you can visit various attractions on this list all in one day.
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5. Wander Through the Old Market
The Old Market is a historic neighborhood in Omaha. The district offers plenty of things to do in Omaha, from restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores, and more. When the Old Market originally developed in 1871, people mainly used the area for grocery stores and other necessity shops.
As Omaha and its tourism industry grew, more restaurants and other shops started popping up through the Old Market. There are several excellent restaurants to eat at, bars, and coffee shops to sit back and relax.
The food scene in the Old Market is quite popular. You can take a walking food tour through the market or a beer or cocktail tour. Besides the fantastic food in the Old Market, the area has a rich and long history. If you’re interested in learning more about it, they offer a guided, walking tour where you can learn more about the market’s history.
If guided tours aren’t something you’re interested in, there are self-guided tours of the market. There are signs everywhere to help guide you. One of the best places to stay near the Old Market is the Hilton Omaha.
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6. Visit Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park
Over the span of five city blocks, you can see the Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park which features 67 bronze statues. Besides getting to admire some fascinating sculptures, the best thing about this Omaha activity is that it’s free since they’re on public streets.
The bronze statues are a permanent art exhibit that makes Omaha stand out. The figures are bronze and stainless steel, and the sheer amount of them throughout the city makes the Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park one of the largest in the world.
The statues are 1.25 times the average human’s size, as are the other sculptures included in the installment. Besides humans, the art installment features a herd of bison, geese, a large wagon, and other western animals.
While the Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park spans over five blocks, navigating the installment and getting to the next piece is easy. You can get up close and personal with these statues to see how tall they genuinely are. Don’t forget to snap some pictures to remember your trip.
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7. Enjoy the Greenery at Lauritzen Gardens
If you love botanical gardens, you’ll love spending some time at Lauritzen Gardens. You’ll find them along the Missouri River, southeast of downtown. The space is impressive, spanning 100 acres of land.
The Lauritzen Gardens opened in 1995 and started with a single rose and herb garden. Over the last few decades, the gardens expanded to fill the space with beautiful trees, bushes, flowers, and other plants.
Those who work at and maintain the gardens do a fantastic job making the gardens easy to navigate for visitors. As you walk through the gardens, you’ll see various themed areas.
One of the most popular themed gardens is the Song of the Lark Meadow, which pays tribute to the Nebraska prairies.
The Lauritzen Gardens offered guided tours, self-guided tours, and various programs that children and families will enjoy. Some of their classes include floral design and a painting class for you to learn how to paint flowers.
8. See the Trains at Kenefick Park
After you’ve spent some time at Lauritzen Gardens, Kenefick Park is within walking distance and worth stopping at. You can see the locomotives from Interstate 80, but it’s even better to see up close. The park is named after John C. Kenefick, the former Chairman, and CEO of Union Pacific.
The world’s largest diesel-powered locomotive sits in Kenefick Park. The name of this magnificent train is the Centennial 6900. Not only is the Centennial 6900 the most giant diesel-powered train, but it’s also one of the largest trains ever built in general.
The Centennial 6900 isn’t the only large train in Kenefick Park. The park also houses the world’s largest steam locomotive, named Big Boy No. 4023. They’re both impressive sights to see, regardless of if you’re a train enthusiast or not.
The trains aren’t the only reason to visit Kenefick Park, though. Behind the large locomotives sit are benches, plazas, and plaques that help you learn more about the area and the trains. You can bring food to have a picnic, a book to read, or simply go to the park just for the trains.
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Freedom Park is an outdoor park and museum that features naval ships and the Navy Museum of Omaha. It’s one of the top things to do in Nebraska. The park features an ample grassy space on the Missouri River, about five miles from the Lauritzen Gardens.
The park is perfect for all traditional park activities, like running, walking, enjoying the fresh air, reading a book, and enjoying a meal. While relaxing and having fun, you can also learn about some of the United States military histories at Freedom Park.
Throughout the park, you’ll find various military aircraft that you can walk up to, read about, and even step inside. Not all of them allow you entrance, but they’re still amazing to see up close.
Some of the aircraft and naval boats are the USS Marlin, a Douglas A-4D Skyhawk fighter jet, and the USS Hazard.
The park is free to visit like other public parks. You’re more than welcome to walk around the park and learn about the history on your own, or you can opt for a guided tour on Saturdays.
10. Visit the Site of the Malcolm X House
For the history buffs, another place you might want to pop by while in town is the site of the Malcolm X House. Malcolm X was a leader within the civil rights movement who championed the worth of blackness in black Americans’ African past.
Malcolm X was born and lived in Omaha, Nebraska, so you can see where he used to live. Well, you can see the land. The city tore the house down decades ago, but there’s a plaque from the National Park Service marking the spot. It’s one of the most fascinating places to visit in Omaha.
The Malcolm X House site is on Evans Street, in north Omaha. There’s a paragraph on a sign by the site of the house. It’s worth reading before or after you stop by the visitor center. This site is one of 49 places marked on the National Parks Service’s “We Shall Overcome” itinerary.
If you want to stay somewhere a little bit outside of downtown Omaha, the Courtyard by Marriott is a great choice.
11. See Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral
One of the ten largest Catholic cathedrals is in Omaha, right on North 40th Street in North Omaha. Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral is a gorgeous piece of architecture that even non-religious folks will love.
The original builders began the process in 1905, and it is said that there are over three million bricks that made the cathedral what it is. This Omaha landmark sits on a hill and has twin bell towers. There are stained glass windows that are a sight to see, and they’re over 500 years old.
While the outside is stunning, it doesn’t do the inside justice. If you can look inside, you should try. Even if you can’t, the exterior is still worth seeing and photographing.
12. Spend a Day at Fun-Plex Waterpark and Rides
Are you looking for a way to beat the summer heat? Getting a ticket to Fun-Plex Waterpark and Rides is a great way to have some Omaha fun. To get to the Fun-Plex Waterpark, you’ll need to head to the Ralston neighborhood of Omaha.
The Fun-Plex Waterpark and Rides is the largest amusement park in the entire state of Nebraska. It sits on 16 acres and has everything you can imagine. From waterslides and other water rides to go-karts, bumper boats, bumper cars, and other amusement park rides, this place will surely be a hit.
If you’re looking for one activity that everyone in the whole family can enjoy, you’ll have to check out their mini-golf course. Their wave pool is fun for almost all ages, the lazy river is the perfect way to relax on the water, and a little lagoon is perfect for the little ones.
For those who love to relax in the sun, you may want to look into their cabana rentals. You’ll find this amusement park on Q street. One of the best places to stay if you’re going to be near this attraction, the Holiday Inn Express, is across the street.
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13. Spend Some Time Outdoors at Standing Bear Lake
For some great Omaha events today, check out one of the several great parks in Omaha. One of the most popular outdoor spaces is Standing Bear Lake in west Omaha. The lake is famous for water activities in the summertime, but the park is open year-round and offers other activities during the wintertime.
Don’t be surprised if you see people boating, kayaking, paddle boarding, or swimming in the lake during the summer. It’s a great way to beat the heat, and it’s a fun activity that you can do solo or with travel buddies. If you’re interested in kayaking or paddleboarding, you can rent the equipment from stores in town if you don’t have your own.
Standing Bear Lake park has a little over three miles of hiking trails that are great for people of all ages. Many of the paths are paved, but a few aren’t. Fishing is also popular at the lake throughout the year. Facilities include restrooms, picnic tables, grills, and a playground for the little ones to play on.
During the winter, the park offers ice skating. There are a small number of vendors selling warm beverages to keep you warm as you skate around the frozen lake.
14. Attend the Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival
One of the best things for entertainment in Omaha is the Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival. This annual event typically happens in August and is worth planning your vacation around the festival. The festival lasts for two days, Friday and Saturday usually, so you can start or end your Omaha week off the right way.
You’ll be able to sample some Nebraska wine and watch stunning hot air balloons launch into the air. General tickets for adults who want to participate in the wine-quaffing include five small glasses of local wine. For those who aren’t huge wine drinkers, they offer beer too.
Of course, the best part about this festival is that you don’t need to drink wine or be an adult to attend. There are separate tickets for children and adults who aren’t participating in the wine sampling.
The festival has plenty of live music and food vendors to check out as you wander around. It’s a great and exciting way to spend your time while in Omaha.
15. Walk Around the Lewis and Clark Landing
After you’ve walked the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, check out the Lewis and Clark Landing nearby, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Omaha, Nebraska.
The riverfront park is 23 acres and has plenty of benches, picnic tables, and places to relax. As you wander through the park, you’ll find displays explaining the different exploits of Lewis and Clark.
You can spend a few minutes here or hours; it’s up to you. If you have the time, there’s a 20-minute film by Ken Burns that’s fascinating. It depicts more information about Lewis and Clark.
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16. Visit the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters
The Mormon Trail Center at Winter Quarters is a visitors center. It showcases various exhibitions about people from the Church of Latter-Day Saints and their famous track to their final goal of the Salt Lake Valley.
You can visit the attraction for free and see where some Mormans stayed during the winter on their trek to Salt Lake Valley. The exhibits have unique artifacts, maps on their path, and other exciting information about the religion and the people who traveled through the area.
You’ll have to head north of downtown Omaha to get to this attraction. It’s a little bit off the beaten path but still worth visiting. You’ll need to plan your visit since it’s not in the center of Omaha.
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17. Hop on the Omaha Barley Bus for Local Beer Tastings
One of the best ways to explore a new city is to try locally crafted beer. The Omaha Barley Bus offers unique brewery, winery, and distillery tours of Omaha and the surrounding areas. Their brewery tour is the most popular because there are 17 fantastic breweries in Omaha.
The bus doesn’t bring you to all 17 breweries, but you’ll get a safe driver as you hop between three fantastic Omaha breweries. The tour is about four hours, and you’ll have enough time at each brewery to enjoy one or a few of their local beers and learn about the process behind creating them.
Depending on the breweries you stop at, you may even have some time to take a tour of the brewery. Your tour guide is knowledgeable about the breweries and beer and will answer all the questions you may have.
Not only are they able to provide you with safe transportation, but they have snacks and bottles of water on board for you to enjoy.