Omaha, Nebraska is a lively town located along the Missouri River in the midwestern United States. It is a city that may not have been on your bucket list before, but it absolutely should be!
Boasting one of the top zoos and aquariums in the world, some of the coolest interactive museums, and a bustling downtown area full of well-known steakhouses and boutiques, this Midwest state sure knows how to pack a punch with activities that the entire family will enjoy!
While there are so many fun things to do in Omaha indoors to enjoy during any season, if you love the outdoors, the best time to visit would be between April and October when the outdoor gardens and parks are open, and the river cruises are running.
Here’s 14 things to do in Omaha that you’re not going to want to miss.
HENRY DOORLY ZOO AND AQUARIUM
The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is consistently ranked as one of the top zoos in the world, and it’s located right in Omaha! It is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for its mission of conservation and education, and is a member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
If you have kids, this is one stop you absolutely cannot miss! I’d recommend planning a whole day to visit Henry Doorly, as there is just so much to do here. The zoo and aquarium covers over 160 acres, six of which are indoor exhibits, perfect for year-round adventure.
The Lied Jungle exhibit is one of the most popular exhibits, as it is one of the largest indoor rainforests in the world. Other notable exhibits that you should check out are the African Grasslands — the zoo’s largest project which took 6 years to complete and cost $73 million. Stop by the Desert Dome exhibit that contains geological elements from deserts around the world, and includes the Kingdom of the Night exhibit which features many different desert snakes, foxes, birds.
Kingdom of the Seas Aquarium is a massive building that features displays of all different kinds of aquatic plants and animals from around the world such as sharks, jellyfish, coral reef, and puffins.
Details: 3701 S 10th St, Omaha, NE 68107 | Website
There are plenty of things to do in Omaha’s Old Market neighborhood as it’s considered to be the city’s entertainment district.
Most hotels, shops, and restaurants are located in this neighborhood — making it the perfect central location during your visit. Grab dinner from one of Omaha’s finest steakhouses or pop into a lively jazz club for a little aperitif. Spend the evening walking along the cobblestone streets listening to live music and popping into different art galleries and boutiques. Take a horse drawn carriage through the neighborhood, and take it all in.
You can either walk back to your hotel, or else most hotels have a free shuttle service for you to use.
Note: Heartland of America Park was located across the street from this area, but is currently being revitalized as part of a multi-million dollar project that will vastly improve The RiverFront area. Gondola rides, the fountains, and much more will be available when the park reopens in 2023.
THE DURHAM MUSEUM
The Durham Museum is located downtown in Omaha’s Old Market area in the old Union Station.
The building that houses the museum has stunning architecture, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1931 and used to be the city’s Union Station. Now it’s one of the coolest art deco examples in the country, a museum, and a National Historic Landmark!
The museum here features some permanent exhibits that showcase Omaha’s history. Find vintage cars, grocery store replicas, and life-size sculptures showcasing the best of life in Omaha. There are also a few fun rotating exhibits, so every visit here will have something new to see.
Before you leave the Durham Museum, make sure you stop by the authentic soda fountain on your way out!
Details: 801 S 10th St, Omaha, NE 68108 | Website
BOB KERREY PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE
Want to take a walk on over to Iowa? With a walk on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, you can!
When you visit Omaha, you just have to visit the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. It is a footbridge north of I-480 that spans 3,000 feet to connect Nebraska to Iowa over the Missouri River. The bridge was named after former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, who was granted the federal funding to complete the bridge project in 2000.
For spectacular views, take a walk during sunset — you won’t regret it!
Details: 705 Riverfront dr., Omaha, NE 68102 | Website
LAURITZEN GARDENS OMAHA’S BOTANICAL CENTER
One of the most relaxing places you could visit in Omaha is the Lauritzen Gardens – Omaha Botanical Center. This 100-acre urban oasis is located along the Missouri River just north of the Henry Doorly Zoo. It has both indoor and outdoor gardens featuring unique flowers and plants that vary by the season.
Spend an hour or two wistfully strolling along the trails, taking in the beauty and sweet smells, or hop on the tram for a one hour narrated tour for just a few dollars. Since the tram runs outdoors it opens when the weather is warm in May and closes in October.
During those months you can also stick around later in the evening for Garden Twilight to watch the sunset, which I highly recommend doing!
Kenefick Park is also in the Omaha Botanical Center and is located right next door to the Lauritzen Gardens, so I highly recommend making a visit to both! It features Union Pacific Big Boy #4023 and Union Pacific Centennial #6900, two of the “greatest locomotives to ever power Union Pacific Railroad” according to the park website.
Parking in the lot at Kenefick Park is free and so is admission, making it a great, budget-friendly choice.
Details: 100 Bancroft St Omaha, NE 68108 | Website
JOSLYN ART MUSEUM
The Joslyn Art Museum is an Omaha, Nebraska staple! It is the state’s principle fine arts museum. It opened in 1931 as a gift by Sarah Joslyn to honor her late husband, George A. Joslyn.
This museum features an extensive permanent collection of art, most notably those of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by artists Pierre-Auguste Renoir and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It also features a very educational collection of Western American and Native American art history.
Aside from the permanent collections, you will also find some great rotating exhibits each season. I highly recommend you plan about an hour or so to pop into the Joslyn Art Museum during your visit to Omaha.
Details: 2200 Dodge St, Omaha, NE 68102 | Website
OMAHA CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
The Omaha Children’s Museum is a nonprofit interactive learning environment catered to young kids, 8 and under.
The museum features some really awesome permanent exhibits, such as the Imagination Playground, a really fun science center featuring a “Science Showplace” for live science demos, and a Creative Arts Center with an Artist-in-Residence studio.
Aside from the permanent exhibits, the Omaha Children’s Museum also has lot of rotating special exhibits. You can visit their website to find out what those exhibits may be.
I’d recommend planning to spend about 3 hours or so at the museum as there are so many cool things to check out.
Local Tip: Parking is free at the museum and on the weekends at the elementary school across the street!
Details: 500 S 20th St, Omaha, NE 68102 | Website
George and Sarah Joslyn believed that great wealth is to be shared. Joslyn Castle and Gardens leaves a beautiful legacy that provides natural and cultural educational programming for all to enjoy. Public tours are available of the grounds and the castle, beginning with a video about the history of the Joslyn’s and their beautiful home.
Joslyn Castle is easily one of the most beautiful and magnificent homes in the area, boasting breathtaking architecture. The castle is an Omaha Landmark Historic Structure and the grounds are part of the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.
The landscape architecture includes greenhouses, a lily pond for aquatic flowers, flowerbeds and gardens. Birdhouses and feeding stations are strategically placed throughout the gardens to enhance the plants and attract birdlife for all to enjoy.
Reservations are not needed for public tours, which are scheduled Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays. Joslyn Gardens is a public green space that can be enjoyed anytime events are not taking place. There is also a calendar of special events that you won’t want to miss.
Details: 3902 Davenport St, Omaha, NE 68131 | Website
MALCOM X’S BIRTHPLACE
Malcolm X was a human rights activist and Civil Rights leader who dedicated his life to advocating for the African American community.
Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925, where he lived with his parents for less than one year. The home of Malcolm X’s birthplace was demolished before the 1970s, but you will find a memorial where it once stood.
Make a visit here to learn all about Malcom X’s life and teachings, all the way up to his assassination in 1965.
BEMIS CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS
The Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts was founded in 1981 by four artists who wanted to use the center to showcase contemporary art, its creation and process.
It has a permanent international artists-in-resident program, immersive educational programs, and other temporary events and exhibitions that take place throughout the year. You can visit their website to learn more about what events are currently taking place.
The Bemis Center is located in the Old Market district of downtown Omaha and admission is free, so plan to pop in for an hour or so when you’re in the area!
Details: 724 S 12th St, Omaha, NE 68102 | Website
WILDLIFE SAFARI PARK
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari is open daily, April through October. Adventure through a 4-mile drive to experience American wildlife such as bears, wolves, elk, bison and waterfowl.
Two miles of hiking trails for all levels of hikers can take you to Frog Lake. Visit animal habitats and enjoy programs led by conservationists.
Reservations are required for special programs. Although not an exhibit area, it is interesting to know that the Conservation Park is home to a Tiger and Cheetah Breeding Center.
Details: 16406 292nd St, Ashland, NE 68003 | Website
RIVER CITY STAR
If you’re looking for a fun place to drink and have a good time on the river in the summer months, visit Omaha’s Riverfront Entertainment Center! The center has an event center for weddings and other special events, a bar, and a riverboat offering both public and private charters.
The River City Star facility used to have a tiki bar on the water, but that was unfortunately destroyed during the Missouri River floods in 2019. The bar has now moved to higher ground, and became the Dam Bar and Grill. Stop by for a drink or bite to eat before your cruise!
If you’re looking for a fun day on the water, you have to make a reservation to cruise on the River City Riverboat! The Riverboat has two decks: the upper deck hosts DJs or a band and provides a lovely view of the water, and the lower deck has a bar, large viewing windows, and plenty of food.
Spend the evening cruising around the river, enjoying the music and beautiful scenery.
Details: 151 Freedom Park Rd, Omaha, NE 68102 | Website
DAY TRIP TO PLATTE RIVER STATE PARK
If you love the outdoors and have a day to get out of the hustle and bustle of downtown Omaha, I recommend taking a day trip to Platte River State Park.
Platte River is a 453-acre recreation area located halfway between Lincoln and Omaha, and it’s full of picturesque waterfalls, scenic hiking trails, kayak access points, a spray park, state of the art camping facilities, and nearly any activity that your adventure heart desires!
The park was created by two separate camps, Harriet Harding Campfire Girls Camp and Camp Esther K. Newman. When the camps merged to create one big state park, vintage cabins were preserved and cozy glamping cabins were added to offer an luxurious indoor/outdoor experience.
Book a reservation for the summer so you can spend your days kayaking on the river, mountain biking along the trails, or relaxing in your cozy bungalow!
Details: 14421 346th St, Louisville, NE 68037 | Website
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO NEBRASKA
WHERE TO STAY IN OMAHA
Best for Couples. Hilton Omaha is rated best for couples and very close to the shops, restaurants and entertainment in Old Market. While perhaps not considered a luxury hotel, it’s certainly upscale and great for a romantic getaway.
Best Budget Option. Hilton Garden Inn Omaha Aksarben Village If you’re willing to be a bit farther from city-center (4.3 miles) but don’t want to sacrifice quality this is a good choice. TD Ameritrade Park is 6 miles from here.
Best Downtown. The Peregrine Omaha Downtown Curio Collection By Hilton is located in the heart of Omaha. Popular points of interest near the accommodation include Old Market, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts and The Durham Museum.
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