A delightfully compact downtown makes for easy sightseeing in Omaha. Many of the attractions can be visited on foot or are only a short drive from the main city center area.
One of the best places to start a tour, spend an afternoon, or enjoy a meal in the evening is the old historic district. Tastefully restored buildings in this central area are home to restaurants, shops, and galleries. Nearby is the waterfront, with lovely parkland and the impressive Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.
The city is home to several interesting museums and public art displays, including the Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness. More family-focused attractions include the Children’s Museum and the extremely popular Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
Find the best things to do with our list of the top attractions in Omaha.
1. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
This huge facility, spread out over 160 acres, is home to unique exhibits and is one of the state’s most popular attractions. Among the zoo’s claims to fame are the Dome Desert, known for being the largest indoor desert in the world, and the Lied Jungle, North America’s largest indoor rainforest.
The Kingdoms of the Night exhibit, also touted as the largest nocturnal exhibit of its kind in the world, allows for a close-up look at creatures of the dark, from bats to beavers and other animals that most visitors may not even have heard of before.
The zoo is also home to the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, where visitors can walk through a 70-foot-long shark tunnel.
Should you work up an appetite, the Zoo’s Glacier Bay Landing, a recreation of an Alaskan port town, has a variety of dining options. A children’s play structure is also located here, as are changing rooms.
Address: 3701 S 10th Street, Omaha, Nebraska
Official site: http://www.omahazoo.com/
2. Wander the Old Market District
In the heart of downtown Omaha is the Old Market District, where a variety of historical buildings from the 19th century line cobblestone streets. It’s a wonderful place to wander around, and some of Omaha’s best and most interesting cafés and restaurants are in this area. You’ll also find a wide assortment of hotels located nearby.
Galleries abound, and their offerings are diverse, ranging from eclectic to more contemporary. The Old Market attracts locals and tourists alike and is relatively compact and well signposted for easy navigation.
3. Visit the Durham Museum
In a spectacular Art Deco building, the huge Durham Museum is an urban renewal project that has shown tremendous results. Originally one of the nation’s busiest train stations, the 1931 building was restored to its former glory in 1995 after an extensive renovation.
The museum showcases the history of the local area. One of the highlights is the Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall where the exhibits are showcased in the fully restored main hall featuring impressive Art Deco architecture.
Also of note are the Steam Locomotive Stations where the inner workings of this world-changing technology are showcased with hands-on displays. The Durham Museum is an easy stroll southwest from the Old Market area.
Address: 801 South 10th Street, Omaha, Nebraska
Official site: www.durhammuseum.org/
4. First National’s Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park
This free attraction is one of the most unique permanent outdoor art installations in the nation. Made of bronze and stainless steel, it is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Although the sculpture park is spread out over five city blocks, the installations are not adjacent. That said, it is easy to follow the flow from one piece to the next. The series shows a wagon train and pioneers making their way through hilly and muddy terrain, as well as a herd of bison and a flock of geese.
The meandering procession terminates at the First National Tower. Visitors can walk right up to and around the sculptures, which are 1.25 times life size.
5. See the Baroque Art at the Joslyn Art Museum
The Joslyn Art Museum was built in the late 1920s and opened in 1931 to great fanfare. It was a gift to the people of Omaha from Sarah Joslyn to commemorate her husband George.
The impressive exterior is clad in Etowah Fleuri marble, which shows a pink hue in the light, and the interior displays a mix of marbles from across Europe and Morocco. The Joslyn Museum is Nebraska’s largest art museum, with notable collections of Baroque art and Greek pottery.
The museum is also known for its collection of works by Alfred Jacob Miller, Karl Bodmer, Charles Bird King, and Henry Inman.
Address: 2200 Dodge Street, Omaha, Nebraska
Official site: www.joslyn.org/
6. Take in a Show at the Performing Arts Center
The Omaha Performing Arts Center is actually two venues: the Orpheum Theater and the Holland Center for the Performing Arts. The Orpheum Theater, constructed in 1927, is the host to traveling Broadway shows, dance shows, and traveling comedians among others.
The Holland Center for the Performing arts is housed in a modern, architecturally acclaimed building noted for its fine acoustics. It has had the honor of hosting some of the world’s premiere musicians and is the home of the Omaha Symphony.
Official site: https://www.omahaperformingarts.org/
7. Enjoy the Greenery at Lauritzen Gardens
These 100-acre gardens are in the riverfront hills area of the city and make a pleasant place to visit to observe nature in its finest form. Lauritzen Gardens were founded in 1995 and have grown and expanded their displays from the initial rose, herb, and shade hosta gardens among others.
Now visitors will find gardens focusing on many themes, from English and Victorian, to one on Nebraskan prairies, called Song of the Lark Meadow. The gardens also feature a model railroad, education center, and a bird sanctuary.
Address: 100 Bancroft Street, Omaha, Nebraska
Official site: www.lauritzengardens.org/
8. Take the Kids to the Omaha Children’s Museum
First founded in 1976, the Omaha Children’s Museum is popular with locals and visitors alike. The museum has eight permanent indoor exhibits and one outdoor exhibit. Themes focus on creativity, arts, science and technology, zoology, and much more.
During the summer months Sandy’s Splish Splash Garden, which is outside and typically open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, offers a refreshing escape from the summer heat. The Omaha Children’s Museum also hosts special exhibits on a regular basis; check the website for the latest updates.
Address: 500 South 20th Street, Omaha, Nebraska
Official site: http://www.ocm.org/
9. Go for a Ride Over the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is unique in the fact that it is one of the only foot bridges to connect two states. A plaque marks the spot where the two states meet. The bridge makes for a great stroll after dinner or for snacks at the beautifully restored Old Market part of town, which is located very nearby.
Just down from the bridge is Lewis & Clark Landing, an open space with a National Park visitor center detailing their journey.
On the far side of the “s” curving bridge is the city of Council Bluffs. The distance from one side of the bridge to the other is 3,000 feet. Bicycle enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the bridge connects to a large trail network in both cities.
For those with an interest in floral displays, or just looking to take a break in beautiful surroundings, the Lauritzen Gardens are just a short pedal away.
10. Saint Cecilia Cathedral
Set high upon a hill, the twin bell towers of this lovely cathedral are one of the city’s key landmarks. The cathedral was started in 1905 and is said to contain more than three million bricks. According to some of the stories about the cathedral, every one of the bricks had to be dipped in water before the architect would allow them to be mortared.
The beautiful stained glass windows are more than 500 years old. In one section of the glass, the Virgin Mary is shown holding an ear of corn. The exterior of the cathedral does not do it justice; visitors should try to sneak at least a peek of the beautiful interior.
Address: 701 N 40th Street, Omaha, Nebraska
Official site: http://www.stceciliacathedral.org/
11. Stroll around the Lewis & Clark Landing
Just down the river from the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is the Lewis & Clark Landing. Combine your trip across the river on the bridge with a stop here, where you’ll find interpretive displays on the exploits of Lewis & Clark.
The 23-acre park is a pleasant place to linger, with picnic tables, benches, beautiful views, and water features. A national park office has additional information, and the 20-minute film by Ken Burns is well worth watching if you have the time.
Address: 515 N Riverfront Drive, Omaha, Nebraska
12. See the Trains at Kenefick Park
As you drive west along Interstate 80 and look up to your right, you’ll see two locomotives perched on a high bluff. If your curiosity is piqued or you are a train buff, make a detour to visit Kenefick Park.
Here, you’ll find the world’s largest diesel-powered locomotive, the impressive Centennial 6900. In addition to being the largest diesel powered locomotive, it is also the largest ever built. Since the park is all about extra large locomotives, it only makes sense that Kenefick Park should also have the world’s largest steam locomotive, named Big Boy No. 4023.
In behind the locomotives are several plazas, benches, and informative plaques built into the ground. The park is named after John C. Kenefick, Union Pacific’s former Chairman and CEO. The park is free to enter. Combine a visit with a trip to Lauritzen Gardens located in the same area.
Official site: https://www.lauritzengardens.org/about/kenefick_park/index.asp
13. See the Ships at Freedom Park Navy Museum
This large grassy area on the banks of the Missouri River is a great spot to stretch your legs and catch up on some military history.
You can walk right up to, and in some cases, inside, your choice of a mine sweeper, the USS Hazard, a small submarine, the USS Marlin, and a Douglas A-4D Skyhawk fighter jet. The massive anchor and propeller garden also makes for great photo opportunities.
The park is free and open daylight hours. Tours are available on Saturdays.
Address: 2497 Freedom Park Road, Omaha, Nebraska
14. Drive past Animals at the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari
Get up close and personal with bison, elk, and deer from the comfort of your car at the Wildlife Safari Park in Ashland, about 30 minutes from Omaha. A four-mile driving route takes you right through the animal paddocks where these large creatures are literally just a few feet from your car.
In addition to the driving tour, walking trails take you past the wolf, bear, and avian enclosures. One of the most entertaining exhibits is the Prairie Dog Town. Here, you can watch these industrious critters scurry about, popping up every now and again from their warren of tunnels.
A visit here can be combined with a stop at the Strategic Air And Space Museum.
Address: 16406 292nd Street, Ashland, Nebraska
Official site: http://www.wildlifesafaripark.com
15. Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters
This free attraction showcases information on one of 90 winter settlements used by the Latter Day Saints in their famous westward track to their final goal of the Salt Lake Valley.
Inside the visitors center, you’ll find maps, historical artifacts, and a wealth of information about this historic and challenging journey. Not far from the visitors center, you’ll also find the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery and the Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple. An interesting sculpture by Avard Fairbanks titled Tragedy of Winter Quarters is nearby.
Address: 3215 State Street, Omaha, Nebraska
16. Learn a bit of History at the Malcolm X House Site
Although the house where he first lived was torn down a few years before 1970, the site where it once stood is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Those interested in Malcolm X’s life will want to stop by and read the large historical marker located behind the visitor center. The visitor center is only open on weekends and is staffed by volunteers. Be sure to ring the bell if it appears no one is around.
The park is one of 49 sites throughout the country that are part of the National Park Service’s We Shall Overcome itinerary.
Address: 3448 Pinkney Street, Omaha, Nebraska