Known as the “Gateway to the West”, Omaha is the largest city in the state of Nebraska and is located right on the Missouri River. Sightseeing is a breeze in Omaha thanks to the compact downtown area, from which all major attractions can easily be accessed on foot or through public transportation.
Omaha’s old historic district is a special place of interest for people visiting the town since it has a lot of history and culture embedded into it. The waterfront area is also in the vicinity, with scenic parklands and the famous Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Read on to find about the places you shouldn’t be missing out on when you’re in Omaha!
Interactive Map of 25 Things to Do in Omaha (NE)
1. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Spanning a massive 160 acres, the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium was acclaimed as the “World’s Best Zoo” by Tripadvisor in 2014. Opened back in 1894, this zoo features approximately 950+ species of a variety of animals, which attract a massive 2 million visitors annually.
Notable exhibits on sight include the Kingdoms of the Night (world’s largest nocturnal exhibit and indoor swap), the Lied Jungle (a massive indoor rainforest), the Dessert Dome (one of the world’s largest indoor desserts) and even the largest Cat Complex in North America. Exhibits are further divided according to their country of origin, making it super easy to find you favorite animal on site!
2. The Durham Museum
Located in downtown Omaha, the Durham Museum was initially a train station called the Union Station, one of the nation’s busiest train stations back in 1930’s. An official national historic landmark and one of Omaha’s most prized possessions, the museum has some of the most fascinating art deco architectures in the country.
The Durham Museum offers a variety of engaging art exhibits alongside numerous hands-on experiences, which are suitable for visitors of all ages. Exhibits include model trains, restored train cars, several artifacts documenting the regions history and the Byron Reed Collection, the museum’s most treasured exhibit attributing to some of the world’s rarest coins and documents on display!
3. Lauritzen Gardens Omaha’s Botanical Center
Featuring a bird sanctuary, a model railroad design, and even an education center, the Lauritzen Gardens were created In 1982 and have steadily been expanded to cover an area of about 100-acres. They initially only were home to a rose garden, a shade hosta garden and a herb garden but the variety has grown to include many other floral species such as wildflowers and prairies.
Holiday Poinsettia show, fall chrysanthemum festival, and the spring bulb show are among the three major floral shows held every year! There is even a café and a gift shop for those wanting to grab memorabilia or just have a quick meal.
4. Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
Named after Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge is one of the only footbridges in the nation that connect two states. The bridge has a length of 3000-ft and it starts off in Omaha, Nebraska, and ends in Council Bluffs, Iowa. There is even a plaque that marks the spot at which the two states meet, which makes for a great photo-op.
They’re separate biking and walking paths so you can choose to do whatever you like. The bridge gets lit-up by special lights, that were installed in 2008, and these make the bridge so much prettier at night!
5. Joslyn Art Museum
Gifted to the people of Omaha by Sarah Joslyn to commemorate her husband George Joslyn, the Joslyn Museum was opened to the public in 1931. Along with being the state’s largest art museum, it is also the only museum in Nebraska to have a comprehensive permanent art collection.
It’s most prized possessions include the exceptional art collection of American and European artists from the 18th and 19th centuries, like Pierre-Auguste Renoir and William-Adolphe Bouguereau. In 2009, a sculpture garden was also opened inside the museum to add to its amazing art collection. The museum features decorative panels which are made from over 38 different marble types from all around the world.
6. Heartland of America Park
Located in downtown Omaha, adjacent to Gene Leahy Mall and the Old Market, the Heartland of American Park is a public park with a lot more twists than you’d expect. The park features a lake that has three fountains built into it, including a huge $1.5 Million, hi-tech fountain which launches water to heights of up to 300-feet and features a nighttime light show.
There is a walking trail around the lake and if you’re not in the mood for a walk, you can take one of the mesmerizing boat tours that are available. The Taste of Omaha event also takes place here annually!
7. Old Market District
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979 and designated an Omaha landmark in 1985, the Old Market district is a historic area featuring exquisite architecture from the turn of the century. The streets are paved with cobblestone and numerous hotels can be found in this area.
It’s an excellent place to take a stroll since it filled with so much of Omaha’s history and culture. This district is also home to some of the most decadent and interesting café’s and restaurants, which means you should definitely plan on stopping by for a meal here! You can almost always spot street performers displaying their talents and artists showcasing their work around these streets!
8. Omaha’s Children Museum
Awarded the Leading Edge Award for visitor experience in 2004 and 2010, the Omaha’s Children Museum is an exploratory, learning space for children. It features a series of outdoor and indoor exhibits, all aimed at engaging the imagination of young people and exciting them through learning. Themes of these exhibits focus on a variety of categories including arts, science, zoology and more!
Sandy’s Splish Splash Garden is an interactive fountain area found within the museum, which is perfect for cooling off in the summers. There is also an “Imagination Playground” designed specifically to bring out the creativity in young children!
9. Joslyn Castle
The George and Sarah Joslyn Home, better known as Joslyn Castle, is a 35-room mansion featuring 4 floors and a carriage house tower. It was designated as an Omaha landmark in 1979 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. This Scottish Baronial style mansion commemorates the vast amount of contributions to Omaha by the Joslyn’s and serves as a physical reminder of their legacies!
The castle offers various activities and events related to art, history, theatre, and music all year round, making it a go-to place for locals and tourists alike Public tours are also regularly carried out for those wanting to learn more deeply about the castle’s history!
10. Lewis & Clark Landing
Planning on heading to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge for a walk? Well, just a stroll away from it you’ll find the Lewis & Clark Landing, a public park located adjacent to the Missouri River. You can either take part in one of the festivals that are almost always happening here or you can just sit back and relax in the designated area to enjoy the riverfront experience.
The park also features the Omaha’s Firefighter Memorial Monument as well as several Lewis and Clark interpretive exhibits, showcasing their exploits. If you have children, the jumping fountains make for the perfect fun-filled activity for your little ones in the summer!
11. Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters
Run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters is a museum and visitor’s center located near the Church. This religious museum details the story of the Mormon Trail, a 1300-mile long route from Illinois to Utah, which was traveled by 3 members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint.
It further interprets the history of Winter Quarters, a temporary Mormon settlement that was located in Florence, Omaha between 1846-1848. The entrance to the museum has a very eye-catching monument representing a Mormon Handcart family. So if you’re someone interested in some religious history, this is the place for you!
12. Benson Park
On the lookout for a relaxing day with fun-filled activities? Well, Benson Park has so much in store for you. It features a scenic picnic area as well as a lake and pavilion, all spread over a passive 217-acres. The park also has a 9-hole golf course for golfing enthusiasts and an ice rink for those wanting to get their figure skates on and go skating!
For those looking to have a more relaxed time, the lagoon in the park can be used for fishing and sightseeing, especially since the park’s location in the wide valley offers mesmerizing views of the surrounding hills!
13. Heron Haven Nature Center
Home to one of the last oxbow wetlands of the Big Papillion Creek, Heron Haven Natural Center is a spring-fed wetland sanctuary located in Northwest Omaha. Despite its central location, it provides both tourists and visitors the opportunity to seek peace and refuge in nature, whether that be through studying in their library, observing, or just taking a walk through nature.
The education center features a small museum, with a lot of information about nature. There are also opportunities for bird watching and photographing nature on-site. Occasionally, there are prairie grass exhibits alongside the mesmerizing butterfly garden, through which you can take a short stroll.
14. First National’s Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park
The First National’s Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park and Pioneer Courage Park are two sculpture parks, which when combined, form one of the world’s largest sculpture parks. The Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness Park features about 67 stainless steel and bronze work including bulls, cows, geese, and other supplemental sculptures.
On the other hand, the Pioneer Courage Park is home to sculptures depicting 4 different families, with their horses and caravans, departing westward of Omaha, each in their unique way. All the sculptures in both these parks have been strategically aligned and placed to engage visitors as they pass through the area.
15. Saint Cecilia Cathedral
Ranked as one of the 10 largest cathedrals in the US back when it was completed in 1959, the Saint Cecilia Cathedral is situated atop a hill in Omaha and offers scenic views of the city. Made with over 3 million bricks, this church is an architectural masterpiece with stunning glass windows which are more than 500 years old.
In one of the sections, the Virgin Mary can be seen with an ear of corn in her hand. And even though the exterior of the church is quite fascinating itself, we highly recommend you take a stroll inside and give your eyes a feast of the sophisticated interior décor.
16. Love’s Jazz & Art Center
Named to commemorate the brilliant work in the music world of Jazz by the great Preston Love, the Love’s Jazz and Art Center was founded in 2005 as part of a revitalization effort in the realm of Jazz music. The museum emphasizes the importance of African Americal Culture in Omaha through a series of art exhibitions and live jazz musical performances.
It is also devoted to preserving the history and culture of the African Americans who were settled in North Omaha in the past. The gift shop offers various valuable souvenirs and the educational classrooms on-site are often used to teach Jazz music so that the legacy can live on!
17. Squirrel Cage Jail
Previously known as Pottawattamie County Jail, the Squirrel Cage Jail is said to be one of the most haunted attractions located in the town of Council Bluffs, Iowa. You might think why we’re writing about an attraction in another state but the Council Bluffs can easily be accessed by the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, making it essentially a few minutes away from Omaha.
The attraction itself was built in 1885 as the only three-story revolving jail but was converted to a museum in 1977 by the Historical and Preservation Society of Pottawattamie County. Visit Squirrel cage Jail to get an insight into one of the wilder innovations in modern incarceration!
18. Standing Bear Lake
The Standing Bear Lake is attributed to the Ponca leader, Chief Standing Bear, and was opened back in 1977. Originally known as Dam Site 16, the lake was initially built as a dam to prevent flooding in Papillion Creek but later was regulated to become a city lake.
The 685-acre lake area features various activities for all ages including a remote control airplane flying field, an ice skating rink in the winter, no-wake boating in the summer, and a picnic area. A 3.3-mile hiking and biking trail is also present, making it the perfect place for those looking to burn a few extra calories!
19. TD Ameritrade Park
Are you a baseball enthusiast who’s in Omaha for a few days? The TD Ameritrade Park, located in south-east Omaha, is one of the biggest baseball stadiums in the state of Nebraska. With a capacity of 25000 people, which can be expanded to 35000 spectators if needed, makes the stadium a heavily crowded one, especially during major league matches.
Home to the Creighton University Bluejays, a local university baseball team, the stadium has hosted the NCAA Division 1 Baseball championship and the College World Series as well. You can head on over to the ticketing counter to get yourself an entry pass or you can purchase one online at their website!
20. Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium
Located inside Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium is one of the most mesmerizing attractions of the town. The 70-foot wide shark tunnel, with a walkway in between, gives you an immersive experience of the sea-life around you. Featuring sharks, sea turtles, and even stingrays, this aquarium is bound to blow you away.
Walking through this tunnel, you’ll discover elements of the Amazon, the polar region, the coral reefs, and temperate oceans. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of when the penguins are being fed! A gift shop located at the end allows you to purchase special pictures as well as souvenirs of your trip!
21. Lincoln Monument
A short 10-minute drive from Omaha, the Lincoln Monument stands atop a hill in the city of Council Bluffs, offering scenic views of the city and the valley. This obelisk was erected in July 1911 to commemorate the 1859 visit of Abraham Lincoln, just before he was elected as president.
The monument was built to majorly honor the efforts Lincoln put in connecting the coasts. The site at which the obelisk is situated was the point from which Lincoln saw and chose the Eastern Terminus of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States. The Lincoln Monument park is located here as well and provides access to the city trail system.
22. Fun-Plex Waterpark and Rides
Done with all the touristy bits and want to have some fun? The Fun-Plex Waterpark and Rides is the perfect destination for this. Being Nebraska’s largest amusement park, Fun-Plex offers fun rides and activities such as a huge wave pool to have fun in, a lazy pool for when you want to relax, and more thrilling rides such as the Rocking Rapids for adventure seekers.
Cabanas can also be rented out if required and make for the perfect stay-cation with your family and friends. There are several restaurants on-site, where you can easily grab a meal in between your adventure runs and replenish your energy!
23. Westroads Mall
With over 120 stores and services, Westroads Mall is the largest enclosed shopping mall in Nebraska and is located in downtown Omaha. Some of the major stores in the mall include Dick’s Sporting Goods, JCPenney, and AMC Theatres.
The mall has a fully equipped 3-D cinema with numerous screens which can accommodate a larger crowd at once. Several dine-in options are available alongside a few grab and go options as well. I mean at the end of your trip, you ought to spend a day at the mall to get a few gifts and things and Westroads Mall is perfect for that!
24. Fontenelle Forest
A short drive out of Omaha leads you to the Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska, which is both a National Natural Landmark and a National Historic District. Covering a massive area of 1400-acres, this forest is a nature lover’s paradise and a perfect retreat for those wanting to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
The forest has several hiking trails of varying difficulty, many children camps, a nature center, and a whole lot of picnic locations. Roughly 246 species of birds have been seen in Fontenelle Forest, from which 35 were different species of warblers. This makes it one of the best bird-sighting locations in the state!
25. Spezia Omaha
Serving some of the most delectable dishes in Omaha for more than the past 10 years, Spezia Omaha is one of the town’s finest upscale-casual eatery. Visited often by locals and tourists alike, this modern pick has a patio and a sitting area, making it the perfect place for a family gathering or even a romantic dinner.
Known for serving the best Italian entrees along with Angus steaks and wood-grilled dishes, Spezia Omaha makes sure there’s something for everyone that visits this restaurant. Their Cioppino Spezia and Chicken Parmigiana are the hot sellers from the main entrees and should be on your list to try out!