Omaha, Nebraska, is a quintessential Midwestern city with a rich history of western trailblazers, wagon trains, and railroading pioneers. For tourists, it’s home to a fascinating array of nature centers, nationally famous zoos and botanical gardens, museums, and artist communities. Whether you’re a fan of history, culture, or the great outdoors, there’s something for everyone in this bustling riverfront city, where state-of-the-art 21st-century architecture mingles with Gilded Age manor homes and Art Deco office buildings. With its abundance of well-maintained destination locales, coupled with intense civic pride, it’s not surprising that more than 13 million people visit Omaha each year.
One of America’s finest zoos, Henry Doorly Zoo, is packed with the unexpected — such as the fabulous Desert Dome, which houses the largest indoor desert in the world. You’ll also find the country’s largest aquarium-in-a-zoo, plus a Gorilla Valley, Lion Pavilion, and the breathtaking Kingdoms of the Night exhibit.
Lauritzen Gardens is a 100-acre wonderland of garden flowers — think peonies, roses, bluebells, and lilacs — brimming fountains and exquisite landscaping. Themed gardens showcase Japanese flowers, Victorian landscaping, and even model trains. For true nature lovers, there's also a bird sanctuary and woodland trail.
No review of exciting things to do in Omaha, NE is complete without including the city’s most distinctive landmark, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Measuring 3,000 feet long, it’s a striking example of 21st-century bridge-building, with its S-curve design and a multitude of cables. Locals especially enjoy taking nighttime strolls while enjoying the stunning light display.
The Durham Museum celebrates Nebraska’s vibrant midwestern history, with permanent exhibits that showcase homes, farmhouses, and businesses from a bygone era. There’s also a massive photo archive, with more than a million images and a model train layout honoring the Union Pacific.
Omaha’s Old Market is famous for its original cobblestone streets and picturesque vintage brick buildings. Shoppers will find everything from antiques and books to clothing, jewelry, and decorative items crafted by local artists. Old Market also has an abundance of charming art galleries, food markets, restaurants, and live music venues.
Billed as a living museum, Hot Shops Art Center features more than 80 artists working in 50 studios. For visitors, Hot Shop artists provide classes, seminars, and hands-on demonstrations where you can watch glassblowers, potters, sculptors, and blacksmiths practice their crafts.
Chalco Hills Recreation Center is home to one of Omaha’s most popular fishing spots, Wehrspann Lake. You’ll also find 940 acres of native trees, grasses, and wildlife (including whitetail deer), plus plenty of areas for hiking, biking, playing sports, and picnicking.
Omaha Children’s Museum features a wealth of kid-friendly interactive exhibits. Highlights include Fantastic Future Me, where kids can create their “future self,” and the Super Graviton, a massive hydraulic creation that allows kids to manipulate flying balls across the room.
Pioneer Courage Park and Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness are two sculpture gardens merged to form the world’s largest bronze sculpture installation. It features more than 100 bronzes replicating a wagon train, complete with pioneers and bison. Visitors are encouraged to walk along and envision life as it was lived on the western trail.
Built in 1903, Joslyn Castle is a beautifully renovated 35-room mansion built in the style of a Scottish castle. Its Gilded Age amenities include a grand ballroom and library, sweeping staircases, rare wood paneling, and stained glass windows. This exquisite time capsule also features a meticulously landscaped walkway and garden, making it a favorite wedding venue.
Located in the city center, Heartland of America Park and Fountain is home to one of Omaha’s crowning glories, a dazzling 250-foot fountain that dances to a light show each evening. The 31-acre park features an extensive walking trail, plus boat rides on the lake.
A local favorite, Fun-Plex Waterpark is famous for two sheer-drop water slides — the 1,200-foot Rockin’ Rapids and the heart-thumping Typhoon Falls. The adjoining ride park has go-karts, bumper boats, a Tilt-A-Whirl and Ferris wheel, plus an 18-hole mini-golf course.
Home to one of Nebraska’s last remaining native tall-grass prairies, Zorinsky Lake and Recreation Area features hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails as well as multiple playing fields. The showpiece is the glassy 255-acre lake, a popular locals venue for fishing and boating.
Staffed by knowledgeable park rangers, The Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters features maps and photographs that enable you to envision the iconic Lewis and Clark Trail to the West. Outside the museum, you can stroll along the river bank and watch the boats chugging along the Missouri River.
Kenefick Park is home to two of the Union Pacific’s most powerful locomotives, the Centennial No. 6900 — the world’s largest diesel-electric locomotive, and the Big Boy No. 4023 — the world’s largest steam locomotive. The park is beautifully landscaped with native plants and grasses by staff from nearby Lauritzen Gardens.