Classic Things to do in Omaha Nebraska For Every First Timer

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“But what is there to DO in Omaha, Nebraska?”

I get asked this ALL the time, as I travel near and far and people ask where I’m from.

They hear “Nebraska” and automatically assume it’s all cornfields and farms.

While they aren’t totally wrong, there are actually some really cool things to do in Nebraska (I mean, check out these 26 Experiences to Have in Nebraska!) and a visit to Omaha is one of them.

Omaha is like some well-kept secret for great cities.
Yes, it’s a city. Like, a big city.
As in, a metropolitan area with 1.3 million people- kind of big city.

But yet, it somehow remains a pretty unknown tourist place, and honestly, that is probably what keeps it having a “small town feel” with big city attractions.
Best of both worlds if I do say so myself!!!

So, maybe you are in town for a few days on a work trip. Or, possibly you’ve found yourself road tripping across the US and are wondering what things to see in Nebraska along I-80.
You see “The Big O” is the perfect stopping place or weekend getaway but have no idea of what to do in Omaha.

Either way, here are some of the most beloved and well-known things to do in Omaha Nebraska for every first-timer. Even us locals find ourselves going to these Omaha attractions over and over again.

Omaha Attractions: 10 Classic Omaha Things To Do

things to do in Omaha Nebraska

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Things To Do In Downtown Omaha

photo by nebraska tourism

Most likely, if you are a visitor in Omaha, you are staying near “Downtown” Omaha. This is where the airport is as well as most of the major Omaha attractions. Almost everything on this list is actually in or near Downtown Omaha. Unfortunately, one of the things that Omaha IS lacking is amazing public transportation, so make sure you have or rent a car for your stay and then check out the following must- see sights, all within minutes of each other.

While there are definitely other fun things to do in Omaha outside of Downtown, this is a great list for anyone here just for a few days or spending a weekend in Omaha to get a good taste of what Omaha has to offer.

Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo

Omaha Zoo Aquarium

Absolutely NO list of “Omaha Nebraska Things To Do” is going to leave this one off. It is our pride and joy, often ranking as one of the top 3 zoos in the entire US!!! Most people are shocked that a zoo in Omaha Nebraska can outrank some of the biggest cities in the country, but once you step inside, you’ll quickly see why!

There is something for everyone here, young and old. While I personally am not a fan of tourist animal attractions, I have to say that the Omaha Zoo does a really good job at conservation efforts and providing more natural-like enclosures. You could easily spend your entire day at the Henry Doorly and STILL not see the entire zoo.

While there, check out the IMAX theater.  This GINORMOUS screen is a great way to beat the heat in the summer or get warm in the winter months.  The movies that show here (typically focused around nature, wildlife and conservation) are breathtaking and top notch.

If you decide to put the zoo on your places to visit in Omaha list (and how could you not!?) don’t forget to read my “10 Things Only the Locals Know About the Omaha Zoo” in order to make sure you don’t miss anything good as well as make the most of your day at one of the best things to do in Omaha.

Durham Museum

what to do in omaha nebraska: Visit Durham Museum, the old Union Station

Coming in hot as a piece of pride for Omahans is often the Union Pacific Railroad. The headquarters are here in Omaha (one of the things that made the city boom originally) and you can see just how important the railroad is to the city at the historic Durham Museum.
However, if you think this is just a boring train museum, you are totally wrong. What once was Omaha’s bustling Union Station is now the beautiful home for rotating national exhibits, several restored trains to climb and explore in, has a fantastically done Omaha history exhibit, and more.  Kids especially love the old Union Station where they can sit with statues that tell them stories of their traveling days on the trains!

The Old Market

things to do in old market omaha: Take a carriage ride
Photo Courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Located right smack dab in the middle of Downtown Omaha is the fun “Old Market.” Complete with cobblestone streets and adorable window shopping stops, you can’t NOT go to the Old market for an evening when looking for things to do in Omaha Nebraska.
This is one area of Omaha that you can just park your car and walk around.
There are plenty of great local restaurants to choose from (Upstream Brewing CO and V. Mertz are always local’s recommendations), shops to peek into, bands playing on corners, and even horse-drawn carriage rides!!!
And EVERY Omahan knows that if you are hanging out in the Old Market, that you need to walk over to Ted and Walley’s for AMAZING homemade ice cream, made daily.

Walk The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

free things to do in omaha: Walk the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

While downtown, take a stroll along the riverside. You’ll walk along the Lewis and Clark Landing, see some GINORMOUS sculptures, and then see one of the top Omaha tourist attractions.
One of my personal favorite reasons for taking a trip over “The Bob” is because you can literally stand in two states at once!

fun things to do in omaha: Stand in two states at once

I always recommend to people to then stroll on over to the Heartland of America Park while you are right there. It’s just a few minutes back towards the Old Market, has another iconic Omaha attraction: the beautiful colored fountain (at night), is a great picnic place, and even has really well done statues and memorials in honor of WWII and Vietnam vets at the Heartland Airborne Memorial.

Lauritzen Gardens and Kenefick Park

Lauritzen Gardens, one of omaha nebraska attractions
Photo by NE Tourism

The Omaha botanical gardens are simply stunning any time of year, and this is coming from someone that probably couldn’t even keep fake plants alive if I tried.

Again, with the whole train fascination here in Omaha, there is no surprise that there is one of the best model train exhibits here. It’s a blast for both young and old to watch as the trains zip through miniature versions of Omaha, over amazingly constructed tiny bridges, and ignites the child in everyone watching them.

But, back to the gardens, you could spend most of your day trekking across the vast grounds (100 acres!) that is phenomenally planned and make each section feel completely different than the last.  Easily spend half a day here being surprised at how much you find yourself enjoying plants, flowers and other great gardens.

Kennefick Park

omaha nebraska things to do: See the trains at Kenefick Park

Basically right in the parking lot of Lauritzen Gardens (just head up the massive staircase directly across from the main Botanical Garden building) is truly a sight to see.
If you are driving into Omaha from I-80 then no doubt did you see the two giant train engines welcoming you into Omaha as you crossed over the Missouri River.
At Kennefick Park, you can walk yourself right on up to these two beauties, one being UP’s “Big Boy”  (the largest steam engines in the world).
One of my personal favorite times to come up to this platform is at dusk as you view out over the river below you.

Omaha Children’s Museum

Family Fun in Omaha Childrens Museum

If you are in Omaha with kids, then a visit to the Children’s Museum is an absolute must! One of my favorite parts about this museum (as an adult) is how well thought out each exhibit is, often combining it with little local tidbits. For example, there is the kid’s beloved “Grocery Store” where they can go shopping to their heart’s content, at a local grocery store (HyVee) chain. Or, they can grill up some “Omaha Steaks” at the BBQ area. There is even an automotive center from Omaha that has a great place for kids to change tires and fix up a car!

Obviously, kids don’t really care about that stuff though. What they DO care about is the insanely fun ballroom, the entertaining (and educational) live science shows, the face painting station, the indoor barn and SO much more.

Joslyn Art Museum

free things to do in omaha: Joslyn Art Museum

The Joslyn Art Museum is such an Omaha treasure. With over 11,000 works from antiquity to the current day, there is sure to be a piece of artwork for almost anyone to enjoy. There are also nationally renowned temporary exhibits that get featured at the Josilyn meaning that no two visits are ever the same.

While art lovers truly enjoy their time at this museum, if you have kids in Omaha, don’t cross the Josilyn off your list quite yet. They have kid specific programs (like stroller tours!) aimed just at parents and kiddos. Many exhibits and features are even built and designed just for kids in mind, like the fountains.

Oh, and did we mention that the Josilyn is one of the many free things to in Omaha!? Yup! FREE!

See A Show

Orpheum Theater Omaha
Photo by rufflife/ CC BY2.0

The stunning Orpheum Theater, right in the heart of Downtown, boasts some of the best on and off Broadway shows, like Hamilton, Wicked, The Lion King and more.

There are also some other really great theaters, like the Backline for comedy.

Casinos in Omaha

Casinos in Omaha Nebraska

Ok, truth be told, these aren’t even actually IN Omaha. They are right across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa. But, since it’s a stones throw away from Downtown Omaha, we often like to claim these as our own!
If you are a more serious gambler, head to the Horseshoe casino to get in on the tables. If you prefer slots, try your luck at Ameristar.
Or, if you are looking at combining a night of gambling with great entertainment, head straight to Harrah’s which has the “Stir Concert Cove” where there is almost always a great band making it’s way through Omaha (some of my favorite concerts like Mumford and Sons, Jason Mraz, Coheed and Cambria and Chicago have all been at the Stir!)

Go To A Bustling District

There are lots of great districts and neighborhoods all around Omaha, so this is the only thing on the list that isn’t right downtown.  However, most of these are only a 15 minute drive, tops, from most of the major attractions in Omaha.

Some of the most popular districts are:

NoDo: It might sound like something straight from “South Park” and it may not show the creativity of Omahans, but North Downtown or “NODO” is where hipsters can flock to for a great indie rock show and good cafe scenes.  This is also where you’ll find the TD Ameritrade Park and the CHI Arena

Capitol District: This is a great location to stay in if you want to be able to walk to several great restaurants and things to do downtown.

Blackstone District: Come here for fantastic food options (after all, it was HERE that the famous Reuben sandwich was originally created!)

Dundee: Dundee is almost like it’s own little town, with it’s adorable little lamp posts, really great places to eat, and several shops to browse around in.

 

Hotels in Omaha Nebraska

hotels in omaha nebraska

Whether you are a family on a weekend trip and are looking for hotels near the zoo in Omaha, are here the the annual CWS and need a place to stay near the TD Ameritrade Park, or if you are here on business and just want to be where most of the action is in downtown, there are several really great hotels near downtown Omaha.

Alternatively, you can find great AirBnBs in Omaha if you are visiting with your family.  Click here to get up to $30 off your first AirBnB Booking

 

There really is a lot of really great things to do in Omaha Nebraska, especially if here just for a few days or a weekend and this list of Classic Things to do in Omaha” honestly only scratches the surface. 

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