Omaha is Nebraska’s largest city and is rich in history. Founded in 1854, Omaha is a growing, thriving community that remembers and honors its past. Historically the city was a transportation hub, home of the world’s largest livestock market, and host of the 1898 World’s Fair.
Today, Omaha is home to several Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies, with major banking, insurance, telecommunications, and healthcare industries. Omaha is also home to the College World Series and hosts other sporting events such as the U.S. Olympic Trials for swimming and curling. There are many interesting places to visit, explore, and enjoy.
1. Henry Doorly Zoo
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo is celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2020. The City of Omaha founded Riverview Park in 1894 and added animal displays in 1895. The first animals included deer, grizzly bears, and two bison loaned by William “Buffalo Bill” Cody. From those humble beginnings, the zoo now encompasses over 130 acres and is consistently ranked as one of the world’s best zoos.
Desert Dome, the world’s largest indoor desert, is enclosed by the world’s largest glazed geodesic dome. Visitors are immersed in plants and wildlife of three different desert environments worldwide, including the Namib Desert of Southern Africa, Australia’s Red Center, and the Southwestern U.S. Sonoran Desert.
Kingdoms of the Night, the world’s largest nocturnal exhibit, is located beneath the Desert Dome. This exhibit features nocturnal animals in several different environments, including the world’s largest indoor swamp.
The Lied Jungle is the largest indoor rainforest in the U.S. A tropical environment complete with waterfalls and animals such as monkeys, pygmy hippos, tapirs, and macaws delights visitors making their way through South American, Asian, and African rainforests.
The Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, the largest aquarium inside a zoo, includes a 70-foot tunnel in which sharks and other marine life surround visitors. The diverse exhibit environments range from polar regions with penguins to coral reefs with warm-water fish.
The Henry Doorly Zoo offers guests the opportunity to experience a trip around the world in one visit. The zoo is also known for its animal research and conservation efforts.
2. Old Market District
Omaha’s Old Market District, located in downtown Omaha, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the late 19th century, the area was once home to the Omaha Wholesale Produce Market, full of produce dealers, buyers, and transporters until the city’s westward expansion and grocery industry marketing changes caused its decline.
In 1970, Mr. Samuel Mercer, an Omaha visionary, opened the Old Market’s signature spot, the French Café (now LeBouillon), with apartments above the restaurant. Other businesses opened, and now dozens of restaurants, bars, boutique shops, and art galleries call the area home.
Dining options range from casual eateries to fine dining restaurants. Enjoy craft cocktails and locally-brewed beers at one of the drinking establishments. Discover the Old Market’s history and culinary offerings through one of the many walking tours available. Street performers entertain visitors strolling down the sidewalks. Several establishments offer live music and host special events throughout the year.
For a unique experience, take a horse-drawn carriage or tuk-tuk tour around the Old Market, riverfront, and downtown area.
3. Lauritzen Gardens
Planning for Lauritzen Gardens, Omaha’s botanical center, began in 1982. Construction started in 1995 with a rose garden, followed by a Hosta garden, herb garden, children’s garden, and spring-flower walk. From modest beginnings, it has grown to encompass 100 acres with natural woods on a bluff by the Missouri River near downtown Omaha. New garden areas have been added every year since its opening.
Lauritzen Gardens’ arboretum and bird sanctuary have native trees and shrubs as well as other plants that can withstand Nebraska’s diverse climate. The Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory houses 17,500 square feet of gardens in a glass building that appears to emerge from the hillside. Panoramic views, tropical and temperate gardens with water features, and unique displays provide visitors with year-round enjoyment.
There are several signatures gardens on the grounds for visitors to enjoy, including the Festival Garden, Victorian Garden, Peony Garden, and Rose Garden. The Song of the Lark Meadow pays homage to Nebraska’s prairies, complete with wildflowers. The Woodland Trail offers peace and tranquility with its stream, small waterfalls, and winding pathways. There’s also a Japanese Garden that includes a scaled replica of Mount Fuji, Japan’s tallest mountain.
A visitor favorite is the Model Railroad Garden, featuring seven model trains. The trains wind through natural landscapes dotted with landmarks and historic buildings from the Omaha area. The model trains run from May through October.
Spend the day in a tranquil sanctuary, exploring the splendid beauty of Mother Nature.
4. The Durham Museum
The Pacific Railway Act of 1862 created the Union Pacific Railroad, with its eastern terminus in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The Union Pacific’s goal was to lay railroad track westward to connect to the Central Pacific Railroad, which was laying track eastward from the Pacific Ocean. Westward railroad construction began at 7th and Davenport Streets in Omaha, since a bridge across the Missouri River did not exist at that time.
Omaha was home to several railroad stations before Union Pacific decided to construct a new building to accommodate increasing passenger traffic. Built in the Art Deco style, Union Station opened in 1931 and became one of the country’s busiest railroad stations. At one time, 10,000 passengers and 64 passenger trains traveled through the station each day. The station had 13 sets of railroad tracks and served several railroads.
In 1973, Union Pacific Corporation donated Union Station to the City of Omaha. City philanthropists saved the building from demolition, and it became the Western Heritage Museum, now called the Durham Museum. In 2016, the National Park Service and U.S. Department of the Interior designated the building as a National Historic Landmark.
The museum’s entrance leads into the Great Hall, formerly the Main Waiting Room. The Great Hall was restored to its historical splendor and features a 60-foot high ceiling, enormous chandeliers, gold and silver leaf trim, and cathedral windows. Ticketing windows, waiting-benches with life-size passenger sculptures, a soda fountain, and track entrances are reminiscent of the station’s glory days.
The museum highlights the region’s history and culture. Visitors may even board a train and tour a Pullman car, lounge car, and caboose from the 1940s and 1950s. Traveling exhibits feature topics in history, culture, science, and industry.
5. Joslyn Art Museum
The Joslyn Art Museum opened in 1931 as a memorial to George A. Joslyn from his wife, Sarah H. Joslyn. Mr. Joslyn was President and General Manager of the Western Newspaper Union and was known as the richest man in Nebraska. At the time of his death in 1916, the Western Newspaper Union was the world’s largest newspaper service organization. Mrs. Joslyn wanted to memorialize their shared interest in art and music and share it with as many people as possible.
The Art Deco-style building was constructed as a concert hall surrounded by art galleries. In 1938, it was recognized as one of the top-100 buildings in the United States. A 58,000-square-foot addition was added in 1994, and a sculpture garden in 2009.
The museum exhibits include ancient artifacts, American art, Native American art, and art from around the world. The museum hosts regular, temporary, and special exhibitions with works from other museums and private collections worldwide. A seven-acre outdoor sculpture garden features over 20 sculptures.
6. Omaha Children’s Museum
The Omaha Children’s Museum is a must-see for families with children. The museum’s hands-on exhibits provide children with a place to learn, explore, and use their imaginations.
Exhibits include an art center, auto-service center, and a science and technology center. Children can explore careers in the Fantastic Future Me exhibit. The Imagination Playground includes interactive areas such as a hospital, bank, barn, and grocery store. Outdoor activities include a splash garden and a 9,000-square-foot green space for exploring nature. Enjoy a day with the family fostering creativity, stimulating the imagination, and learning hands-on.
7. Pioneer Courage and Wilderness Parks
A tribute to the pioneer determination and spirit inspired one of the world’s largest bronze and stainless-steel art displays, located in downtown Omaha. Pioneer Courage Park begins at 14th and Capitol Street and spans approximately seven blocks before ending at Wilderness Park at 17th and Dodge Street. These sculptures depict a pioneer wagon train that encounters bison, causing a stampede. Several bison stampede down from 15th Street to Dodge Street before disturbing a flock of geese, causing them to take flight.
Visitors may walk along this unique, interactive exhibit imagining pioneers’ hardships and perseverance that paved the way for future generations.
For assistance in planning your visit, the Omaha Visitors Center is located at 1001 Farnam Street in downtown Omaha. Omaha’s lodging options include budget-friendly motels to boutique and luxury hotels.
Traditionally known for great steaks, Omaha’s food scene has evolved with progressive chefs leading the way. Culinary choices range from casual burger joints, sidewalk cafes, and ethnic eateries to innovative, locally-sourced, and fine dining restaurants.
Once you visit Omaha, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.
Last Updated on October 9, 2020