10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Omaha
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 now house 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.
See also: Where to Stay in Omaha
1 Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
This huge facility is home to all kinds of 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.
2 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. 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 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
4 Editor's Pick 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 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
6 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.
7 Lauritzen Gardens
These 100-acre gardens are in the riverfront hills area of the city and make for a pleasant place 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
8 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.
Address: 500 South 20th Street, Omaha
9 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
10 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. 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.
Where to Stay in Omaha for Sightseeing
We recommend these convenient Omaha hotels with easy access to downtown attractions:
- Magnolia Hotel Omaha: 4-star boutique hotel, historic building, impeccable service, evening reception, complimentary airport shuttle.
- Residence Inn Omaha Downtown/Old Market Area: 3-star hotel, 1930s federal building, apartments with kitchens, games room, free hot breakfast and shuttle service.
- Homewood Suites Omaha Downtown: mid-range pricing, spacious suites with kitchens, complimentary breakfast, free evening social with snacks, indoor pool.
- Days Inn & Suites Omaha NE: budget hotel, friendly front desk staff, free parking, outdoor pool.