Ask somebody from outside the United States what they think of Omaha, Nebraska and they’ll probably shrug, nonplussed. This quirky slice of Midwest America may be among the most populous cities, but it’s not known as a tourist attraction. Well, more fool them because Omaha offers some of the most exciting attractions in the country. Omaha tends to be a stop off point for folks on the way to Memphis, Des Moines or Kansas – places with big reputations. That is, until they set eyes on the beauty of the historic quarter, enjoy a stroll along the riverfront or smell the tasty treats cooking in the Dundee neighbourhood. Then, they know they’ve stumbled upon something very special. In this article, we count down the top ten tourist attractions in Omaha, Nebraska. If you’re a first time visitor, put these sights on your to do list.
1. Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
When you think of the zoo, deserts aren’t usually the first thing to spring to mind. The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, however, is not your average attraction. It’s home to the largest indoor desert (The Dome Desert) in the world and the biggest indoor rainforest (The Lied Jungle) in North America. It also houses a 70 foot shark tunnel and a nocturnal exhibit that lets visitors peek in on many mysterious species.
2. Old Market District
You’ll find some truly magical cafes and restaurants in Omaha’s Old Market District. It’s right at the heart of this big city. Yet, it’s disarmingly easy to lose oneself in the quaint cobbled streets and 19th century buildings. There are several art galleries here too, so culture hounds have a lot to explore. While the historical district is small, it’s well worth a look if you’re interested in what makes this place tick.
3. Durham Museum
The first thing to notice about the Durham Museum is its magnificent Art Deco interiors. The building was, originally, a sprawling train station (one of the biggest in the US). It later fell into disrepair but was restored in 1995 and turned into a historical attraction. Locomotive obsessives will find a lot to be pleased about here, as the museum still houses several steam engines and various interactive exhibits.
4. Spirit of Nebraska Wilderness & Pioneer Courage Park
The rather long winded First National’s Spirit of Nebraska Wilderness & Pioneer Courage Park features one of the most unique outdoor monuments in the country. The park itself is free to visit and provides an attractive, green space for picnics and playing with the family. It’s when you realise it’s actually spread across five city blocks that things start to get interesting. Follow the instructions to join the wagon train and its pioneer passengers on their big adventure.
5. Joslyn Art Museum
The Joslyn is the largest art museum in Nebraska and it’s a real beauty. Built in the late 1920s, it was intended to commemorate George Joslyn and bestow the people of Omaha with a gift in his name. The exterior is clad in shimmering Etowah Fleuri marble, a stone that looks dusty pink in the light. Inside, you’ll find Baroque art, Greek pottery and pieces from notable figures like Karl Bodmer, Henry Inman, Charles Bird King and Jacob Miller.
6. Omaha Performing Arts Centre
Fans of the opera, stand-up comedy and theatrical drama should visit the famed Omaha Performing Arts Centre. It is made up of two historical buildings – the Holland Centre for the Performing Arts and the Orpheum Theatre. The first is a port of call for comedians, dance troupes and Broadway shows, so it’s perfect for evening entertainment. If you prefer musical spectacles, head over to the Orpheum for world class orchestral events.
7. Lauritzen Gardens
The Lauritzen Gardens are spread across 100 acres in the hillier part of Omaha. They’ve been a big hit with locals and tourists since 1995, when they were opened to give residents a place to enjoy nature. Since then, the sights on offer have expanded to include dedicated English, Victorian and even Nebraskan prairie gardens. You’ll also find a model railroad, bird sanctuary and small museum here.
8. Omaha Children’s Museum
Even if you haven’t got young children, this museum is a worthy attraction. It is transformed with little ones in tow, however, because there are countless art, science and technology surprises to be enjoyed here. The zoology exhibit is particularly exciting, especially if you follow it up with a visit to the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. At the height of summer, the museum opens its outdoor Splish Splash Garden for kids who want to cool off in epic style.
9. St. Cecilia’s Cathedral
You can spot this majestic landmark in almost all central areas of the city. Cecilia’s Cathedral has stood proud on the hillside since 1905 and is now a very special part of Omaha. The stained glass windows alone are over 500 years old. Legend has it three million bricks were involved in its construction and every single one was dipped in holy water before being added to the building. If you visit, make sure to head inside. The exterior doesn’t do it justice.
10. Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
The Bob Kerrey Bridge is special because it’s surprisingly rare for a pedestrian only bridge to link two states. Yet, that’s what you get here – an unexpectedly beautiful footbridge connecting Omaha, Nebraska to Council Bluffs, Iowa. The distance all the way across is 3,000 feet, so don’t attempt the full walk unless you’re truly ready for a hike. There is plenty of room for cyclists though if you’ve got a bike handy. You could, of course, stroll part of the way to admire the Missouri River, take your selfies and head back into the city.