Cruise down the river in a riverboat, explore the Joslyn Art Museum which houses works of art from around the world, stroll through the Old Market area, visit the zoo and aquarium, view unique exhibits at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, and learn about Omaha’s history at the Durham Museum. The beautiful and romantic Lauritzen Gardens are not to be missed and you can catch an outdoor performance here during the warmer season. A visit to the Omaha Children’s Museum and the OPPD Arboretum is one of the best things to do in Omaha with younger kids.
We recommend that you call the attractions and restaurants ahead of your visit to confirm current opening times.
1. Joslyn Art Museum
2.Old Market, Omaha, Nebraska
3. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
4.The Durham Museum, Omaha, Nebraska
5. Things to Do in Omaha: Lauritzen Gardens
6. Omaha Children's Museum
7.The OPPD Arboretum, Omaha, Nebraska
8. Things to Do in Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
9.River City Star, Omaha, Nebraska
10 Fun Things to Do in Omaha, Nebraska
- Joslyn Art Museum, Photo: Joslyn Art Museum
- Old Market, Omaha, Nebraska, Photo: Old Market
- Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Photo: Courtesy of Krzysztof Wiktor - Fotolia.com
- The Durham Museum, Omaha, Nebraska, Photo: The Durham Museum
- Things to Do in Omaha: Lauritzen Gardens, Photo: Courtesy of LaVerne - Fotolia.com
- Omaha Children's Museum, Photo: Courtesy of Arkady Chubykin - Fotolia.com
- The OPPD Arboretum, Omaha, Nebraska, Photo: Courtesy of Marek- Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Omaha: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Photo: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
- River City Star, Omaha, Nebraska, Photo: River City Star
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Esme7 - Fotolia.com
More Ideas: Fort Omaha
Located in Omaha, Nebraska, Fort Omaha is a former United States Army supply installation that served a significant role in the Indian War. Today, several structures of the fort have been converted into a museum and library archive center run by the Douglas County Historical Society, which seeks to preserve the political and social history of the greater Douglas County area.
The Fort Omaha area was first established as a military camp and supply depot in 1868, originally called Sherman Barracks, in honor of Lieutenant General William Tecumseh Sherman. A decade later, the camp was designated as Fort Omaha, serving as the headquarters for the US Army's Department of the Platte from 1878 to 1881. Throughout its history, it has housed Navy, Army, and Marine units, and is the former site of the Fort Omaha Balloon School, which operated from 1907 to 1917. Though the Fort was officially closed in 1973, the complex grounds still house several United States military facilities.
Fort Omaha played a major role in a number of American conflicts, including the Indian War, the Spanish-American War, and World Wars I and II. The site is perhaps best known as the detention center for Chief Standing Bear and 29 other members of the Ponca tribe prior to 1879’s historic Standing Bear v. Crook trial, which established Native Americans as persons with right to citizenship for the first time in United States history. For this and other contributions to American military history, the site was dedicated as a National Register of Historic Places historic district in 1974.
Historic Facilities and Museum
Since 1974, much of the former Fort Omaha land has been occupied by the Metropolitan Community College. A Navy Operations Support Center, along with Marine and Army Reserve units, still operate as military facilities, with six preserved buildings comprising the historic district, including the General Crook House, a Quartermaster's office, a commissary, a guardhouse, an ordnance magazine, and mule stables.
Built in 1879, the General Crook House is the oldest private residence building in Omaha. The two-story Italianate-design building was the home of General George Crook, then Commander for the Department of the Platte. The house served as the residence of Fort commanders until 1905, when it was temporarily converted into a mess hall and officer’s club, but functioned again as a commander’s residence from 1930 until the Fort’s closing in 1973. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and in 1970, was named a Nebraska State Historical Site.
In the 1980s, the Douglas County Historical Society converted the house into a museum, fully restored with Victorian-era furnishings. The house’s elaborate grounds now serve as a living history museum, showcasing period costumes and antique home items in its rooms. Guided docent tours of the house are offered, as well as afternoon tea and frontier dinner experiences for small groups.
An Heirloom Garden surrounding the house features more than 100 varieties of plants, many originally carried to the Nebraska area via wagon trains or purchased from mail-order catalogues in the 1880s. From April through August, the garden is in full bloom, serving as a popular site for special events and wedding ceremonies.
Next door to the Crook House is a Library Archives Center facility, established in 1982. As the Douglas County Historical Society’s official research and educational center, the library is home to important historical documents detailing Omaha’s history, including newspaper articles, books, and government records. Materials are available for copying or scanning upon request, with Historical Society staff available to assist in research. Archival replication and genealogy research and preservation services are also offered through the library.
The Historical Society presents a series of classes every Tuesday and Thursday, centering on topics of genealogy, preservation, and history appreciation. A History and Appreciation of Antiques course encourages participants to consider the economic and sociological impact of artifact preservation with hands-on examination of some of the museum’s collection. The popular monthly Reader’s Circle book club highlights authors from the Douglas County area. Hourlong Second Sunday lectures are held in conjunction with the Metropolitan Community College, highlighting topics relevant to Nebraska’s history as well as current social issues of the area, and a Speaker’s Bureau is available for bookings for offsite lectures on a variety of historical topics.
In addition to standard museum tours, the Historical Society also offers Step-On Tours, guided bus and walking tours of the Fort Omaha facilities and other historical sites in the greater Omaha area. Tour guides offer lively and often humorous facts during these customizable sightseeing excursions for small groups and organizations.
5730 N. 30 Street #11B, Omaha, NE 68111, Phone: 402-455-9990
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More Ideas: Omaha Old Market
Located within downtown Omaha, Nebraska, the Old Market neighborhood is a historic retail district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, featuring upscale shopping and dining options within a turn-of-the-century environment with brick-paved streets, horse-drawn carriages, and street performers and vendors.
The area that now encompasses Omaha, Nebraska was the traditional home of several indigenous North American tribes, including the Ioway, Pawnee, Otoe, and Sioux tribes, who comprised the Omaha Nation by the early 19th century. European settlement of the area began with the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804, with the Corps of Discovery establishing a campsite near the present-day city of Bellevue and noting exploration of sites located within the present-day bounds of downtown Omaha and meetings with Otoe tribal leadership. Four million acres of the Omaha Nation’s tribal land was sold to the United States in 1854, allowing for the establishment and settlement of the Nebraska Territory. Omaha City was established the same year, retaining use in its naming of the Sioux word meaning “dwellers on the bluff.”
The city was chosen as the territory’s capital and saw expansion throughout the late 19th century with the advent of transcontinental railroad development, which aided the city’s development as a major transportation hub of the American Great Plains. Many of the buildings of the Old Market district, which spans from South 10th to 13th Streets to the east and west and Farnam and Jackson Streets to the north and south, were constructed throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1979, the Old Market neighborhood was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, ensuring preservation of its historic buildings and landmarks.
Today, Omaha’s Old Market district retains much of its late 19th century appearance, featuring cobblestone streets and brick buildings with cast-iron facades and stone trim. Metal sidewalk coverings still remain along some buildings, along with horse-drawn carriages available for rides, embarking from the intersection of Howard and 11th Streets. Street musicians, performers, and artists are commonly found throughout the neighborhood at all times of the year, and many buildings feature public art and sculptures.
The district’s plentiful restaurants, breweries, and bars make it a bustling nightlife spot. Live nightlife entertainment is offered at Backline Comedy Theatre, which showcases stand-up comedy, improv, and sketch comedy shows, and the Dubliner Pub, which hosts live Irish folk musicians on select nights. During the day, visitors can shop the district’s wide variety of boutiques, with many featuring vintage, local, or unique items, and stop in at the coffee shops and bakeries. Unique retail attractions include the historic Hollywood Candy and Fairmont Mercantile, a homemade and retro candy store, antique store, toy store, print shop, old-fashioned diner, and classic movie theater all in one. The diner, called the Fairmont Diner, features a classic soda fountain, ice cream specialties, and other classic diner fare, while the movie theater, the Hollywood Theater, hosts free weekend showings and is available for rentals.
The district is also home to nine arts galleries, all open to the public. Several arts cooperatives showcase the work of local artists, including the Artists’ Cooperative Gallery, which has been open since 1975, highlights more than 35 local artists with displays that change monthly as the artists create new works. The Old Market Artists Gallery features works in a variety of media, including glasswork and jewelry, from 12 artisans, while the Passageway Gallery showcases 24 local artists working in mediums such as watercolor and woodcarving. Housed in three refurbished warehouses, Kaneko’s gallery spaceis also dedicated to exploring creativity across disciplines, with new works displayed on a continuing basis.
A number of galleries feature the work of artists from beyond Omaha, including the Anderson O’Brien Fine Arts Gallery, which houses new works from Midwest regional artists and offers design and appraisal services. The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts takes an international focus, hosting an internationally-acclaimed artist-in-residency program creating new and innovative works and offering educational community outreach programming. The MANGELSEN Images of Nature Gallery features the work of celebrated wildlife and nature photographer Thomas D. Mangelsen.
Ongoing Programs and Events
Once a month, the district’s art galleries host First Fridays, a free evening event featuring live music, opening receptions for new collections, and a chance to meet and greet with gallery artists. Transportation between the district’s venues is provided for free on Omaha’s traditional trolley, Ollie the Trolley.Annual public special event programming also includes the annual Summer Arts Festival, showcasing the works of over 100 artists every June, along with live music and a children’s activity area. In December, ice skating and caroling are offered throughout the district as part of Omaha’s annual city-wide holiday celebration.
PO Box 8733, Omaha, NE 68108, Phone: 402-916-1796
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More Ideas: Joslyn Castle
Located in Omaha, Nebraska’s Gold Coast Historic District, the Lynhurst mansion, commonly referred to as the Joslyn Castle, is a Scottish Baronial mansion and the former home of newspaper magnate and civic leader George Joslyn, now open for tours as a living history home museum. Throughout the first two decades of the 20th century, George and Sarah Joslyn were the wealthiest residents of the state of Nebraska.
As an entrepreneur in the newspaper business, George was the owner of the Western Newspaper Union, which became the United States’ largest supplier of ready print newspaper by the turn of the 20th century, serving nearly 70% of the country’s population by 1900. As noted philanthropists in the Omaha area, George and Sarah were active founders or donors for a number of area charities and nonprofit organizations, including the Board of Charities, the Child Saving Institute, and the Humane Society. George was also a major donor for the University of Omaha, providing $25,000 for the funding of the university’s first permanent location. Following George’s death, Sarah funded the creation of the Joslyn Memorial in honor of her husband’s memory, which has grown today to become the Joslyn Art Museum.
Upon their move to the Omaha area in 1893, George Joslyn began to landscape a farm area near the city’s outskirts. In 1903, the Joslyns hired architect John McDonald to design an estate for the farm named Lynhurst, inspired by the Scottish Baronial style of architecture. McDonald’s design was completed 11 months later for $250,000, a cost equivalent to $6 million in modern currency. Following minor additions in 1906, the home’s square footage totaled 19,360. After Sarah Joslyn’s death in 1940, the home was used as the headquarters for Omaha Public Schools until 1989, when it was purchased by the state of Nebraska for the purposes of historic preservation. In 2010, the Joslyn Castle Trust purchased the home from the state and opened it to the public for historic home tours.
Permanent Attractions and Tours
Today, the four-story Joslyn Castle is operated as a living history museum, open to the public for guided tours. As the namesake of Omaha’s Joslyn Castle neighborhood, the home is an Omaha Landmark Historic Structure and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. The castle’s grounds are also preserved within the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum.
The 35-room mansion has been restored to its original turn-of-the-century condition, featuring period-appropriate furnishings, including original possessions owned by the Joslyn family. Rooms within the mansion’s interior include a ballroom, music room, reception hall, drawing room, and library. A carriage tower house tower made of Kansas silverdale limestone is also featured, completed two years prior to the home’s construction. Preserved detail work includes stained glass windows, carved wood, chiseled stone work, and a large wrought iron front door weighing more than one ton. Five acres of landscaped formal gardens, as well as greenhouses and a conservatory within the house displaying exotic plants, were designed in 1913 by landscape architect Jens Jensen.
Public drop-in tours of the home are available weekly on Monday mornings, as well as every first and third Sunday morning and afternoon, excluding major national holidays. Private group tours may also be scheduled for groups and organizations, including curriculum-incorporated tours for school groups. All castle tours include docent-led exploration of the home’s first and second floors and grounds, and may include tours of the third floor when possible.
Ongoing Programming and Education
Following in the tradition of George and Sarah Joslyn’s commitment to educational philanthropy and public service, the Joslyn Castle is the host for a wide variety of public educational and cultural programming throughout the year. Many events include special opportunities to tour areas of the mansion not generally open to the public, including the Joslyn Castle Unlocked event, which allows attendees to tour the mansion’s basement and explore historic photographs and architectural drawings connected to the home’s construction. Ticket sales include a group dinner and a cash bar available for beverage purchases. In November, a Historic Home Tour and Boutique event provides opportunities to explore other nearby historic properties, including the Pittack and Doyle Homes and the historic Augustana Lutheran Church.
An annual Halloween Masquerade at the Castle event offers tarot card readings, dancing, and a costume contest, along with holiday-themed hors d’oeuvres and cocktails. On Thanksgiving, a Joslyn Castle Turkey Trot 5K Walk/Run is held at Omaha’s Turner Park, offering trophies for the top 10 male and female finishers and raffle prizes from local businesses. The Joslyn Castle facility may also be rented for private special events for up to 125 guests, including weddings, receptions, and business gatherings.
3902 Davenport St, Omaha, NE 68131, Phone: 402-595-2199
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