As both the capital of Nebraska and the home of the state’s preeminent university, travelers will find the full range of historical and cultural attractions. The city is compact and easy to get around. While you could easily rent a car, it’s fun to explore on foot, especially within the history Haymarket District.
Home to some of the state’s best museums, you’ll have no shortage of exciting things to do in Nebraska which are related to history and art. While as the home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, sports fans can have their pick of live sport. Add in zoos, gardens and beguiling architecture, and Lincoln quickly shapes up as a wonderful destination.
In this post, we'll cover:
14. Pinnacle Bank Arena
In 2011, ground broke on Lincoln’s newest state-of-the-art arena. Since 2013, the arena has been entertaining crowds from all over the country who have come to see live sport, theater, and concerts. The enclosed stadium can hold up to 15,000 fans and averages 140 events every year.
As you begin planning your time in Lincoln, check out what events are being held at Pinnacle Bank Arena. It’s the place to watch the Cornhuskers go to work on the basketball court, and who knows, your favorite touring musician may be in town.
13. Saint Mary Catholic Church
Across the street from the State Capitol building is the arresting Saint Mary Catholic Church. Its intricate facade or limestone arches, soaring spires and bell towers are enough to cast a spell on any fan of architecture. As you wander closer, the church’s gray and black accents add more allure to the cream white exterior.
The original church was built in 1888 but was almost entirely destroyed by a fire 18 years later. Today’s version is a faithful recreation of the original design and one of the most beautiful buildings in town.
12. Lincoln Children’s Museum
Across a trio of fun-filled floors, the Lincoln Children’s Museum is an adventure for young minds. Get the kids off the phones and let them run amok as they embark on a journey of discovery and creativity, while experiencing the power of learning through play.
The museum has more than 40 hands-on experiences that will require the little rascals to build, dance, climb and sing, leading to endless laughter among young and old. Alongside the exhibits, the museum runs educational workshops. When you’re ready for a break, head to the cafe for food and drinks. But be sure not to leave without exploring the toy store.
11. Sheldon Museum of Art
Exploring contemporary and modern art, the Sheldon Museum of Art will be a hit with all art aficionados and casual fans. You’ll find the museum on the University of Nebraska campus. The display is an assortment of the university’s own collection and the private depository of the Sheldon Art Association.
Showcasing over 12,000 pieces spanning the 19th and 20th century, the museum covers a range of genres. Visitors will discover works of geometric abstraction, color field painting, American Impressionism, and embellished sculptures. The latter of which is best explored in the Sheldon Museum of Art’s expansive sculpture garden.
10. Governor’s Mansion
A brief stroll from Nebraska’s State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, is an opulent Georgian Colonial home from 1957. The building replaced the state’s original governor’s residence, that was built in 1890. Its red-brick facade and towering columns are a beautiful site and are surrounded by leafy pines and manicured gardens.
After wandering inside, you can explore the remodeled mansion which features over 30 rooms. However, only five of those are bedrooms. Every Thursday, you can sign up for a free guided tour to learn about the history of the building and the memorable events that took place within the hallowed walls.
9. Haymarket District
If you ever get the itch to explore Lincoln on foot, then make the historic Haymarket District your starting point. The old warehouse district is now filled with rows of restored buildings teeming with restaurants, chic cafes, and friendly bars. It makes for a pleasant morning stroll, coffee in hand through one of the oldest parts of the city.
Because of its proximity to the University of Nebraska, the Haymarket District has an eternally boisterous atmosphere. It’s here that you’ll find many of the city’s cultural events and festivals along with their delightful farmers’ market. On any evening, you’ll see the bars packed with students creating a fun nightlife to experience.
8. Memorial Stadium
The Cornhuskers may be a few years removed from their time as one of College Football’s best teams, but watching them play at Memorial Stadium remains an amazing thing to do. The enormous stadium, one of the biggest in sports, holds just shy of 90,000 screaming fans. Here, every second Saturday in the fall, the house is packed, and the roar deafening.
Getting tickets to one of the games is no simple task. So, if you can’t go or have arrived out of season, explore the stadium’s Hall of Fame Avenue. You’ll be able to see the original columns from 1892, the team’s trophy case and a statue of the iconic Bob Devaney.
7. University of Nebraska State Museum
Home to the world’s biggest articulated mammoth (a fossil found all in one piece), the University of Nebraska State Museum is the definition of must-visit. The mammoth is the star of the show and was discovered by wandering chickens who pecked their way beneath the surface.
As you explore the surrounding exhibits, you can’t help but be taken aback by the sheer size of the beast. Complementing Archie the mammoth is a similarly captivating exhibit of fossilized elephants. After getting your big animal fix, explore the rest of the museum that showcases Nebraska’s geology, its Native American community, and the lifestyle of the state’s pioneers.
6. Nebraska State Capitol
The current day Nebraska State Capitol is the state’s third iteration. The first was built in 1868 out of native limestone. Just a few years later, it began to crumble. The second, complete in 1888, suffered a similar fate of poor construction and lasted just a few decades.
The striking art déco building that stands before you took ten years to complete and fully opened in 1932. Today, it remains one of the most exceptional pieces of architecture in Lincoln. Its central tower holds a powerful presence and separates itself from other renowned capitols.
Tour the building’s exterior facade where you can follow the carvings and take a journey through 3,000 years of democracy. Before heading inside to discover gilding columns and breathtaking murals.
5. International Quilt Museum
If you’re a fan of all things arts, crafts and knitting, then Lincoln is home to the world’s most significant assortment of quilts. For over 25 years, the International Quilt Museum has been peeling back the layers and showcasing work from around the world.
In doing so, the museum will take you on a journey through the last four centuries of quilting. You’ll learn about the different styles used in various regions and how they’ve changed through the eras. But most importantly, it’s the exceptional designs that will often leave guests in a trance. Far from your average quilt, the 3,500 on display are complete works of art.
4. Lincoln Children’s Zoo
Zoos are always a great option for traveling families, but the Lincoln Children’s Zoo takes things to another level. Designed to inspire appreciation for our wildlife and natural world, the zoo offers a number of interactive experiences for the young ones.
Since opening in 1965, the zoo has grown its residence and is now home to over 400 animals, 40 of which are endangered species. Kids can enjoy an up-close experience with many of these majestic creatures. The whole family can get around the zoo on the model train that will delight all those aboard.
Along the way, stop off to feed the giraffes, embark on a horseback riding experience of check out the Animal Encounter Stage. Here, the kids can get up close to alligators, owls, and even a boa constrictor.
3. Pioneers Park Nature Center
After opening in 1963, the Pioneers Park Nature Center has been at the forefront of environmental education and wildlife conservation. It’s a fixture of sprawling tallgrass prairie and seemingly endless woodlands that lead to vibrant wetlands fed by rolling streams.
It’s a wondrous place to explore, which you can do along any of the eight miles worth of hiking trails. Each one snakes through the park, showcasing a different aspect of the ever-changing scenery. Along the way, you’ll also be introduced to a range of local wildlife, include the center’s small bison heard and their raptor enclosures.
Along with exploring the open lands, there are a number of aromatic gardens to enjoy, including the herb garden. There’s also a natural play area for families.
2. Sunken Gardens
During the Great Depression, what is now the Sunken Gardens was a hole full of trash. In a remarkable resurgence, the space was repurposed and revitalized to become the romantic gardens that it is today.
Since the late 1930s, the Sunken Gardens have been the place to wander with your date as you gazed upon the resplendent flora and lush lawns. From the entrance gates, you’re whisked away from downtown Lincoln into an urban oasis overflowing with local and international flowers. The paths showcase the garden’s creativity, with each plant arranged in a way to create a natural kaleidoscope.
The paths eventually lead to embellished domed pavilions and space to lay down with your loved one without a care in the world.
1. Museum of American Speed
Founded in 1922, the Museum of American Speed is your one stop shop for all things fast. The museum celebrates the history of automobiles, from race cars to exceptional engines that change the way we perceive speed. Over the last hundred years, the Museum of American Speed has continued to grow and is now within an enormous exhibition hall.
Visitors will discover three major collections that complement the site’s regular exhibits. One of them is Automobilia, which has a captivating selection of memorabilia. The second section focuses purely on engines and cars, and explores how they’ve changed through the decades. Third, is the Toys and Models section that is sure to allow all guests to geek out and unlock their creative side.
While you can explore the museum at your own speed, during the week, two-hour guided tours are available.