May 20, 2013

11 Free Things To Do In The Old Market

Updated: Feb. 21, 2017

I’ve had a love affair with the Old Market for years. The twinkling lights at night, the carriage rides, the sounds of street musicians, the smell of pizza, the lively chatter of the farmers market. I love it.

So do kids, so don’t be nervous about bringing them downtown. There are a lot of family-friendly things to see and do that don’t cost a dime.

This is the world's longest slide, if you ask any 3-year-old in Omaha.

This is the world’s longest slide, if you ask any 3-year-old in Omaha.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • From May to October, you have to bring the clan down to the Old Market for the Omaha Farmers Market on Saturday mornings from 8 to about 12:30 p.m. Live music, samples, a balloon man (free balloons, but donations are suggested), and great people watching, all for free. And dogs, lots of dogs, if your kids love them. The atmosphere is so lively, I know you’ll have fun. Read about the fun things to find at the Omaha Farmers Market!

  • You’ll find horse carriages parked in 11th and Howard in the Old Market, weather permitting, for much of the year. The carriage rides aren’t free, but kids love seeing the horses, so go check them out.

  • Almost any time of day or night, you’ll find street musicians throughout the old market. Take your time and listen to one that you like with your kids. Have them put some money in the collection cup to show appreciation for the music.

  • While you’re walking around the place, there is a lot of unexpected “art” to see, especially on some of the old buildings. My old apartment building on 10th and Jackson has a neat lion fountain in front to see. As you walk, see what else you and your kids can spot.

The Passage Way is picturesque to explore any time of the year, but definitely check it out in December.

The Passage Way is picturesque to explore any time of the year, but definitely check it out in December.


  • The Passage Way is a cool indoor shopping center to visit with kids. There are fun stores to browse, hallways (the “passage ways”) to explore, and mysterious art work to marvel at. The place fascinated me as a kid, and now it has the same affect on mine. It’s also a cool place to take pictures.

  • Speaking of shopping, there are some neat shops to bring your kids into, though strollers often don’t manage well in many stores, so beware. The second hand shops are full of interesting stuff to see (like the Imaginarium), City Limits is a fun one for older kids. While it’s free to go in these next two fun places, I doubt you’ll make it out without spending something: Old Market Candy Shop and Hollywood Candy. There are a ton of cool things to discover inside Hollywood Candy.

  • There are a number of art galleries in area that are free and love visitors. My favorites that are full of colorful things for kids to look at are the Artist Co-operative Gallery, 405 S. 11th St., and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 12th and Leavenworth streets. Know your kids, though. Do they have to touch everything? Maybe wait to bring them to a gallery until they’re a little older, or use it as a good teaching experience. There are tons, though, to check out. The ones I’ve ventured in include Anderson O’Brien, Omaha Clayworks (cool place, but I did not bring my toddlers in there!), Passageway Gallery, Garden of the Zodiac and KANEKO, though I haven’t been in there during a non-event time. There’s also Mangelsen: Images of Nature Gallery, and while I’ve never been here, my husband has taken our son in there and he loved the pictures of all the animals, so I say go check it out. Here are some tips for visiting Omaha art galleries with kids.

A few blocks from the Old Market:

  • The main branch of the Omaha Public Library, W. Dale Clark, is at 215 S. 15th St. It’s not uncommon for a trip to the Old Market to include a stop here for us. The kids area is on the first floor and has computers and some toys in addition to a lot of books. It’s also a stop on the Omaha Public Art Walk!

  • Gene Leahy Mall – To the north of the Old Market, there’s a man-made lake that’s nice to stroll around with some public art around the path and a waterfall kids love. While there, cross the fun little bridge, and of course, take a ride or two down the big slides.


Just north of the Old Market is Gene Leahy Mall. The bridge is a favorite for kids to cross.

What is it about bridges that excite kids so much?


  • Heartland of America Park – Just east of the mall is another wonderful lake with a host of geese and ducks. It’s our go-to spot for picnics downtown, and it’s fun to feed the leftovers to the animals. It’s also a pleasant little stroll around the park.

  • If you’re doing your exploring on bike, you cross a bridge on the north side of Heartland of America Park, and find yourself on your way to see the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge connecting Omaha to Council Bluffs. It’s a bit of a walk but manageable, if you’re not on bike. Kids love watching the river and straddling the state line. In the summer time, there’s a water play area on the Omaha side of the bridge. Don’t skip a quick visit to the Lewis & Clark National Parks Service Headquarters at the base of the bridge, too. The Council Bluffs side is being built up and now has a Great Lawn suitable for running around, picnicking and playing.


Loved this post?

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter here.


  1. Thea H. says:

    Sounds like such fun! I wish we had something similar where I live. The girls would love it!

  2. Ray Hendrickson says:

    I grew up right across the river, Council Bluffs to Sidney, lived a couple years in South Omaha, I remember the Omaha Royals, I remember the SOKOL, Discovery Zone, Spaghetti Works, and Pete’s Pub. I now live in northern Michigan, and traded all of that for knowing that I’m always within five miles of water, looking south, to escape the sub-zero winters.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.