May 20, 2013

11 Free Things To Do In The Old Market {Updated}

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. There’s just so much to do in the Old Market.

Kids love the Old Market, too, 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.

Note: This post was published in 2013 and updated in August 2019. If you know of any things that can be added to this post or know of any closures, please comment and let me know!

Guide to free things to do with kids in Omaha's Old Market and other places downtown. This list includes unique stores, Instgagram-worthy stops, and fun attractions that are free! #Nebraska #familytravel

Where is the Old Market in Omaha?

The Old Market is located in downtown Omaha. Just a square few blocks, the neighborhood is between 10th and 13th streets and Leavenworth and Farnam streets.

The iconic brick roads stem from the intersection of 11th and Howard streets.

Related post: Kid-friendly Restaurant In Downtown Omaha

Free things to do in the Old Market (with kids):

1. From May to October, you have to bring the family 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. There are A LOT of dogs at the farmers market, 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!

Free things to do in the Old Market - Visit the Omaha Farmers Market on Saturday mornings
The Omaha Farmers Market in the Old Market runs from May to October each year.

2. 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.

Last time I checked (and it could’ve gone up), rides started at $25. The most popular carriage is, of course, the one affectionately dubbed the Cinderella Carriage.

Omaha Old Market carriage rides aren't free but seeing the horses and petting them are.
My daughter loved the carriage ride through the Old Market.

3. 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.

My kids’ favorite thing to do is put money in the collection cup to show appreciation for the music.

4. 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. Downtown Omaha has a complete art walk if you’re interest. Read this post about the Omaha Art Walk.

There’s also the Urban Walking Labyrinth that begins at Urban Abbey.

5. 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.

Venture into the second floor gallery called Garden of the Zodiac Gallery. In the rear of the gallery, you’ll find a door that leads outside to small, fascinating garden with sculptures. It’s a hidden gem!

You’ll find that the Passage Way is also a cool place to take Instagram-worthy pictures.

One of the most photographed places in the Old Market is the Passage Way.
Lights strung in the Passage Way in the Old Market. Pictured is two restaurants in the Passage Way: V. Mertz in the foreground and in the background, Trini’s.

5. 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. Read about the arcade and fun things to discover inside Hollywood Candy.

Free galleries and museums in downtown Omaha include the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art.
Bemis Center for Contemporary Art has exhibitions and occasional open studios.

6. 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., the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 12th and Leavenworth streets, and KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.

I like heading to the Bemis Center with my kids when they have open studios – it’s free and a chance for kids to see where the resident artists work and live. Other places to visit include Passageway Gallery, and Garden of the Zodiac, and Mangelsen: Images of Nature Gallery, where they had a scavenger hunt for my kids the last time we went there

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.

A few blocks from the Old Market:

7. 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 that I mentioned earlier.

8. To the north of the Old Market, find two large slides that are very popular with families (for obvious reasons). The slides are found at 11th and Farnam streets.

Note: Currently, the mall where these slides are located is under construction, so know that parking will be sparse and the scenery will be limited.

The downtown Omaha slides are the most popular things to do. They're on the edge of the Old Market in Omaha, at 11th and Farnam streets.
When the weather is nice, you probably will find a short line to go down these slides in downtown Omaha.

9. Just east of the mall is another wonderful lake at Heartland of America Park 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 a pleasant little stroll around the the lake at Heartland of America Park. There’s a huge fountain in the middle of the lake, so be weary of standing downwind of it!

The area around the park is slated to undergo major changes very soon, though.

Free things to do in downtown Omaha - Stroll around the lake at Heartland of America Park.
There is a path around the Heartland of America Park in downtown Omaha. The fountain at the center of the lake shoots high into the air, and you don’t wan to be downwind when that happens.

10. 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 to the bridge. but manageable, if you’re not on a bike.

Kids love watching the river from the bridge, but by far, the thing to do (and get a photo of) is straddling the state line between Iowa and Nebraska.

In the summer time, there’s a water play area on the Omaha side of the bridge. The Council Bluffs side of the bridge has a Great Lawn suitable for running around, picnicking and playing.

One of Omaha's most photographed landmarks is the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. The thing to do is straddle the state line between Iowa and Nebraska.
There are flat bike trails that are nice to ride with kids along the Missouri River. It’s a bit of an incline to get up onto the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge (on both sides).

11. Don’t skip a quick visit to the Lewis & Clark National Parks Service Headquarters at the base of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

It’s small, but has several hands-on and interactive things to do for kids. When we visited, the kids took a quick tour with a park ranger, who told them about the animals Lewis and Clark encountered.

Parking in the Old Market

The Old Market and surrounding downtown area has several parking lots. You’ll find parking lots along 10th Street at Jackson Street and Harney Street, as well as at 12th and Harney streets.

There is also metered parking throughout the Old Market. Note: There is limited parking on the mornings of the farmers market.

If you’re looking for free parking in the Old Market, those spots are getting rarer and rarer. Head south on 10th Street, traveling over the bridge toward The Durham Museum, and you may find some free spots.

Below that bridge, around Leavenworth Street, you may find some free parking spots too.

You’ll find free parking lots around Heartland of America Park or the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Note: The parking lots around CHI Health Center are not going to be free.

Driving in downtown Omaha is a headache for most people not familiar with the area. There are one-way streets everywhere. If you’re from out of town and considering a visit, I recommend finding a hotel with a shuttle so you can avoid the hassle.

Visiting Omaha with kids? Don't skip the picturesque Old Market! Here's a guide to free things to do in the Old Market and the nearby attractions in downtown Omaha.  #Omaha #Nebraska #guide

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Comments

  1. 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.

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