Enjoying the best of Omaha doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Or any money, for that matter. Read on for a big list of free things to do in Omaha, as well as top free Omaha events to enjoy.
Update: This post was first published in 2020 and has been updated in June 2021 with more information. Some places may be temporarily closed or have temporary hours so it’s best to call ahead before visiting.
Free outdoor activities
The Bob – We call it “The Bob,” but it’s really the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. The 3,000-foot-long bridge spans the Missouri River and connects Omaha to Council Bluffs. This is a favorite Instagram spot. 705 Riverfront Drive
Gerald R. Ford BirthSite and Gardens – The 38th U.S. President was born in Omaha, and while he only spent a short time in the city, there is a memorial and rose garden where the original house once stood. 3212 Woolworth Ave.
Hiking trails – I’ve got a handful of favorite Omaha trails, but quite a few either have an admission fee or require a daily or annual state park pass. The ones that don’t, though, include Heron Haven and Hummel Park. They’re short trails, so while they’re a hit with families, experienced hikers aren’t going to be too impressed.
Hydrant parties – The city of Omaha and the city of Council Bluffs each plan several weeks of hydrant parties in various locations for several weeks each summer. These parties are a good chance to cool off and probably get a cool treat while there.
Kenefick Park – For railroad fans visiting Omaha, this is a quick but must-visit destination just off of Interstate 80. Located near Lauritzen Garden, Kenefick Park has the massive Centennial No. 6900 and BIg Boy No. 4023 to marvel at. 100 Bancroft St.
Lakes – There are several trails winding around lakes in Omaha. A few favorites include the trail around Wehrspann Lake at Chalco Hills Recreation Area, Zorinsky Lake, Walnut Creek Lake in Papillion, Flanagan Lake, and Standing Bear Lake (look for the floating bridge while you’re there).
Memorial Park – Visit Memorial Park to see the WWII, Korean and Vietnam monuments, as well as the pretty All-American Rose Society Garden. 6005 Underwood Ave.
Mountain biking – A few great trails can be found at Tranquility Park, Walnut Creek Lake and Swanson Park in Bellevue. Get a longer list of single-track trails for the Omaha area here.
Public Art – Omaha is a city with a growing number of public artworks, with a few beauties worth seeking out. I recommend looking for First National’s Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park, both in the downtown area, as well as the 32,500-square-foot mural “Fertile Ground,” one of the country’s largest public murals and located in NoDo. Hidden gems include the Garden of the Zodiac tucked inside the Old Market Passageway, the Wind Organ at Standing Bear Lake to start with.
Splashgrounds – Call them what you want — spraygrounds, splash pads, whatever — these free water playgrounds are a staple of Omaha summers. Find a list of the spraygrounds managed by the city of Omaha. I included a few additional locations in this Omaha summer roundup, since some free spraygrounds aren’t found in parks.
Free indoor activities (AKA great rainy day options)
Artist Cooperative Gallery – The Old Market art gallery features more than 30 artists and artisans. Expect to find unique paintings, sculptures, textiles and more. Exhibit openings are a great time to visit and meet some of the artists. 405 S. 11th St.
Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts – Much of this space is temporary art exhibitions, so you never know what you’re going to find. I recommend keeping an eye on the Bemis Center calendar, since they will occasionally have an open studios day, giving you a chance to meet artists and see what they’re working on. 724 S. 12th St.
Boys Town Hall of History, Visitors Center & Father Flanagan’s House – A National Historic Landmark, you can learn more about the beginnings of the historic home for children at the Hall of History and touring Father Flanagan’s home. 13628 Flanagan Blvd.
Czech and Slovak Educational Center and Cultural Museum – This museum in La Vista is dedicated to the history of Czech and Slovak immigrants. Hours are limited to the weekends. 8106 S. 84th St., La Vista, Neb.
Do Space – Part technology library, part makerspace, Do Space is a nonprofit that provides free access to devices, classes, and children’s activities from robotics and coding to video games. 7205 Dodge St.
Hot Shops Art Center – Located in NoDo (North Downtown), Hot Shops multi-level building is home to galleries and working spaces of more than 80 artists of every imaginable medium. Time your visit during the free May and December open houses and see demonstrations like glass blowing. 1301 Nicholas St.
Great Plains Black History Museum – Located in North Omaha on historic 24th Street, the museum preserves the contributions and achievements of African Americans throughout middle America. 2221 N. 24th St.
Joslyn Art Museum – Joslyn Art Museum is always free. If you have younger children, don’t skip the hands-on room Art Works in the basement. Occasionally, a touring exhibition may have a ticket fee. There is also a sculpture garden and children’s garden that you should check out (you can walk in the fountain!). 2200 Dodge St.
KANEKO – Hard to define, Kaneko is an ever-evolving creative space. There are typically a few different temporary exhibits on display, mostly visual works. They have started some free family activities on Saturdays, so check their schedule to time out a visit if you have little ones. 1111 Jones St.
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center – While on the small side, this Lewis & Clark visitors center packs a lot in to explain about the famous expedition. 601 Riverfront Drive
Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters – The museum and visitor’s center at Winter Quarters tells the history of the migration of 90,000 pioneers to the Rocky Mountains. Displays include a log cabin, covered wagon, oxen and handcart. 3215 State St.
These Omaha museums are free on certain days:
Omaha Children’s Museum – There is one free day a year held in conjunction with the Family Festival during the Holiday Lights Festival. It’s typically the first Sunday in December. 500 S. 20th St.
The Durham Museum – There is one free day a year held in conjunction with the Family Festival during the Holiday Lights Festival. It’s typically the first Sunday in December. There may be free admission offered on various holidays for veterans and active military, as well. You can visit the museum for free on Museum Day, typically held in mid-September and involves participating museums connected with the Smithsonian. 801 S. 10th St.
El Museo Latino – You can visit the museum for free on Museum Day, typically held in mid-September and involves participating museums connected with the Smithsonian. 4701 S. 25th St.
Omaha attractions that are free with a library pass
If you have an Omaha Public Library card, a limited number of free family passes are available to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Fontenelle Forest, Heartland B Cycle, and Lauritzen Gardens. Some places that have had passes in the past, but not currently, include Lauritzen Garden and Omaha Children’s Museum.
Free summer concerts
The City of Omaha Celebrates America Concert is the biggie that everyone look forward to. In 2021, the concert and fireworks display at Memorial Park is in August (usually it’s held right before the Fourth of July).
Wednesdays: Music in the Park at Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs
Sundays: Acoustic Sundays at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield
Free summer movies
One of the few regular series is the Monday Night Movie at Turner Park at Midtown Crossing.
Occasionally, free movies will be screened at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park in Council Bluffs. In previous years, there have been free movies at Sumtur Amphitheater in Papillion and Omaha Public Library branches.
Make plans to attend these free festivals
Year-round: First Fridays – As the name implies, on the first Friday of the month, galleries and pop-up galleries open their doors in the Old Market and Benson, inviting guests to mingle with artists. Sometimes snacks and/or drinks are provided.
July: Santa Lucia Festival
August: Greek Festival
September: Fort Omaha Intertribal Powwow – Celebrating the cultures of Native American tribes across Nebraska and the region, the September event includes traditional dance, music, oral history, arts, and food. Tribes include Omaha, Ponca, Santee Sioux and Winnebago.
November & December: Holiday Lights Festival isn’t just lights (though they are brilliant). Enjoy carolers around the Old Market on the weekends, the Family Festival around different downtown venues, and more. Plus, fireworks on New Year’s Eve for the grand finale.
Popular parades in Omaha (that are, of course, free)
There are a lot of parades held in Omaha throughout the year, but these are the big ones to catch:
St. Patrick’s Day – Usually held that Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day in downtown Omaha
Cinco de Mayo – Traveling down 24th Street, this fun parade often includes horse riders (some doing tricks).
Florence Days – Typically held on the second weekend of May, the 2021 parade looks to be canceled.
Septemberfest – Held on the Saturday before Labor Day in downtown Omaha.