Omaha is the best-kept secret when it comes to magical holiday decorations and events. For something truly special — and indoors — plan a visit to The Durham Museum during the holiday season. The annual celebration, “Christmas at Union Station,” begins every year the day after Thanksgiving.
Disclosure: I am a blogger ambassador for The Durham Museum. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
Before I get into all the Christmas events and Santa sightings happening at the museum, here’s a quick Durham Museum 101 for those who need it. If you’re visiting with kids, be sure to read this family guide to the museum.
Where is The Durham Museum?
The Durham Museum is located in downtown Omaha, Nebraska. Situated in the iconic Union Station building, the museum has retained the charm of a bygone era.
It’s a walkable distance from the Old Market. The exact address is 801 S. 10th St.
Dining at The Durham Museum
The Durham Museum has an old-fashioned soda fountain and candy shop, where you can purchase everything from snacks to actual meals.
My family is a fan of getting ice cream sundaes there, but you might want to also try getting a float or a phosphate.
Of course, popcorn is also a good choice.
The food prices are pretty reasonable at the museum, and museum members receive a 10% discount on the food.
However, if you want to eat elsewhere, the museum is near a lot of great restaurants. The closest restaurants include two pizzerias: Orsi’s (Omaha’s oldest restaurant) and Via Farina (upscale wood-fired pizzas).
There are a lot of great family-friendly restaurants in the Old Market if pizza isn’t what you’re looking for.
Is parking free at The Durham?
Yes. The museum has an upper lot and a lower lot. During busy events, especially the tree lighting, you may find that both lots will fill pretty quickly.
During select events overflow parking, with shuttle drop-off at the museum, is available at the Conagra Brands parking lot, Seventh and Leavenworth streets. Otherwise, you’ll find a mix of metered and free parking in nearby neighborhood streets.
The largest indoor tree in the area
The tree at the museum is real and it is ginormous. It’s decorated with large ornaments that kids love seeing up close.
Also, Santa and Mrs. Claus are at this tree lighting event, with the tree serving as a cool backdrop to your photos. Expect a long wait, but kids usually get a present after talking with the big guy.
And, in my opinion, this Santa looks like the real deal.
Christmas at Union Station exhibits & events
Durham Tree Lighting Ceremony
Every year, the museum holds a popular tree lighting ceremony with lots of kid-friendly activities planned throughout the museum before the big countdown. I have vivid memories of caroling with a thousand other people right before the countdown. It’s amazing.
The tree lighting ceremony is always held the day after Thanksgiving. In 2019, it’s held Nov. 29 from 4 to 8 p.m., with the ceremony starting at 7 p.m.
Tip: I’ve attended the tree lighting a few times. It’s extremely popular — and crowded. I recommend designating one adult in your group to claim a spot near the tree about 30 minutes prior to the countdown.
Santa at The Durham
In addition to the following times, Santa will be visiting during the Tree Lighting Ceremony and the Holiday Cultural Festival, too:
• -Saturdays, Nov. 30 through Dec. 21, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• -Sundays, Dec. 1-22, 1 to 4 p.m.
• -Tuesdays, Dec. 3, 10 & 17 5 to 8 p.m. The museum stays open late on Tuesdays, so they’ve planned fun nights of holiday crafts, live music and of course, the man of the hour, Santa.
Ethnic Holiday Trees Exhibit
While the big tree tends to steal the spotlight, you should seek out another annual exhibit trees (of the miniature kind). The Holiday Cultural Trees Display showcases how cultures from around the world celebrate the Christmas season. It’s on display from Nov. 29 through Jan. 5, 2020.
This is one of those exhibits that adults like way more than kids. We were lucky to get a cursory glance from my son, and my youngest didn’t even pause to notice the room.
Log Cabin Christmas
The museum’s historic log cabin is decorated for Christmas and during the scheduled times Log Cabin Christmas, a docent will be present to show guests the cabin and share pioneer holiday traditions.
When: Nov. 30 through Dec. 29
- -Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- -Sundays, 1 to 3 p.m.
Holiday Cultural Festival
Held Dec. 6, from 4 to 9 p.m., the Holiday Cultural Festival features local cultural organizations proudly displaying their crafts and traditional dress, while musicians and dancers perform throughout the evening.
I’m excited that one I’m involved with, Omaha Sister Cities Association, is one of those participating groups!
The festival is a good time to buy hard-to-find ethnic foods and gifts you know your grandma will love.
Holiday Concert Series
You can hear holiday music performed live by local entertainers, school musicians, and choirs each weekend during Christmas at Union Station, as well as on Tuesday evenings. Performances are by different groups at different times.
2019 Holiday Concert Series Schedule
When: Nov. 30 through Dec. 22
- -Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- -Sundays, 1:30 to 4 p.m.
- -Tuesdays, 5 to 8 p.m.
Want to check who’s performing? Click here.
Noon Year’s Eve
Celebrate 2020 early with an afternoon party on Dec. 31 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. There’s live music, crafts, and activities, culminating in a celebratory bubble wrap stomp and balloon drop at noon.
Visitor information for The Durham Museum
If you’re planning your first visit to The Durham Museum during Christmas at Union Station, here’s are a few details you’ll probably want to know about:
The Durham Museum
Where: 801 S. 10th St.
Hours: Sundays, 1 to 5 p.m., Tuesdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Wednesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and closed major holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day; also closed Nov. 22). During holiday hours beginning Dec. 2, when the museum will also be open on Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Adults, $11; seniors (62+), $8; children (ages 3 – 12), $7; and FREE for children 2 years and under and members.
Tip: Throughout the holiday season, you can drop off non-perishable food items at The Durham for the Food Bank for the Heartland in support of ConAgra Foods’ Shine the Light on Hunger campaign.