Winter can last a long time in Omaha, and sooner or later, you’re going to want to get out of the house. And while I included a few budget-friendly options in the ultimate guide to winter in Omaha, I haven’t dedicated an entire post for it. This curated a list of free things to do in Omaha in the winter takes care of that with a mixture of indoor and outdoor activities that won’t cost you a dime. Whether you are a resident looking to rediscover your hometown or a visitor ready to explore, this guide aims to assist you in experiencing Omaha without breaking the bank.
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Free indoor activities for cold winter days
There’s nothing quite like having something to do indoors when it feels like it’s -15 degrees outdoors. In Omaha, you’ve got plenty of indoor options. First, let’s focus on indoor activities for young kids.
Most indoor play centers in Omaha have a small fee, it’s just a fact of life. However, there are a few indoor play centers that are free. Some locations of fast food chains have indoor play area, including most Chik-fil-A locations (including 6310 N. 72nd St.) and some McDonald’s locations (including 2760 S. 13th St.). Some locations are still gradually reopening. I recently saw that the Burger King at 5049 S. 108th St. reopened its play area. Commons Coffee Shop at StoneBridge Christian Church at 15801 Butler Ave. also has an indoor play area.
Nearly all Omaha Public Library (and surrounding community public libraries) have free activities for kids of all ages. For younger kids, the musical story times may be the most fun. For older kids, look for library branch escape rooms and other tween and teen-oriented activities.
Community center typically have pretty inexpensive toddler and young kid activities, though occasionally there will be a free event. Check the Omaha Parks & Recreation events calendar for those activities.
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.
Tip: Each February, Omaha Parks & Recreation hosts a free guided hike at Hummel Park starting from the nature center!
Winter bird watching is another popular activity, assuming you’re well-dressed and know what you’re looking for! I’m a beginner bird watcher, so I rely heavily on the free app Merlin Bird ID to keep track of what I find. Starting in December, raptors and bald eagles are frequent species to spot in the area. A good spot to find bald eagles is Chalco Hills Recreation Area, as well as Lake Manawa State Park (though it isn’t free for non-residents of Iowa).
One of the quintessential winter outdoor activities for kids of all ages is sledding. Here are a few of the popular hills in the area:
- Memorial Park, 6005 Underwood Ave.
- Walnut Hill Park, 1100 N. 38th St.
- Spring Lake Park, 4020 Hoctor Blvd.
- Lake Zorinsky Park, 3808 S. 156th St., Omaha (park on the southwest side of the park)
- Rockbrook “Rocket” Park, 3525 S. 94th St.
- Black Elk Elementary School, 6708 S. 161st Ave.
- Holling Heights Elementary School, 6565 S. 136th St.
- St. Robert Bellarmine School, 11900 Pacific St.
- Papillion-La Vista South High, 10799 NE-370, Papillion, Neb.
- Portal Elementary School, 9920 Brentwood Drive, La Vista, Neb.
- Ralston Middle School, 8202 Lakeview St., Ralston, Neb.
- Laura Dodge Elementary School, 3520 Maplewood Blvd.
- Bryan High School, 4700 Giles Road
- Bellevue East High School, 1401 High School Drive, Bellevue, Neb.
Free attractions in Omaha
There are a lot of galleries and historic centers with free admission. Here’s a short list of a few of my favorites for art:
- Artist Cooperative Gallery, 405 S. 11th St.
- Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 724 S. 12th St. The Bemis Center has a lower level space called the LOW END that often has free concerts, too.
- KANEKO, 1111 Jones St.
- Hot Shops Art Center, 1301 Nicholas St. Hot Shops hosts a free winter open house that’s very popular. Typically held on the first weekend in December, the open house has artist demonstrations, open studios, and more.
Some of the city’s free historic attractions include:
- Boys Town Hall of History, Visitors Center & Father Flanagan’s House, 13628 Flanagan Blvd. Fun fact: The Visitors Center is home to the world’s largest ball of stamps.
- Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center, 601 Riverfront Drive. While you’re at the Visitor Center, step outside and walk to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Halfway across the bridge, you can cross into Iowa (and take a selfie while you stand with a foot in each state).
Free events and festivals each winter
Early in the winter, in November and December, there are a ton of free events because of the holidays. A few favorites include the Physicians Mutual Holiday Market held the first weekend in December at Aksarben Village, Winterfest held at Bayliss Park in mid-November in Council Bluffs, and the Family Festival that’s part of the Omaha Holiday Lights Festival.
Related post: See the full list of all of the free holiday events and Christmas festivals in Omaha
Other festivals and winter events in the Omaha metro include the Cathedral Flower Festival held annually in late January at St. Cecelia Catholic Cathedral and the Omaha Winter Markets held monthly at Nebraska Brewing Co.
And we can’t forget the monthly free events around Omaha, including First Fridays in the Old Market and Benson First Friday. These events feature local artists’ works at various venues and galleries, and sometimes live music or other activities.