As the holiday season unfolds in Omaha, the city transforms into a twinkling wonderland, and I’m totally here for it. If you love Omaha’s stunning annual holiday light displays and drive-thru extravaganzas as much as I do, then this is the blog post for you! 2023 is going to be a great year for holiday lights! First off, the zoo has announced its new celebration this holiday season and it’s sure to be a mix of festive lights and unique displays. But we can’t forget The RiverFront being fully open now and I can just imagine how the winter landscape will be illuminated in the three parks — Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park, and Lewis & Clark Landing — now.
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Whether you’re continuing a cherished family tradition or looking to start a new one, this guide to Omaha’s most stunning holiday light displays and drive-thrus will no doubt fill you with cheer. So, grab a thermos of hot cocoa, bundle up, and let’s embark on a luminous adventure through the best and brightest of Omaha’s holiday splendor!
Update: This post was published in November 2020, and has been updated in November 2024 for current dates.
Omaha area’s featured lights displays
Drive-thru holiday lights displays in Omaha
Santa’s Rock N Lights Drive Thru Winter Light Show is a mouthful to say, but it says it all: This drive-thru is an epic experience featuring hundreds of thousands of lights that twinkle and dance to music. It’s held at Werner Park, 12356 Ballpark Way, Papillion, Neb., and it’s the longest of the drive-thru shows in the Omaha Metro.
The drive-thru experience runs Nov. 17 through Dec. 31; it’s open daily from 4:50 to 9 p.m. (and until 10 p.m. on weekends). Tickets range from $29.99 to $32.99 per vehicle.
Tip: You have to purchase tickets in advance.
Walk-through lights displays
Season of Lights at Midtown Crossing is one of the earliest displays to go up in the Omaha Metro each year. This year, it starts on Nov. 12, 2023! You can see it each night through Feb. 14, 2024. The magical display is throughout Turner Park, as well as along Farnam Street, and it’s free to visit.
Prime photo opportunities at Season of Lights include the decorated tree in Farnam Court and Santa’s comfy sleigh positioned with glimmering Turner Park in the background.
Christmas in Olde Towne Holiday Lights & Music Show starts each year on Thanksgiving night at Washington Park, 1943 Franklin St., Bellevue, Neb. This year, the free lights and music show runs from Nov. 23, 2023 through Jan. 6, 2024. The hours are Sundays through Thursday from 6 to 10 p.m., and Friday & Saturday from 5 to 10 p.m. What’s unique about this show is that they offer a show for people with sensitivities to flashing lights and sounds on Sundays through Thursdays that runs from 5 to 6 p.m.
Holiday Lights Festival Lighting Displays are set up in three neighborhoods in Omaha each year. In 2023, they will be on full display from Nov. 25 through Jan. 8, 2024. The gorgeous light displays can be found at the Old Market (10th to 13th streets, and from Harney to Jackson streets), North Omaha (six-block area around 24th and Lake streets) and South Omaha (24th Street between L and Q streets).
The Holiday Lights Festival will also include an impressive holiday lights experience at Gene Leahy Mall, which will be produced by The RiverFront. The production, also beginning Nov. 25, will incorporate color-changing lights, video projections onto the Gene Leahy Mall Performance Pavilion and Burlington Building, thematic video on the 10th Street Bridge LED wall and holiday music sounding throughout the park. The free multimedia show, which is about 7 minutes long, can be seen every Friday and Saturday throughout the holiday season, running every hour.
Another smaller display, but still pretty neat to walk through, is set up each year at Memorial Park located at 6005 Underwood Ave. It is more of a patriotic display that opens just before Veterans Day each year.
Can’t-miss lighting events and tree lighting ceremonies
Winterfest at Bayliss Park is one of Council Bluffs’ most anticipated holiday events each year. In 2023, Winterfest will take place on Nov. 17 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Bayliss Park, 100 Pearl St., Council Bluffs, Iowa. The best part is: It’s all free. Activities begin with the holiday lighting ceremony promptly at 6 p.m. New this year is that there will be guaranteed snow! Activities after that include:
- Santa’s Workshop featuring Santa and Mrs. Claus
- Festive photo ops
- Face painting and balloons
- Free hot cocoa
- Live music and ice sculpting
- An outdoor movie
- Art activities
- Crafts indoors at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum
- Food trucks
- Horse and carriage rides
- Bike rides with the Grinch
Every year, the giant Salvation Army Tree of Lights towers over the intersection of 90th and Dodge streets. The ceremony to light it, the Tree of Lights Family Festival is one worth attending at least once. This year, the Tree of Lights Family Festival takes place at Nov. 19 at 4 p.m. at American National Bank, 8990 Dodge Road, Omaha.
Presented by American National Bank, the kick off celebration includes free food, family-fun activities, and pictures with Santa. At 5:30 p.m., the live music begins. The 75-foot-tall LED-enhanced Christmas tree just before 6 p.m. The festival is always free.
Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion always has a fun celebration each year when the large Christmas tree’s lights are turned on. The Holiday Parade & Tree Lighting at the shopping center takes place Nov. 22, 2023, starting at 6 p.m. The free event is held at the center of the mall. Santa and his friends will be there along with horses and Cinderella in her carriage.
Lights of Aksarben Tree Lighting will take place Nov. 24, 2023 from 5 to 8 p.m. Stinson Park at Aksarben Village, 2232 S. 64th St., Omaha, Neb. After that, free Lights of Aksarben activities will be held Friday nights from 5 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 1 & 8, as well.
Another event in Papillion is held a few days after the Shadow Lake Towne Center festivities. Winter Wonderland is Nov. 25 from 4 to 8 p.m. in in downtown Papillion. Mayor David Black will flip the switch to light the city first and then there will be plenty of entertainment options for families after that. Highlights include free carriage rides, meeting Santa and his reindeer friends will be at the Historic Portal School House, and a Christkindl Market featuring local artisans. Plus, there will be hot chocolate, candy canes, and pancakes. As always, it’s a free event.
Village Pointe Tree Lighting and Holiday Celebration is Nov. 24, 2023 starting at 6 p.m. with a Peppermint Elves Performance at 17151 Davenport St., Omaha. Santa arrives at 7 p.m. by parade. Free carriage rides will be offered until 9 p.m.
The ceremony to kick off the Holiday Lights Festival will be held on Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023 (a date change from previous years). The free events starts at 6 p.m. at Gene Leahy Mall at 11th and Farnam streets, with a brief performance and then Mayor Jean Stothert will light the displays.
More things to do outdoors in Omaha in November and December
Omaha has quite a few outdoor options that aren’t necessarily related to Christmas or other holidays this time of year. On this list of 30+ things to do in Omaha in the winter, you’ll find a number of outdoor options. A popular outdoor activity in the winter is ice skating, and there typically are one or two outdoor rinks.
If you’re up for a little road trip, here are some outdoor winter activities around Nebraska.