LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — While the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Memorial Stadium becomes the state's third-largest city when the Cornhuskers play a home football game, there's plenty to do in the state's capital city beyond game day.
From nature walks to exploring the historic Haymarket District, as well as viewing classic race cars, Lincoln offers outstanding attractions for a day trip or a weekend getaway.
Here is a baker's dozen of our recommendations for a fun trip to Lincoln.
From a small acreage in the late 1920s, Pioneers Park – Lincoln’s oldest city park – covers more than 650 acres and is home to about eight miles of nature trails, taking you through woods, prairie and wetlands. You can view bison and elk roaming in enclosed areas. Two interpretive buildings host animal and native plant exhibits.
Pioneers Park is also home to impressive public art displays, such as Smoke Signals, a 15-foot-tall sculpture that recognizes Nebraska Indigenous tribes. Resembling Lakota Chief Red Cloud, the sculpture faces away from the city as an homage to Chief Red Cloud’s tribe.
Four pillars that formerly stood in front of the US Treasury Department in Washington, DC call Pioneers Park home. Once believed to have sheltered President Abraham Lincoln as he reviewed Union soldiers during the Civil War, the pillars were a gift to the city from a friend of Nebraska-born statesman, William Jennings Bryan. The park is also home to a bison and elk sculpture.
Pinewood Bowl is a great spot to catch an outdoor concert. The amphitheater was built in the mid-1940s.
Nebraska State Capitol
Whether you take a guided tour or explore on your own, the Nebraska State Capitol is one of four capitol buildings around the country built as a skyscraper.
From the legislative chambers on the first floor to the observation deck on the 14th, the state capitol is an interesting attraction in which to spend a few hours.
Recognizing prominent citizens, the Nebraska Hall of Fame on the second floor is home to more than 25 busts, including Chief Standing Bear, Senator George Norris (who created the unicameral system Nebraska uses) and Willa Cather. The capitol includes beautiful murals and sculptures.
National Museum of Roller Skating
Located inside the headquarters for USA Roller Sports, the National Museum of Roller Skating promotes the history of the sport. Including wooden roller skates from the 1700s, you’ll find a history of blade wheels, as well as unique roller skates, including cowboy boots. The museum also features exhibits celebrating roller sports, such as hockey, basketball and soccer. Before she won a gold medal in figure skating at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, Tara Lipinski was a medal-winning roller dancer. Her competition outfits are on display. The museum is open Monday to Friday during the headquarters’ office hours.
International Quilt Museum
With more than 6,000 quilts – the world’s largest quilt collection – the International Quilt Museum hosts several exhibits throughout the year, showcasing specific designs, such as log cabin, abstract, Amish and contemporary. Quilts from more than 50 nations, with some dating back to the 1600s, offer a unique look into history through quilt making. Located on the east campus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the museum’s modern architecture is enhanced by “Reverie,” a series of steel ribbons painted white, seemingly flowing in the wind.
Morrill Hall, also known as the University of Nebraska State Museum, is home to Archie, the world’s largest Columbian mammoth, which was discovered in rural Nebraska.
As the state’s largest museum of natural history, visitors to Morrill Hall can explore the state’s past and current landscapes. With 70,000 square feet of exhibits to be unearthed over four floors, visitors can find themselves standing next to a giant camel, excavated in Nebraska, as well as the remains of prehistoric elephants and contemporary wildlife found on Nebraska’s varying landscapes. With plenty of hands-on displays, Morrill Hall is a fun stop for families and kids of all ages.
Sheldon Museum of Art
With more than 13,000 pieces of art in its collection, the Sheldon Museum of Art features paintings ranging from 19th Century landscape and American impressionism to contemporary pieces. With 35 sculptures among its collection, including a statue by Omaha artist Jun Kaneko, they’re displayed around both the city and east campus. The museum, located on the main campus of the UNL, also features special exhibits.
Nebraska History Museum
Travel through the state’s history at the Nebraska History Museum. With more than 125,000 items in its collection, the history museum offers a look at Nebraska’s Indigenous people, as well as European-Americans traveling west as pioneers. Located on Centennial Mall, the museum hosts several special exhibits, such as photography and Plains Native Americans, the suffrage movement and archaeology in Nebraska.
Once a landfill, there’s only beauty covering the 1.5 acres of Lincoln’s botanical garden. Developed as a Depression-era community project, Sunken Gardens features a variety of flowers and plants on its sloping terrace. Home to annual themes, such as this year’s “Ruby Slippers” celebrating the story of The Wizard of Oz, Sunken Gardens has been recognized as one of the most beautiful gardens in the United States. Along with its rose garden, Sunken Gardens is a must-see when visiting Lincoln.
Lincoln’s Children’s Zoo
Don’t let the name fool you. Whether or not you have children, a visit to the Lincoln Children’s Zoo offers close-up views of animals from around the globe including ring-tailed lemurs, cheetahs and penguins.
Purchase some treats and feed the giraffes! At nearly 20 acres, the zoo is home to almost 400 animals, some of whom are among the most endangered in the world.
With tons of interactive exhibits, such as a fossil dig and natural playground, it’s a fun spot for children to explore and learn about nature. While at the zoo, hop aboard the miniature train that takes you around the perimeter of the zoo offering a different look at the wild animals calling Lincoln home.
Lincoln Children’s Museum
With more than 40 exhibits, children can spend hours exploring the Lincoln Children’s Museum. From a giant clock to walking on the moon, the museum challenges elementary-aged children while they have fun. With interactive exhibits taking them everywhere, children can play and learn as they travel from an auto repair garage, grocery market or medical center to flying airplanes or working as a railroad engineer. With an apple tree covering all three levels, children can climb the branches from the bottom to the top.
Haymarket and Railyard Districts
Home to vintage buildings, some dating back to the earliest days of Lincoln, the historic Haymarket District is home to a variety of stores, restaurants, clubs and bars.
From Nebraska Gift Shop is home to everything from Nebraska, including popcorn, pickles, wine, candy and books. Husker fans can shop at Best of Big Red and the Husker Store. Satisfy your sweet tooth with a visit to Licorice International (candies from around the world) or Ivanna Cone ice cream parlor. Haymarket is home to First Friday Artwalk, featuring the district’s galleries and studios, as well as a self-guided history walk.
The Railyard entertainment district was developed about the same time when Lincoln built Pinnacle Arena, home of Nebraska basketball and concerts. With several restaurants and bars calling the area home, The Railyard quickly became a popular destination in the capital city. With a large-screen television outdoors, The Railyard is a great spot to catch a Husker game. During the winter, the area is transformed into an outdoor skating rink.
Museum of American Speed
The Museum of American Speed grew from one man’s love of auto racing. Since 1992, racing fans and fans of unique cars, have found their way to a collection of Indy-style racing cars, jalopies and even cars that challenged speed records in the Utah desert.
A 1958 Cadillac once owned by actress Hedy Lamarr is on exhibit. Lamarr, a popular actress during the 1940s and ‘50s, played a key role in developing a code machine used by Allied forces during World War II.
Another famous car – a 1948 Tucker – is also displayed. Featuring hundreds of cars in displays such as gas stations and repair shops, the Museum of American Speed is a great place to spend a couple of hours or an afternoon.
Not content with showcasing an impressive collection of vintage vehicles, the Museum of American Speed also has an outstanding collection of metal lunch boxes from the 1950s through 1970s. An entire floor features pedal cars as well as miniature toys. The museum also includes staircase exhibits of movie posters and autographed guitars.
Memorial Stadium tour
Can any visit to Lincoln be complete without at least a walk around Memorial Stadium? The University of Nebraska-Lincolns offers a self-guided tour of attractions key to the athletic program. Check out the statues honoring the football program’s heroes such as coaches Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne. Columns outside the football stadium recognize the successful eras of Devaney and Osborne.
From a walk through nature to viewing the stadium that produced five national championships in football, Lincoln has something for everyone to enjoy during a day trip or as a weekend getaway. Whether you’re an art aficionado or a fan of museums, you’ll enjoy exploring Nebraska’s capital city. You can also find more information about Lincoln attractions in our book, “100 Things to Do in Nebraska Before You Die.”
To learn more about Tim and Lisa Trudell and The Walking Tourists, visit their website: thewalkingtourists.com
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