Standing on the prairie, Lincoln was one of the greatest capitals on the American plains. Just 200 years ago, the eastern edge of what is now considered the American Midwest was still a land of swaying buffalo grass, roaring buffalo herds and Pawnee Indian settlements, engulfed by Great Sioux territory. Fearless of the first pioneers, Lincoln rose from the prairie as a small salt trading post before becoming the state capital of Omaha in the 1850s. Alluding to Lincoln’s two centuries of growth, prosperity (and occasional bust) and reinvention. The railroads brought workers and grain, the airports brought flyers, and the highways brought travelers and wanderers to the west. Slowly, Lincoln became bigger and more cosmopolitan, into the wonderful mix of Midwestern charm, plain living and modernity it is today. Be sure to check out all these top things to do in the city, from the obvious State Capitol to the beautiful Cornhusk State Hinterland!
1. Visit the Nebraska State Capitol
Soaring through the abundance of Art Deco and bright whites in downtown Lincoln, the Nebraska State Capitol is a real sight to behold. It was designed by famed American revivalist Bertram Goodhue and features a series of charming facades, including those of figures such as Julius Caesar and Charlemagne Reliefs meet under Nebraska’s iconic Sower statue (set high on the roof). Inside, visitors can tour the various wings free of charge, weaving between the Assembly Hall, the Legislative Chamber and the grand foyer, admiring works by Kenneth Everett and murals depicting India’s history and heritage. Oh, and don’t forget to climb the tower to the 14th floor for some of the best views of Lincoln!
2. See the creativity in the flowers of the sunken garden
Tulips and roses, water lilies and daisies, palms and firs, perennials and evergreens, sunken gardens deserve their place on America’s Top 300 Gardens list. Every year, the curators here rearrange the flower show with a different theme, channeling true creativity into the flower beds and colorful flora. Visitors can wander along paths looking for places like the Perennial Garden, where hydrangea meets spruce trees in the shade, or the so-called White Garden, inspired by the neat bushes and orderliness of Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, England lawn. It’s all perfect for taking a breather in the city!
3. Enjoy the company of Lincoln students on the University of Nebraska campus
The City Outlet of the University of Nebraska occupies a large chunk of downtown Lincoln. It’s a handsome red brick building and Victorian lecture hall, all interspersed with cherry trees and winding walkways. Students here bring a real buzz during term time. Rugby games break out at Vine Street Fields, study groups discuss philosophy and politics on the tree-lined lawns of Perin Porch and Arboretum, people relax with books on the steps of Love Library and others sip on various benches Drink coffee. Other attractions include the tall Mueller Tower (once the University’s bell tower) and the quirky installations of the Sculpture Garden.
4. Taste the Orient at Pho Factory
The Lincoln Pho Factory is known for serving some of the best oriental dishes in the city at its North 26th location, just a short distance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. The menu includes deep-fried tofu rolls and crispy salads, as well as shrimp cakes inspired by the streets of Hanoi. However, what really makes the locals’ taste buds tingle is the serving of pho (traditional Vietnamese soup). These come in all shapes and sizes, including savory oxtail pho, savory seafood pho, bold spicy pho, and even your own pho for diners who are feeling a little creative.
5. Keep the kids entertained at the Lincoln Children’s Museum
Set on three different levels and featuring a variety of exhibits and learning workshops for children of all ages, this hands-on museum space is perfect for travelers to Lincoln with kids. Activities include Cuckoo Construction, a mock construction site where young people can walk around with bricks, hammer walls and build their own city clock tower, and Tiny Town on the main floor – a miniature city with a bank, theatre, TV stations, hospitals, garages, etc. There are also regular music and mozzarella workshops to enjoy when customers have had enough of the pretense (fusion tunes and pizza!).
6. Sheldon Museum of Art From Impressionism to Abstraction
Nestled between the red-brick lecture hall and interesting sculpture garden on the University of Nebraska campus, this world-class museum features one of the best art collections in the state. With everything from American Impressionism to Pop Art and outdoor sculpture on the menu, the permanent collection here is eclectic. Visitors can see landscapes by the likes of William Glakens, contemporary work by Thomas Hart Benton, photography in all of Clarence Hudson White’s signature chiaroscuro, avant-garde artwork and more. There is also an on-site gift shop with plenty of extra materials and souvenirs to buy.
7. Taste the iconic chimney at Bison Witches
While the Bison Witch sandwich shop may have originated in the dusty deserts of Tucson, Arizona, there’s no doubt that Lincoln’s Southern brand outlet lives up to its name! That’s right, just a stone’s throw from the Lincoln Children’s Museum, this classic BBQ joint deli is a true all-American. The menu includes Chicken and Cheese Nachos, Wisconsin Cheese and Bacon Bread Soup, Classic Tex-Mex Chipotle and Green Salad. The resistance has to be the range of the sandwich, though. Angel has a great turkey and salad combo; the beef and brie exude a French charm, but it’s the chimney that eats the crackers – a fusion of Russian mustard, bacon and cheese!
8. Assemble the gasoline head at the American Speed Museum
Nestled on the eastern edge of Lincoln, this heavy-duty engine (there are actually over 600 engines and engine parts to visit) showroom really knows how to rev up. Its collection spans the entire history of American cars, from elegant classics like The Great Gatsby to vintage car yearbooks to rickety off-roaders to more modern NASCAR race cars, every one of them. Both the tailpipes and the valves exude a history of gasoline-fueled sports. The agency also hosts regular events for car fanatics, including car tours and racing meetups in Nebraska in classic vehicles.
9. Inline Skating and Roller Derby at the National Roller Skating Museum
This quirky and off the beaten track in Lincoln’s South Center is quite possibly the most comprehensive roller skating exhibit in the entire United States, no, the world! Its cases are filled with all the different types of skates, from early 1800s wooden relics to modern cutting edge models, just to name two. The site is also filled with photo exhibits, sculptures, artwork, and yearbooks related to the world of skating, while the on-site museum gift shop sells some of the most popular skating journals in the country, cool T-shirts, patches, and more!
10. Get a taste of Nebraska at the Pioneer Park Nature Center
Nestled among the rolling grasslands of Greater Nebraska on the eastern edge of Lincoln, this vast nature preserve is one of the best places to experience the true remoteness of the so-called Cornhusk State. There are swaying meadows, lush ash and birch trees, babbling rivers and creeks, and riparian wetlands, all criss-crossing the well-maintained hiking grounds. The real draw, however, is the wildlife, as the Pioneer Park Nature Center has its own protected elk, white-tailed deer, and even a herd of rare American bison! These can be seen dotting the prairie grass, as well as flocks of wild turkeys and poultry.
11. Educational restoration at the Nebraska State Museum
The circular museum features exhibits ranging from Earth’s natural history to evolution and paleontology to National Geographic photography. These are specifically addressed to each discipline in Nebraska itself, meaning visitors can explore the rich dinosaur bones and ancient mammoths found in the Cornhusk State, and unravel stories about the plains’ first settlers, see Learn about the way of life of the Prairie Indians and learn about the challenges faced by America’s first pioneers. There are even more horrific exposures of historical weapons, as well as regular science lectures and temporary exhibitions.
12. See the ghosts at Antelope Park
Perfect for travelers eager to experience the truly local side of Lincoln City, this beautiful greenery makes its home on the South Side. It comes with plenty of lawns and a well-equipped children’s playground, as well as winding walks and forests, basketball courts and the occasional fountain. Picnics are hugely popular here, thanks to the myriad of well-maintained picnic spots that sprawl across the grass and beautiful flowers in spring. Some maintain that Antelope Park is also haunted, with reports of ghosts making walkers aware of themselves.
13. Try hop-heavy creations at Zipline Brewing Co
Lincoln’s Zipline Brewing Co was founded in 2012 by a group of local friends to create some of the city’s most edgy and groundbreaking beers. Magnum Cir Ste has a brisk and no-frills industrial-chic tap room just a stone’s throw from the railroad, and the establishment touts the likes of its light and airy kölsch, brewed in the same style as central Germany, Zipline IPA, with a unique citrus, and a curious ira of mixed grapefruit and pine. Customers can also look forward to a plethora of seasonal beers, from bouncy farmhouse beers to contemplative wood haulers to get you through the Nebraska winter!
14. Have fun at Ivanna Cone
Ivanna Cone’s colorful interiors and Art Deco ice cream bar are known to every local in Lincoln, and the flavors of cream and sorbet produced within have risen to legend throughout the Cornhusker State! In fact, people flock from miles away to sample creamy, creamy milk ice cream at Ivanna that push the boundaries of ice cream making in flavors ranging from traditional chocolate and strawberry to bubbly sherbet cones. Loyal local followers can often be found munching on their favorite spoons inside the 7th and P’s joint store, and the folks here even sell T-shirts and souvenirs for those who actually get snatched by the cones!
15. Fine Dinner at The Green Gateau
Blending American, global and elegant French cuisine, The Green Gateau’s staff have successfully established themselves as one of the city’s most cutting-edge and sophisticated culinary teams. A real focus on regional American ingredients is on the brunch and dinner menu, with dishes combining quark cheese with grilled eggplant or Monterey chicken with freshly baked bread. Then there are more international mashups, like Angus beef in Belgian beer, or oriental-inspired Mandarin roast chicken with noodles. All delicious!
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Lincoln, Nebraska (NE)
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