The 15th-largest state in the country by land area, Nebraska offers wide-open spaces and occupies the flatlands of the Great Plains. Look closer, though, and you'll find more than just an endless expanse of prairies. Nebraska offers vibrant cities, important historical monuments, top-rated museums, and unusual attractions.
Given its size, the best way to experience the Cornhusker State is by car. Interstate 80 stretches across the entire state and provides access to its biggest cities, including Omaha and Lincoln. Along its route across Nebraska, I-80 mostly parallels the Platte River, a Missouri River tributary.
Nebraska is home to unique landmarks. The following are some to add to your list of places to visit.
Scotts Bluff National Monument
An important landmark for emigrants traveling on several historical trails, Scotts Bluff National Monument is an 800-foot bluff in the state's far western panhandle that towers over the prairies below it. When travelers heading west on the Mormon, Spanish, California, and Oregon trails in the 19th century reached Scotts Bluff, it marked the end of the Great Plains portion of their journeys and the beginning of the tougher Rocky Mountain section.
Named after fur trader Hiram Scott, the bluff became part of the broader national monument in 1919. Today, you can hike several short trails to the top of the bluff. You can also drive the 1.6-mile Summit Road to the top of the monument. Check out the artwork from William Henry Jackson in the visitor center, including his paintings and photographs he took of Yellowstone in 1871 that helped lead to the creation of Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site
Much like Scotts Bluff, Chimney Rock also served as a crucial landmark for westward travelers in the 19th century. Upon reaching Chimney Rock, emigrants knew they were headed in the right direction. The spire reaches 470 feet above the valley floor. You cannot hike to or climb up Chimney Rock, but you can easily view it from the on-site visitor center. Chimney Rock is in the state's panhandle, just 23 miles east of Scotts Bluff National Monument.
Make sure these popular attractions are in your plans when touring around Nebraska.
Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
Located in Omaha, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium features 160 acres of exhibits ranging from attractions like Stingray Beach, where you can touch stingrays as they swim around an 80-foot pool, to the Desert Dome indoor exhibit, where you can view animal and plant life from the Sonoran and Namib deserts as well as Australia's Red Center.
Educational programs include Sleeping Bag Safaris that let you "camp out" overnight inside the zoo. You can also attend penguin and shark feedings and sea lion training. If you're not up to walking around the complex, reserve a golf cart tour. Grab a ticket to one of the site's Backstage Experiences; learn how staff members feed the sharks with the Aquarium Backstage Experience, or discover how personnel care for giraffes with the Giraffe Backstage Experience. Note that many special events and programs cost extra beyond the general admission pricing.
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum
The Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland features displays of space vehicles and historic aircraft as well as missiles and rockets. Established in 1959, the museum has a permanent collection that includes aircraft used during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War; displays on the Tuskegee Airmen, African American pilots who fought in WWII; artifacts telling the story of Francis Gary Powers, the pilot whose U-2 spy plane got shot down by the Soviet Union in 1960; and exhibits on women in aerospace.
The Historic Haymarket district in downtown Lincoln has 200+ retailers. Here you’ll find everything from restaurants and shops to galleries and professional services. The district also features a farmers market from May through October and events held year-round. Catch a Cornhuskers baseball game at Hawks Field at Haymarket Park. Stroll the district, browse its many galleries, and come out the first Friday of each month for the First Friday Artwalk. The Haymarket also has many dog-friendly businesses, so bring your pup along as you visit this historic part of Lincoln.
Old Market in Omaha
Similar to the Historic Haymarket, The Old Market in Omaha offers structures that date back to the 19th century as well as galleries, shops, and restaurants. Walk the cobblestone streets, admire the architecture, grab a coffee at one of the numerous cafes, listen to live music at one of the district's pubs, and take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Perhaps the most unusual of Nebraska's attractions, Carhenge is a man-made structure that replicates Stonehenge in England but with cars instead of stones. Built by Jim Reinders and dedicated in 1987, Carhenge consists of 39 vehicles arranged similarly to the stones at Stonehenge, with some cars sunk deep into pits with others forming arches and other cars welded on top of each other. Carhenge is in northwestern Nebraska near Alliance, about 53 miles from the town of Scottsbluff.
There are no professional sports teams in the state, but the athletic programs at the University of Nebraska serve as the main rooting interest for the majority of the population. The school fields various Division I programs like basketball, tennis, volleyball, softball, and baseball. Football is by far the most popular sport. The Cornhuskers football team competes in the Big Ten conference. To date, Nebraska can claim five national championships, in 1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, and 1997.
In recent years, the team has struggled to achieve the glory of the Tom Osborne era of the 1980s and 1990s, but fans remain passionate about their squad, especially when rivals like Oklahoma and Colorado come into Lincoln. Games at Memorial Stadium often sell out, but try online sites like StubHub or SeatGeek for last-minute or same-day tickets.