11 best holiday experiences in Omaha for Christmas
It’s the season for hot chocolate, Christmas tree-shaped cookies, and exploring Omaha’s vacation attractions. The Big O celebrates the holiday season in a breathtaking way every year with one of the tallest Christmas trees in the Midwest, a giant tree made of poinsettias and all the lights your senses can enjoy. Add Christmas carols at the Old Market and horse-drawn carriage rides and there is something special about celebrating the holiday season in Omaha. Here’s a look at 11 amazing events that made Rudolph’s nose red with envy.
1st Omaha Holiday Lights Festival in the old market
With more than a million white lights on trees and bushes and snowflake lights on the branches, the Old Market area hosts the annual Omaha Holiday Lights Festival in the popular downtown area through January 4th. Since 2000, Omaha has been celebrating the holiday by decorating the Gene Leahy Mall. But while the downtown park is being redesigned, the lights of the 2022 festival will return to Leahy. Meanwhile, Christmas carols will roam the brick streets of the Old Market, sharing seasonal music with a variety of street performers. Browse the shop windows with their Christmas decorations, including the Christmas tree Christmas trade, which is Christmas every day. Hop into a horse-drawn carriage for either a romantic drive around the area as a couple or a fun family adventure. Enjoy dinner on the Old Market in restaurants such as Upstream Brewing Company, Trini’s or M’s Pub.
2. Christmas at Union Station in the Durham Museum
The venerable Durham Museum hosts Christmas at Union Station, which will be Thanksgiving through January 10th. Hundreds of giant light bulbs and ornaments adorn the 40-foot tall Christmas tree, one of the tallest in the Midwest and anchoring the Great Hall. Every year a local family donates a giant fir or pine tree to the museum. The Christmas tree shines brightly when the lights dim. On the weekends, the classic sounds of Christmas carols performed by regional bands and singers are performed. Experience holidays around the world with a visit to the Holidays Cultural Trees Display, which features trees adorned with ethnic ornaments and representing countries such as Germany, Sweden, Japan and Lithuania.
3. Santa Claus goes into space at the SAC and Aerospace Museum
Regardless of your age, seeing Santa Goes to Space at the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum is a must. With a procession led by Darth Vader and Storm Troopers, Santa Claus arrives in style on December 5th at the SAC Museum near Ashland. The all-day event includes a marketplace where visitors can purchase gifts. Visit the old airplanes and space modules in the museum. After your visit, head to quaint shops in downtown Ashland, such as Salt Creek Mercantile, which is home to unique living ideas. The Gene Roncka Willow Point Art Gallery offers original works of art as well as a small museum with taxidermists in nature. Then enjoy a hand-cut steak or pork tenderloin at the Round the Bend Steakhouse.
4. Santa’s Rock N Lights in Werner Park
In Papillions Werner Park, Santa’s Rock N Lights take place every year. With more than 100,000 colorful lights creating dozens of seasonal displays, the drive-through attraction features unique exhibits like Santa Claus and his reindeer, toy soldiers, Santas on motorcycles, and candy canes. During your tour of the lights, enjoy the Christmas music on the event’s dedicated FM transmitter. Santa’s Rock N Lights runs every night through January 3rd and requires online pre-purchases. Afterward, head to the Beyond Golf Bar + Kitchen for dinner, which has an excellent selection of burgers, sandwiches (including a French beef brisket dip), and gourmet tacos.
5. North Omaha Christmas lights and Christmas in the village
Enjoy North Omaha Christmas lights through January 4th in an area of six blocks near historic 24th and Lake Streets. In North Omaha, the annual Christmas Festival is held in the Village on December 5th, celebrating the holidays with music and dancing, carriage rides, vendors, concessions and of course Santa Claus. The event will take place from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. You can also explore the history and culture of the area with a visit to the Great Plains Black History Museum. Murals honoring people like the Tuskegee Airmen are nearby. Then head to Big Mama’s kitchen for a fantastic dinner of homemade oven-fried chicken or fish, fried okra, cabbage, and macaroni and cheese.
6. Poinsettia Show in the Lauritzen Gardens
At 20 feet tall, the most unique Christmas tree you will see during the holiday season is created from more than 700 poinsettias. When you add some model trains that run along tracks with scale models of some of Omaha’s historic buildings, you can celebrate the annual Poinsettia Show at Lauritzen Gardens. With more than 5,000 poinsettias under 20 varieties as well as amaryllis and dozens of festive flower arrangements, the holiday attraction runs until January 3rd. Festive decorations can be found in the gardens and at the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory. Get a pre-made package and enjoy making your own s’mores in the fire pit just outside the visitor center. An excellent choice for dinner after your visit is Malara’s Italian Restaurant or the Greek Islands for a taste of the Mediterranean.
7. Light up inclusion in Zorinsky Lake Park
Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and a box of Christmas cookies and goodies as you head to Zorinsky Lake Park in western Omaha to see the drive-through lighting Illumination Inclusion, which takes place December 11-12. The attraction is open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. serves as a fundraiser for the construction of a physically accessible and integrative playground in the public park, named after the former mayor Edward Zorinsky. Enter the attraction near the paddling pool at the entrance to 156th Street. After your visit, you may want to head to the Shops of Legacy mall for dinner. Austin’s Steaks and Saloon offers excellent American cuisine, and Blatt Beer and Table offers a unique twist on pub food like the border burger made with Angus beef with crispy poblano pepper, fried chili con queso, and chipotle aioli.
8. Winter Wonderland In Papillion
Explore the Christmas lights in downtown Papillion as they transform into a drive-through experience in the winter wonderland. With the historic buildings decked out with Christmas lights, your experience will be enhanced by window displays with holiday displays. The event will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on November 28th. Papio Pit BBQ is an excellent choice for dinner after watching your vacation light. With dry-grated meat and scrumptious side dishes, you’ll learn why the restaurant was named one of Sarpy County’s top restaurants.
9. South Omaha Holiday Lights
Illuminating the 24th Street corridor between L and Q, South Omaha celebrates the holiday season with Latin music (including mariachi bands), food, and culture through January 4th. Visit El Museo Latino to explore Hispanic history and culture in the Omaha area. Check out the area’s stunning mural scene that sheds light on the history of South Omaha. Browse the storefronts with colorful displays and seasonal specials. Enjoy an authentic Latin American dinner at restaurants such as Taqueria El Rey or Taqueria Tijuana. Grab a taco and drink on the street in South Omaha.
10. Season of Lights at Midtown Crossing
Turner Park transforms into a winter wonderland with its annual light season at Midtown Crossing. Thousands of white lights adorn the trees in the main area of the retail and entertainment district. The attraction runs until February 14th and is perfect for enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while out walking with someone special or friends. Then head to the Crescent Moon for the best Reuben sandwich in Omaha. The restaurant is across from the former Blackstone Hotel, where the sandwich was invented.
Pro tip: For a deeper dive into the city’s gastronomy, check out our must-try list of Omaha restaurants.
11. The view of the wonderland
Stroll through thousands of colorful Christmas lights as La Vista’s Civic Center Park turns into a winter wonderland throughout December, with the lights lit up every evening. Start at Santa’s Workshop and walk a route that takes you past Santa’s sleigh, snowman cutouts (great photo ops) and through Candy Cane Lane before exiting on the west side of the workshop. A great choice for dinner before or after your visit is the Summer Kitchen Cafe, which has impressive appetizers and sandwiches, as well as potato casseroles.
Pro tip: When visiting Omaha, reserve a room at the historic Magnolia Boutique Hotel. Located downtown near the Orpheum Theater and just a few blocks from the Old Market, the Magnolia offers quaint, attractive rooms. The former Aquila Court Building, built in 1923, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The hotel offers a free shuttle service to downtown attractions and businesses.