20 Cities in Nebraska

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Nicknamed the Cornhusker State because of its fertile farmlands and rich agricultural background, Nebraska is a state in the Midwest where you can walk in the footsteps of early explorers. After the Lewis and Clark Expedition discovered the state during the early 1800s, it became a stopping and trading point along the Oregon Trail westward. The famous expedition laid the groundwork for the many cities in Nebraska to flourish over the following years. 

From the large urban centres of Lincoln and Omaha in the east to the scenic and quirky cities further west, such as Scottsbluff and Ogallala, Nebraska is intriguing to explore. This often forgotten-about state has hidden gems that will amaze anyone willing to put the time in to discover its beauty, making it a great place to go city-hopping with friends, family or just by yourself.

Cities in Nebraska

20 Nebraska Cities To Visit

1- Omaha

Morning In Omaha
Omaha tops the list of biggest cities in Nebraska.

As the largest city in Nebraska in terms of population, Omaha is a popular destination to kick off your visit to Nebraska and it has some of the state’s best cultural, historic and entertainment options on offer.

Omaha got its start when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed what would become Omaha in 1804, however, it wasn’t until 1854 that Nebraska’s largest city was officially settled with the help of the US government.

The city is home to more than 480,000 people.

It is the state’s most significant economic hub, with companies such as Berkshire Hathaway and Union Pacific calling this colourful Midwest city their home.

There’s plenty to see and do in the state’s largest city, such as touring the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium or walking across the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge into Iowa, making it a favourite destination for families. 

2- Lincoln

aerial view of lincoln
Lincoln is the capital city of Nebraska.

The city of Lincoln in the Cornhusker State’s southeast region is the official capital of Nebraska, even though it’s not the state’s most populated city.  

Lincoln was settled in 1854 as the city of Lancaster and renamed in honour of former US President Abraham Lincoln after his death in 1865.

It became the capital city of Nebraska in 1869.

The city is 58 miles (93 km) from downtown Omaha and is the home of the University of Nebraska, which is the state’s largest public university and among the leading educational institutions in the Midwest.

There’s no shortage of places to visit in Lincoln, with the Nebraska State Capitol, the University of Nebraska State Museum and Memorial Stadium all great options to explore in the state’s capital city. 

3- Bellevue

aerial view of Bellevue
One of the Nebraska Cities that has grown out of being a suburb is Bellevue.

Bellevue, French for “beautiful view”, is an eastern Nebraska city that’s popular with visitors because of its proximity to Omaha and its picturesque surroundings on the banks of the Missouri River.

The city is 7 miles (11 km) from downtown Omaha and is an excellent middle ground for intrepid explorers not yet ready to leave behind the creature comforts of the big city.

Bellevue has an impressive line-up of places to visit, such as the Fontenelle Forest, the Bellevue Little Theatre and the Sarpy County Museum, making Bellevue an excellent addition to your Nebraska itinerary.

4- Nebraska City

Known for its annual Arbor Day celebrations, Nebraska City in the state’s southeast corner is one of the historic cities to visit in Nebraska and is steeped in tales of the Underground Railroad and the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Nebraska City started in the early 1800s when the Lewis and Clark expedition first surveyed the area, however, it wasn’t until 1853 that the city was officially settled when John Boulware built a ferry house in modern-day Nebraska City.

There’s much to see and do in this sleepy Nebraska city, such as wandering about the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park or stopping by the Arbor Day Farm, making it one of the best cities in Nebraska for history lovers to visit. 

5- Kearney

First settled during the 1840s by travellers heading west along the Oregon Trail, Kearney is a vibrant mid-sized city in south-central Nebraska that’s another dream destination for history buffs keen to learn more about America’s westward expansion.

Kearney has a population of more than 33,000 Nebraskans and was named after legendary frontier military officer Stephen W. Kearny.

Kearney’s “e” was accidentally added after postmen regularly misspelt the city’s name.

The city is one of the larger Nebraskan cities outside Omaha and Lincoln and is home to the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument and the Museum of Nebraska Art.

6- Grand Island

Nestled on an island sandwiched between the Wood and Platte Rivers, the city of Grand Island in the Cornhusker State’s southeast is one of Nebraska’s larger cities, even though its population is only around 53,000. 

A four-time All-America City Award winner, Grand Island is the home of the popular Nebraska State Fair and was established as a city by the Union Pacific Railroad during the 1850s.

Grand Island’s top tourist attractions include the Stuhr Museum, the Island Oasis Water Park and the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center, making it a worthwhile city to explore in Nebraska.

7- Hastings

Although Hastings is a fantastic destination for studying the cosmos underneath Nebraska’s clear night skies, the city is best known as the birthplace of Kool-Aid, invented in Hastings by Edwin Perkins in 1927.

Hastings began life as a city in 1872 due to its location along a busy railroad intersection, which made Hastings an early railroad boom town during the latter stages of the 1800s.

The city’s attractions include the Clyde Sachtleben Observatory, the Hastings Museum and the Birthplace of Kool-Aid Museum, making it a city you could enjoy exploring. 

8- Fremont

Fremont is the official gateway to the scenic Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area and offers world-class boating, waterskiing and fishing. 

Fremont was first settled during the expansion of the Mormon Trail between the 1830s and the 1850s before being formally founded in 1856, with the city named in honour of famed explorer and military officer John C. Frémont.

Some of Fremont’s most popular attractions and landmarks include the Louis E May Museum, the Fremont State Recreation Area and the historic Fremont & Elkhorn Valley Railroad. 

9- Papillion

A mid-sized city with a small-town feel, Papillion is a charming historical city situated in the Cornhusker State’s southeast corner.

Papillion started as a railroad town in 1870 and is one of the last Paris-inspired former frontier cities still standing today.

The city is just 12 miles (19 km) southwest of downtown Omaha and serves as the region’s gateway to southeast Nebraska’s stunning outdoor attractions.

Papillion’s must-see landmarks include Werner Park, the Prairie Queen Recreation Area and the Shadow Lake Towne Center. 

10- North Platte

Buffalo Bill Mansion
North Platte best cities in Nebraska for Wild West history. Pictured here is Buffalo Bill Mansion.

North Platte is among the influential cities in the Midwest, as this central Nebraska city is home to Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard, the largest rail yard in the world that handles more than 14,000 railroad cars on any given day.

The city is much more than a major transportation hub in the United States, as is evident by North Platte’s colourful downtown, which treats visitors to a range of top-notch shops, bars and eateries.

There’s also a breadth of other attractions in and around North Platte, ranging from the famous Fort Cody Trading Post to the interesting Cody Park Railroad Museum, making it a worthwhile destination.

11- Beatrice

The first claim under the US Homestead Act of 1862 – which provided 160 acres of public land free of charge to settlers who agreed to cultivate the land for at least five years – was made near Beatrice, in Gage County, Nebraska. 

It may be over 160 years since Daniel Freeman became the first homesteader, but the population of Beatrice is still small, with only 12,000 people. 

Today, the site of Freeman’s claim is preserved as the Homestead National Historical Park, which is one of the state’s most prominent landmarks.

It has a heritage centre that educates visitors about the Homestead Act and its impact on the westward expansion of the United States, along with a tract of tallgrass prairie like the one early homesteaders would have encountered.

Other highlights of a visit to Beatrice are the Gage County Museum and the scenic Chautauqua Park. 

12- York

Dating back to 1869 and named after Nebraska’s York County, which its situated in, the city of York and its 8,000-strong population offers a breath of fresh air from the hustle and bustle of regular city life.

York is a popular weekend destination thanks to the city’s convenient location, roughly halfway between Kearney and Lincoln, placing the city right in the midst of some of the Cornhusker State’s best attractions and outdoor landmarks.

Highlights include Lee’s Legendary Marbles and Collectibles, one of the world’s largest marble collections, and Wessels Living History Farm, where you can experience the life of a 1920s farmer.

Families with young children might enjoy the York Area Children’s Museum, which encourages learning through interactive play.

York College’s scenic campus houses the Clayton Museum of Ancient History, featuring the Roman Empire and ancient Near East artifacts.

Recharge Lake and Kirkpatrick North Wildlife Management Basin provide fishing, camping, boating and bird-watching opportunities. 

13- Plattsmouth

Red clerical needle on a map of USA, Nebraska and the capital Lincoln. Close up map of Nebraska with red tack, United States map pin USA.
Looking for cities in Nebraska to visit? Check out our top 20.

Placed on the map when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed by the mouth of the Plattsmouth River just north of downtown Plattsmouth, the city of Plattsmouth is steeped in history, culture and the stunning Nebraska outdoors.

Plattsmouth was officially founded in 1854 as a trading post called “The Barracks” before being renamed “Plattsmouth” in 1855.

The Plattsmouth Main Street Historic District showcases preserved 19th and 20th-century architecture, including the Cass County Courthouse while the Cass County Historical Society Museum offers insight into the region’s rich history.

Nearby vineyards offer wine tastings and tours. 

14- Lexington

Not far from Johnson Lake, Lexington is the gateway to some of southern Nebraska’s most-visited outdoor attractions and public parks.

Lexington has a population of roughly 10,000 people and became a prominent destination during the 1860s as a vital stopping point along the Pony Express.

If you’re interested in history, tick the Heartland Museum of Military Vehicles and the Dawson County Historical Society off your to-visit list. 

15- Ogallala

The railroad and agricultural industries built this former stop along the Pony Express in the Cornhusker State’s southwest.

Ogallala became a busy trading post in the 1800s because of its location along the Texas Trail (also known as the Great Western Cattle Trail), which connected Texas and Nebraska.

The trail grew because Texan farmers sought to transport vast herds of cattle due to the high demand for beef in the USA’s north and east. 

Ogallala was where the cattle drovers from Texas stopped to board their stock on Union Pacific’s railroads to be transported to meatpacking centres like Chicago.

This influx of cattlemen created a boom in local businesses and Ogallala became a busy trading post and frontier town.

The city was officially incorporated in 1884.

To explore Ogallala’s Texas Trail history, head to the “Front Street – Cowboy Capital” and soak up the ambience of the replica Old West street.

There’s a steak house, a theatre and the Crystal Palace Revue, which narrates the town’s vibrant past.

Mansion on the Hill is a 19th-century Victorian museum that offers a glimpse into life during Ogallala’s boomtown years.

Nearby, Boot Hill Cemetery hosts the graves of many figures from the Old West era, while the Petrified Wood & Art Gallery combines art, history and natural history exhibits. 

16- Columbus

Home to the Andrew Jackson Higgins National Memorial, commemorating the significant contribution of the designer of the Higgins Boat used extensively during World War II for amphibious operations, including the D-Day invasion.

The memorial showcases a full-sized replica of a Higgins Boat, bronze statues of soldiers, and interpretive panels that tell the story of Higgins and the soldiers who used his boats. 

Columbus is the 10th-largest city in the state population-wise and was mainly inhabited by the Ponca, Pawnee, Otoe and Omaha people before the city’s official settlement by the Columbus Town Company in 1856.

Named after the capital city of Ohio, other attractions in Columbus are the Platte County Historical Society and the Pawnee Plunge Water Park. 

17- Scottsbluff

Scotts Bluff National Monument with wagon in front of it
Scotts Bluff National Monument is an iconic landmark you can access via the Nebraska town of Scottsbluff.

As the official gateway to the Scotts Bluff National Monument, Scottsbluff and its 14,000-strong population is a premier tourist destination in the Nebraska Panhandle region.

Scotts Bluff National Monument is a famous Oregon Trail landmark with distinctive towering cliffs that rise over 800 feet (243 m) above the plains.

The 3,000-acre has a visitor centre, and hiking trails and the Summit Road offers panoramic views of the landscape.

Located just a stone’s throw away from the state’s western border with Wyoming, Scottsbluff was formally settled in 1899 and was named in honour of Hiram Scott, a Rocky Mountain Fur Company fur trader.

The top attraction is undoubtedly the nearby national monument, however, the city is also home to the Riverside Discovery Center and the Midwest Theater, making it an all-around popular tourist destination.

18- La Vista

Incorporated as a city as recently as 1960, La Vista was developed as a suburb of Omaha but it grew fast and is today home to a population of more than 16,700 Nebraskans.

The city was established in 1959 by a developer who priced all new homes in the young city at $9,999 each, earning La Vista the nickname “House of Nines”.

La Vista has come a long way in a short time and is today a fully independent city with attractions, such as the Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront and the Durham Museum.

19- Norfolk

At the starting point of the 195-mile long (314 km) Cowboy Trail in northeast Nebraska, Norfolk is home to museums, art galleries, outdoor attractions and craft breweries.

Norfolk started as a city in 1865 when three German scouts arrived from Wisconsin in search of fertile farmland.

124 settlers arrived in the region the following year, in 1866, to claim Norfolk officially.

The city is the ninth-largest in Nebraska and offers a range of attractions, including the Norfolk Arts Center and the Elkhorn Valley Museum for arts and culture enthusiasts.

The Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail is great for hiking, biking or horseback riding, and the Maskenthine Lake Recreation Area is popular for fishing, boating and hiking.

Ta-Ha-Zouka Park and Skyview Lake offer recreational spaces for various sports and relaxation.

The Great American Comedy Festival in June is an event to mark off your calendar. 

20- McCook

Cities in Nebraska map
Looking for cities in Nebraska to explore? Some of the cities on this map are very interesting.

The historic city of McCook in Nebraska’s southwest was founded in 1882 as a small railroad stopping point by the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad.

It was named after Civil War Brigadier General Alexander McDowell McCook.

McCook is the capital of the Buffalo Commons, a concentrated effort started in the late 20th century to repopulate the Great Plains with bison.

The city’s attractions include the Museum of the High Plains, the George Norris Home and the Heritage Hills Golf Course, making McCook a quirky and interesting city in Nebraska. 

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Jessica Shaw is a storyteller who has lived in four U.S. states - Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois - and has visited many others. She loves history and nature and is a big fan of road tripping.