Lincoln’s Sunken Gardens are some of the best to be found in the United States. Tulips bloom every spring, with annuals putting on a show all the way through summer. In the winter, snow covers the trees and shrubs, creating a white wonderland. The Sunken Gardens’ three best gardens are the White Garden, perfect for warm summer nights; the Perennial Garden, which features hostas and hydrangeas; and the Annual Garden. Ponds and a gazebo help complete the scenery. Every year, the Sunken Gardens changes the theme of the Annual Garden, and past themes have included “Thunder Birds” and “Purple Haze.”
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Memorial Stadium is the heart of University of Nebraska football. Getting a ticket for game day might be a little tough, but seeing the devoted fans create the “Sea of Red” at every home game is an amazing experience. When football isn’t in season, the university offers a self-guided tour brochure to explain the many statues and structures in and around the stadium. On Wednesday and Thursday mornings, you can also schedule a guided tour to take you through the special displays and the entire complex. Be careful during the season, though: game and practice days mean shortened hours.
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Lincoln is home to the 668-acre Pioneers Park Nature Center, a wildlife sanctuary that features woodlands, wetlands, and a tallgrass prairie. There are eight miles of hiking trails where you can go through non-releasable raptor habitats to see eagles, owls, and hawks. Small herds of bison, elk, and white-tailed deer also live in the sanctuary. Two buildings house small animal exhibits, and there are several small gardens with labeled specimens. Don’t miss the fragrant herb garden and the art wall inside the Prairie Building, which features work by local artists!
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Lincoln is, of course, Nebraska’s state capital, and the skyscraper-style Capitol building is open to the public almost every single day of the year. The free guided tours are led by well-informed staffers. Mosaics, murals, and carvings all adorn the interior. Many of the original fixtures are in place, making it a great example of Art Deco architecture and decor. The 14th floor is an observatory, offering some of the best views of the city. Don’t forget to save time to make a trip around the exterior as well.
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West of the old Haymarket Square is a former warehouse district, Haymarket, that’s been converted into a historical area. Restaurants like Leadbelly’s Contemporary American Pub pay homage to the industrial history of Lincoln. The district also offers art walks on the first Friday of each month. In spring, summer and fall, Haymarket also hosts a farmers’ market that can feature up to 200 stalls at its peak. Shops and stores like Bluestem Books offer the chance to find something perfect to complete your day. At just eight blocks, the Historic Haymarket District makes for a perfect afternoon trip.
Located on the University of Nebraska’s campus in Morrill Hall, the Mueller Planetarium is housed in the same building as the University of Nebraska State Museum. Shows include a tour of Nebraska’s night skies, the story of the Space Age, and “Into the Deep,” detailing the first deep-sea exploration. The laser shows, set to music, are the true highlight here; current offerings include “Laser Beatles” and “Laser U2,” though they change on a monthly basis.
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The MoPac Trail is part of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which converts old railroad corridors to trails for hiking. It follows the old Missouri Pacific Omaha Belt line, hence the trail’s name. The western section winds through downtown Lincoln, while the eastern part is the more rural of the two and leads to Wabash, Nebraska. You can pick up either end of the trail in Lincoln itself. Biking and walking are prime choices for taking in the scenery in spring, summer and fall, and you can even cross-country ski in the winter. A separate equestrian trail spans from Wabash to Lincoln.
Found on the University of Nebraska’s campus in Lincoln, the Sheldon Museum of Art specializes in the many different facets of American art and comprises both the university’s collection and the Sheldon Art Association’s collection. The substantial collection has more than 12,000 works and includes pieces by Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Andy Warhol. Aside from the six permanent exhibitions, there are more than 30 sculptures on display year-round in the Sculpture Garden, which should not be missed. Guided tours are available on Sundays.
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The Governor’s Residence tours are one of Lincoln’s better-kept secrets. The residence opened in 1958 and was renovated in the late 1990s; it’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. Every Thursday afternoon, guided tours are available. Be sure not to miss the Inaugural Gowns collection, which has dresses worn by the First Ladies of Nebraska. The house is decorated for the holidays in December. Since it’s only open for a few hours a week, be sure to call ahead to guarantee your place.
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