A cornucopia of unique stops in Lincoln makes this Nebraska capital city a must-visit

At its birth, Lincoln, Nebraska was wild with sprawling salt marshes, wide-open plains of swaying wheat and expansive buffalo grass prairies dotted with grazing cattle. The Old West of bygone eras was the landscape in which figures like Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis and Clark, and Crazy Horse lived out their historic adventures. Founded in 1856 as the Village of Lancaster, its 500 citizens renamed their expanding city Lincoln in 1869, after America’s revered 16th president. More than 290,000 people thrive in the capital city today, burgeoning its rich history and abundant art and culture. 

The historic Haymarket District is a great place to explore.

The historic Haymarket District is a great place to explore. Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau

Lincoln’s Art Scene

The historic Haymarket District grew from a few tiny homes and stores to 1880s boom-town warehouses and train depots and ultimately to what it is today – a landmark cultural arts district boasting the creative community known as Gallery Alley and The Burkholder Project

In 1987, Anne Burkholder transformed an old carpet factory in the rundown Haymarket District into an esteemed art gallery where creatives could come to work, collaborate and display diverse projects. After a parking garage was built nearby, a small 240 foot-by-18 foot alleyway became famous for pedestrians, and the need for better lighting ultimately led to a vibrant safe passage. It was subsequently dubbed a “guerilla art zone” thanks to artist contributions splashing bright murals and illustrations on The Burkholder Project building and the alley’s numerous edifices. 

Anne’s gallery is home to multiple working artist studios and lofts for sculptures and creators with space to display. The eclectic community encourages creatives and connoisseurs to observe works-in-progress and completed pieces to learn from each other. 

The Historic Haymarket District also houses a variety of unique shopping options including Burlington Antiques, which has sold quality antiques and collectibles for 35 years; From Nebraska Gift Shop, which specializes in products made and grown in Nebraska; and Ten Thousand Villages, a fair-trade retailer of artisan-crafted home décor, personal accessories and gift items from around the globe.

In the Antelope Valley neighborhood of Lincoln, Karen Kunc founded Constellation Studios in 2013, a premier spot offering a unique perspective into the world of printmaking. Karen offers bookmaking and other distinct paper workshops, art residencies, and exhibits both for sale and viewing pleasure. 

The LUX Center for the Arts encompasses everything arts-related ranging from mixed-media, painting, glass and metal/jewelry classes to outreach programs, fellowships, residency teaching programs and personal artistic growth opportunities. Beautiful things happen here when artists gather to create and display resplendent visual crafts. The LUX is a vital Lincoln community organization that connects people through art and experiential opportunities. 

Experience sophistication at Kiechel Fine Art where 19th and 20th-century American art and contemporary regional and national prints are on display. Get your art appraised by professionals or sell your pieces outright or on consignment. There are four gallery floors to peruse and a relaxing rooftop area offering panoramic city views. 

The International Quilt Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of quilts.

The International Quilt Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of quilts. Photo courtesy of the Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau

Museums Galore

Lincoln touts a fabulous assortment of museums showcasing many art genres, prehistoric fossils and unique procurements. The traditions of quiltmaking are alive at the International Quilt Museum, the world’s largest collection of quilts dating back to the 17th-century. The Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed is every car enthusiasts’ dream. View rare and vintage items, racing memorabilia, and history-making vehicles and driving elements.

The University of Nebraska State Museum caters to everyone’s curiosities. Discover the Paleontology of Nebraska or Bizarre Beasts in Morrill Hall, inside the museum. Search the cosmos and learn about astrology at the Mueller Planetarium, located inside Morrill Hall. 

On the University of Nebraska – Lincoln campus, Sheldon Museum of Art houses an impressive collection of significant artists featuring contemporary, minimalism, pop, abstract and other artworks. 

Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center

Twenty miles southwest of Lincoln sits 850 expansive acres of Nebraska tallgrass prairies bursting with wildflowers, wildlife and rich history. Pioneers from yesteryear left their marks on the fields, memorializing their presence with authentic 19th-century wagon wheel ruts slicing through the landscape, remarkably left undisturbed through the centuries. 

At Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, stroll through over four miles of meandering paths around ponds and a quiet stream surrounded by woodland scenery. The visitor’s center, thoughtfully constructed of straw bales, is an essential piece of the land’s preservation history and revitalization efforts. Be sure to encounter the interactive exhibits to learn about why the tallgrass prairies are so important to Nebraska’s agricultural history. 

Sunken Gardens

Thousands of blooming annuals and perennials and live koi ponds dotted with aimless lily pads create a Monet-inspired atmosphere at the Sunken Gardens. During the Great Depression, longtime Lincoln natives transformed a 1.5-acre dumpsite into an exquisite Eden festooned with bouquets, fountains and stone pathways built around existing rock sculptures. 

The Sunken Gardens made National Geographic’s “Guide to Public Gardens” in their “300 Best Gardens to Visit in the United States” list. Explore the property’s gorgeous flora and pollinator habitat and glimpse the brilliant tulips at full bloom during springtime.

Agritourism Gems

Soak up the sunshine and fresh country air at one of the many agritourism destinations around Lincoln. A little south of the capital city is the Sleepy Bees Lavender Farm, where owners Jerry and Holly McCabe overcame the Nebraska climate to provide necessary food for honeybees and utilize the soothing properties of their lavender crop. They provide the community and beyond with natural beeswax and lavender products for sale online and in their fragrant shop. 

James Arthur Vineyards offers visitors a taste of Nebraska, from food baskets and homemade ciders to wine tastings and meals at their onsite restaurant. On your way out of town, check out Robinette Farms south of Lincoln in Martell for fresh micro and organic greens, shoots and other garden delights. They also offer an online farmstand featuring several local farmers and food subscriptions.

Lincoln is bursting with history, nature and incredible artistic culture. Luxurious gardens are teeming with vibrant plants and robust agritourism offers spring and summertime activities. On rainy days and colder months, tickle your senses at any of the art galleries or cultural museums. With so much to experience, come explore Lincoln on your next adventure through the Cornhusker State. 

By Heather Dale