Discover the Largest Cities in Nebraska (By Population, Total Area, and Wealth)

Written by Drew Wood
Updated: October 28, 2023
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Nebraska is one of the more sparsely populated states, but it has made outsized contributions to the national economy and culture. It’s the third largest corn-producing state in the country – a crop vital not only as a human food source but for livestock feed and the production of clean biofuels. Nebraska is the home of Kool-Aid, Arbor Day, the 911 emergency phone number, and the U.S. Strategic Command. It’s also home to Berkshire Hathaway, the multi-billion-dollar firm headed by Omaha native Warren Buffet, currently the 6th richest person in the world. Most people think of Nebraska as a rural state, but in fact, about 73% of the population is urban. Find out more as we explore the largest cities in Nebraska by population, area, and wealth.

Key Points

  • Nebraska is geographically large, but small in population.
  • It’s capital, Lincoln, was named in honor of President Abraham Lincoln.
  • Its economy is built on agriculture but most of its people live in urban areas.
  • As development has pushed into natural habitats, wild animals are often spotted in suburban and urban areas as well as the countryside.
  • Omaha, Nebraska, is home to 4 Fortune 500 companies and one of the 10 best zoos in the United States.
  • Bellevue, Nebraska hosts Offutt Airforce Base and the U.S. Strategic Command.
  • Farming in Nebraska is a high-technology, high-finance business that requires specialized skills and acumen.

Nebraska’s Population and Economy

Back view of family walking among the dried corn stalks in a corn maze. Little boy and his father having fun on pumpkin fair at autumn. Traditional american amusement on pumpkin fair.

Nebraska is known for its agricultural production, but the majority of residents live in urban areas.

©Maria Sbytova/Shutterstock.com

Statehood for Nebraska was a controversial issue leading up to the Civil War as the slave states and free states struggled for political power. After the war, Nebraska finally became a state in 1867, naming its capital Lincoln in honor of the hero-president of the war.

Paradoxically, Nebraska is large and small at the same time. In land area, it’s enormous. With over 77,000 square miles of territory, it’s the 16th largest state. But with only 1.9 million people, its population is so small it ranks 37th in the nation. It produces a third of the country’s corn, a crop that brings in $10 billion a year, and it is 4th in beef production. Yet its economy is just 36th in the nation, accounting for only 0.6% of the total American economy.

Is Nebraska Urban or Rural?

Lincoln - Nebraska, Nebraska, Urban Skyline, City, USA

Lincoln, Nebraska is the capital and second-largest city. Its tallest building houses the state legislature.

©iStock.com/Jacob Boomsma

Along with these contradictions, Nebraska is both an urban and a rural state. The vast majority of the state’s land area is rural farmland and wilderness. However, about 73% of the population lives in an urban area. What does “urban” mean in Nebraska, though? Nearly half the people in the state live in Omaha and Lincoln, large cities in the southeast. But 89% of Nebraskan cities have fewer than 3,000 people. And even Nebraska’s urban areas and suburbs have a distinctly rural and even wild feel to them. In the summer of 2023, a mountain lion was spotted on numerous doorbell cams in urban Omaha neighborhoods. Bobcats, coyotes, deer, hawks, and other wildlife are not an infrequent sight in growing communities like Papillion, an exurb of Omaha, where sprawling new development is displacing wildlife.

The Largest Cities in Nebraska by Population

Mountain lion stares into camera

In summer 2023 a mountain

lion

stalked urban and suburban neighborhoods in Omaha, NE.

©Kwadrat/Shutterstock.com

Omaha is by far the largest city in Nebraska by population and the 40th largest city in the country. With 487,300 people, it’s comparable to Miami, FL. The entire metro area served by Omaha is over one million people, approximately the population of Austin, TX. One of the greatest attractions in the city is the Henry Doorly Zoo, considered one of the top 10 zoos in the country. Four Fortune 500 companies are headquartered there: Berkshire Hathaway, Union Pacific Railroad, Mutual of Omaha Insurance, and Kiewit Corporation.

CityPopulation
1Omaha487,300
2Lincoln292,627
3Bellevue63,015
4Grand Island52,513
5Kearney34,277
6Fremont27,318
7Norfolk25,928
8Hastings24,927
9Columbus24,195
10Papillion23,794

The Largest Cities in Nebraska by Land Area

New Year's Eve in Omaha, Nebraska at the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Omaha is the largest city in Nebraska in both population and land area.

©DV Captures/Shutterstock.com

On average, U.S. cities have about 355 square miles of territory. The largest city in the country by land area is Sitka, Alaska, at 2,870 square miles. Omaha is Nebraska’s largest city by land area with a little over 127 square miles. This means that it is smaller than the average American city. One of the nice things about living in Omaha is the relatively low amount of traffic. Yes, there are some rush-hour backups, but nothing on the scale of other large metropolitan areas in the country.

CityLand Area (in square miles)
1Omaha127.09
2Lincoln89.11
3Grand Island28.41
4Bellevue15.85
5Hastings13.48
6North Platte13.20
7Kearney12.77
8Norfolk10.69
9Columbus9.85
10Beatrice9.01

The Wealthiest Cities in Nebraska

Aerial View of the Omaha Suburb of Papillion, Nebraska

Papillion, on the Papio Creek, is the wealthiest city in Nebraska based on median household income.

©Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock.com

The median household income in the United States is $74,580. The two wealthiest cities in Nebraska, Papillion and Gretna, exceed this level by $10-20,000. Most of the wealthiest cities in Nebraska are located in the southeast, a close drive to Omaha or Lincoln (cities that lie just 45 minutes apart). Gretna, Papillion, Bellevue, LaVista, and Ralston are all urban communities immediately to the south of Omaha. Schuyler is an hour west of Omaha and Columbus is another 50 minutes beyond that. Seward is 30 minutes west of Lincoln. Gering and South Sioux City are the only two cities on this list that are fairly distant from the Omaha-Lincoln corner of the state. Gering is a suburb of Scotts Bluff in the far west, very close to the Wyoming border. As the name suggests, South Sioux City is just across the Missouri River from Sioux City, SD.

CityMedian Household Income
1Papillion$95,293
2Gretna$85,476
3Bellevue$73,534
4Schuyler$70,592
5La Vista$70,310
6Seward$68,348
7Ralston$64,735
8Gering$64,631
9Columbus$60,586
10South Sioux City$57,783

Nebraska is Full of Surprises

Tractor spraying pesticides on vegetable field with sprayer at spring

A farm in Nebraska is a multimillion-dollar, high-technology enterprise that requires substantial expertise.

©Fotokostic/Shutterstock.com

Most people think of Nebraska as a rural state. Unfortunately, in some folks’ minds “rural” is synonymous with words like “poor” and “ignorant.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Non-farming jobs are scarce in large swaths of the state, so people migrate to the cities. However, to be successful, farmers must have sharp business skills, familiarity with the most up-to-date scientific farming practices, complex mechanical abilities, and the ability to use expensive, high-technology equipment effectively. Modern farming is a multimillion-dollar enterprise that cannot be accomplished profitably by a person without a great deal of intelligence and acumen in several disciplines.

Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska

Bellevue, NE, hosts Offutt Air Force Base and the U.S. Strategic Command.

©Code36 at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Even so, as we’ve seen in this article, stereotyping Nebraskans as “rural” people misjudges three out of four of them who live in urban areas. Omaha is one of the top 40 largest cities in the country. It’s home to Warren Buffett, the 6th richest billionaire in the world. Papillion and Gretna have median household incomes much higher than the national average. Large numbers of Nebraskans work at Offutt Airforce Base, where the U.S. Strategic Command manages the country’s nuclear detection and defense capabilities. The larger cities have significant immigrant populations, particularly from East Africa and the Middle East. So, Nebraska really is full of surprises. Visit sometime. And don’t be surprised if you want to stay.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Michael Kaercher/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Drew Wood is a writer at A-Z Animals focusing on mammals, geography, and world cultures. Drew has worked in research and writing for over 20 years and holds a Masters in Foreign Affairs (1992) and a Doctorate in Religion (2009). A resident of Nebraska, Drew enjoys Brazilian jiu-jitsu, movies, and being an emotional support human to four dogs.

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