Study: Best Cities to Live in Nebraska

With one of the fastest-growing economies in the nation, Nebraska is a prime destination for job seekers. The overall cost of living is substantially lower than the national average, with home prices among the lowest in the nation. If a move to the Midwest is in your future or you're interested in relocating within the state, check out the CreditDonkey guide to Nebraska's top cities.

The first thing newcomers see when they drive into the Cornhusker State are the welcome signs promoting Nebraska's "Good Life." A simple statement, it echoes the sentiment that drew the first homesteaders here in 1862 and continues to attract thousands of new residents each year. Agriculture continues to be the cornerstone of the state's economy, in both smaller rural communities and larger cities like Omaha. Part of America's heartland region, Nebraska's rich traditions and history continue to influence its modern values and way of life.

10 Best Cities to Live in Nebraska

Study Methodology

We compiled our rankings based on these five factors:

  1. Crime Rate
  2. Commute Time
  3. Income
  4. Education
  5. Restaurants Per Capita

Overall, Nebraska ranks well in terms of safety, but we know that crime rates can vary drastically from one city to another. Our experts looked at the odds of being the victim of a violent crime to determine which cities are the safest.

Part of transitioning to a new town means getting used to the local traffic patterns on your drive to and from work. We calculated the average commute time for each city in our study and found that the longest drive time didn't exceed 21 minutes.

As its economy continues to expand, it's expected that workers will see their wages improve. If you're moving to Nebraska to look for a job, we've determined which cities pay the best based on median household incomes. We also considered how educated the residents of each city are, as this often correlates to employee wages.

Classic Americana is the phrase that perhaps best describes Nebraska's regional fare, but if you're looking for more than just meat and potatoes, you won't be disappointed. We looked at the number of restaurants per capita to determine which cities offer the best selection of dining choices.

Tip: Eating at home? Read how to save money on groceries.

10. Fremont

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 918.7
  • Commute Time: 16.5 minutes
  • Income: $46,064
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 18.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 369 inhabitants

The family-friendly community of Fremont sits roughly 35 miles northwest of Omaha, in the valley between the Platte and Elkhorn Rivers. The city got its start as an agricultural center and agribusiness is still an important part of the local economy, along with manufacturing. Midland University also supplies plenty of jobs and is one of the fastest-growing private schools in Nebraska.

Did You Know: The annual John C. Fremont Days festival celebrates the town's history and the life of its founder.

9. Norfolk

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 872.1
  • Commute Time: 13.3 minutes
  • Income: $39,836
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 23.2%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 386 inhabitants

Part of the Elkhorn River Valley, Norfolk is one of northeast Nebraska's largest economic centers. Healthcare and food processing are the top industries, with the retail trade not far behind. Along with a variety of job opportunities, the city also offers workers one of the shortest average commutes. Norfolk's popularity among families is largely attributed to its safe neighborhoods and kid-centered attractions, like Poppy's Pumpkin Patch and the AquaVenture water park.

Did You Know: Entertainment legend Johnny Carson graduated from Norfolk High School.

8. Hastings

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 437.9
  • Commute Time: 14.3 minutes
  • Income: $44,241
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 20.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 411 inhabitants

If you're in search of a quiet place to call home that still offers many of the conveniences of urban living, the mid-size rural community of Hastings may be just what you're looking for. Manufacturing is the heart of the city's economy, although agriculture remains prominent throughout Adams County. Bird watching is a favorite past time of both residents and visitors alike, with more than 250 species of waterfowl migrating through the area each spring.

Did You Know: Hastings resident Edwin E. Perkins invented Kool-Aid here in 1927.

7. Omaha

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 168.2
  • Commute Time: 18 minutes
  • Income: $46,978
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 32.5%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 397 inhabitants

Nebraska's largest city, Omaha boasts a population of more than 420,000 residents. The city's economy is one of the most diverse in the states, with the Offutt Air Force Base and the University of Nebraska among the largest employers. Aside from a booming job market, newcomers are also drawn to the city's affordable housing and a cost of living that's approximately 12% lower than the national average. There are more than 1,000 restaurants to choose from, with V. Mertz and The Grey Plume drawing rave reviews from locals and critics alike.

Did You Know: Omaha's Bob Kerrey Bridge, which connects the city with neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa, is one of the longest pedestrian bridge projects ever constructed.

6. Columbus

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 1,126.9
  • Commute Time: 14.1 minutes
  • Income: $48,123
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 19.1%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 375 inhabitants

Columbus sits on the banks of the Loup River, close to the point where it joins with the Platte River. Like many of Nebraska's smaller towns, agriculture and manufacturing feature heavily in the local market and the unemployment rate is among the lowest in the state. Violent crime is a rarity, making it an ideal spot to raise a family. If you're looking for some grown-up fun, check out Glur's Tavern, touted as the oldest bar west of the Missouri River.

Did You Know: Columbus was the site of the first full dress rehearsal for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show.

5. Bellevue

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 939.6
  • Commute Time: 19.8 minutes
  • Income: $58,148
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 26.3%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 642 inhabitants

Located less than 10 miles from Omaha, Bellevue is one of the metro area's most up-and-coming suburbs. Following a lengthy period of decline, the city saw a resurgence with the opening of nearby Offutt Air Force Base. Today, the city is thriving, as evidenced by its higher median incomes, low incidence of violent crime and moderately priced homes. The Fontenelle Forest Nature Center and Lake Manawa State Park offer ample recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts.

Did You Know: Originally settled in the 1830s as a fur trading post, Bellevue is considered Nebraska's oldest continuously operating town.

4. Lincoln

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 251.6
  • Commute Time: 17.6 minutes
  • Income: $49,504
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 35.9%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 491 inhabitants

Nebraska's capital city is also its second largest, with a population of more than 265,000. Home to the main campus of the University of Nebraska, the state government offices and major companies like Bryan LGH Medical Center, Lincoln's economy is one of Nebraska's heartiest. Aside from cheering on the Cornhuskers on game day, residents can enjoy a number of local attractions, such as the Lincoln Children's Zoo, Antelope Park and the Mueller Planetarium.

Did You Know: One of the largest woolly mammoth skeletons ever unearthed was discovered in Lincoln and can be viewed at the University of Nebraska State Museum.

3. La Vista

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 1,624.2
  • Commute Time: 19.5 minutes
  • Income: $59,488
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 31.8%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 642 inhabitants

Another suburb of Omaha, La Vista, one of the smallest cities in our rankings, continues to grow at a steady pace. Home prices are slightly higher compared to the metro area, but residents earn a substantially higher median wage and enjoy a much better violent crime rate. The commute is one of the longest, at nearly 20 minutes, but it's well worth it if you prefer a safer community with a strong emphasis on family values.

Did You Know: La Vista Daze is the city's most popular event, featuring a carnival, parade, fireworks and a community cookout.

2. Papillion

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 2,433.3
  • Commute Time: 21.1 minutes
  • Income: $73,988
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 39%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 630 inhabitants

Papillion has earned top honors from several national publications as one of the nation's best small towns and we couldn't agree more. With a violent crime rate of 1 in more than 2,400, this bustling Omaha suburb is the safest city in our rankings. It's also one of the most affluent, with residents earning a median annual income of nearly $74,000. Top-rated schools, numerous outdoor attractions and a charming historic downtown solidify Papillion's position as one of Nebraska's best cities.

1. Kearney

  • Odds of Being a Victim of a Violent Crime: 1 in 747.7
  • Commute Time: 13.3 minutes
  • Income: $47,614
  • Residents With a Bachelor's Degree or Higher: 35.2%
  • Restaurants: 1 per 318 inhabitants

Known as the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World, Kearney lies along the north bank of the Platte River. The strength of its economy is grounded in the education, manufacturing and healthcare industries, with the University of Nebraska at Kearney ranked as a top employer. Violent crime rates are exceptionally low and the city ties with Norfolk for the shortest average commute. The Alley Rose serves up comfort foods with a high-end twist but if you crave a taste of Thai, Suwannee is the top choice among locals.

Did You Know: Each spring, residents and visitors gather for the Crane Watch Festival to observe hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes as they travel north to their breeding grounds.

While Nebraska's pace may be a little slower compared to other states, most Cornhuskers agree that it's one of the things that makes living here so appealing. The 10 cities we've included in our rankings are a diverse mix to be sure, but when it comes to safety, education, income and quality of life they represent the cream of the crop.

Data Sources:

  • U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates
  • FBI, Uniform Crime Reports
  • U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey
  • U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census

Rebecca Lake is a journalist at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Rebecca Lake at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for our latest posts.

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