When people think of Nebraska, a few particular images probably come to mind. Expansive flat plains where livestock graze, farms, winding rivers that stretch on for miles. You’re also probably reminded of Husker sports teams from TV and movies, and their rabid collection of fans. If, like us, you played a lot of “The Oregon Trail” as a kid, you might also think of Chimney Rock. (Curse you, dysentery!)
But if someone asked you on the spot where the best place in Nebraska is, what would you say? Omaha? Lincoln? Or would you have no clue?
Luckily, we do have a clue, and we at Movoto Real Estate have decided that it’s time to pick out Nebraska’s best once and for all . While the state motto is “Equality before the law,” you’ll find that not all places are equal before Movoto. We looked at data, analyzed it, and narrowed all of it down to give us some really amazing spots. Our 10 Best Cities in Nebraska are:
You may notice that there are lots of ties on this list; that simply means that a lot of these places are so good, that it’s hard to rank one below another. (You’ll have to use your own experiences to decide in your opinion which city edges out another.) We’ll take a closer look at these top 10 as soon as we go into how exactly we got to this result.
How We Created This Ranking
For those who haven’t seen us do a Big Deal List before, let’s go over our criteria for finding which spots top the list. First, we built a list of places by picking out the most populated locations in Nebraska that have at least 5,000 residents. In this case,that list came out to 31 cities. Then, we collected data on those cities and analyzed certain criteria to determine how those cities ranked. These criteria are:
- Total amenities
- Quality of life (cost of living, median home price, median rent, median household income, and student-to-teacher ratio)
- Total crimes
- Tax rates (sales tax and income tax)
- Commute time
- Weather (temperature and air quality)
Each location was then given a rank from 1 to 31 based on the individual criteria, with the lowest score being the best. Then, we averaged those rankings into what we aptly call a Big Deal Score, and the place with the lowest average score becomes No. 1 on our list. In this case, our best ranking city was Seward.
If you’re curious as to how all 31 cities ranked, fear not. We’ll list them all at the very end of this post, and maybe you’ll find out how your hometown fared if it’s not in the top 10. But for now, let’s focus on our proud victors and learn a little about why each of them is so fantastic.
Coming in at No. 1 is Seward, a little place with a big patriotic bang. Even though it didn’t factor into our ranking criteria, the city is home to one of the greatest Fourth of July parties anywhere. Each year, the population surrounding this party skyrockets to 40,000, over five times the city’s normal size.
For the rest of the year, with a population of 6,985, it’s actually the third smallest city in our top 10 list. However, great things do come in small packages. Seward was safest in terms of crime rate, with 1,025 crimes per 100,000 people. If you compare that to much bigger Omaha’s 5,107 per 100,000 people, that’s a major difference. It also ranked No. 1 in tax rate and summer weather temperature.
Seward did fairly well in employment ranking too, with only 2.9 percent of the population being unemployed. In fact, there were very few areas in which Seward didn’t do extremely well. The total number of amenities did rank 26th on our list, but considering the size of the town, that’s pretty understandable.
One of a two-way tie for second place, Columbus is a pretty impressive contender. Far more populated than Seward, with 22,169 residents, this city blooms with all sort of solid stats.
Standing at seventh for amenities and 18th in quality of life, the city offers lots to comfortably see and do. Residents can tell you about Glur’s Tavern, once a favorite of “Buffalo Bill” Cody and still a fun favorite of locals today. The city is also home to many museums and exhibits, including the Freedom Memorial to victims of the terrorist attack on 9/11.
Unemployment is only at 3.1 percent and the average commute time is only 15 minutes. The cost of renting is a bit higher than Seward’s at an average of $546, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s just an indicator of how desirable a place this is to live in.
Now here’s the second in our tie: Papillion. This city boasts a hearty population of 19,393, and has some of the nicest summers you can find in the state. It even ranked No. 1 in overall weather. It came in at No. 3 in quality of life and No. 4 in crime rate, so this city makes a fine showing on the ranking board in many different areas. Housing here is the most expensive, both to rent and own, but the median household income is also the highest so all that evens out.
Where Papillion didn’t do well is in commute time. The average commute is 21 minutes, which sets the city at No. 28 in that criterion and drags down its overall ranking a little. Among many other amenities, Papillion has Werner Park, home of its baseball team The Storm Chasers.
For non-Nebraskans, this is a city you’ve probably actually heard of. And for good reason. The population for this city completely decimates the others in our top 10 with a whopping 259,038. Along with with all those people, you also get a ton of shopping, parks, eating, and playing. Its amenities are second only to Omaha, which ranked at an overall 19th on our list.
However, a bigger population also means more crime, and Lincoln only managed No. 27 on our crime rate rankings which drags down its over all standing some. Still, the demand to live in this city is high, with rent prices at fourth on our list and prices for homes ranking sixth. Did we mention that it’s also the state capital?
Tied with Lincoln on our list, Kearney is quite a bit smaller but still just as lively. Even though the population is only 30,843, it still ranks No. 4 as far as amenities above many much larger cities on the overall list. Just one of these attractions is the Tri-City Storm, a USHL hockey team and great source of high spirits for residents. The people here should be in good spirits for another reason, considering their unemployment is ranked No. 1 at only 2.6 percent.
However, Kearney didn’t do so hot when it come to weather—literally. The average summer temp is only about 71, which ranks it at a dreary No. 23 on our list for that criterion.
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Not to be confused with its counterpart in Virginia, Norfolk is home to a nice round 24,242 people who are always able to get around their city with ease. The commute here is great at only 14 minutes, which puts it at No. 6 for that criterion on our list. Places like the Norfolk Arts Center, where people can view numerous traveling and rotating exhibits, is also an easy drive away.
It’s not financially easy to live in this much-desired city, however. It’s tied for No. 1 on our list for cost of living expenses with Nebraska City and Wayne, and No. 12 on median home price. But considering it also comes in at No. 9 on our rankings for amenities and No. 11 in unemployment, that’s none too surprising.
6. Nebraska City
In yet another two-way tie, Nebraska City shares the No. 6 position with Norfolk. For a city that boasts the State’s name, you’d expect the place to have a high population, but it has only 7,300 residents. Still, for a small city it’s got some great perks. For example, Arbor Day was first launched in this small city, and it’s still a big deal there to this day. Every final Friday in April, Nebraska City becomes a tree-lover’s absolute paradise.
Students enjoy a teacher student ratio of 11 to 1, which makes it the best ranked city in that criterion. It also sits fairly high atop the list for weather, at No. 5, and for quality of life, at No. 7. Some of that may have to do with Nebraska City’s tied for No. 1 ranked air quality, so breathe deep, residents.
The second smallest city on our top 10 list, Sidney is home to 6,739 Nebraskans. This is one safe city with a crime rate of 1,218 per 100,000 people, which places it at No. 2 in that criterion. That small-town feel also aids them in both commute time and employment, where they come in No. 6 and No. 4 respectively.
The weather isn’t perfect, and summer temperatures sit at a moody 28th on our list, but at the same time the quality of life score bumps Sidney up to a more respectable No. 11 in that category.
9. La Vista
La Vista is a pretty pleasant place to live in just as far as climate. The 16,083 residents are treated to an average of 73 degree temperatures in the the summer and a quality of life that scored better than any other on our list. It’s no wonder that so many folks want to live there.
The high demand for apartments and houses make this city No. 2 in price of rent and home cost, second only to nearby Papillon. Fortunately for residents, the median household income is also No. 2 in our rankings, so it makes those costs more reasonable. The only real downside here seems to be its longer commute time, which means it takes residents an average of 21 minutes to get to work.
However, the city is happy to slow down once a year for the self-named festival called La Vista Daze, which features a parade, car show, beer garden, and fireworks to top it all off.
Finishing up our top 10, and tied for ninth, is the biggest little city we found. Founded in 1881, Wayne’s commercial district is listed in the National Register of Historic places. The city has a population of only 5,675 but it makes up for its small size with some seriously great stats. This city has an unemployment rate of only 2.8 percent and a crime rate that lands it 5th on our list for that criteria. All this employment really shows with residents making an average income of $51,027, which is No. 6 on our list for that ranking.
Because it’s such a little place, Wayne has fewer amenities. But its size also offers students a fantastic 14:1 student teacher ratio and of course all that small-town feeling. Far from being boring, the city puts on a Chicken Show every July in which residents can participate in a parade, games, dancing, and numerous contests.
The Results are Plain and Simple
For Nebraska places, big or small, Seward, NE trumps them all. With amazing weather, employment, and crime rating, the historic city heads off our list with authority. Still, it was a real challenge just to get this list down to only 10 locations.
While there’s definitely some great locations here, there are a few that weren’t quite up to snuff. South Sioux City, for example, was the absolute lowest in quality of life and employment, and was near the bottom of our rankings in many other criteria. Barely above that, Lexington and Beatrice round out our bottom three with low scores in general across the board.
Want to see how the rest of Nebraskan cities ranked? Check out the nifty table right below here and find out where your hometown ended up. Think there’s something else we should have taken into account? Let us know in the comments.
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