We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. This helps support what we do and in no way costs you a thing.
Dubuque, the first city of Iowa, is one of the best places to visit in the Midwest. It’s a relatively small town with lots to do! Whether you are looking for things to do indoors or outdoors, this great town has it all. Here is our list of 29 things that you should not miss when visiting Dubuque!
Keep in mind that this is just a sampling of the amazing things to do in Dubuque. My time was limited for this visit and I feel like I barely scratched the surface! It is a place that is on my list to return to with the family for a deeper look at the fun it has to offer.
National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
For things to do indoors, you should definitely visit the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. This is a great place for kids as well as adults! There are over 200 hands-on exhibits that will keep you interested for hours on end. You can even take an adventure cruise or check out their new IMAX theater!
Honestly? I could spend days here – and have a great time. From the animals, exhibits, how the river valley handled constant flooding, and what they did about it, to the ecology educational programs, there is simply so much to see and do here.
They even have a Maker Space for kids (and adults) – that knocked my socks off with everything from the basics to a Glowforge.
Seriously, this is the first of my list of things to do in Dubuque for a reason – it doesn’t matter if you are a child or adult – it is totally worth the visit.
Winter does show its face in the Midwest and while we aren’t in the same caliber as Colorado for skiing, we have excellent local places to get our powder fix. The runs are a little shorter than some other midwest lodges but their staff more than makes up for it, especially if you are a beginner/novice.
Food Truck Friday
You had me at a food truck. I have no idea what it is about these magical portable kitchens other than they usually have to focus on what they do best – so a simple menu of amazing offerings is usually their standard fare. Bring a bunch of them together and everyone in the family should find something they love.
Eagle Point Park
If you are looking for things to do outdoors, Eagle Point Park is the place for you. This park has something for everyone with several Frank-Lloyd Wright-inspired shelters, wild game, hundreds of activities, and a lookout where you can see both neighboring Wisconsin and Illinois in a majestic view of the tri-state area.
With over 160 acres of nature that overlook the Mississippi River? You will have a difficult time deciding which to do first: watch the ships that go through the loch and dam #11 or spend a little time hiking the trails. Try to plan your visiting during mating and nesting season for the great nature show by the bald eagles.
The Mississippi Riverwalk is a 1/2 mile long walkway along the Mississippi riverbank in the Port of Dubuque. The walkway is situated atop Dubuque’s flood wall and provides excellent views of both the Mississippi River and downtown Dubuque. It includes the American Trust Pavilion, benches, and numerous informational displays detailing the history of the Port of Dubuque.
It is just part of the trail system that was installed during the city’s renovations to the river district.
The Dubuque County Botanical Gardens is a beautiful place to visit. With over 40 years and 60 different laid-out gardens, this is a perfect place to visit when the weather isn’t accommodating to be outside. The landscaping here is done so beautifully that it really makes you feel like you’re in another world!
Dubuque Shot Tower
If you are a history buff, the Dubuque Shot Tower is for you! The tower was built in 1856 and used to mass-produce lead shot out of the molten lead for people out east, as well as civil war soldiers. It is fascinating to learn more about this time in history and see one of the last few shot towers in the United States. A true National Historic Landmark, it is a fun history lesson!
Fenelon Place Elevator
Isn’t it just like a guy to invent something that will let him sleep more? That is the secret behind the iconic short ride on one of the steepest scenic railway cars you could still ride today. it is one of the best things you can do on a budget – it is only four bucks for an adult to take a round trip. It certainly is the steepest railway I have ever been on.
If you have ever wondered what a funicular railway is – this is a perfect example! It is one of the iconic things to do in Dubuque that everyone can relate to.
Mines of Spain Recreation Area
If you ever wondered what a 1,439-acre state park along the Mississippi River looks like – this is the place to see! Perfect for hiking, biking, and more – the land basically looks like it did back when Julien Dubuque first came upon it. I can’t help it – I simply adore state parks and how they make for fun things to do with families that are actually very affordable.
Veteran’s Memorial Plaza
Being a Desert Storm vet, I love finding these gems in any city I visit.
In the early 2000s, a Korean War veteran named Louis Kartman wanted to create something for his city: A Veteran’s Memorial. Who could say no to a project like that? With the help and enthusiasm from local veteran’s organizations and the general public, it wasn’t long before the city agreed to be a partner on the project.
You need to see it for yourself – and just take a moment to remember those who gave their all so what we could enjoy our now.
Things to Do in Dubuque Iowa: Field of Dreams Movie Site
Ok, this one is CLOSE to Dubuque in Dyersville but it is hard to explain how popular this place is. If you have not heard of the Field of Dreams, it’s a movie site in Dyersville and has been visited by over four million people since 1989 when the movie was released. It inspired many things including a gift shop and museum dedicated to the film that continues to draw crowds from all over the world.
Whether you are watching people run around the bases for their Facebook Reels or coming out of the cornfield to feel the magic, you can’t help but love the energy this place has.
If You Build It Exhibit
We can’t talk about the movie site and not this fun and interactive place. Let your kids don a “ghost player” uniform for a picture of their own baseball card, read over the history of the movie-making, or buy a souvenir. It is a great place to follow up or start your visit to the Field of Dreams Movie Site.
St Luke’s United Methodist Church
Iowa’s earliest congregation was established in 1833. What is fascinating about this church is that it houses an incredible collection of Tiffany Stained glass. It started as basically a log cabin and was upscaled to a beautiful Romanesque architectural gem within 60 years.
Tiffany was contacted and contracted during the Chicago World’s Fair With over 100 Tiffany Stained glass windows, it is the 5th largest Tiffany collection in the United States and an excellent example of his skills as time progressed.
The church volunteer who shared both her knowledge and their collection with us pointed out rare things like how he painted faces, drapery glass, and his technique for reflections.
You need to also check out the large pipe organ they have – it is another claim to fame and oddly enough, painted Cadilac Gold.
Hotel Julien Dubuque
Haunted. Once owned by Al Capone. Historically renovated and housing a ton of repurposed gems that would have ended up in landfills. This hotel has a lot of things going for it. It is the only historic four-diamond hotel in Dubuque and has amazing food, events, and views to wow you.
Even better? Their new chef believes heavily in the farm-to-fork movement and ethical treatment of animals. What I tasted was amazing – his “Sweet and Beat” hash floored me and is something I will recreate.
Julien Dubuque Monument
Let’s talk for a minute about the French Canadian fur trader who founded the historic first formed city in the state of Iowa. He partnered with the local Native Americans and opened the lead mines. You can find the Julien Dubuque Monument located on top of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
This historical landmark was built in 1897 and became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Take a few moments to look at the amazing view while you are there.
Convivium Urban Farmstead
A true urban farm community and network, this amazing place helps feed people and fight food insecurity in the area. Education, Inspiration, and Nutritious food for your body and soul.
You need to eat there as they use the restaurant profits to support the nonprofit programs that not only help feed people but teach them how to grow and prepare their own food.
Diamond Jo Casino
I love the casino scene! Not so much for the gambling but for the shows and food. Let’s face it – these are rapidly becoming fantastic entertainment facilities and Diamond Jo is rapidly growing in popularity for live music.
Yes, it is different than the days of riverboat gambling, but with a land-based facility, they can offer so. much. more.
National Farm Toy Museum
What is more American than farm toys? The National Farm Toy Museum is dedicated to preserving the history of farming and farm life through its vast collection. While you are there, they offer a ton of interactive and educational things besides simply showing off amazing collections. They also host the National Farm Toy Show.
Eat a Butt Grower
That is what locals fondly call the turkey and dressing sandwich from Cremer’s – the last meat market in town. Comfort food at its finest, you can order it by the pound to keep handy at home for those Cremer Cravings. I want 5 pounds of it right now – and can see a hoagie with a little cranberry relish added. Yum!
Storybook Hill Children’s Zoo
From Memorial Day to Labor Day, you can get your animal fix. Adorable things like baby ducks, piglets, bunnies, and more! Here is the cool thing: the zoo is a replica of an American farm from the 1940s! It shows kids what kind of animals that a person who lived during this time period would probably have raised.
Ride the River
There is nothing quite like setting off on an adventure down the mighty Missip. Whether you plan for time on one of the riverboats like the Twilight that come through the port or take a dinner cruise on the locally owned American Lady Yacht, you can’t help but have a good time with great views.
I did both – felt like Samuel Clemens could have been sitting next to me in a rocking chair on the bow of the Twilight as we would slowly meander up the river just after sunrise and then enjoyed a 2 for 1 margarita special aboard the American Lady as her Captain pointed out points of history and interest along our journey.
It is easy to see how being on the water would make for a fantastic way of life – my husband thinks that being a ship Captain is probably the best job ever.
Historic Mathias Ham House
Located near the entrance to Eagle Point Park, this 19th-century house is now on the National Register of Historic Places. This is basically a museum which is operated by the Dubuque County Historical Society.
Other historical buildings have been moved to the same property as this Italian Villa Style Gem – like the former Humke School and it even has a recreated “Badger hole” to teach about the lead mining days in the area.
I LOVE the fact that costumed interpreters provide guided tours of the site, and tickets are less than eight bucks for adults. Plan accordingly though – tours are only during the summer unless you are a school-aged kid.
Crystal Lake Cave
The Crystal Lake Cave was discovered near Dubuque in 1868 when the miners were drilling for lead. It was opened for public viewing in 1932. A unique feature of the crystal caves is that the floor of the main cave system typically gets wet, and visitors need to walk with care to avoid any untoward incident.
The cave maintains a temperature of 50 degrees F throughout the year, so one needs to dress and wear proper shoes to overcome the wet floor. The cave is also home to cave crickets and a couple of bats, such as cave bats and little brown bats. Once the tourist season starts, these bats sleep deep into the cave, away from any disruption caused by the tours.
Stone Cliff Winery
In the beautifully restored historic Old Star Brewery Building overlooking the Mississippi River you can find this family-owned gem. Wine, plus beer, plus food, and even a Mystery Dinner Theater? Shut the front door!
Swiss Valley Campground
If you are a crazy camping girl like me, this is a MUST for you to park your camper in while you hit the area to explore. Right next to a trout-stocked Catfish Creek, you have 62 wooded acres of natural fun.
Watch a Celebrity Chef
Kevin Scharpf, the chef, and owner of Brazen Open Kitchen was a contest on Top Chef season 16. While that alone isn’t enough to visit the place, it has great food, an open kitchen concept so you can watch the food being prepared, and they were key in helping the food insecurity problem of kids in the community when Covid locked everything down.
May I suggest the Pork Tenderloin which is 10 ounces of melt-in-your-mouth heaven served on a mix of Israeli couscous, calvados, apple, spinach, and bacon?
Grand River Center
As I sat in the all-glass “River Room” I had an amazing view of the Mississippi River and water traffic upon it. You could see the bridge turn to let a larger ship pass, the art installations up and down the walk, and even the colorful baskets of flowers that dotted the path. It was the perfect place to meditate, walk, or just soak in the beauty that Dubuque has created with its amazing Riverfront Renovations.
A beer flight that is at 7 Hills Brewery. Who needs a tasting room when they bring it to your table? Try a few appetizers to go with it too – the Brussels Sprouts were amazing along with the pretzel bites that were paired with their beer cheese dipping sauce.
Basilica of St Frances Xavier
Named in honor of the missionary Saint Francis Xavier, this beyond beautiful Catholic structure features Ruskinian Gothic Revival architecture. Everywhere you look you see another astounding treasure. My favorite? The stained glass window that features St Frances Xavier himself – with the Indians he catered to in his mission work. There was a misunderstanding and instead of the picture showing him working with people of India, they are depicted as Native American Indians.
Things like that fascinate me – and prove that we are all human.
As you can clearly see, the midwestern town of Dubuque IA has so many incredible things to see, do, and taste, with a plethora of historic sites. Iowa’s first city certainly impressed me enough to plan a few return trips with my family – as it is only about 2 hours from Madison Wisconsin.
Make sure you check out their website for local events before you plan your visit – with up-to-date on kid’s29 Things to Do in Dubuque Iowa activities, outdoor activities, and live music. I am sure Iowa’s oldest city will charm you as much as it did me.