Alyssa has been writing about exciting travel topics for Trips to Discover since 2013. After living the big city life in Chicago, Washington, DC, and Atlanta, Alyssa sold the bulk of her possessions and became a digital nomad, living full-time in her camper and working from wherever she could find an outlet and an internet connection for her laptop.
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The Midwestern town of Dubuque enjoys a prime location on the Mississippi River and is a top destination in Iowa. It boasts a charming vibe and offers plenty of family-friendly attractions. It’s brimming with history as the oldest city in Iowa and a great destination for a weekend getaway. To help you plan your trip, here are some of the top things to do in Dubuque.
The city of Dubuque is filled with fascinating history, much of which can be experienced through its architecture. There is a strong commitment to historic preservation here and many city-designated landmarks, local historic districts, and national register properties here. These include the Andrew-Ryan House, Bishop’s Block, Carnegie-Stout Public Library, Cathedral Historic District, and many other sites in town. In April, the city hosts Architecture Days, an event that includes walking tours and presentations.
Another must-do when you’re in Dubuque is to take a ride on the very short and steep scenic railway called the Fenelon Place Elevator. A former mayor and state senator came up with the idea of this railway to ease his commute to work. But now, the general public can take the ride and see awesome views of the Mississippi River and downtown business area. Hop on at Cable Car Square after checking out the shops and galleries here and then take the ride 296 feet in length and 189 feet from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place.
While walking around in downtown Dubuque, plan to stop and relax for a few moments in Washington Park. This small urban park is home to a landmark gazebo and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally the home of the first church and jail in Iowa. This is one of 49 parks in with 1,209 acres that the City of Dubuque Park Division maintains.
The city of Dubuque was initially founded because of the Mississippi River, and you can learn more about local history and simply enjoy a beautiful day by taking a ride on a riverboat. The Spirit of Dubuque River Cruise boats offer sightseeing and meal opportunities and are always popular among tourists. Riverboat Twilight and Celebration Belle offer mid-sized boats that depart from the Port of Dubuque, while American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines have large boats that make stops here. One popular option is a one-day cruise from Dubuque to Guttenberg, Iowa and then back, a trip that is offered from August through October.
Nature lovers will definitely enjoy Eagle Point Park, which spans about 164 acres and looks down upon the Mississippi River. From the park, you can also see three states (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin) on a clear day. Lots of local events are held in the park, and there are great walking and biking trails here to get some exercise. As the name suggests, Eagle Point Park is a good place to view bald eagles when they settle here during the year.
Farming is a way of life in Dubuque, and there’s just something peaceful about taking a scenic drive around the local farms. Near Dubuque, you can visit the Field of Dreams movie site and farm, which offers free admission and is open daily from April through November. While you’re at it, consider stopping at the National Farm Toy Museum in nearby Dyersville to see lots of model farm toys. Another way to get to know Dubuque’s farming culture is to check out the Dubuque Farmers’ Market in the downtown area near city hall. This farmers’ market takes place on Saturdays and offers fresh produce, artisan cheeses, local honey, local wine, and food vendors you won’t want to miss out on.
The Julien Dubuque Monument looks a bit like a castle and is a prominent landmark in the Mines of Spain Recreation Area. This monument’s history dates back to 1897 and honors the man who led the first Euro-American settlement here. The cylindrical tower is made limestone that was mined from a quarry nearby and is located on the edge of a bluff overlooking Catfish Creek. Also, take some time to explore the rest of this recreation area and its approximately 21 miles of hiking trails and six miles of trails available for skiing. Most of the trails are between one and three miles in length. This recreation area spans 1,437 acres of prairie and woods south of Dubuque and also includes the E.B. Lyons Interpretative Center. Here you’ll find great opportunities to learn about the nature and history of the area and perhaps even enjoy a picnic.
It’s fun to get outdoors and active when you visit Dubuque, and a great place to do this is on the Heritage Trail. This is a 26-mile trail that was once a railroad line but is now perfect for hiking and bicycling. The trail is smooth, has a low grade, and has lots of opportunities for stops at the interpretative sites and river outlooks along the way. In addition to Dubuque being a key stop along the trail, you can also check out Durango, Epworth, Graf, Farley, and other towns when you travel this route. Another nice place to take a hike is the Swiss Valley Nature Preserve just southwest of Dubuque.
The Dubuque region is also part of Iowa’s wine country, so plan to visit a couple wineries and vineyards while you’re in the area. The Stone Cliff Winery is a popular Dubuque destination because of its tasty wines, beautiful building architecture, and friendly vibe. Park Farm Winery is another popular spot west of Dubuque that is highly recommended. This winery focuses on fruit and grapes that grow in the Upper Midwest region, and it offers visitors a tasting room, kitchen serving wood-fired pizza, concerts, and lovely sunset views.