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The 20 Best Things to Do in Dubuque for First Timers

Visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

Dubuque is a city in Iowa that sits alongside the Mississippi River and lies on the junction of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state due to its river location, unique architecture, rich history, and the multitude of activities and attractions in the area. If you are visiting Dubuque, then it makes sense to plan your vacation itinerary in advance so that you do not miss out on the attractions that are most likely to appeal to you. Here are the 20 best things to do in Dubuque for first-timers.

St. Luke’s United Methodist Church

20. Go to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church

An interesting landmark to visit while you are in Dubuque is St. Luke’s Methodist Church, says Travel Lens. It is one of the most beautiful structures in the city, and it is a National Historic Landmark. The architectural style of the church differs from other structures in Dubuque, and it is worth taking a photograph of the church to commemorate your visit to the city. Inside the church, one of the most interesting features is its large pipe organ. When the organ was installed in the church, it was the largest in the world at that time.

Take a River Cruise

19. Take a River Cruise

An interesting activity to enjoy is a river cruise along the Mississippi River. There are different cruises available on different types of vessels, during the day and at night. Some of the cruises have a package that includes food and drink, so you can enjoy a meal as you enjoy the sights of the river and Dubuque from a different perspective. There are some cruises that are suitable for children, and the captain sometimes lets the children have a turn at steering the boat.

National Farm Toy Museum

18. National Farm Toy Museum

Midwest Living lists the National Farm Toy Museum as one of the attractions to include in your vacation itinerary. It is an unusual museum to visit, as it houses thousands of model farm toys. The museum is just outside Dubuque in Dyersville.

Stroll Around Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

17. Stroll Around Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

A peaceful and beautiful place to visit in Dubuque is the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, which was established in 1980. It covers an area of 56-acres within Marshall Park, and there is something to enjoy no matter when you visit as it is a living museum that constantly changes. Most of the gardens are themed, with some examples of the themed gardens, including the Japanese Garden, the English Garden, and the Rose Garden. There is also a small children’s play area and the Packard Memorial Amphitheater.

Splash Around at Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark

16. Splash Around at Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark

Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark is a large and popular hotel on the edge of Dubuque. There are many facilities for the guests to enjoy, including a gym, a business center, and an arcade. It also has a 25,000-square-foot waterpark that is open to the public, and this boasts various waterslides, waterspouts, whirlpools, tube rides, and a lazy river.

Have Fun at Diamond Jo Casino

15. Have Fun at Diamond Jo Casino

If you want to have fun in the evenings, then one of the most fun venues in Dubuque is the Diamond Jo Casino. There is a vast array of casino games to enjoy, including 975 slot machines, roulette wheels, and all the table games you would expect to find at a casino. However, it is a venue that has so much more to offer in terms of entertainment, including live entertainment four nights a week, a cocktail bar, a 30-lane bowling alley, and facilities for meetings, weddings, and corporate events. Diamond Jo Casino is also a great place to visit to enjoy a decent meal, as it houses several dining options that each offers something different. Mojo’s Sports Bar is a casual venue serving food such as burgers, The Kitchen Buffet is a buffet and carvery, while Woodfire Grill serves steaks and seafood.

Go to Mathias Ham House

14. Go to Mathias Ham House

Built in 1839, the Mathias Ham House is an antebellum estate that was expanded in 1856. It was originally the home of Mathias Ham, who was a wealthy farmer, brickmaker, lumberman, and local politician. The house is now open to the public, and tours are delivered by people dressed in period costumes. During the tour, visitors also enjoy a film about Mathis Ham and a tour of the outbuildings, which include a replica of a one-room schoolhouse, a fur trader log cabin, a replica mine shaft, and a miner’s lean-to.

Kayak on the Dubuque Water Trail

13. Kayak on the Dubuque Water Trail

Those who enjoy outdoor activities may enjoy taking to the water on the Dubuque Water Trail. It is an eleven-mile creek that runs from the Mississippi River, and it runs between A.Y. McDonald Park and Massey Marina Park. There are several activities that you can enjoy on the water, including canoeing and kayaking. The scenic recreational trail has many signposts about the area’s history, so kayakers and canoers can learn about the area as they paddle down the river.

Take the Kids to Storybook Hill Children’s Zoo

12. Take the Kids to Storybook Hill Children’s Zoo

If you are visiting Dubuque with children, then one of the best places to take them for a day out is Storybook Hill Children’s Zoo. It is a replica of an American farm in the 1940s, and it is home to animals that would have lived on a farm during that era, such as goats, pigs, cows, donkeys, horses, chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and rabbits. Children can touch and feed many of the animals, and there is a train that they can ride around the farm. An alternative way to tour the farm is on the tractor-pulled wagon ride.

See a Performance at the Bell Tower Theater

11. See a Performance at the Bell Tower Theater

If you enjoy a night at the theater and plan to enjoy a performance during your visit, then the best place to do so is at the Bell Tower Theater. The 300-seat theater is in the basement of a restored chapel that was built by the Sisters of the House of the Good Shepherd in 1930. Although the theater once fell into disrepair, it underwent a full renovation between 2001 and 2003, before performances resumed. The theater company shows five plays and musicals each year, plus there are two musicals put on by the young people who take part in the summer youth musical program.

Visit Shot Tower

10. Visit Shot Tower

Between England and Iowa recommends a visit to Shot Tower during your stay in Dubuque. The tower was built by the George W. Rogers Company in 1856. It is a National Historic Landmark, and it is one of the few remaining shot towers in the United States. The tower was used to mass-produce lead shot balls for the military. Workers would drop molten lead from the top of the tower into a basin of water at the tower’s base. The 120-foot structure has seven levels built from stone and three stories of soft red brick.

Take to the Slopes on Sundown Mountain

9. Take to the Slopes on Sundown Mountain

Many people do not realize that Dubuque is a fantastic place to visit if you enjoy winter sports. The main resort in the area is Sundown Mountain, which uses manmade snow. It has24 ski and snowboard runs, four ski lifts, practice slopes, and instructors offering skiing and snowboarding tuition. There are two comfortable lodges if you wish to stay at the resort, and there is a full-service cafeteria. In addition to taking to the slopes, the resort is a wonderful place to observe wildlife, such as deer and eagles.

Walk the Art on the River Exhibition

8. Walk the Art on the River Exhibition

A free activity to enjoy during your visit to Dubuque is to walk the Art of the River. It is a public art exhibit that changes each year. Local and natural artists submit their outdoor art installations, and these are judge by a panel. The best ten installations are chosen to include in the display, and they remain on the Mississippi Riverwalk for the rest of the year.

Go Underground To See Crystal Lake Cave

7. Go Underground To See Crystal Lake Cave

Although Crystal Lake Cave was formed more than two million years ago, it was only discovered by miners looking for lead in 1868. The cave has been open to the public since 1932, and it has a network of cave formations and passages to explore. The highlight of the cave is the shallow Crystal Lake. There are interactive activities for children to enjoy during the visit, such as sifting through water for gems and looking for fossils.

Sample the Wines at Stone Cliff Winery

6. Sample the Wines at Stone Cliff Winery

Vacation Idea recommends a visit to the Stone Cliff Winery in Dubuque, where there is a wine bar and tasting room. It is in the Star Brewery Building, which is a historic building that has been restored. In addition to tasting the wines, the winery also has a lunch menu so you can enjoy a meal. Once a month, Stone Cliff Winery hosts a murder mystery evening.

Explore Eagle Point Park

5. Explore Eagle Point Park

One of the best outdoor spaces to explore in Dubuque is Eagle Point Park, which overlooks the Mississippi River and spans 64-acres. The park was established in 1908, and it has some amazing viewpoints where visitors can enjoy views across Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. There are various structures, facilities, and leisure amenities within the park. These include six tennis courts, miles of hiking trails, Veranda Rooms, the Riverfront Pavilion, the Shiras Memorial Pavilion, a rock garden, the Terrace Room, a music bandstand, and a fishpond.

See the Art at the Dubuque Museum of Art

4. See the Art at the Dubuque Museum of Art

A top attraction for art enthusiasts is the Dubuque Museum of Art. The museum was founded in 1874 and houses more than 2,200 artworks, most of which are American. It is known for its collection of Grant Wood paintings, which is the largest collection in the world. The museum also has a rare collection of photographs by Edward S. Curtis. There are various events and educational programs throughout the year.

Take a Ride Up the Fenelon Place Elevator

3. Take a Ride Up the Fenelon Place Elevator

The Fenelon Place Elevator is a scenic railway, and it is one of the shortest and steepest of its kind in the world. Passengers get on the elevator at Fourth Street, and it travels 198-feet up and 296-feet across to Fenelon Place. It is one of the best and most fun ways to enjoy views across the Dubuque business district, the Mississippi, and the surrounding three states. The top of the elevator is a great spot for taking photographs of the views.

Go to the Mines of Spain Recreation Area

2. Go to the Mines of Spain Recreation Area

The Mines of Spain Recreation Area is a 1,439-acre state park on the outskirts of Dubuque. It has forests, prairies, some interesting land formations, a vast array of plant species, and many species of animals. There are 12 miles of hiking trails and a further four miles of ski trails. Within the park, you will see the Julien Dubuque Monument, and you can visit the EB Lyons Interpretative Center.

Visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

1. Visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

According to Travel Dubuque, the best thing to do in Dubuque for first-timers is to visit the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. The museum consists of two large buildings that showcase different aspects of the Mississippi River and life in the area. There are around a dozen aquariums that showcase the creatures living in the Mississippi River, and some offer opportunities to touch the fish and animals. There are also exhibits that highlight the industrial aspect of the river, such as a steamboat, a historic train depot, a boatyard, and steam boilers. Other exhibits and activities include raptor aviaries, The Mississippi Discovery Center, and a 3D theater.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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