Are you planning a trip to Dubuque, Iowa? There are many fun things to do in Dubuque, so you are not wrong about choosing this as your next travel destination.
On the banks of the mighty Mississippi, you’ll find the city of Dubuque. It lies within the Tri-State area, which is composed of the states of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
The city’s distinctive architecture, historic places, and riverside setting make it a popular tourist destination. Some of the popular attractions found in the city are the Fenelon Place Elevator Co., Julien Dubuque Monument, and the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
In this guide, I will show you the best things to do in Dubuque, Iowa.
Our Favorites in Dubuque, IA
Best & Fun Things to do in Dubuque, Iowa
1. See the beauty of Dubuque from the Fenelon Place Elevator Co.
One of the many fun things to do in Dubuque that you shouldn’t miss out on is riding this famous funicular.
Fenelon Place Elevator Co. is dubbed as the world’s shortest and steepest scenic railroad. It runs 296 feet long and ascends at a 41-degree inclination, with a vertical height of 189 feet. Its upper station is located at 512 Fenelon Place. Meanwhile, the lower station can be found at the western end of Fourth Street. This Fourth Street Elevator is in a residential area.
The ride from the lower station to the upper station gives you a bird’s-eye view of the downtown Dubuque area.
As you reach the end of the ride, the panoramic views of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois will greet you. Observation decks are available at the top, so it’s convenient to admire the scenery in front of you.
If you’re a fan of sightseeing, this funicular railway is a must-try for you.
2. Enjoy Outdoor Activities at Eagle Point Park
Eagle Point Park is a massive public park in Dubuque, covering an area of 164-acres. The majority of the park sits on top of a hill overlooking the Mississippi River and the Lock and Dam 11. The city of Dubuque owns and operates this park.
If you are traveling with your family, it’s a must that you visit Eagle Point Park. It is one of the best open spaces in Dubuque where you can do a lot of fun recreational activities.
This park has plenty of facilities. From family rooms, shaded spaces, the Riverfront pavilion, and playgrounds – they have it all here! It’s undoubtedly the best place to bring your family for all its family-oriented amenities.
You can also take a romantic stroll with your partner, appreciating the lovely sight of the park. Or you can enjoy a picnic by the grass field, with an afternoon wine session to complete your special date.
Eagle Point Park is only open from the first weekend of May through the fourth weekend of October. Schedule a visit to Dubuque within this period and drop by this popular Dubuque tourist attraction!
3. Trek through the Julien Dubuque Monument
The Julien Dubuque Monument is a historic structure located on a bluff. The grave of Julien Dubuque, the city’s founder, lies here. This monument is one of the three hiking trails at the Mines of Spain Recreational Area.
Hence, it is common for visitors to trek to the memorial which is considered a national historic landmark. But, if you do not fancy hiking, you can drive your car to the place as there is a nearby car park.
Visiting the Julien Dubuque Monument is one of the many free things to do in Dubuque. Apart from its historical value, the monument also serves as a tourist attraction. It offers a panoramic view of the Mississippi River, Illinois, and the stretch of Dubuque.
You can also enjoy the other must-see Dubuque tourist attractions inside the Mines of Spain Recreation Area: The Horseshoe Bluff and the Catfish Creek. Both hiking trails are challenging. But once completed, breathtaking views of Dubuque will greet you.
The Horseshoe Bluff offers spectacular vistas of the Mississippi River and limestone cliffs. Meanwhile, Catfish Creek highlights the stunning wildflowers in Dubuque.
These activities are ideal for adventurous travelers. But the visit to the Julien Dubuque Monument and its neighboring Dubuque tourist attractions are well worth it even for chickenhearted visitors. Just think of the picturesque views awaiting you!
4. Go on a Tour of the Lock and Dam
It’s common for tourists to enjoy some day trips on the Mississippi River. The tiny islands, beaches, and sandbars are there for us to indulge in, anyway. But have you ever wondered if you could closely see the locks and dams of the Mississippi River?
The Mississippi River is the second-longest river in North America. It extends to 10 states, including Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Iowa.
A system of 29 locks dams in the area of the river between Minnesota and Missouri. These locks are managed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). This equipment aims to aid with the movement of barges and elevation changes throughout the river’s course.
And you know what? The process is a beautiful sight to see!
The locks empty and fill with water at around 1 foot of water per minute. It takes about 8 minutes to empty or fill the chamber at the Dubuque Lock and Dam 11. But the largest chamber is 26 feet in diameter and would take much longer to pass through!
During the summer season, there’s a free tour of Lock and Dam 11 in Dubuque every Sunday. This is perfect if you are looking for something different to do in Dubuque. The tour includes access to an observation deck where you can see the massive barges of the Mississippi River.
See Related: 15 Best State Parks in Iowa to Visit
5. Stroll around Dubuque’s Iconic Street Art
If you are looking for more free things to do in Dubuque, look no further, as I have one here for artsy people! Well, I think non-artsy people would enjoy this, too.
Colorful murals cover the walls of Dubuque. It was an initiative of the Voice Productions, which started back in 2016.
This street art is a treat for art enthusiasts! A few pieces may be seen throughout the streets of Dubuque. But most of them are clustered in a four-block area between Locust Street and Main Street. You’ll also bump into some pieces on the 1st to 4th Street. Just casually stroll around the area to witness the creativity of our local artists.
6. Jump like a Nina at Vertical Jump Park
Traveling with kids can be a real headache sometimes. You hear complaints about how boring the tour is (even though it’s not; they are just not interested). It’s a good thing Dubuque has this fun trampoline park where your kids can pretend to be a Ninja!
Vertical Jump Park is an adventure sports center with a unique obstacle course. Trampolines cover the entire place so kids can bounce and flip as they play. Apart from trampoline jumping, players can also enjoy trampoline dodge ball and basketball. There’s also a Ninja Warrior-inspired course inside. Your kids will have a blast here!
The best thing about Vertical Jump Park is that they have adapted to the COVID-19 situation. The park adjusted its rules to allow for social distancing and promote cleanliness. Thus, you can bring your kids here worry-free.
7. Treat Yourself at Float and Fly Wellness Studio
If you are visiting Dubuque, make sure to squeeze in some self-care treats in your schedule. After all, that’s what traveling promotes – enjoyment and relaxation. And the best place to get that? None other than in Float and Fly Wellness Studio! You will literally feel yourself floating on cloud nine when you avail of their services!
Other services offered by Float and Fly include infrared sauna, halotherapy, and massage therapy. They also host a Kids’ Camp every summer, so you can bring your child with you as you go on a self-care day.
8. Take on a Zipline Adventure with Sky Tours
Nature lover? Adventure seeker? History geek? Hang on as I present one of the most thrilling Dubuque Iowa activities to you!
Sky Tours offers a two-hour guided adventure in all nine-zip lining courses in the YMCA Union Park Camp. With this package, you get to take part in an adventure while learning about the history of Dubuque. It’s perfect for family trips and gatherings or team-building with friends and workmates!
The nine-zip lining course each offers a different experience. The first ones are shorter and closer to the ground, kind of warming you up as a newbie zipliner. As you move from one course to another, you’ll feel the lines getting longer, faster, and higher.
The popular zip lines are ‘The Hawks Nest’, ‘The Air Strike’, and ‘The Dual’. These courses include a fun game, some racing, and a little bit of trekking.
9. Dine Out on Brazen Open Kitchen
It’s not hard to find a restaurant that serves hearty meals in Dubuque. But if you’re going to ask me for a recommendation, I only have one place in mind. And it’s the Brazen Open Kitchen.
From the store’s ambiance to food quality, it is without a doubt one of the best restaurants in the city.
Located in the Millwork District, Brazen Open Kitchen offers artisan beers, drinks, and food specialties that are stylish and innovative. What’s great about Brazen Open Kitchen is that they use fresh local ingredients from their own garden in preparing their food.
Their menu is extensive and features a mix of different flavors and cultures. Plus, they also have vegan-friendly food options!
10. Spend a Beer and Games Night at Backpocket Taproom
The most exciting part of traveling for most travelers is exploring the city’s nightlife. Dubuque has a long list of bars and clubs. But if you’re like me who isn’t a huge fan of huge crowds and loud noise, visit the Backpocket Taproom instead.
Backpocket Taproom is a beer place and an arcade in one. This “beercade” serves a wide variety of Iowa beers and oven-brick pizzas. Perfect for that retro-themed, chill night out!
The place has a beer garden outside and a large arcade in the basement. It really offers a unique experience that you won’t find anywhere else. It also has plenty of spaces to relax in, like the tables in and out of the establishment.
Backpocket Taproom holds a trivia night every Tuesday, where you get a chance to win beers and other prizes for every correct answer.
What an interactive place, right? Of course, you also have the freedom to enjoy the arcade downstairs (at a very reasonable fee!).
You can even bring your kids with you because who best enjoy arcades other than children? But they are only allowed in the place until 9 P.M. After that it’s party time!
See Related: 12 Best Things to Do in Ankeny, Iowa
11. Enjoy a Grand Family Day at Grand Harbor Resort
If you are looking for the best all-around accommodation in Dubuque, I have the answer for you. The place offers a winning combination of service, amenities, and entertainment. These are the reasons why it’s popular among families!
Grand Harbor Resort is located on the Mississippi Riverfront. It’s close to several Dubuque Iowa attractions, like the National Mississippi River Museum, the Eagle Point Park, and the Dubuque Museum of Art. Hence, a lot of visitors prefer to stay in this hotel. But its main selling point is the free waterpark access. Kids truly love a fantastic resort within its reach!
Its other amenities offered include an arcade, a fitness center, and a business center. They also have an airport shuttle, a complimentary breakfast, and onsite parking.
12. Go Camping at Swiss Valley Park
Among the best attractions near Dubuque, IA, is the Swiss Valley Park. It’s a 62-acre field located just southwest of Dubuque which has the perfect scenery for a landscape painting.
Swiss Valley Park is a popular campsite among travelers. From pavilion rentals, restroom facilities, playgrounds, and picnic areas. The place is packed with amenities you’ll need for camping or just a simple BBQ lunch day with the family.
If you’re going to Swiss Valley Park, make sure to try and borrow their geocache kits. It’s one of the best outdoor games you can play here! If you’re not familiar with geocaching, it’s like a treasure hunt but with nature.
13. Discover natural and historical items at The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
In Dubuque, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is one of Iowa’s most popular tourist destinations, that is also kid-friendly. The place features the Mississippi Discovery Center, a touch tank, an observation deck, a boat tour, and a 3D and 4D Digital Theater showing “The Flying Monsters.”
There are many diverse habitats and critters that kids may learn a lot from the exhibits within the aquarium.
You and your family will be captivated and educated by two very distinct collections of animal communities on this family-friendly outing along the Mississippi Riverwalk, next to the known well-known A.Y. McDonald Park.
14. Wander around the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is considered to be a wonderful location for holding wedding events. The place has a fish pond, natural pathways, formal English gardens, waterfalls, themed annual gardens, and world-class hosta gardens for visitors to explore.
It also has a gazebo, screened-in porch, amphitheater, gift shop, and children’s playground. That said, the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is indeed a kid-friendly destination to spend your family gatherings on.
15. Be amazed at the stained glass windows of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church
Visit the Tiffany stained glass windows of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dubuque, Iowa, when you’re in the area.
When it comes to the church’s stained-glass displays, the Good Shepherd window stands out as the crown jewel. Tiffany reportedly thought it was his best work in a glass when it was made for the 1893 Columbian Exposition.
Jesus is depicted with a subtle glow on his face and various sheep images on a multi-hued green backdrop.
See Related: 24 Best Things to do in Iowa & Places to Visit
Where to stay in Dubuque, Iowa
If you are planning to spend some quality time in the vast city of Dubuque, here’s a quick list of hotels where you can stay.
Affordable Accommodation in Dubuque
Days Inn by Wyndham Dubuque
Days Inn is a two-star hotel located just 1.6 kilometers from downtown Dubuque. The rooms here are spacious with basic amenities to fulfill your needs.
The hotel also has an indoor pool, meeting rooms, and laundry facilities. You also get free shuttle services to nearby casinos if you stay with them.
Super 8 by Wyndham Dubuque
Another affordable yet decent accommodation in Dubuque is Super 8. It’s only a five-minute drive away from the Dubuque town center, so you’re conveniently close to the city’s essential stores, and destinations such as the Crystal Lake Cave, mini-golf courses, tennis courts, and more. The rooms at Super 8 Dubuque are simple yet packed with furniture and amenities.
Experience it for yourself.
Mid-Range Hotel and Accommodation in Dubuque
Grand Harbor Resort
Grand Harbor Resort is a popular all-around accommodation in Dubuque. The services and amenities it offers are top-notch! All rooms in Grand Harbor Resort have a microwave, refrigerator, and coffee-making facilities. The hotel also has a business center, a local restaurant, a Mississippi-themed waterpark inside, and is only a couple of minutes away from the Mississippi Riverwalk, McDonald Park, Sky Tours at YMCA Union Park Camp, and the Eagle Point Park.
Hotel Julien Dubuque
Hotel Julien Dubuque is conveniently situated near the Dubuque Regional Airport. It’s popular among couples for its clean rooms, indoor swimming pool, on-site restaurant, and spa. Every room in this hotel has a TV, fridge, mini bar, and free Wi-Fi. In addition to its amenities, it is only a few minutes away from the Diamond Jo Casino, the Sky Tours, and the National Mississippi River Museum.
Luxury Accommodation in Dubuque
TownPlace Suites by Marriott Dubuque Downtown
TownePlace Suites by Marriott Dubuque Downtown is a high-end accommodation in Dubuque. It has a fitness center, free private parking, a communal lounge, and grilling amenities.
The hotel is close to many Dubuque attractions, like the Diamond Jo Casino and Grand River Center. Free Wi-Fi is available in all areas of the hotel, as is an indoor pool and a 24-hour front desk.
Country Inn & Suites by Radisson
Country Inn & Suites by Radisson is another high-end lodging in Dubuque. The interior design of the entire building and its rooms are very modern. The hotel offers traditional rooms with basic amenities and free Wi-Fi. It also has an indoor pool and a spa and a wellness center.
Dubuque’s downtown locations are one of the best go-to places in the city. Rental properties and Airbnbs are abundant here!
Rental properties and Airbnbs in Dubuque are not very special. They are essentially the same as the properties being rented out in other cities. Most apartments come with basic amenities like a TV, bed, toiletries, and kitchenware.
Price ranges from $45 to $200 per night, depending on the size and amenities you’re given access to. But generally, Airbnb’s are cheaper compared to hotels.
If you prefer self-check-ins and have a tighter budget for accommodation, this is the best option for you. This is also highly recommended for travelers who like to “live like local”.
Camping & RVs
Dubuque has many campgrounds and RV sites for campers. In fact, RVers like to go camping in Dubuque to participate in some of the city’s festivals, like the Dubuque County Fair and Taste of Dubuque.
Here are some of the campgrounds in the city that you can visit:
- Swiss Valley Park– is perfect for kayakers and anglers. The park organizes family-oriented activities like stargazing events and target shooting.
- Finley’s Landing – a sandy beach for swimmers to relax on. It’s popular among boaters, kayakers, and canoers for its proximity to the beach and docks.
- Mud Lake – is another popular campsite among anglers. Ice fishing is one of the best things to do in this park.
Getting around Dubuque, Iowa
There are several ways of getting around Dubuque. Since the city is highly urbanized, you can rely on its well-developed transportation network to provide a smooth commuting experience.
American Airlines services Dubuque via Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The Dubuque Regional Airport is only a ten-minute drive from downtown. If you are staying with a full-service accommodation and hotel, you can avail of their complimentary shuttle services to and from the airport.
Greyhound runs long-distance buses around the cities of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois. It passes by Elm St. which is located in Dubuque. Ticketing hours are from 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
The most popular way of commuting around Dubuque, and the most convenient, is by car. The city is only less than a day’s drive from its neighboring cities. If you don’t own a car, you can rent one from Avis or Hertz, which are available at Dubuque Regional Airport.
Yes, you can get around Dubuque via the Mississippi River. You can find boat docks in the Port of Dubuque Marina, Dubuque Marina, and American Marine – Dubuque Yacht Basin.
What are the best things to do with kids in Dubuque, Iowa?
What are the best tourist attractions in Dubuque, Iowa?
The best tourist attractions in Dubuque are Fenelon Place Elevator Co., scenic Eagle Point Park, and the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. These two will allow you to see the majestic city in its entirety and learn about the life on the Mississippi River.
What are some of the free activities to do in Dubuque, Iowa?
There are tons of free activities that you can do in Dubuque. You can hike to the historic sites such as the Julien Dubuque Monument, stroll along with Dubuque’s iconic street art, and the botanical gardens, or take a tour of Lock and Dam 11. So, even with a little budget, you can enjoy the beauty of Dubuque.
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