Best Spots to Visit in Dubuque, Iowa
Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa, giving it the motto “where Iowa started.” It’s full of history, happenings, and art. There’s more to see, do, and enjoy in Dubuque than I anticipated! I had originally planned to visit the area with an intent to visit the Field of Dream movie site in Dyersville, Iowa. But after researching (aka stalking the Travel Dubuque Instagram page), I knew I had to add Dubuque to my list! And I’m glad I did.
Thank you Travel Dubuque for hosting a portion of my trip. As always on Cornfields & High Heels, all opinions are my own.
In this guide, you’ll find not only iconic Dubuque spots but the best hidden and local spots as well. As a travel writer, I’m interested in what the locals have to share about their city. After all, they are the experts and they always have the best recommendations! Chatting with residents, business owners, and frequent visitors are what I love most about traveling. I could spend all day talking and losing track of time with them – this has happened a time or two! Especially when I take the mister along (if you’ve met him, then you know).
The River Museum is an aquarium, science center, and museum all in one! There are several unique exhibits here, you can climb aboard the William M. Black or pet the stingrays in the Diamond Jo River Center (East Entrance). These were just two of my favorites areas in the museum. The exhibits are spread out between two buildings, a plaza, boatyard, boat shop, wetlands, and train depot. The museum and aquarium are great for all ages, from little ones to seniors.
Tips for visiting the River Museum:
- Plan to spend at least 1/2 a day here! There is so much to do and you don’t want to be rushed. So arrive early and plan for a few hours. There is a restaurant on-site for lunch and snacks.
- You can save a few dollars by purchasing your tickets online.
- Check the museum’s online event tab prior to visiting for a daily schedule of activities.
Also known as the Fourth Street Elevator, the Fenelon Place Elevator is the world’s shortest and steepest scenic railway and you can take a ride on it! At first, I was a bit hesitant to ride the elevator (because I’m scared of heights) but I’m here to tell you – it’s not scary! I successfully rode the elevator up and down, round-trip, without a problem.
The elevator offers a view of Dubuque, as well as the Mississippi River and all three states (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin). You can ride the elevator from the top to the bottom, or vice versa. We found it easiest to park on the bottom and ride to the top. Once you are at the top, you can pay and take pictures at their scenic overlook before riding the elevator to the bottom again.
Tips for visiting the Fenelon Place Elevator:
- Hours are 8 AM to 10 PM daily from April 1 through November 30. Closed Thanksgiving.
- You’ll need to take cash, they do not accept debit or credit cards. Adults: $2 One Way, $4 Round Trip, Children (5-12): $1 One Way, $2 Round Trip, Children (under 5): FREE
One of the most scenic spots in Dubuque is the Julien Dubuque Monument, overlooking the Mississippi River in the Mines of Spine State Park. In 1788, Julien Dubuque came to the area as a miner and founded the first Euro-American settlement in what is now Iowa. Dubuque, the city, was named after him. The monument was built in 1897 and Julien Dubuque’s remains are buried at the site, overlooking the city that bears his name.
There are 15 trails, a chapel, bluffs, and canoe access in the Mines of Spain State Park. Open year-round 4 am to 10:30 pm.
Dubuque offers a beautiful riverwalk along the Mississippi. Along the Riverwalk, you can see sculptures, the historic Shot Tower, the Port of Dubuque Marina, cruises, historic buildings, and the Stone Cliff Winery. We strolled this a dusk and it made for a lovely summer evening walk after the sunset had set.
Where to Stay
Hotel Julien is the oldest and most luxurious hotel in Dubuque. It is located downtown and within walking distance of restaurants, museums, murals, the casino, and breweries. You can also take a self-guided history tour of the hotel and the downtown area all within the first few blocks of Hotel Julien. Learn more about our stay and Hotel Julien here.
Where to eat in Dubuque
Foodie Garage Eatery – When I saw the word “foodie” in the name, I knew it was a place I had to try. Their burger list is huge, and so is the size of their burgers! You’ll want to go with an appetite. They are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
7 Hill Brewing Co. – Located in the Millwork District, the 7 Hill Brewing Co. offers a unique menu with hand-crafted sauces and barbeques, brisket burgers, and pizzas.
Inspire Cafe – Social media inspired us the check out the cool Inspire Cafe, also located inside the historic Millwork District. We sipped on espresso and coffee and enjoyed a late morning breakfast. They have vegan and vegetarian options available.
Devour Cafe – Tucked away from downtown Dubuque is the perfect, local coffee shop. Why is it perfect? It’s locally owned and operated by a guy named Ryan – in a historic building that he restored himself. He’s the barista, chef, and coffee roaster. I witnessed him prepare orders for three customers who walked in without asking for their orders. It was like sitting in the midst of a Cheers episode but in a coffee shop. It’s small business and entrepreneurship at its finest, and you can’t find that just anywhere. There’s no sign out front, but you won’t need it – just smell for the coffee. Oh, and order the coffee flight.
- Take a sunset dinner river cruise on the American Lady. This 2-hour cruise on the Mississippi River offers views of Dubuque at dusk and a catered dinner by Catfish Charlies (a popular Dubuque spot).
- Go mural hunting – there are murals all over downtown, including several just outside the door of the hotel.
- Visit the Travel Dubuque Welcome Center across the street! You’ll find lots of ideas for your visit here.
- Visit the Field of Dreams movie site and the If You Build It Exhibit in Dyersville. It is only 30 minutes away and is highly recommended.
- Drive south to the Maquoketa Caves State Park – it’s got more caves than any park in the US! It’s free to visit and offers breathtaking scenic views.