From meeting new people to experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells – is there anything more exciting or rejuvenating than a break from the day-to-day mundanity? Traveling is an excellent way to immerse yourself in a new culture, setting, or way-of-life, but the best part is this: you don’t have to venture far from home to enjoy what this world has to offer.
Whether your journey takes you across your own city, to an unexplored part of your state, or even to the other side of the world, there’s no doubt you will still learn a lot about your surroundings – and yourself – along the way.
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being closeby definitely has its benefits.
Situated on the Mississippi River, in Iowa, is the city of Dubuque, which is the oldest city in the state and among the oldest settlements west of the Mississippi River. Once occupied by Mesquakie (Fox) Indians, the region’s first permanent settler came in the form of a French-Canadian fur trader, known as Julien Dubuque.
These days, the city is overflowing with fun and intriguing things to do, whether it’s to explore local flora and fauna at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium and Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens; or to embrace the area’s rich history at Mathias Ham House or Dubuque Shot Tower.
Even those who have lived in the city for a decade would agree they haven’t experienced all that Dubuque has to offer, while for those new to the region – well, they’ve got a lot to look forward to as well.
Ready to discover the best of Dubuque, Iowa? Let’s get started!
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
Dubuque isn’t all hustle and bustle! There are also plenty of state parks and national parks both within and surrounding the area, all of which provide a tranquil escape for those looking to surround themselves by nature.
Travel to one of Wisconsin’s oldest state parks to hike, fish, boat, bike, and picnic above the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. Wyalusing State Park is only an hour drive from Dubuque, making it the perfect spot to connect with nature after being in the city all week long. Visitors can also stay overnight at Wyalusing’s group campsites and lodging.
Visit this state park to explore the vast caves and historic scenery of Maquoketa. Walk along the same trail that Native Americans trekked to get to Raccoon Creek. Bring the whole family to hike, camp, and picnic along the park’s rugged bluffs and rolling terrains. Visit in the spring to snap pictures of the blooming wildflowers or during the winter to walk through a snowy wonderland!
At Mississippi Palisades State Park, travel back in time when you trace the Native American pathfinders’ trail along the rocky terrains and rigid bluffs. Discover the natural beauty of Mississippi which lies just an hour south of Dubuque. Family and friends can wildlife watch, rock climb, fish, and camp all year long for an unforgettable encounter with nature and history.
Backbone State Park is best known for their various lake activities that attract visitors both near and far. Fish in the clear and quick-flowing stream of Backbone Lake or go for a refreshing swim. Visitors can also rent kayaks, boats, and canoes. Families can even stay overnight in the park’s exclusive modern cabins.
Still need to get your nature fix? If you’re craving seeing even more of the beautiful scenery that surrounds Dubuque, then there are also plenty of hiking and walking trails for you and your family to enjoy.
Horseshoe Bluff Nature Trail is located just outside of Dubuque and is less than a mile long. When visiting this trail, hikers can overlook its sparkling lake and grand cliffs. Bring the whole family, including your pets, for a wonderful scenic experience. Visitors can also stop by during the winter to cross-country ski throughout the forest.
Hike, walk, run, and wildlife watch at Julien Dubuque Monument Foot Trail. Adventure through this mile-long steep trail to marvel at the old oak trees while catching a glimpse of the flowing river. Although short, the trail has so much to offer and is guaranteed to be one of the most memorable nature trips that you’ve ever been on.
This 1.5-mile trail located near Dubuque is opened all year-round and is perfect for hiking, walking, and running. This trail follows a steep hill that leads to a wonderful overlook of the nearby river. Families and children can adventure through the tall trees and the extensive prairie during warmer months. Enjoy a fun-filled day with breathtaking views when you hike Calcite Foot Trail.
Dubuque is home to a bustling and trendy dining scene, so there’s sure to be a restaurant, café, or diner to satisfy your cravings. If you’ve worked up an appetite after a long hike, or simply feel like treating yourself to a delicacy, then you’re in luck. Here are our top restaurant recommendations!
Best known for its open scratch kitchen,Brazen draws new and returning customers every single night. This restaurant teams up with local farmers and growers that supply them with the freshest ingredients. Their high-quality dishes are never pre-prepared and are made from scratch every single time. Try their homemade pasta or a craft beer for an unforgettable dining experience.
Established in 2007,L. May Eatery has been putting smiles on the city’s community for over 10 years. Locals rave about their Spinach Lime Cesar Salad and vegan Ponzu Brussel Sprouts. Their menu offers a lot of variety and is guaranteed to have a dish that your mouth will water over. Order one of their featured cocktails or ask about their nightly $5 wine glasses to accompany your meal.
AtLina’s Thai Bistro, you can enjoy authentic Thai and flavorful Asian-Fusion cuisine that is sure to blow your mind. Enjoy their signature spicy Thai Chili Cashew stir fry or their classic Tom Kha Soup featuring a creamy coconut broth and fresh Thai herbs. Stop by with the family for lunch or dinner and don’t forget to ask for their daily specials.
Historic, local, and fresh are the three best words that describe Dubuque’s most visited restaurant.Copper Kettle is well-known for their contemporary take on New American foods crafted with locally sourced ingredients. Located in the city’s ‘North End’ neighborhood, the restaurant and its surrounding area is filled with great history. Make sure to try their tasty Steak Tacos or their creamy Butternut Squash Ravioli.
At Dubuque’sTexas Roadhouse, enjoy mouth-watering fall-off-the-bone-ribs or classic country dinners. Children can enjoy a delicious bowl of macaroni and cheese or order Texas Roadhouse’s famous ranger meals. Locals near and far come for the hand-cut steaks and filling burgers. For starters, try their crispy tater skins, crunchy fried pickles, or their one-of-a-kind boneless buffalo wings.
After feasting and enjoying all that the hiking trails and state parks have to offer, you may be wondering: “what next?” Well, when it comes to Dubuque’s attractions and activities, you’re only just getting started. Here are some of the most fun things on offer in and around the city!
Looking to entertain some little ones? Or perhaps you’ve got some teenagers in-tow who are starting to get a little bored? Either way, these attractions will entertain both children, teens, and adults alike!
TheNational Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium brings history and learning to life through its impressive displays and attractions. Visitors can take a tour of the various animal exhibits and watch one of the museum’s special feature films at their 4D theater. Walk through the various aviaries and even stop by their conservation lab to discover more about America’s wildlife.
Kids and families can visit theCrystal Lake Cave for group tours and gem mining simulations located just 5 miles south of Dubuque. Area attractions include the National River Museum and Aquarium and The Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Garden among others. Uncover the city’s rich past when visiting this historic site. With so many fun activities, the whole family is sure to love Crystal Lake Cave.
What should you do in Dubuque once the sun goes down? We’re glad you asked! Here are our suggested night-time attractions.
Diamond Jo Casino Dubuque is one of the best ways to end your night. Situated in Dubuque’s historic downtown and nightlife district, this casino is one of the best entertainment destinations for adults in all of the city. With over 1,000 slots and 19 table games, including a state-of-the-art bowling center, you can find yourself having fun in no time.
After a busy day out in the city, stop by theBell Tower Theater for high-quality entertainment. Visitors can attend musicals, comedies, and plays all year-round with the confidence that they’ll be entertained every single time. Bell Tower also offers renowned youth programs that teach children basic theater skills, serving over 250 kids each year. Get tickets for family events and even purchase season subscriptions so you never miss out on your favorite programs.
What can you do in or around Dubuque that won’t cost anything more than a few dollars? The answer: plenty! Here are just two of our favorite attractions within the area that can be enjoyed on the cheap.
VisitFenelon Place Elevator Company to experience the world’s shortest, steepest scenic railway that elevates passengers 189 feet. Family and friends can purchase one way or round-trip tickets for just under $3 while children under five ride for free. This is definitely a once in a lifetime experience that visitors must partake in when in the historic city of Dubuque.
Visit theDubuque Museum of Art and cherish the wonderful creations of local artists and historic painters. Youth ages 18 and under are admitted free. Tickets are $7 for adults, $6 for seniors ages 65 and up, and $4 for students who present college identification. Take a guided tour or attend special adult and youth classes that further enhance one’s appreciation for the arts.
Looking to get the most out of your time spent within the city of Dubuque? Whether you want a fun way to waste away a Sunday afternoon or a date idea that won’t break the budget – here are our most recommended things to do in Dubuque that won’t cost you a cent.
At theDubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, visitors can connect with nature by walking the beautiful grounds daily for free! Enjoy the awe-inspiring scenery while gaining a deeper appreciation of the park’s commitment to preservation.
Children and families can visit theEB Lyons Interpretive Center to interact with the various displays and exhibits that detail the center’s history. Walk along one of the five trails for an incredible view of the Mines of Spain and the various limestone bluffs. Visitors can also enjoy a peaceful hike through the surrounding forest and prairies.
Alright, by now you’ve probably been on your feet all day exploring the sights and delights that Dubuque has to offer. If you’re craving some rest and relaxation, or even a bit of pampering, these are two of the best spas in the region.
Relax and unwind atContempo Salon Spa which offers a variety of services for both men and women performed by professionals. Stop by to experience their signature Chakra Balancing Massage or visit the salon for a Stress Fix Pedicure.
AtPotosa Spa, rejuvenate your mind, body, and soul. Located in the historic Hotel Julien Dubuque, this spa is one of the most visited due to its exceptional treatment rooms and sophisticated salon. Take a dip in their sunlit pool or break a sweat in their well-equipped fitness studio.
If rejuvenation for you is less about deep relaxation and more about sweating it out, then you’re in luck. Dubuque is home to some of the highest-rated gyms and yoga studios within the region.
The city of Dubuque does fitness atVolv. Sign up for engaging group fitness classes or workout with a personal trainer that will help you achieve your goals. Member rewards programs are available for purchase along with 3-day passes.
Yogis both new and experienced come toB-1 Yoga for their fun group classes. They also offer personal classes to help you strengthen your techniques and work at your own pace. B-1 offers a variety of membership packages, including special youth membership deals.
Looking to fulfill your wanderlust by heading outside of the region for a day? You could spend decades within Dubuque without barely scratching the surface of all there is to do in this city, but consider these day trips next time you fancy a new adventure.
Travel just an hour outside Dubuque to visit the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge established in 1924. Families and children can venture along the steep wooded bluffs and catch glimpses of the wildlife that roams across 240,000 acres of land. Visitors will be sure to remember this day trip for its unmatched beauty and incredible scenery.
With so much to do, Cedar Rapids is the perfect day trip for families looking for adventure and fun. Visitors can stop by the historic mansion of Brucemore or visit the National Czech & Slovak Museum and Library. Enjoy a scenic picnic along the Palisades Kepler State Park and discover the city’s vast history at the Indian Creek Nature Center. Lovers of art can visit the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art to unearth famous American works.
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Dubuque that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Dubuque? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.