Dubuque, Iowa, started as a small lead mining town, but by the end of the 18th century it had grown into a modern city with a thriving port, an excellent art scene, and fantastic outdoor spaces.

The best place to learn about the mighty Mississippi and the creatures that live in it is The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium. Here are the best things to do in Dubuque, IA on your weekend getaway or day trip.

1. National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
© National Mississippi River Museum

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium tells the fascinating story of America's rivers. The museum consists of a large campus with two major centers that showcase different aspects of life on Mississippi.

There are more than a dozen aquariums with living representatives of the animals living in the Mississippi River, a historic Train Depot, steamboat William M. Black, Woodward Wetland, steam boilers, a blacksmith shop, the Pfohl Boatyard, a stream, raptor aviaries, and much more. The Mississippi Discovery Center has a range of activities, and the 3D Theatre shows fascinating movies such as Flying Monsters. There is also the River's Edge Café to replenish your energy after all the fun.

350 E 3rd St, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-557-9545

2. Mines of Spain Recreation Area, Dubuque, Iowa

Mines of Spain Recreation Area, Dubuque, Iowa
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Located other outskirts of Dubuque, the Mines of Spain Recreation Area is a 1,439-acre state park along the Mississippi River. The park consists of some intriguing land forms, a variety of plant species, and plant and animal communities. Mostly a combination of forests and prairies, the area is largely rugged with 250-years-old burr oaks standing like sentinels on the bluffs above the river.

Some parts of the park were used for grazing, cropping, mining and logging in the past, but everything mostly looks the same way it did when Julien Dubuque came to the area in 1785. There are twelve miles of hiking trails and four miles of ski trails. If you're lucky, you might see rare animals such as bobcats, flying squirrels, red-shouldered hawks, and bald eagles. The park includes the EB Lyons Interpretive Center and the Julien Dubuque Monument.

9097 Bellevue Heights Rd, Dubuque, Iowa 52003, Phone: 563-556-0620

3. Fenelon Place Elevator

Fenelon Place Elevator
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The Fenelon Place elevator is probably the steepest and shortest scenic railway in the world. It takes passengers from Fourth Street up to Fenelon Place, stretching296 feet in length and 189 feet up in the air. The view of the Mississippi River, Dubuque business district, and three surrounding states is spectacular.

The elevator is the brain child of Mr. J. K. Graves, a former Dubuque mayor and state senator who lived on top of the bluffs and worked at the bottom; he had to spend an hour every day going around the bluff. The original cable car was used only by Mr. Graves, and it had a simple wooden building with a winch and a coal-fired steam engine. A hemp rope pulled a simple wooden up and down. The cable cars were rebuilt in 1977, and the original gear was replaced by a modern gear box powered by a DC motor. The Fenelon Place elevator is one of the best things to do in Dubuque, Iowa.

512 Fenelon Pl, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-582-6496

4. Eagle Point Park, Dubuque, Iowa

Eagle Point Park, Dubuque, Iowa
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Eagle Point Park is a one hundred and sixty-four-acre park overlooking the Mississippi River and its Lock and Dam No. 11. The park, which was established in 1908, offers breathtaking views of three states: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Park Superintendent Alfred Caldwell, whose use of native materials, designs of the buildings, and meticulous craftsmanship show his love for the prairie architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, did most of the landscaping design.

Eagle Point Park consists of a range of facilities such as the Shiras Memorial Pavilion, the Riverfront Pavilion, Veranda Rooms, Terrace Room, and much more. Other fun amenities are the Rock Garden, Spray Fountain, six tennis courts, the Fish Pond, and a music band stand. The park is a popular venue for local events and celebrations - about 1,200 are held each year. Miles of hiking, biking, and walking trails weave through the park along the old trolley line starting at Shiras Avenue and ending at the large statue of an eagle. More Iowa parks

2601 Shiras Ave, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-589-4263

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5. Clock Tower, Dubuque, IA

Clock Tower, Dubuque, IA
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Dubuque’s historic Town Clock is a prominent landmark located on the Town Clock Plaza on Main Street. The clock tower was originally built on top of a 3-storey building at 825 Main Street in 1873 and was brought to its current site in 1971, just more than 100 years later. This was no easy job as the clock tower weighs at least 13 tons and must have been extremely difficult to reposition without damage. The clock and its tower were mounted on a lofty 4-column concrete pedestal. Today you can admire the impressive Town Clock, rumored to be accurate to within 2 seconds, as you explore the Main Street Historic District of Dubuque. More places to visit in Iowa

Clock Town and Town Clock, Town Clock Plaza, Dubuque, IA 52001, 563-589-0890

6. Dubuque Museum of Art

Dubuque Museum of Art
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The Dubuque Museum of Art, founded in 1874, has a rich collection of over 2,200 works of primarily American art. It has one of the world's largest collections of paintings by Grant Wood, a rare and complete compilation of Edward S. Curtis's photographs of the American Indian, and a number of touring exhibitions.

The museum places great value on arts education and welcomes school groups, group tours, and Boy Scout badge workshops. For children there are Saturday morning and summer art camps, for families there are family-friendly matinee art performances, and for adults there are classes in drawing and oil and landscape painting. Regular lunch-time lectures teach brown-baggers about art history.

701 Locust Street, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-557-1851

7. Veteran’s Memorial Plaza, Dubuque, Iowa

Veteran’s Memorial Plaza, Dubuque, Iowa
© City of Dubuque Government

Brainchild of a former US Marine Louis Kartman, who served in the Korean War and the famous “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir Battle, the original Veteran’s Memorial Plaza was built in 2009. At that time the memorial included a curved wall which was dedicated to the memory of all members of the services and the wars in which they fought. In 2021 the plaza underwent an enormous improvement project funded by the Dubuque Racing Association. Improvements included a decorative swirling concrete path which becomes a boardwalk projection out over a pond. At the end of the boardwalk there is a moving sculpture entitled “Skyward”, which contains a hidden etched poem within.

Veteran’s Memorial Plaza, 1801 Admiral Sheehy Drive, Dubuque, IA 52001, 563-589-4263

8. Stone Cliff Winery

Stone Cliff Winery
© Stone Cliff Winery

Stone Cliff Winery is well known in Dubuque for its charming wine bar and tasting room located in the historic and beautifully restored Star Brewery Building in the heart of the Port of Dubuque. The spectacular aesthetics, which include exposed bricks, original industrial elements, ornate ceiling, and old black and white photos on the walls, create a warm and friendly atmosphere.

They have a simple but delightful lunch menu of salads and paninis to go with their excellent wines that come from their own vineyard. Once a month the winery offers a Murder Mystery dinner, a fun and popular form of entertainment where murder is served with excellent food and select wines.

600 Star Brewery Drive, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-583-6100

9. Julien Dubuque Monument

Julien Dubuque Monument
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The Julien Dubuque Monument stands like a sentinel guarding the city of Dubuque high on the bluff above Catfish Creek and the Mississippi river in the Mines of Spain Recreation Area.

The monument was built in 1897 in honor of Julien Dubuque, a trader and lead miner who Mesquakie Indians granted the right to mine their land, creating the first Euro-American settlement in the area that would eventually become Dubuque and Iowa. Julien got close to the chief and even closer to his daughter, who he married. When he died, the tribe buried his body under the log mausoleum on the site of the current monument.

1810 Monument Dr, Dubuque, Iowa 52003, Phone: 563-556-0620

10. Crystal Lake Cave

Crystal Lake Cave
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Crystal Lake Cave was discovered in 1868 by miners who were looking for lead but instead discovered an enormous underground cave, a magical place that took nature 2 million years to create, and it is still working on it. The cave, which was opened to the public in 1932, consists of a network of passages and cave formations such as a stalactite named St. Peter's Dome and a bunch of stalagmites on a stone shelf called the Cliff Dweller.

There is also a shallow underground Crystal Lake and anchorites, beautiful flowerlike white crystal clusters hanging from the ceiling of the cave. The deepest point of the cave stretches down 100 feet. The cave, which is located about five miles from Dubuque, offers a special treat for the kids, who can look for fossils and use sifter and water like real geologists in the special gem mining area. There is also an hour and half long Wild Cave Tour through unexcavated and unexplored passageways. More Iowa weekend getaways

6684 Crystal Lake Cave Rd, Dubuque, Iowa 52003, Phone: 563-556-6451

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11. Art on the River, Dubuque, Iowa

Art on the River, Dubuque, Iowa
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Art on the River is a free temporary public art exhibit on the Mississippi Riverwalk in the Port of Dubuque. Every year, local and national artists submit outdoor installation art to an expert three-person jury, after which point ten finalists are chosen.

The ten art works decorate the Mississippi Riverwalk for an entire year for the enjoyment of walkers, joggers, and families in the hopes of inspiring public interest in fine art. The Riverwalk where the art is located is stroller and wheelchair accessible. The art works may be sold, but must remain in place for an entire year. At the year's end, the jurors select a grand prize winner, and a People's Choice favorite is voted on by the citizens of Dubuque.

450 E. 3rd Street, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-690-6064

12. Sundown Mountain

Sundown Mountain
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Sundown Mountain is a resort in Dubuque with ski and snowboard runs. A wonderful place to learn how to ski, Sundown Mountain offers lessons to children and adults, and it has a bunny slope with its own ski lift, practice slopes for advanced skiers, and excellent, patient instructors.

The resort has twenty-one runs and four lifts, a ski patrol to guarantee visitor safety, and two warm lodges, each with its own full-service cafeteria, large-screen televisions, and comfortable lounges. This terrific family resort uses man-made snow, has camps and programs for young skiers, and is home to diverse wildlife such as deer and eagles.

16991 Asbury Road, Dubuque, Iowa 52002, Phone: 563-556-6676

13. Park Farm Winery

Park Farm Winery
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Park Farm Winery is an eleven-acre vineyard and winery located seventeen miles west of Dubuque in the rolling hills of Iowa's countryside. Family owned and operated, the winery grows hybrid grapes that have been adapted to Iowa's shortened growing season, and they are able to withstand the harsh Midwestern winters.

Park Farm Winery has a tasting room and retail store that are open year round, and they have recently begun serving made-to-order gourmet wood-fired pizza in their cafe. The winery also has rental spaces that range from intimate rooms to banqueting facilities able to host two hundred people for weddings and other special events.

15159 Thielen Road, Bankston, Iowa 52039, Phone: 563-557-3727

14. Shot Tower

Shot Tower
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Dubuque's Shot Tower, built in 1856 by the George W. Rogers Company, is one of the few remaining shot towers in the United States, and it is a National Historic Landmark. Shot towers were an innovation allowing mass production of lead shot balls by dropping molten lead from a certain height into a basin of water.

At the peak of its production, Dubuque's Shot Tower was making between six and eight tons of lead shot daily for use by the United States military. The tower, which stands 120 feet tall, is tapered and made up of seven stories of stone and three stories of soft red brick. It is currently undergoing extensive renovations to repair the damage done to it through fire and general disuse.

600 East Commercial Street, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-589-4100

15. Things to Do in Dubuque, Iowa: Bell Tower Theater

Things to Do in Dubuque, Iowa: Bell Tower Theater
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Bell Tower Theater is a theatrical company in Dubuque housed in the basement of a restored chapel. Built in 1930 by the Sisters of the House of the Good Shepherd and boasting a three-hundred seat theater in the basement, the building has changed hands several times over the years, and the theater eventually fell into disrepair.

After renovations beginning in 2001, Bell Tower Theater started presenting the community with high-quality theatrical productions in 2003. The theater company now presents five plays and musicals annually and has an award-winning youth program that includes theater classes for young people and a free summer youth musical program that produces two full-scale musicals each year.

2728 Asbury Road, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-588-3377

16. St. Luke's United Methodist Church

St. Luke's United Methodist Church
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St. Luke's United Methodist Church is a historic church located in Dubuque, Iowa. It was built in 1896 in the Richardson an Romanesque style, which was very unusual for Dubuque especially during a time when the town was not much more than a trading post and a miners' camp with log cabins and a muddy street.

The church has a significant collection of religious Tiffany windows, the best in the country. The pipe organ, another significant historic element of the St.Luke's, was the largest organ in the area at the time of its installation. It has 36 ranks or pipes- 2,200 in total. St. Luke's has been included in the National Register of Historic Places.

1199 Main St, Dubuque, IA 52001, Phone: 317-846-3404

17. Sky Tours at YMCA Union Park Camp

Sky Tours at YMCA Union Park Camp
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Sky Tours is an eco-adventure tour with a nature walk and nine exciting zip lines that take its riders over ravines and valleys, through forests into the habitat of Cooper's Hawks and Great Horned Owls, and over the ruined amphitheater of the old Union Park. In its heyday in the early 20th century, Union Park attracted Dubuque citizens with band shells, a children's playground, a carousel, and a wooden roller coaster.

The park fell into disuse due to declining public interest and became a Boy Scout Camp in 1946. Since 2011, fully-trained guides have been taking locals and visitors ages ten and above on fun-filled zip lining tours that leave daily and last two hours.

11764 JFK Road, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-484-4248

18. Storybook Hill Children's Zoo

Storybook Hill Children's Zoo
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Storybook Hill Children's Zoo is a replica of a 1940's American farm, and it contains all the animals that may have been on a farm in that era. Horses, cows, pigs, donkeys, goats, rabbits, and more are there for children to admire, touch, and learn about, and there are also chickens, turkeys, geese, and ducks little kids can feed.

The Storybook Express train circles the park and is a fun ride for little tykes. There is a short tractor-towed wagon ride that children enjoy immensely. A picnic shelter is available for birthday parties, family reunions, and picnics, and there are plenty of unsheltered picnic areas as well. Admission is free. More places to visit in Iowa

12201 N. Cascade Road, Dubuque, Iowa 52003, Phone: 563-588-2551

19. Things to Do in Dubuque, Iowa: Mathias Ham House

Things to Do in Dubuque, Iowa: Mathias Ham House
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The Mathias Ham House is a large antebellum estate built in 1839 and greatly expanded in 1856. Mathias Ham, a wealthy farmer, lumberman, and brick maker who was involved in local politics and the Underground Railway, had this home built in eclectic architectural styles. Docents in period costume give excellent and detailed tours of the house and the outbuildings, which include a fur trader log cabin, a miner's lean-to, a one-room school house, and a replica mine shaft.

The tour includes a ten-minute film about Mathias Ham and lasts about an hour. Due to the number of steps between the floors of the house, the tour is not wheelchair accessible or suitable for those with mobility issues. A Fourth of July ice cream social on the house grounds is a popular event with Dubuque locals and tri-state tourists.

2241 Lincoln Avenue, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-557-9545

20. Dubuque Water Trail

Dubuque Water Trail
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The Dubuque Water Trail is an eleven-mile tract of the Mississippi River and Catfish Creek that can be safely paddled via canoe or kayak. Historically, the Mississippi River was a significant lifeline, and it was a prime determiner of settlement and economic development along its shores.

Signs posted along the river allow canoers and kayakers to share in the history of the area, making the Dubuque Water Trail scenic and recreational, and it provides a great way to learn about local history. The water trail runs between A.Y. McDonald Park and Massey Marina Park and has five different entry points. It is suitable for both novice and experienced boaters and can be enjoyed eleven miles at a time or in shorter segments.

21. Dubuque Symphony Orchestra

Dubuque Symphony Orchestra
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The Dubuque Symphony Orchestra is a sixty-member professional orchestra that performs approximately twenty-five concerts annually, showcasing classical, opera, chamber, and pop music. Special Christmas concerts are performed annually. Organized in 1958, the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra draws concert subscribers from across the tri-state area and attracts guest soloists from around the world.

The Dubuque Youth Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1969 and draws on the skills of the fifty most talented young musicians in the region. The orchestra offers a Third Grade Art Trek, which is a forty-minute introduction to instruments and instrument families, and a Fifth Grade Art Trek, which supplements students' exploration of American history.

2728 Asbury Road, Suite 900, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-557-1677

22. Diamond Jo Casino

Diamond Jo Casino
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Diamond Jo Casino is an entertainment and gambling venue with over 975 slot machines and table games that include blackjack, craps, roulette, Pai Gow poker, Texas Hold 'em, and Mississippi Stud. The casino has a 30-lane bowling alley, a cocktail bar, facilities for weddings, meetings, and corporate events, and live entertainment four nights a week, showcasing both bands and comedians.

Diamond Jo Casino has several excellent restaurants, including the Woodfire Grill, a fine dining restaurant with a cozy fireside atmosphere that serves steak and seafood. The Kitchen Buffet, on the other hand, features roast chicken, chef-carved meats, pasta, a salad and soup bar, and great desserts. Mojo's Sports Bar is a terrific place to kick back and watch the game while dining on delicious appetizers, burgers, and po' boys.

301 Bell Street, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-690-4800

23. Things to Do in Dubuque, Iowa: Q Casino

Things to Do in Dubuque, Iowa: Q Casino
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Q Casino is a gambling destination with over 1,000 slot machines, a poker room with four tables, daily tournaments, and HDTV, which enables spectators to view the matches. Twenty-two gaming tables feature popular games such as blackjack, roulette, craps, Pai Gow poker, 21 +3, and Texas Hold 'em.

Regular live musical events are hosted here, including performances by Grammy Award-winnng artists. The casino has five restaurants, including a huge buffet, a sports bar, a breakfast cafe, a fine dining restaurant with French cuisine, and a casual restaurant serving the best in comfort foods. Off-track betting on local greyhound racing is popular at Q Casino.

1855 Greyhound Park Road, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-582-3647

24. Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark

Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark
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The Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark is located at the water's edge of the Mississippi River. It encompasses hotel rooms and suites, a restaurant, gym, arcade, business center, and a 25,000 square foot indoor water park. The water park is extremely popular with both visitors and local residents and has waterslides, tube rides, a lazy river, water spouts, squirt guns, and two whirlpools.

A concession stand at the water park serves hot dogs, nachos, macaroni and cheese, pizza, and assorted snacks. The large arcade has video and pinball games and skee ball lanes. The 193 hotel rooms have thoughtful amenities and great views of either Dubuque or the Mississippi. The resort boasts a Tony Roma's restaurant that is famous for its baby back ribs and has magnificent views of the river.

350 Bell St, Dubuque, IA 52001, Phone: 563-690-4000

25. Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens
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The Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens was established in 1980 and is entirely managed and maintained by volunteers. This 56-acre labor of love is located in Marshall Park and is a living museum that changes daily; every time you come, you will have a different experience. It is mostly peaceful and serene, but there is a small park for the kids.

The area consists of a range of thematic gardens that seamlessly blend and create a colorful mosaic of colors, fragrance, and sights. The Rose Garden has an award-winning display of old garden roses, hybrids, and miniature and shrub roses. There is a formal English Garden and even more formal Japanese Garden.

Hosta Shade Garden has an impressive display of 13,000 host as of 900 varieties, while the Annual Gardens are showy with bursts of flowers. A conifer collection contains rare Bill Walter Dwarf Conifer and HermsenDward Conifer Collections. There is also a romantic Lagen-Buelow Gazebo. Packard Memorial Amphitheatre hosts events and celebrations, and Heinemann Visitors Center offers information and help to visitors.

3800 Arboretum Dr, Dubuque, Iowa 52001, Phone: 563-556-2100

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