Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Dubuque, IA

  • Published 2022/04/16

Located along the Mississippi River, Dubuque is the oldest city in Iowa.

Because of its impeccable beauty, many couples select this as their wedding destination.

Apart from being a picture-perfect location to enjoy a holiday, Dubuque is also known to be rich in culture and history.

You can spot wildlife here as well.

This all-in-one destination deserves to be the next place on your bucket list.

Need a little convincing?

Check out this list of the best things to do in Dubuque, Iowa:

Explore the Mines of Spain Recreation Area

The Mines of Spain Recreation Area is one of Dubuque’s top attractions.

You might see a lot of fascinating spots in the city, but this is the one that draws all the tourists from far and wide.

It is a vast state park built on 1,439 acres of land.

The landscapes are pretty appealing.

Beautiful flora and fauna, including a group of wildlife, attract locals and tourists to this park.

Meanwhile, the prairie land features some old oak trees—some 250 years and older.

This area was solely used for mining purposes in this city.

When it was established, logging was a well-developed industry that made significant contributions to the economy.

There are a lot of hiking trails within the forested lands, so you can enjoy activities here, too.

Check Out the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

Exterior view of National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

Dirk Hansen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium focuses on the lifestyle of the people living in the Mississippi area.

Want to learn more about the great rivers of America in detail?

The museum has a lot of stories just for you.

Entrance of National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

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Additionally, an aquarium is the kind of place that kids fall in love with.

Everyone loves to see the different creatures present in the aquarium.

Museum store at National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

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There are many native species and some others that have been flown in from different countries.

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium are located on the same campus, and you can check them out one after the other.

Enjoy the Thrills of the Fenelon Place Elevator

Front view of Fenelon Place elevator

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Want to see what the steepest railway in the world looks like?

Dubuque has a surprise for you because the steepest one in the world is present right here.

There is no other railway as short and steep as the Fenelon Place Elevator in the entire world.

Small carriage at Fenelon Place Elevator

Nicola Patterson /

Taking tourists from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place, the railway is located at quite a high altitude.

It is placed at the height of almost 189 feet and boasts spectacular views.

You can see almost the entire city from there, and it will blow your mind.

People enjoying their ride at Fenelon Place Elevator

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Appreciate the Art at Dubuque Museum of Art

Street view of the Dubuque Museum of Art

Dirk Hansen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Would you like to go and appreciate some local art?

Head over to Dubuque’s most famous art museum, the Dubuque Museum of Art.

The museum proudly displays more than 2,200 works.

Not only does it contain works of well-known talents—a lot of stunning pieces created by the natives are proudly presented here, too.

Entry way to Dubuque Museum of Art

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Grant Wood’s paintings and photographs of Edward S. Curtis play an essential role in this museum.

The museum’s primary motive is to show people the beauty of art.

It also has a major focus on various educational projects.

Take in Stunning Views at Eagle Point Park

Eagle Point Park during snow

Dirk Hansen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Want to take in gorgeous scenes of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin all at once?

It’s no impossible feat, as you can do just that in Dubuque—in Eagle Point Park, to be exact.

Snow covered council ring at Eagle Point Park

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The park stands on the shores of the Mississippi River and offers some of the most picturesque views that you may ever see.

Constructed in 1908, the park has a gorgeous landscape and design.

Binoculars at Eagle Point Park

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Alfred Caldwell, who served as the park’s superintendent, was the one who came up with such a gorgeous design.

The park is the ideal place to go on a sunny afternoon and enjoy some views.

Snap a Few Pictures at the Julien Dubuque Monument

Low angle view of the Julien Dubuque Monument

Eddie J. Rodriquez /

If you visit the Mines of Spain Recreation Area, you might notice a huge tower—the Julien Dubuque Monument.

It’s quite a luxurious location, standing tall and looking over the great Mississippi River.

Pathway leading to Julien Dubuque Monument with Mississippi river in the background

Jwagg0309, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The monument holds historical significance and is named after Julien Dubuque, the miner who brought the world of mining to Dubuque.

His body also rests in the spot where the monument stands.

Julien Dubuque Monument located amidst lush green trees

Farragutful, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Taste the Spirits at Stone Cliff Winery

Exterior view of the majestic Stone Cliff Winery

Dirk Hansen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stone Cliff Winery is one of the best wineries in Dubuque.

Even the building where it’s located is quite historically significant.

Star Brewery Building used to be Dubuque’s leading brewery, as it was located in the city’s heart, just beside the main port.

Closer view of the Star Brewery Building

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But it was closed down, and what you now see happens to be the Stone Cliff Winery.

The best feature is that it has its own vineyard from which its wines are sourced.

Check Out the Historic Shot Tower

Top view of the Shot Tower

Nicola Patterson /

The Shot Tower is a must-visit when you are in Dubuque.

It’s listed as a National Historic Landmark and is one of the only remaining shot towers in the country.

Interested in finding out what shot towers are meant to do?

They’re made to create lead balls.

Full view of the Shot Tower

Jonathannsegal /

Molten lead is dropped from a high altitude, and water tubs are positioned below.

When the lead comes in contact with the water from such a great height, balls are created.

This particular shot tower is used to produce a large number of lead balls every day.

Go Skiing at Sundown Mountain

Cable car ride at Sundown Mountain

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Are you visiting Dubuque during the winter?

Dubuque is a destination for all seasons, and there are some excellent skiing trails here where the snow is thick and powdery.

Sundown Mountains boasts some excellent skiing trails.

A small cabinet covered with snow at Sundown Mountain

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Even if you are an amateur, there is no need to worry, for you can find experts who will be willing to teach you the basics of skiing.

You can even book a room in the lodge if you want to spend the night and indulge in some early morning skiing.

Check Out the Brilliant Art Along the Mississippi Riverwalk

Public art at Mississippi Riverwalk in Dubuque

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The Mississippi Riverwalk is indeed a beautiful place.

There are a lot of features along this walk that enhance its beauty.

The best one has to be the Art on the River.

It is like a temporary art exhibit that occurs every year.

Mississippi Riverwalk during snow

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The local talents gather and give their best to uniquely decorate the riverwalk.

Some judges evaluate the artwork and select a winner.

Mississippi Riverwalk with street lights and bridge in the background

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It is a fun event.

So, if you are in town at that time, do watch the exhibit.

Explore the Fascinating Crystal Lake Cave

There is an interesting story behind the discovery of Crystal Lake Cave.

The story dates back to when Dubuque was leading in the mining industry.

Several miners got a tip that there was lead nearby.

They began digging for it, but what came up was none other than this vast cave system.

Scientists found out that it took almost two million years for this cave system to come into being.

It was accessible to the common people from 1932 onwards.

There is even a stalactite inside that goes by the name of St. Peter’s Dome.

Be Awed by the Architecture of the Mathias Ham House

Yellow white building of the Mathias Ham House

Dirk Hansen, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mathias Ham was a man of many trades.

He indulged in farming, made bricks, and was even a lumberman at some point in his life.

He had something to do with the local politics and was deeply involved in the Underground Railway.

Snow covered roof of the log cabin at Mathias Ham House

PiXel Perfect PiX /

On top of all that, you can imagine that he was also a man of great taste when you look at his house.

The house is beautiful beyond words.

There is even a replica of a mine shaft inside the house.

You can join a guided tour and learn about the house’s history.

Fall in Love with the Flora and Fauna at the Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

Sculpture placed on a pond at Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens

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The Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens is serene and gorgeous at the same time.

Located inside Marshal Park, its beauty is almost indescribable.

There are gardens of different themes and colors.

Orange Marigolds at Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

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These colors change seasonally, so the place looks different every time you visit.

The moment you step foot inside, you’ll be greeted with the sweet fragrance of flowers that will blow your mind.

Small fountain at Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

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Go Kayaking on the Dubuque Water Trail

An old man kayaking in Dubuque

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The undisturbed trail of water in the Mississippi River and Catfish Creek that extends almost 11 miles is commonly known as the Dubuque Water Trail.

The Mississippi River holds a lot of historical significance.

Many developments occurred along the banks of the river, and you can still get to see those even today.

There are some nice ways to explore the waters along with the shorelines.

A group of young people kayaking on a sunny day at Mississippi River in Dubuque

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Go boating or kayaking on the Dubuque Water Trail.

It is one of the most enjoyable recreational activities in Dubuque.

At the same time, you learn a lot about the city’s history.

You’ll be able to see tourist spots like A.Y. McDonald Park and Massey Marina Park.

Pray at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church

Exterior view of the St. Luke's United Methodist Church

Kevin Schuchmann, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church holds a special place in the hearts of both locals and tourists.

When you learn about the history of Dubuque, you will notice that the entire town is based on industries and businesses.

Mining was the most prominent industry until a certain period.

Interior view of the St. Luke's United Methodist Church

David Wilson, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In such a situation, the presence of such a church might seem quite uncommon.

But St. Luke’s United Methodist Church is a beautiful attraction that stands out from the rest of the town.

Its architectural style is different from the other buildings you see around.

Another feature of this church is its unique and large pipe organ.

When it was installed, it was the largest of its time.

Look Up the Town Clock

Beautiful view of the Town Clock in Dubuque

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On Main Street’s Town Clock Plaza, you’ll find Dubuque’s historic Town Clock.

Initially erected in 1873 on the top of a three-story structure at 825 Main Street, the clock tower was moved to its present location in 1971.

At least 13 tons, the clock tower must have been challenging to move without damage.

This was no simple task.

A four-column concrete pedestal supported the clock and its tower.

Dubuque’s Main Street Historic District has the remarkable Town Clock, which is reported to be accurate within two seconds.

Pay Tribute to Fallen Heroes at Veterans Memorial Plaza

Huge grey pillars at Veterans Memorial Plaza

Aaron of L.A. Photography /

The first Veterans Memorial Plaza was created in 2009, the vision of a former US Marine Louis Kartman, who participated in the Korean War and the famed “Frozen Chosin” Reservoir Battle.

When it was built, the monument comprised a curving wall honoring all military personnel and the conflicts in which they participated.

Dubuque Racing Association money was used in 2021 to make significant upgrades to the plaza.

Colorful flowers around a memorial at Veterans Memorial Plaza

Aaron of L.A. Photography /

As part of the renovations, swirling concrete walkways and boardwalks have been added to the property.

A moving sculpture called “Skyward” at the end of the path has an inscribed poem buried inside it.

Veterans Memorial Plaza in Dubuque, Iowa

Aaron of L.A. Photography /

Catch a Performance at the Bell Tower Theater

Sign board of Bell Tower Theater

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The Bell Tower Theater is a Dubuque-based theater group located in the renovated basement of a church.

The Sisters of the House of the Good Shepherd built the 300-seater theater.

After multiple changes of ownership, the building has ultimately succumbed to deterioration.

Entrance of the beautiful Bell Tower Theater

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Bell Tower Theater began producing high-quality theater shows in 2003 after undergoing renovations in 2001.

A multi-awarded youth program that involves surprising lessons for young people and a free summer music camp for children creates two full-scale musicals each year for the theater company.

Zip through the Breathtaking Scenery with Sky Tours at YMCA Union Park Camp

There are nine zip lines on Sky Tours that carry riders over ravines, through woodlands to Cooper’s Hawks’ and Great Horned Owl’s habitat, and over the ruins of Union Park’s historic open theater.

Union Park was a popular destination for Dubuque residents in the early 20th century.

It features band shells, a playground for children, a wooden roller coaster, and a carousel.

It was converted to a Boy Scout Camp in 1946 as the park’s popularity waned.

The camp has been offering daily two-hour zip line trips since 2011, conducted by fully-trained guides for guests and locals over the age of 10.

Listen to the Stunning Performance of the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra

The 60-member Dubuque Symphony Orchestra holds at least 25 performances every year.

The orchestra features works from the Baroque period to the present day.

Every year, there are concerts dedicated to the holiday of Christmas.

The Dubuque Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1958, has a loyal following of concertgoers from the surrounding three states and often hosts world-renowned soloists.

Established in 1969, the Dubuque Youth Symphony Orchestra features the talents of more than 50 of the area’s most promising young musicians.

For third and fifth graders, the orchestra provides Art Treks: a 40-minute introduction to instruments and their families and a more in-depth look into American history.

Final Thoughts

Dubuque is a thriving city today.

Enjoy one of the city’s most expansive views while riding the world’s shortest and steepest train.

Take in the sights and sounds of an area once a hub for the warehousing trade.

See where Iowa began its history.

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