Dubuque, Iowa lays on the banks of the mightly Mississippi River and proudly claims to be the place ‘where Iowa started’! Just minutes from the borders of both Illinois and Wisconsin this river side town has something for everyone! Whether you are travelling as a couple or a family with kids or if you are a foodie or enjoy being in the great outdoors! Here’s a giant list of some of my favourite things to do in Dubuque (including free things to do and things to do during winter) as told by a local!
Disclosure: I have previously worked in partnership with some of the businesses listed below. As always, opinions are 100% my own.
Updated: May 2020
Guide: Free, $ (under $10), $$ (under $30), $$$ (over $30)
To skip to Food & Drink recommendations in Dubuque, click HERE
Things to do in Dubuque
(Dubuque Millwork District)
Dubuque Iowa Attractions
(Free Things To Do In Dubuque IA)
1. Stroll Along The Mississippi River Sculpture Walk
The Dubuque River walk is a clever way of making the flood barrier pretty! This is a half a mile path between the River Museum and the Dubuque Star Brewery. There are 12 sculptures altogether, mainly by Midwest artists. You can pick up a flyer at the River Museum end of the walk which explains some of the meanings behind the pieces!
2. See the Historic Shot Tower
If you make it all the way to the Dubuque Star Brewery, you may as well continue on to the historic Shot Tower! It was built in 1856 and is one of the last remaining shot towers in the USA. It was used to provide lead shot to the military and then went on to be a fire watch tower for a lumberyard. Ironically the shot tower ended up suffering from a fire itself during this time!
The Dubuque Star Brewery and Shot Tower (far right)
3. Hike to the Julien Dubuque Monument
This is one of my favourite viewpoints in Dubuque and you don’t even really have to hike to it if you don’t want to, there’s actually a car park close to it! I love it because it looks like a little mini castle! It’s located in the Mines of Spain Recreational Area and can be enjoyed with other trails. The monument is actually the grave of Julien Dubuque, the founder of the town! My favourite trail at the Mines of Spain is the Horseshoe Bluff trail but the Julien Dubuque monument is another must see Dubuque Iowa attraction!
The Mines of Spain won the people’s choice award for one of the best things to do in Dubuque at the 2019 Travel Dubuque Tourism Awards!
4. Explore the Murals in the Downtown District!
Summer of 2017 saw the creation of a bunch of colourful murals around the Downtown area of Dubuque. It was part of the Voices Project and something I have loved watching come to life! I recently went on a guided walk of the Dubuque murals and discovered that a lot of the pictures actually relate to the businesses that are part of the wall that they are painted on as well as being inspired by Dubuque and the state of Iowa! Even the traffic roundabouts have murals on the road around them!
5. Look for the Downtown Stick Men
I think these are fun! There are 2 stick men in the Downtown area, one is a man made from metal and then someone decided to create a women out of PVC pipe in response to the first one being installed! They are placed opposite each other and it looks as though the woman is waving at the man! *Hint* Look up HIGH, they are on the rooftops along Main St, near the Hotel Julien!
6. Find the Stairs in the Wall!
One of my recent finds and now one of my favourite viewpoints in Dubuque! Located along Bluff and W 11th Street there is a strange staircase leading through an old stone wall. It used to be the location of a second funicular railway (see below for the other one!). If you go up the stairs and then turn around, you get a cool view of Dubuque both through the tunnel and over the top of the wall!
7. Visit the Library
Going to the library was a huge part of my summer break when I was growing up! The libraries in Dubuque and Dubuque county offer free summer reading programmes and activities. I even attend a free yoga session once a month at my nearest library, last summer they even had the class outside a couple of times! Summer is a great opportunity to read more, get outside, away from the TV and enjoy reading a book! Take it to the park, sit near the river or simply just sit in your garden/yard!
8. Admire the Town Clock
Another piece of Dubuque architecture and history! The original town clock was mounted on top of a building and actually collapsed, killing 3 people. Another town clock was eventually built in a different location to where it stands now. The top part was moved in 1971 and put on top of a giant pedestal in Town Clock Plaza where it has been ever since!
9. Take a Tour of Lock and Dam 11
If you are looking for unique and free things to do in Dubuque, you can actually go on a tour of the lock and dam during the summer season! There’s also a viewing platform next to the lock where you can watch the huge Mississippi River barges!
10. Stroll Around the Dubuque Arboretum
The Dubuque Arboretum is a peaceful haven on the edge of Dubuque. Take a stroll around the gardens, sit and watch the koi in the large pond and kids will enjoy the pay equipment! In the summer months, there are free musical performances held at the Arboretum.
11. Have a Picnic at Eagle Point Park
Another really nice open space in Dubuque, which has plenty of shaded space, playgrounds, toilet facilities and even a pond with a waterfall feature. Vehicle entrance is $1 and you’re going to eat a lunch anyway so why not have a change of scenery and eat it in the park! Eagle Point Park looks over Lock and Dam 11, so you’ll get to see the river from a different angle!
12. See Dot the Turtle at The Mississippi River Museum!
I’m a little bit fascinated with sea turtles so I have a bit of a soft spot for Dot the Green Turtle at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium! She has bubble butt syndrome. Once upon a time she was hit by a boat and now has a build up of air that causes her butt to float (she basically can’t fart). It doesn’t stop her though and she swims around and dives to the bottom of the tank with the help of weights attached to her shell! This is one of the best attractions in Dubuque!
13. 4th Street Elevator
This fun little funicular railway is on every Dubuque visitor’s bucket list. The 4th Street Elevator (sometimes referred to as the Fenelon Place Elevator) was originally built in 1882 and is said to be the shortest, steepest, funicular railway in the world! The view from the top station is awesome too, you can see right across the Downtown Dubuque area!
14. Watch a Movie From The Comfort of a Recliner at the Phoenix Theatre
A brand new movie theatre opened up in the Kennedy Mall. It is slightly more expensive than the AMC theatre BUT it has the luxury of heated (which you may not need in the summer unless you hate air con as much as me) recliners! I visited a bed cinema while in Budapest and being able to put your legs up is amazing!
15. Pretend to be a ‘Ninja Warrior’ at Vertical Jump Dubuque
Vertical Jump is a trampoline park with the addition of a Ninja Warrior style assault course (disclosure: it has nothing to do with the real Ninja Warrior programme), although you land in a foam pit rather than a swimming pool! Even as an adult, we found the course tough going! Prices are totalled in 30 minute increments. There’s a big glass window along the length of the course so you can watch it without having to go in. You also have to buy special grippy socks (which I managed to lose in the foam pit).
16. Visit the Ham House
During the summer season, the Mathias Ham house is open for guided tours and shows what life was like in the Victorian era. On the 4th July they hold an annual ice cream social! There are also special themed tours during the winter season for Halloween and Christmas! The graves of Mathias Ham and his family can be found in the Linwood Cemetery…if you like that type of thing, it’s actually a really interesting cemetery with some unique headstones! With entrance to the Ham House you receive a free Eagle Point Park vehicle ticket which leads me on to…
17. Swim at the Grand Harbor Resort
This one is aimed more for families. The seasonal outdoor pools in Dubuque are open during the summer and offer more ‘proper swimming’, but if you are after water slides and hot tubs, the Grand Harbor Resort is your best bet. Even I can’t resist the giant dump bucket! Guests of the hotel get to use the waterpark for free but you can pay to get a day pass for the waterpark. There’s also a fun arcade where the games have ticket rewards which can be switched for prizes!
18. Attend the Dubuque County Fair
There’s no getting around this one! The Dubuque County Fair is held for one week every summer. There’s fairground rides, music and then the farming aspect where you’ll get to see people vacuuming cows, which as a Brit is an eye opener! I love the deep fried food stand which sell (to name a few!): deep fried ice cream cones, deep fried mushrooms and the typical fair favourite, funnel cakes!
19. Temporarily Transport to Ireland!
Another recent discovery after talking to a lady in a bar is the joy that is Shamrock Imports! Obviously I’m not Irish and my Irish heritage is so small I don’t even acknowledge it, BUT Shamrock Imports stocks some British products YAY! So if you feel like trying some different food that’s not in the regular grocery stores, call into here! They also have a really great range of Irish products, it actually feels like you’re stepping into a souvenir shop in Ireland (I went in a lot in Dublin)!
20. Go bowling
It’s always good to have a rainy day option and I do love a game of bowling! Cherry Lanes in the Diamond Jo Casino is a good bowling alley. Despite being in a casino it’s family friendly. Park and enter through the main undercover garage, if you park in the outside car park you’ll have to cross through ‘security’ which of course children aren’t allowed in to.
21. Go Zip Lining!
Dubuque does indeed have a zip lining course and it’s a really good one! It’s actually one of my favourite Dubuque Iowa attractions! There are 9 zip lines including a dual racing zip line. The history of this area is fascinating and the guides make the tour a really fun experience! You can read my full review of Sky Tours Zip Lining here!
22. Explore Crystal Lake Caves
Dubuque is home to an underground cave system which was discovered back in the 1860’s! Guided tours of the caves last around 45 minutes. They maintain a steady temperature year round so can be a little chilly in the summer compared to the outside temperatures! Crystal Lake Caves is located near the Mine’s of Spain Recreational Area, on the outskirts of Dubuque!
23. Play a Round of Mini Golf
The Dubuque Driving Range, located along HWY 52, does in fact have a mini golf course! It’s by no means big or fancy but does offer an option for something different to do! I played at night and got eaten alive by mosquitos so remember to take bug spray!
Location: 10740 US-52, Dubuque, IA 52001
24. Try an Escape Room!
I love escape rooms! The idea of the game, is that you get 60 minutes to solve clues and codes, by working as a team, to unlock the door and escape! Escape Room Dubuque currently has 3 rooms and require 4 – 10 players. Being the traveller I am, I loved the motel themed room which we managed to solve before the end of the 60 minutes!
25. Try Your Hand at Anti Gravity Yoga
One of my bucket list activities is to try aerial yoga at Float and Fly Wellness Studios! I’ve become obsessed with yoga (I even took part in goat yoga) and so I really want to give aerial yoga a shot! I’m not sure how flexible I’d be but they do say it’s OK for beginners! If you don’t fancy hanging upside down by your legs, they offer a ‘cocooning’ session where you get wrapped up in hammock and get to chill for 45 minutes!
26. Float in a Floatation Tank
This was such an interesting experience and can be found at the same location as the Anti Gravity Yoga class at the Float and Fly Wellness Studio! You can spend 60 or 90 minutes floating in a pod filled with epsom salt water, similar to the Dead Sea! It gives you the sense of zero gravity and is really relaxing and great for joints.
You do have to be fairly good at zoning out and putting yourself in a mediative state, because you are just laying in a fancy floaty bath for an hour! After a short introduction with mood lighting and relaxing music, these will turn off so you are laying in total silence and darkness. An hour in a floatation tank is the equivalent of sleeping for 5 hours!
27. Paint a Masterpiece
Take part in a guided painting class at Pinots Palette! You take your own drinks so don’t actually have to drink wine! Check the calendar of events to see which ‘pictures’ are on offer. Usually they are seasonal so during the summer there are lots of sunsets and beach options!
28. My Sneaky Hack For Free Live Music & Free Coffee
The Diamond Jo Casino will often have free live music shows or events in their Mississippi Moon Bar…yay free!! But if you sneak across to the other side of the casino, they have free coffee and soft drinks…yay double free! If you’re designated driver this is great because you can have a night out and not spend a penny!
Food & Drink
29. Check Out The Millwork District & Have Coffee at Inspire Cafe
The Inspire Cafe is one of my favourite coffee shops in Dubuque! They are often coming up with new and exciting flavours of drinks and they have a special place in my heart because they serve an English Afternoon Tea once a month! The Millwork District is such a cool area to check out, with lots of new businesses popping up!
30. Pretzel Crust Pizza at 7 Hills Brewery
I don’t actually eat pizza (SHOCK HORROR) because I don’t eat cheese (DOUBLE SHOCK HORROR), but my goodness, I will go out of my way to have a pretzel crust pizza (cheese-less) at 7 Hills Brewery in the Millwork District! It tastes like a big soft pretzel but with pizza toppings! They only come in one size but I find it to be VERY filling! It’s one of my favourite restaurants in Dubuque! If it’s the beer you’re after, there are several different breweries in Dubuque that are worth checking out!
31. Attend Trivia Tuesday or Visit The Beercade At The Backpocket Taproom
Free (unless drinking)
Every Tuesday the Backpocket Taproom and beercade hold a free trivia night where you have the chance to win free beer and prizes. The company that run the trivia are awesome. I went to their Harry Potter special and it was so much fun! Backpocket even created Harry Potter themed drinks!
Downstairs is a beercade full of retro arcade games! Children are allowed in the arcade until 9pm and then it’s adults only (+21). The games are reasonably priced, many average around two quarters.
32. Ice Cream at Betty Jane Candies
Betty Jane Candies have been making chocolate in Dubuque since 1938 and are well known for their Gremlins (pecans and caramel, topped with chocolate). When it gets to the summer months, the Asbury Road location produces and sells homemade ice cream! My personal favourite is the ‘Gremlin-Nilla’, vanilla ice cream with smashed up Gremlins! They also have a version made with chocolate ice cream!
33. Dairy Queen on Rhomberg Ave
It’s just a Dairy Queen I hear you say! WRONG! The Dairy Queen on Rhomberg Ave has been an independently run, family owned Dairy Queen since 1950. It’s only open seasonally and has an outdoor serving hatch rather than the regular indoor counter service. All their food is cooked on demand (not stored on a hot plate) and they even serve fried bread with jam/jelly which is not on the regular DQ menus!
34. Eat Yummy Food at the Farmer’s Market
The Dubuque summer Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday morning, as well as a night market once a month on a weekday evening. Of course you can buy locally grown fruit and vegetables but there’s also yummy treats such as lavender lemonade and homemade cakes and pies! On my visit I even had a breakfast sandwich where the bun was actually a donut! The Millwork District also hosts a Night Market once a month during the warmer season!
35. The Spot
I’ve listed it as $$ because they are expensive for a drink, costing around $8. The spot sell lit teas and protein shakes that have added vitamins and minerals that do various things like boosting metabolism and giving you increased energy. Each day they have two special ‘flavours of the day’. I tried both the Berry Margarita and Mango Passionfruit. Definitely pay extra for the ‘boba’. These are slightly different from regular bubble teas that have tapioca pearls, the ones at The Spot are liquid filled!
36. Southern Ego
Southern Ego is an indoor ‘food truck’ in the Ironworks building, located in the Millwork District. It is owned by Chef Jerron Hurt, the winner of Masterchef season 9! The menu is small but has some very unique burger options. I had the Blazin Bird, a chicken tenderloin served in a croissant and it was SO good!
Winter in Dubuque
Things to do in Dubuque in Winter
37. Go Skiing!
If you’re looking for things to do in Dubuque in winter, you’ll find one of Iowa’s ski resorts! Sundown Mountain Resort is located 20 minutes from the Dowtown district and has ski runs for both beginners and advanced skiers!
38. Get In The Christmas Spirit
During November and December you’ll discover a range of Christmas events in Dubuque, perfect to get you in the Christmas Spirit!
Things To Do Near Dubuque Iowa
39. Ghost Sundays at Field of Dreams
Ghost Sundays at the Field of Dreams movie site in Dyersville is a great free, family event. I’ve only seen the film a couple of times but even I got chills when the players came out of the corn field! You can even meet the players, get their autographs and have pictures take with them after the show!
40. Visit the Antique Shop in Dyersville
Free (unless you buy!)
While you’re in Dyersville, the antique shop is fun to wander around! The outside looks like an old theatre and there are a couple of old classic cars on the inside! There are lots of antiques and old toys…some of which I remember playing with when I was a kid…not too sure how I feel about them being considered antiques now! There is also a farm toy shop nearby and Dyersville also host the National Farm Toy Show twice a year.
41. Go Geo Caching at Swiss Valley
I’ve been to Swiss Valley just outside of Peosta, but I’ve not been geo caching there yet! For those that don’t know what geo caching is, it’s like a nature version of a treasure hunt, where little capsules are hidden and when you find it via coordinates, you write your name on the list hidden inside, replace it and log on your personal records that it’s been found! Apparently Swiss Valley have geo cache kits that you can borrow for free! It’s often frustrating trying to search for something that a lot of the time is so tiny but it’s SO EXCITING when you finally find it!
42. Find The Abandoned Graffiti Tunnel in Peosta
If you enjoy photography, there’s a tunnel in Peosta that is a bit of a ruin and is covered in graffiti. It was once upon a time a tunnel that passed under the train line, however the road has no subsided. For Hwy 20, take either Cox Springs Rd and turn right onto Chesterman Road, this end is hard to access though. Otherwise head to Thunder Hills Rd and turn left onto Chesterman Road and it’ll put you at the opposite end of the tunnel. If you jump over rocks you can get half way into the tunnel.
43. Have a Beach Day/enjoy the Mississippi River!
Yes, there are beaches in Iowa!! The Mississippi River is full of sandbars that can only be reached by boat. If you hunt around you can find your own private spot! However, if you haven’t got access to a boat, Finley’s Landing Park in Sherrill has a large beach that can be reached by car!
(This SAND DUNE is further north up the Mississippi River between Guttenberg and McGregor…but there it is, proof that there’s a lot of sand along the Mississippi!)
If the beach isn’t your thing, you’ll find several companies that run Mississippi River Cruises from Dubuque. The most frequent is the American Lady, which is based in Dubuque and therefore runs on a daily basis. There are a couple of other companies with larger, more traditional, river boats which have cruises departing from Dubuque, scattered through the summer season.
Visiting Dubuque from out of town?
WHERE TO STAY in Dubuque
I recommend staying at the Hotel Julien in Downtown Dubuque. (Disclosure: I have worked with this hotel but there’s no denying that it’s a Dubuque icon and it’s LOVELY). Those with kids may perfer to stay at the Grand Harbor for the free waterpark access and Mississippi River views!
Chicago, IL – 165 miles (3hrs)
Milwaukee, WI – 170 miles (2hrs 40)
Des Moines, IA – 195 miles (3hrs)
Minneapolis, MN – 250 miles (4hrs 40)
St Louis, MO – 335 miles (4hrs 55)
Dubuque also has a regional airport with 3 daily flights to Chicago (served by American Eagle, part of American Airlines).
If you’re planning on visiting Dubuque and would like anymore information from a ‘local’, please feel free to message me or comment below and I’ll be more than happy to point you in the right direction! Otherwise you can check out the Travel Dubuque CVB for more information and events!
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