Last Updated on November 9, 2023
As an expat, there’s not many typical American ‘holidays’ that I celebrate, we don’t have Thanksgiving or the 4th of July in England and Halloween is no where near on the same scale that it is here! HOWEVER, I have spent my whole life celebrating Christmas! So here are some Dubuque Christmas lights and events in East Iowa that you should check out this year!
Disclosure: Will update as 2023 events are announced. I do my best to try and keep information up-to-date but please check direct with businesses for current opening times and prices.
Dubuque Christmas Events 2023
- Dubuque Christmas Events 2023
- Hotel Julien Dubuque: Tree Lighting Ceremony & Breakfast With Santa
- A Merry Millwork Market
- Scuba Diving Santa at the Mississippi River Museum
- Mathias Ham Historic Site: ‘Home For The Holidays’
- Jingle Bell Package at the Grand Harbor Resort
- Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
Reflections In The Park
🗺Location: Louis Murphy Park, Dubuque, IA
📅Dates: November 23rd 2023 – January 1st 2024 (Special walk-thru event on November 22nd 2023)
🕖5pm to 10pm
Reflections in the Park is a drive through Christmas light display that happens in Louis Murphy Park each year. It is put on by Hillcrest Family Services to raise money for their programs. Entry is $12 per vehicle and every visitor receives a candy cane.
To get you in the Christmas spirit, they give you a radio station to tune into which plays Christmas music as you drive around the park. A lot of the lights represent different local companies that have donated to the display. Because of this, there’s a lot of unique shaped lights that you might not necessarily see on regular private home displays!
This is a great event on cold December evenings because you get to experience it from the warmth of your own car!
Related Reading: Reflections in the Park Dubuque: Drive Thru Christmas Light Display!
Santa & Mrs Claus Ride The Fenelon Place Elevator
🗺Location: Fenelon Place Elevator, 4th and Bluff St, Dubuque, IA
If you want to see some other Christmas lights in Dubuque, even though the Fenelon Place Elevator shuts down from November for the winter season, you’ll still find Christmas lights around the lower station and decorations up the hill alongside the track!
(TBC) There’ll be Christmas music and lights and Mr and Mrs Claus take a trip down the Fenelon Place Elevator to greet waiting children at the bottom! It’s nice to see this Dubuque icon embracing the Christmas spirit too!
Hotel Julien Dubuque: Tree Lighting Ceremony & Breakfast With Santa
🗺Location: 200 Main Street, Dubuque, IA 52001
📅Dates: Tree Lighting Ceremony – November 29th 2023 (6-7.30pm) | Breakfast With Santa – December 9th 2023
The Hotel Julien is not only a lovely hotel, but during the lead up to Christmas, they often hold various Christmas events. In 2023, they are holding a tree lighting ceremony in their lobby which includes music, hot chocolate and kids can meet Santa Claus.
On Saturday December 9th, is the Breakfast with Santa event! This jammed packed event starts at 8am and runs until 11am with breakfast being served at 9am. Santa makes a second appearance at the Hotel Julien and kids can join in with cookie decorating, Christmas crafts, stories and music.
The event costs $21 for adults and $15 for children. HOWEVER children eat free with a donation of a new toy $10 for the Toys For Tots Foundation. Reservations for this Dubuque Christmas event are recommended.
There are 12 events happening at the Hotel Julien which is part of their ’12 Days of Christmas’. These include: trivia nights, live music and Christmas dinners and cocktail nights.
Related Reading: A Stay at the Hotel Julien – Dubuque, IA
A Merry Millwork Market
🗺Location: 10th & Washington Street, Dubuque, IA 52001
📅Dates: Dec 1st 2023 – 4pm until 8pm | Dec 2nd 2023 – 9am until 2pm
The Millwork Night Market started as a bit of an extension to the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market, giving people a second chance to buy fresh local ingredients and crafts. The night market stops in the winter but opens again for 2 days as the Merry Millwork Market and is a fun Dubuque Christmas event!
The market takes place in the Schimid Innovation Centre courtyard and in the surrounding streets! There are local craft and food vendors offering various items for sale. I bought a Christmas themed drink from Inspire Cafe (now Wayfarer Coffee) and a bowl of soup from Brazen Kitchen!
It’s not quite the same as a European Christmas Market BUT warm food is always a must and the Merry Millwork Market definitely ticks this box!
They have a tree lighting ceremony on the Friday night, as well as visits from Santa, activities for children and live music entertainment. There will also be horse and carriage rides. I love the Millwork District so it’s a great excuse to visit this area of town!
Scuba Diving Santa at the Mississippi River Museum
🗺Location: 350 East 3rd Street, Port of Dubuque, Iowa 52001
📅Dates: 2nd & 3rd Dec 2023
🕖12pm until 1 pm
For an hour each day during one weekend in December, Santa goes scuba diving in the Gulf of Mexico tank at the National Mississippi River Museum! Visitors can have pictures in front of the aquarium with Santa posing in the background!
Mathias Ham Historic Site: ‘Home For The Holidays’
🗺Location: 2241 Lincoln Ave, Dubuque, IA 52001
📅Dates: Events on 1st, 2nd, 8th – 10th, 15th and 16th December 2023 (Candlelight tours 6pm)
The Mathias Ham Historic Site was built in 1856 by the Dubuque Entrepreneur, Mathias Ham (you can also see his grave in the Linwood Cemetery). The site is run by the Dubuque County Historical Society. The Ham House shuts for the winter season but it opens up during weekends in December for the ‘Christmas At The Ham House‘ event.
Each weekend had a different theme. I went to ‘Christmas By Hand’. This showed how the house would have been decorated during the Christmas season and the types of traditions that family would have had. In 2020 they have introduced a candle light tour which starts at 6pm!
The house was decorated in a similar style to a Victorian Christmas with lots of European influences. You can tour the house and there are interpreters dressed up in old fashioned clothes that are stationed in various rooms. They give you information about the history of the Ham House.
Downstairs in the basement, you could make Christmas decorations, similar to those that the family would have decorated the house with. Things such as pine cones and paper chains. Entrance also includes hot chocolate and cookies! I also saw Christmas carollers during my visit!
On December 10th from 1pm-3pm is the Christmas Afternoon Tea event with finger sandwiches, sweet treats and teas (or hot chocolate and marshmallows)
Jingle Bell Package at the Grand Harbor Resort
🗺Location: 350 Bell Street, Dubuque, IA 52001
I got to experience the Santa’s Getaway event at the Grand Harbor Resort for 2 years! Santa and his elf visited the hotel room! He brought milk and cookies and a bag of tokens to use on the machines in the arcade! In 2022 this has been replaced by the ‘Jingle Bell Package’.
Not only does your room rate include the room and 4 tickets to the waterpark, you’ll also receive a large 1-topping pizza with 4 sodas, continental breakfast, 1 holiday gift bag, $10 arcade card, 4 laser maze tokens and 1 pass for Reflections In The Park! Rooms start at $229pn.
Canadian Pacific Holiday Train
Location: Hawthorne Street railway crossing, corner of Hawthorne Street & Rohmberg Avenue
Date: Not stopping in DBQ in 2023
The best thing about the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train, is that it’s free! If you’ve ever seen the Coca Cola ‘Holidays Are Coming’ Christmas advert, it’s like the real version of that but with a train rather than trucks! The train is covered in Christmas lights and each year it does a tour of the USA and Canada. Every other year it makes a stop in Dubuque!
In *2024* it will once again be stopping at the crossing on Hawthorne St. The sides of one of the carriages folded down to make a stage. A couple of performers did a short 30 minute set. In all honesty this is probably a good amount of time for the show, especially if visiting with children.
Most of the stops happen in the evening, so the temperatures drop and it can get a little chilly standing around waiting for the train to arrive! Make sure you dress up warm!
Seeing The CP Train with Children
Again, if you are visiting with kids, plan where you want to stand to see it. You CAN get right near the track (there are marshals to ensure people don’t stand too close to the track) and attempt to be in the front row but then you might want to stand further back.
Bear in mind that this event does pull in quite a crowd, so unless you plan on holding your child up for the whole time, small people may struggle to see over people’s heads.
If you’re only wanting to see the train, I would be tempted to stand a little way along the track rather than right at the crossing as this is where the stage will be and where the biggest crowd is at.
2023 CP Train
The CP Holiday Train only stops in Dubuque every other year. As it was in Dubuque in 2022, it won’t be stopping in 2023. However, the nearest locations are Clinton IA on Nov 26th or Marquette IA on Dec 8th. The performances this year at these locations are in the afternoon, rather than the evening/night.
You can find a full schedule on the CP Holiday Train website
About the Author – Kylie
My travels have taken me to over 40 countries worldwide (& I lived in USA for 4yrs). I hold a BTEC National Diploma in Travel & Tourism (triple distinction) and have been writing on Between England & Everywhere since 2015.
Expert in: Adventure travel🎢, beach destinations🏖️, and packing light (mid-budget backpacker)🎒