Dubuque is an Iowan city on the Mississippi River that straddles the Wisconsin and Illinois borders. For free things to do in Dubuque, IA, check out the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Eagle Point Park, and the scenic Riverwalk. If you’re more interested in shopping in Dubuque, Iowa, there are many locally-owned shops in the downtown district. However, Kennedy Mall is the city’s biggest shopping center.
Dubuque is not just a summer destination, either. For example, things to do in Dubuque, Iowa in February include visiting Sundown Mountain Resort and Stone Cliff Winery. Here are more of the best things to do in Dubuque, Iowa in winter and summer.
1. National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium
Known as the best museum in Iowa, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is, as the name suggests, part museum and part aquarium. Focusing on the area’s history, some of the museum’s exhibits include a blacksmith shop, the National Rivers Hall of Fame, the Barge Theater, a conservation lab, and a bayou and wetlands. Meanwhile, you can see animals like a giant pacific octopus, a green sea turtle, and an American alligator at the aquarium.
2. EB Lyons Interpretive Center at Mines of Spain
The E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center acts as both a visitor center and park office at the Mines of Spain State Recreation Area. The area is home to both forested and prairie land and includes a 15-acre wetland, creeks, and five nature walks, including the well-known Horseshoe Bluff Interpretive Trail. The E.B. Lyons Interpretive Center is open year-round and has attractions like The Betty Hauptli Bird and Butterfly Garden, and the historic Junkermann farm site.
3. Dubuque Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
Spread over 56 acres, the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens is a volunteer-led project that features over 60 different landscaped gardens. Some of these include the award-winning and all-American Rose Garden, the English Garden, the Japanese Garden, and a prairie wildflower display. The Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens also hosts seasonal musical performances in its Packard Pavilion. Open year-round, a stroll through the gardens is one of the best free things to do in Dubuque, Iowa.
4. Crystal Lake Cave
Crystal Lake Cave is one of Iowa’s natural wonders. Discovered in 1868, the cave is said to have formed over two million years ago. Today, you can go on a guided tour of Crystal Lake Cave to see its many stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, and other mineral formations. Open from May to October, the cave is 50 degrees year-round, so dress accordingly. A popular activity for families, you can also go gem mining at Crystal Lake Cave.
5. Eagle Point Park
Eagle Point Park is known as one of the Midwest’s best parks. The 164-acre public park sits on a bluff that overlooks the Mississippi River and the Lock and Dam No. 11, and from its scenic position, you can see three states: Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Eagle Point Park is also home to several pavilions, including a bandshell that hosts free summer music concerts, walking trails, tennis courts, a small wading pool, and playground equipment.
6. Sundown Mountain Resort
Sundown Mountain Resort is a ski resort with a total vertical drop of 475 feet and 21 trails carved through an old cedar forest. Just like Eagle Point Park, from the top, you can see three states. Sundown Mountain Resort has ski runs to suit all skill levels, as well as two terrain parks, a kids park, and two mountain lodges. So when searching for things to do in Dubuque, Iowa in winter, check out Sundown Mountain Resort.
7. Diamond Jo Casino Dubuque
Located in the city’s historic downtown district, Diamond Jo Dubuque is a large casino and entertainment complex, with over 200 nights of live entertainment every year. It began its life as a riverboat casino, before becoming land-based in 2008. The casino has nearly 1000 slot machines, 19 table games, and a state-of-the-art poker room. As for entertainment, there’s the Mississippi Moon Bar, five other bars and restaurants, and a massive bowling and entertainment center.
8. Q Casino
Speaking of casinos, the other guy in town is the Q Casino, which is both a greyhound race track and a casino. In terms of square footage, it’s larger than Diamond Jo Casino, with 1000 slot, keno, and video poker machines, several table games, four restaurants, and two entertainment venues, which feature local musicians every weekend. So when looking for fun things to do in Dubuque, Iowa at night, we suggest heading to one of its two casinos.
9. Stone Cliff Winery
Stone Cliff Winery is a family-owned and operated winery. Although their vineyard is located in the rolling hillside just north of town, they also have a tasting room in the historic Star Brewery Building along the central Riverwalk. Stone Cliff Winery produces a unique array of red and white wines, such as Wild Pineapple and Sweet Raspberry. Enjoy your glass of wine with a side of lunch or live music on Friday and Saturday nights, and Sunday afternoons.
10. Fenelon Place Elevator
The Fenelon Place Elevator is a funicular that, at 296 feet long, claims to be the world’s shortest and steepest scenic railway. Open from April until November, the funicular takes passengers from Fourth Street to Fenelon Place for a very affordable price. There are very scenic views over the city and Mississippi River from the top. A ride on the Fenelon Place Elevator is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Dubuque, Iowa.
11. Shot Tower
The city’s historic Shot Tower is one of the only remaining shot towers in the United States. Located near the Mississippi River, the Shot Tower was built in 1856 to provide lead shot, predominantly for shotguns. The tower was then abandoned after a series of fires in 1911, before being placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Undergoing much-needed renovations in 2004, the Shot Tower is one of the city’s most recognized symbols.
The Mississippi Riverwalk is a part of the 26-mile Heritage Trail that connects the city to Dyersville’s renowned Field of Dreams. Offering scenic river views, the landscaped pathway is perfect for walking, biking, and even relaxing on the provided benches. Art on the River features 11 public art pieces that change every year but always make for great Instagram photos. Along the Riverwalk you’ll find Stone Cliff Winery, and the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium.
13. Sky Tours at YMCA Union Park Camp
Sky Tours is a two-hour guided zipline experience at the historic YMCA Union Park Camp. The nine ziplines range from 300 to 1000 feet long and reach heights of up to 75 feet. Along the way, you’ll enjoy brief nature walks through the forested grounds, before tackling ziplines with names like Air Strike, The Duel (the signature side-by-side zipline), and Over the Top to finish the course. Visit Sky Tours’ website to make a reservation today.
Art on the River
During the summer and fall months along the Mississippi River all around the port of Dubuque, you can experience the famous “Art on the River” art-walk. With temporary and permanent artworks from local and nationally acclaimed artists, this unique riverside art display is one of the highlights of the Dubuque’s art community. The art is placed along the Mississipi Riverwalk trail, which is part of the longer “Heritage Trail” connecting the river to other nearby towns. For a one-of-a-kind art experience in Dubuque, we’d highly recommend exploring the Art on the River.