Visiting Dubuque Iowa

dubuque iowa skyline
Dubuque skyline from the top of the Incline Railway

Things to See and Do Visiting Dubuque, Iowa

Dubuque River Walk
Dubuque River Walk and Art on the River

Located on the Iowa side of the Upper Mississippi River Road Scenic Drive, Dubuque holds claim to Iowa’s oldest city. Named after French-Canadian fur trader Julien Dubuque, who arrived in the area in 1785 and set up a trading post on the Mississippi River. Learning of the existence of lead deposits in the area he began mining operations cooperating with the Mesquakie Indians who had lived in the area for years. The mining community he established was known as the Mines of Spain. This later spawned the settlement of the city of Dubuque, which was chartered in 1837.

Dubuque Clock Tower
Dubuque Clock Tower with the 1891 County Courthouse in the background.
Dubuque Mississippi River Museum
At the Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, Jo and the kids look at the turtles. Interactive exhibits on the river in the background.

While lead mining and trade as a key port on the Mississippi were key to its early development, it later added other industries like button making, boat building, logging, mill working, meat packing, and other heavy industries. After experiencing a downturn in its local economy in the 1970s through the 1990s, the city initiated an economic revival that had “. . . five anchor components: the Mississippi Riverwalk, the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, the Grand River Center, the Grand Harbor Resort, and the Star Brewery.” In addition to offering these visitor and tourist attractions, Dubuque has become a major retail, medical, education and employment center for the tri-state area.

Whenever we visit Dubuque, we always find time to take in the Riverwalk with its panoramic views of the Mississippi River, isolation from the hustle and bustle of the city, and its interesting artistic sculptures sprinkled along the walk. The Grand River Center, a unique architectural creation, is a prominent center-piece along the Riverwalk. At the end of the Riverwalk is the restored historic Star Brewery building which now houses a mini-brewery museum, a fine restaurant, and the tasting room of the Stone Cliff Winery, among other attractions.

Another favorite Dubuque attraction is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. It anchors the other end of the Riverwalk built along the lagoon called the Ice Harbor. Filled with interactive exhibits and educational displays, it is easy to spend several hours exploring all that it has to offer. In fact the admission ticket is good for two consecutive days as for some people they would need two days to see everything.

And still another regular part of visiting Dubuque is taking a walk downtown past the historic Julien Dubuque Hotel, past the Bell Tower, and a stroll along Bluff Street to Cable Car Square visiting boutiques and specialty shops. Once at Cable Car Square, taking a ride up the hill on the Fenlon Place Elevator is a must for any Dubuque visitor. Originally built in 1882 by a downtown banker who lived on the top of the bluffs in order to save an hour buggy ride round trip to work and back. Years later the Fenlon Place Elevator Company was formed and the cable car served all the neighbors who lived on top of the bluff. The incline railway takes you up to the top of the Bluff where the station deck offers terrific views of downtown Dubuque and the Mississippi River. We usually take the bluff trail walk down from the top of the bluff for the exercise, but if you buy a round trip ticket you can take the incline railway back to the Square and avoid the walk.

Slide Show: Riding the Fenlon Place Incline Railway

  • fenlon railway dubuque
    Here is where passengers board the incline railway to the top of the hill
  • fenlon cable car dubuque
    Jo and the kids getting excited for the ride up the hill.
  • fenlon place elevator
    The Cable Car goes both directions, you can ride up or ride down.
  • dubuque overlook fenlon station
    The kids enjoying the view from the bluff-top station deck.

stone cliff winery outdoor cafe
The Stone Cliff Winery Bar is located in the historic Star Brewery Complex.

Another great view of the river and the Dubuque river front is from the top of Eagle Point Park. Another park, Miller Riverview park, is located adjacent to the river and offers a picnic area and RV and tent camping. More RV camping is offered at the Dubuque Yacht basin. Both of these RV campgrounds can be difficult to snag a site at so we more often camp across the river at the Grant River Corps park (see link to our review lower down this page) near Potosi.

The city has a municipal golf course, Bunker Hill, which offers 18 holes suitable for beginning through intermediate golfers. Across the river, Lacoma Golf Course offers 36 holes of regulation and championship golf plus a nice little par 3 course. It is one of our favorite golfing spots in the area. (See our reviews of Dubuque Golf Courses) Other recreational attractions include two Casinos, a Greyhound Race Track, and Riverboat Cruises.

Catfish Charies Restaurant
Catfish Charlies Seafood Restaurant overlooks the Dubuque Yacht Basin.

When we are staying in the Dubuque area there are two other places we try to include on our visit. One is dining at the historic Breitbach Country Tavern in little Balltown, Iowa about 16 miles north of Dubuque on Iowa’s highest bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. Breitbach is Iowa’s oldest continually operating tavern and restaurant, being run by the Breitbach family for six generations. The other significant attraction is across the river in the little river town of Potosi: The historic Potosi Brewery and Brewery Museum. Fascinating tour of the brewing facilities, the outstanding artifacts and memorabilia in the Brewery Museum, and excellent food and fresh brewed beer in the brewpub tap room.

Dubuque Attractions – Visitor Links:

Nearby Dubuque Attractions

Traveling the Upper Mississippi Great River Road