On our last road trip, we ventured just over the Illinois/Iowa border past Galena, to Iowa’s oldest city, Dubuque, Iowa. My family and I had such a fun time exploring caves, being on the water, checking out art and historic landmarks, scoping out the beautiful views, hiking, eating our way through the town, and, of course, splashing away. What a fun filled weekend! Check out what fun we had exploring #WhereIowaStarted.

Family Fun Weekend Adventures in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city including street art, fantastic viewing opportunities, museum, food, waterpark resort and more.

Places to PLAY in Dubuque

Fenelon Place Elevator

We love a good view, and riding the Fenelon Place Elevator will give you fantastic views of 3 states on a clear day – Illinois, Wisconsin, and of course Iowa. The “elevator” is more of an incline. It is the world’s shortest and steepest elevator ride taking passengers up 189 feet.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including riding up the Fenelon Place Elevator.

I have to admit the ride up is a little unnerving, but thrilling. But those views are waiting for you at the top are totally worth it! Plus, at just $3 an adult roundtrip and $1.50 a kid roundtrip(5-12), it makes for a great budget-friendly experience.


Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including riding up the Fenelon Place Elevator.

Ah-mazing views from the top of Fenelon Place Elevator. #otheplaceswego

A post shared by O the Places We Go (@oplaceswego) on

Read more about our experience riding the Fenelon Place Elevator including a vdeo.

National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

When I was doing research, this was probably the most talked about attraction in Dubuque. You just can’t miss this Smithsonian-affiliated museum!  We first started by taking a self-guided tour of the William M. Black steam-powered dredge boat used to deepen the Mississippi River. We saw the engines where the grunts used to work and also saw where crewmembers used to eat and sleep. What a neat experience! We had no idea what a dredge boat was before our visit.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

Afterward, we followed the Wetland Nature Trail and came upon these remote-controlled boats. The kids had a blast operating their own boat. They totally loved doing that!

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

The indoor parts of the museum were just as fun. They showcase creatures that are found in the Mississippi along with those found in the Gulf of Mexico. The kids definitely had a blast touching the stingrays. Plus, no extra cost!

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium

Mines of Spain

We were limited on time so could only explore a part of the 1437-acre State Park. After polling my fellow bloggers, I knew we needed to visit the 25-foot Julien Dubuque Monument, named for the town’s founder.  Plenty of picture perfect opportunities.

By the time we arrived at the park, the visitor center was closed. Otherwise, it would have been handy to grab a map beforehand. If you don’t mind a half mile hike with stairs and rocks, I’d suggest taking the Julien Dubuque Trail. (The one with the gravel.) If you have little ones you may want to consider parking in the paved parking lot.

After a short walk, you’ll first find a memorial of the Chief of the Meskwaki, then the towering Julien Dubuque Monument with Julien Dubuque’s gravestone.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a stop at Mines of Spain Recreation Area and the Julien Dubuque Monument.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a stop at Mines of Spain Recreation Area and the Julien Dubuque Monument.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a stop at Mines of Spain Recreation Area and the Julien Dubuque Monument.

Tip: Arm yourself with bug spray. Those bugs are fierce! 

American Lady Yacht Cruises

Another unique way to experience the Mississippi River is to experience it on aboard a boat. Our 2-hour Sunset Dinner Cruise on the American Lady Yacht Cruise was fantastic. After a yummy dinner buffet of beef medallions and fried chicken catered from their sister restaurant Catfish Charlie’s, we explored the two-story yacht.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a ride on The American Lady Yacht Cruise.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a ride on The American Lady Yacht Cruise.

The friendly bartender gave us a little insider tip: If you ask the Captain, he’ll let you drive the boat. What?!? The kids couldn’t wait, and literally ran up to the top deck and asked him if they could give it a whirl. He happily obliged. How fun, right?

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a ride on The American Lady Yacht Cruise.

Although the sun may have been hiding behind the clouds and hindered our chance at viewing an epic sunset, we still had a memorable time being on the Mighty Mississippi.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a ride on The American Lady Yacht Cruise.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a ride on The American Lady Yacht Cruise.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a ride on The American Lady Yacht Cruise.

Crystal Lake Cave

Deemed “Iowa’s Largest Show Cave,” Crystal Lake Cave offers a fun kid-friendly cave experience. A friendly tour guide accompanies you as you traverse through the 2 million-year-old cave. We explored through the cave, ducked under mineral formations, trying ever so carefully not to touch the stalactites and stalagmites.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a stop at Crystal Lake Cave.

Throughout the cave, they have different formations with signs. Some formations need a little bit of an imagination to see, but it was still fun trying to decipher.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a stop at Crystal Lake Cave.

We’ve been on other cave adventures and this may have been the first time that we were able to touch a couple formations. (They’ve already been touched before and are no longer growing.) Pretty neat!

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including a stop at Crystal Lake Cave.

Tip: The temperature is a cool 50 degrees so make sure to bring a sweater or light jacket. At some parts of the tour, the floor is wet so wear appropriate shoes. 

 

Art-filled fun

I’m such a fan of street art and was ecstatic to walk around town and view them.

Art can also be found along the Mississippi Riverwalk with their Art on the River sculpture exhibit.

 

Gorgeous, right? Well, read more about the amazing public art that can be found in Dubuque.

Field of Dreams

We really enjoyed our visit to Dubuque. But the fun didn’t end there. We visited the nearby town of Dyersville, known for the Field of Dreams movie site. It was such a memorable experience -baseball fan or not.

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including the Field of Dreams Movie Site.

Places to EAT

After all our exploring, you know that we were always hungry. Luckily for us, Dubuque has plenty of family-friendly options for food. Stay tuned to see where and what we ate.

Places to STAY

Grand Harbor Resort & Waterpark

Family Fun in Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, including waterpark fun at Grand Harbor Resort & Waterpark.

We couldn’t have thought of a better family-friendly place to stay than at Grand Harbor Resort in Waterpark. Located right by the Port of Dubuque, I enjoyed my morning runs along the Mississippi River. It was close enough to downtown that my family and I walked to all the hot spots (Fenelon Place, murals, and restaurants.) But the real fun, of course, was the attached waterpark and arcade.

Stay tuned for an in-depth review.

Disclosure: A big thanks to Travel Dubuque for providing a complimentary stay and attractions to experience all the city has to offer. I was not required to express a particular point of view. All opinions are my own.