Destination Dubuque: Tips for a Great Visit

Dubuque from the top of the Fenelon Place Elevator 2016

I am seldom a casual tourist in Dubuque, Iowa. Because my parents-in-law live there, I’m more likely to visit the local Hy-Vee than the Mississippi Riverfront. But last week, for the first time in many years, we visited the attractions in downtown Dubuque. Now I’m convinced the historic downtown and riverfront areas would make a wonderful weekend getaway. Here’s what I would do.

Four Must-See Destinations:

  1. Fenelon Place Elevator. Located amid a charming row of local shops, the Fourth Street Elevator (as the locals call it) carries passengers from Fourth Street at the bottom to Fenelon Place at the top—189 feet in elevation. Climb in at the bottom and ring the bell. The operator will put the car in motion. At the top, be prepared to pay cash–$2.50 per customer—for your ride. Then enjoy the panoramic views before riding down again. Learn more here.

  2. Detail of Tiffany window at St. Luke's Church Dubuque, IowaTiffany Windows at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 1199 Main Street. Built in 1897, St. Luke’s boasts nineteen Louis Comfort Tiffany windows. The nine largest windows, which line the sanctuary, are priceless works of art. The church is open to visitors, and provides a short video explaining the history and art of the Tiffany windows. DON’T MISS THIS! Photographs don’t do justice to the beauty of these windows. Learn more here.
  3. Mississippi Riverwalk Dubuque IowaMississippi Riverwalk. Wide sidewalks, park benches and beautiful landscaping make the Riverwalk an outdoor treat. It anchors one end of the 44-mile Heritage Trail, so bring your bike or your hiking shoes, and venture as far as you like. (If you go the whole 44 miles, you’ll end up in Dyersville, home of the Field of Dreams.) If you’re not up for a hike, the Riverwalk is a great place to watch the Mississippi, sip wine from Stone Cliff Winery, or learn about the historic Dubuque Shot Tower. The Riverwalk can take all day or just 30 minutes, depending on your tastes. Learn more here.
  4. National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. This award-winning natural history museum uses aquariums, interactive exhibits, and living history demonstrations to tell the story of the Mississippi river. Fun for all ages. Learn more here.

Two Treats in the Surrounding Area:

  1. Highway 52 north of Dubuque, Iowa
    Gorgeous! Highway 52 has the views.

    For a gorgeous scenic drive, take Highway 52 north out of Dubuque. Pass through Durango, and climb Gillespie Hill (a hill so scary it has a name) to experience some of my favorite scenery anywhere. Here’s your best round-trip route: Hwy 52 to the Luxemburg four-way stop. Left on Highway 136 to Dyersville. Go through Dyersville on 136, then take Hwy 20 east. Highway 20 will carry you back to downtown Dubuque. Total time: 90 minutes. (There’s no website for this. You’re just going to have to trust me.)

  2. Historic Galena, Illinois, is a 25-minute drive from downtown Dubuque. Galena could be a weekend destination of its own. Learn more about Galena’s shops and historic sites here.

Where to Stay:

  1. The Grand Harbor Resort and Water Park will place you on the riverfront, with all the amenities of a traditional hotel.
  2. The Redstone Inn is a large bed and breakfast in the heart of downtown. If you’re looking for the B&B experience, this one has a long history of good service. Within walking distance of the Fenelon Place Elevator.
  3. The Hotel Julien, a newly renovated historic hotel, bills itself as a boutique hotel. Prices here are slightly higher than at the other two I’ve listed, but the extra bells and whistles may be worth exploring.

Where to Eat:

  1. Several new, local restaurants have opened in the downtown area over the past few years. Since my mother-in-law’s cooking is wonderful, I have no experience with any of them. For an enticing list of the newest and best, go to this website.
  2. One old stalwart bears mention. Yen Ching, 926 Main Street, serves great American Chinese food. The restaurant doesn’t look like much—if you want atmosphere, try the above list—but the service and food are excellent.

    Hwy 52 (2)
    Hwy 52 again. I can’t help it. It’s just so beautiful.


  1. Tom and I have talked about never being in Dubuque for years…and wanting to experience it. Now, Jane, you have given us the inspiration and details for DOING IT!! I think Peter and Sue have been there at least once. Perhaps this fall will be our time! Thanks for the excellent resource guide!!!

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