Dubuque, originally settled in 1788 by Canadian fur trader Julien Dubuque, was among the booming river towns during the golden age of steamboats, and is known today as Iowa’s “Masterpiece on the Mississippi.”
Dubuque’s diverse cultural history is most notably celebrated in its historic downtown and riverfront areas, where you can explore the city’s rich heritage in some uniquely wonderful ways that offer a nod to the past.
For a steamboat era experience, take a paddleboat excursion with Dubuque River Rides aboard the Spirit of Dubuque. The Spirit has been showcasing the vast history and beauty of the Dubuque area for more than 20 years with a variety of cruises to fit into everyone’s schedule. This replica sternwheeler vessel features the signature steamboat smokestacks, a scalloped canopy over the open-air deck, and opulent Victorian decor throughout the enclosed dining salon. The gangway and dining area are also handicapped accessible for standard wheelchairs. Other excursion options include the Celebration Belle and Riverboat Twilight.
The Summer Trolley beckons back to the days of Dubuque’s steam- and electric-powered streetcar trolley system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The trolley is still a great way to get around Dubuque, and in the summertime everyone rides for free! The summer trolley operates Saturdays from Memorial Day weekend through the end of October and provides access to major park and recreation spots including Eagle Point Park, Schmitt Island, and the Port of Dubuque.
The Port of Dubuque is the perfect place to stroll through the bygone days of Dubuque. Here you will find the Mississippi Riverwalk; the National Landmark Shot Tower; the Star Brewery building; and the renowned National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium—an impressive riverfront museum campus that showcases the history of Dubuque and the entire Mississippi River region, plus the animal and aquatic life of the Mississippi and Gulf waters.
Journey back to the late 1800s and travel by Dubuque’s original streetcar, the horse-drawn carriage. Dubuque by Carriage offers daily narrated tours of five historic districts: Original First Square Mile, Ice Harbor and Mississippi Riverfront, Victorian Mansions, Mansion Row, Buildings on the National Historic Register, and Cable Car Square—where you may enjoy a treat from the ice-cream parlor, buy a souvenir, browse the antique stores, or take a ride on the world-famous 4th Street Fenelon Place Elevator.
…And if you need a place to stay, the Hotel Julien offers both elegant accommodations and historical appeal. Located on the corner of 2nd and Main streets since 1839, the hotel is within short walking distance to local shops, restaurants, and long-standing entertainment venues like the Five Flags Center and the Grand Opera House. More historical options include Bed & Breakfasts or for even more option consider the Grand Harbor Resort & Waterpark, Holiday Inn Dubuque/Galena and more.