Visit Dubuque In Winter - What To Do, At Every Budget!

bridge over the Missisppi River in Debuque

I went to Debuque this weekend, and it was lovely! Despite it being February! If you need to get out of the house due to some winter cabin fever, use a sunny day to drive to Dubuque and enjoy Iowa's favorite port city. As a fan of budget travel, I have made sure to note what everything costs as of February 2023. Most entries are also family friendly.

Free things to do:

A heart shaped outdoor sculpture
Sculpture on the Dubuque River Walk 

Walk the River Walk

This is pretty well known, but it’s known for a reason. The Marina area has beautiful views of bridges and bluffs over the Mississippi, as well as public art displays. It’s also very close to many other paid activities, and there is access to free parking. (note: Dubuque charges for parking in most downtown areas. Bring quarters, unless you research free parking ahead of time.) 

Mines of Spain Recreation Area

Another free favorite in Dubuque, Iowa. This park offers great hiking and lookout points over the river. Keep in mind that when we visited, the road to Julien Dubuque monument was blocked off and also piled with snow, so you will have to take the long way if you need to check it off your list. I highly recommend taking a picnic lunch with you, to make a short hike extra special. 

Downtown Art, Window Shopping, and Sight-Seeing

Dubuque is famous within Iowa for its density of public art. Make sure you keep your eyes peeled for murals. You can also find a historical rail elevator that used to be used by the well-to-do to go up and down the steep cliff into town. (In the summers, you can pay to ride it). There are also a variety of shops, including a yarn shop, a bookstore, numerous bars and restaurants, sweet shops, an Irish shop and a clock shop. I actually bought some yarn from Yarn Soup, and the shopkeeper was very helpful!

Home goods arranged in a shop
Local art and home goods store in the Kennedy Mall, Dubuque

Take a Loop Through Kennedy Mall

Most malls are dead, or dying. Not this one. In addition to a small collection of “traditional” mall shops, this one has a few fun additions that help keep bodies in the building. First, it has a large shop full of locally made art and homegoods, which I really enjoyed looking through. Secondly, it has a collection of experience based shops, including a ceramic painting studio and a kids entertainment zone. If you want to relive those 2000’s mall trips, this is a solid choice. 

$15 and Under

This category has activities that will always cost $15 or lower per person.  

Two personal sized pizzas
Personal sized taco pizza and personal sized philly cheesesteak pizza from Happy Joe's in Dubuque

Eat Taco Pizza at Happy Joe’s, an Iowa Original.

Did you know that taco pizza was invented in Iowa? Happy Joe’s claims to have invented the concept in Davenport Iowa. Historians haven’t really proven the fact indefinitely, but it is safe to say that Happy’s was the first to serve it in Iowa, and appears to have developed it independently. The legend goes that when an employee was told that tacos could not be sold at a pizza joint, somebody improvised and the results were delicious! You can get a personal sized pizza for around 9 bucks, or share a larger pie with a friend.

Dubuque Museum of Art

This museum features new exhibits regularly, so it's impossible to say what exactly will be available when you visit. Check their website for programming. Adult passes are $8 normally, but are free on Thursdays. Passes are also free to those using SNAP, and for active military and veterans.

Taste Some Local Brews or Wine At Historic Star Brewing

Near the river is the building where Dubuque Star brewing once operated. Now, it's a snazzy winery and bar. There is also a display on the building’s history, which was added as part of the America’s Rivers project. The city also uses the adjacent amphitheater to host public events and festivals. A round of wine tasting or a flight of beers will cost between $12 and $15.

$30 and Under

This category has activities that will always cost $30 or lower per person.  

An otter swimming in its enclosure at the Mississippi River Museum
An otter swimming at the Nation Mississippi River Museum

The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

I highly recommend you do this first, if you plan to do a multi-day trip or hit multiple venues in Dubuque. This museum and aquarium is fantastic and totally worth the admission ticket. It provides so much wonderful context on the history and ecology of Dubuque. Without the river, there would be no Dubuque. Steam boats, flooding patterns, and animal life all play a part in the story, and the curators have told that story in a way that is perfect for both adults and children. Read more about it here. General admission tickets for adults are $20.

Grand Harbor Waterpark

This riverside hotel hosts an indoor water park - a perfect respite from the cold, with waterslides and a hot tub. Ticket prices are variable. Thursdays are only $5, but a Saturday can cost $24 for an adult. Alternatively, if you were looking for lodging anyway, hotel guests get free admission.

Splurge - over $30 per person

Sundown Mountain Skiing

I have not gone yet, but I would like to! This venue caters to skiers and snowboarders. (Sorry for those who prefer sledding and tubbing) While skiing can be a bit expensive, Sundown offers a pretty reasonable beginners package of a rental, and lift ticket for the beginners area only at $47. If you outgrow the bunny hills, you can upgrade your lift ticket for an additional fee. If you have your own equipment, the beginner lift ticket costs $22. For a standard rental and lift ticket, expect to pay $65 to $90 depending on the day and time. See more details about prices here.

What did you think?

If you found this blog helpful, or thought I missed an important activity, comment below! For more information about activities in Dubuque, visit the cities' tourism website here.


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