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Rediscovering the Magic in Dubuque
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Rediscovering the Magic in Dubuque

Growing up in Dubuque, I never properly learned to appreciate it as the beautiful and fascinating treasure it is. The Irish- and German-built streets were simply a way to get around; national landmarks like the Shot Tower and the Fourth Street Elevator were just old-timey hulks, easily ignored.

On a recent return to my hometown, I was able to see the city through the eyes of a tourist, and rediscovered the magic of some old favorites. Here’s how you can discover some of the magic yourself.

The Best Views in Town

On the northern edge of the city—on the precipice of the highest riverside bluffs—Eagle Point Park offers the best views of the Wisconsin woods, the Upper Mississippi floodplain between the bluffs, and Lock and Dam no. 11. This dam, part of a river-wide system, manages the water levels to prevent flooding and keeps the Mississippi navigable for the hundreds of cargo barges chugging along every day. If you walk along the length of the viewpoint—and you should—you may be around long enough to see a barge lock through the dam, a long but interesting process.

For a better view of the historic city, visit the famous Fourth Street Elevator. This short rope-driven railroad was built by a wealthy businessman who worked at river level downtown and lived at the top of a steep bluff. Wishing for an easy way to run home for a nap over his lunch hour, he built this steep cable car system first for himself before opening it to the public.

From the upper deck of the elevator, two observation decks—lower than the bluffs at Eagle Point Park—offer a commanding view of downtown Dubuque. The old town clock, the Julien Dubuque Bridge, the Shot Tower, and a number of other Dubuque favorites can all be clearly seen.

After admiring the view, take the elevator downtown ($3.00 round-trip) to enjoy the many bars and cafes, including...

Paul's Tap

For many, nothing says "USA! USA!" like a glass (or can) of cheap, thin lager at a seedy dive bar. In Dubuque, you can't get much better than Paul's Tap (2nd & Locust) for the quintessential American experience.

Make sure to try the scoop, a glass goblet kept in a freezer and topped off with your tap beer of choice, and the surprisingly cheap (and surprisingly good) burgers, cooked to order on a possibly-never-been-cleaned grill. After enough burgers and beers, the many stuffed trophy animal heads on the wall might start to speak to you.

Walk the River

Whenever you are in Dubuque, try to get in touch with its most iconic landmark: the Mississippi itself. The newly redeveloped Port of Dubuque is full of riverside things to see and do. The National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium is a must-visit for first-timers and families, and gamblers will appreciate a visit to the Diamond Jo Casino complex. The Grand Harbor Resort and Grand River Center round out the attractions of this formerly abandoned industrial district, now booming with locals and tourists. Behind the resort and convention center, take a walk on the beautiful Mississippi Riverwalk to enjoy unobstructed views of the Mighty Miss itself.

At the end of the riverwalk, see the red and white bricks of the Shot Tower. One of the few such towers still standing in the US, this 1856 beauty once produced round lead bullets for the military. Molten lead was poured through a screen at the top of the tower, and was rounded into uniform spheres by the air as it fell into the cooling tank at the bottom.

Nearby, finish the riverside experience at Stone Cliff Winery in the former Dubuque Star Beer brewery—don’t miss the large collection of old brewing equipment and Dubuque Star history on display. Enjoy a glass of wine; watch the sunset paint the river and the Illinois bank red and gold; and reflect on the good times you had in Dubuque, the Masterpiece on the Mississippi.


Cory Hanson grew up in Dubuque and lived most of his life in Iowa before becoming a travel writer and relocating to Dublin, Ireland. His writing has appeared in various print and Web publications. Find his free Dublin ebook, The Frugal Guide: Dublin, and more travel writing at

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  1. Travel Iowa
    Travel Iowa
    Dubuque is such a fantastic place! Thanks for this awesome post about a truly great Iowa destination.
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