Nestled in the heart of the American Midwest, Iowa City is a place where history and modernity intertwine, creating a vibrant and unique destination for residents and visitors alike. As the state’s cultural and intellectual hub, this city exudes an unmistakable charm that beckons exploration.
With roots that stretch back to the early 19th century, Iowa City boasts a rich history that includes serving as the state’s first capital and being home to the prestigious University of Iowa. Today, it stands as a testament to the resilience of its past while embracing the dynamism of the present.
In this article, we will take a journey through the annals of Iowa City’s history, exploring its cultural heritage, academic significance, and contemporary appeal. From its early days as a territorial outpost to its current status as a thriving cultural center, Iowa City has much to offer, making it a captivating destination for those seeking a blend of tradition and progress.
In this article, we will talk about the best 15 things to do in Iowa that have something for everyone!
Things to Do in Iowa City
1. Old Capitol Museum
The Old Capitol Museum was the main government building for the Iowa Territory and the State of Iowa. This historical cornerstone is charming not only by its architecture but also because of its cultural value.
Inside this museum, you will find exhibitions that bring to light the historical legislative side. You can visit a supreme court chamber and explore the second-floor rotunda, where you will find temporary exhibitions and cultural events. The museum also offers tours such as self-guided tours, in-person tours, and guided virtual tours.
Note that you will need at least two hours to absorb the cultural and architectural beauty of this place. The Old Capitol Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Self-guided tours are free but there will be a free for group guided tours.
2. Downtown Iowa City
You can’t miss the beauty of Downtown Iowa City, as it will charm you at first glance. The downtown area is across from the old Capitol, and it is very vibrant regardless of the season you choose to visit.
Here you will find plenty of shops and restaurants, bookshops, and galleries that will keep you occupied. There are also beautiful street decorations such as colorful benches and corners, where you can take creative pictures and find inspiration.
You can spend an entire afternoon here enjoying street performers, local eateries, and plenty of interesting stores. Also, in the evening, you will find different dining options to enjoy specialties and local cuisine.
Plus, the events that take place in Downtown Iowa such as the City Jazz Festival will give you great entertaining experiences.
3. University of Iowa Museum of Natural History
The University of Iowa is a central, cultural piece of the city. It was founded in 1847, and today, it brings more than 30,000 students to its campus every year. As part of the University, you will find the Museum of Natural History which has exhibits of anthropology and zoology that will fascinate every scientist enthusiast.
You will spend at least three to four hours here, exploring geological items, and learning about different animal species from the region but also from around the world. The museum takes its visitors on a journey of discovering ancient species and present ones too.
You can visit the University of Iowa Museum of Natural History from Wednesday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There is no fee for enjoying this cultural gem but donations are encouraged.
4. Hickory Hill Park
If you are a lover of nature and outdoor activities, you will fall in love with Hickory Hill Park in Iowa City. You will find this park in northside Iowa City, and it spreads over more than 180 acres. It is a popular park for hikers and everyone who loves nature. Photographers come here to snap artistic pictures as the area is very generous for that type of art.
You will find trails for beginners but also ones for more experienced hikers. It is a perfect place for bird-watching and jogging too. The main entrance to the park is off Rochester Avenue. The park is open all year round, and there is parking available all around it.
5. Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum
Just a short drive from Iowa City, this museum is dedicated to the life and presidency of Herbert Hoover. Explore fascinating exhibits about the Great Depression, World War I, and Hoover’s humanitarian efforts. Expect to spend a half day here.
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is an impressive Presidential Library, administered by the National Archives and Records Administration. It was opened for the public in 1962 and it is rich in not only books but also documents, interesting photographs and items that are connected to Hoover’s life and professional path.
6. FilmScene at the Chauncey
For cinema enthusiasts, the FilmScene at Chauncey is one of the best places in Iowa City. This is a premiere, non-profit cinema that presents local but also international documentaries and films. All the projections come with impeccable sound quality and an exquisite cinematic experience.
Besides watching great movies, this place will also offer you a cultural and educational experience. FilmScene at the Chauncey is open all year-round and showtimes take place in the morning and in the evening.
You can purchase your tickets online and there are also membership options that can turn out to be very useful if you plan to check out more projections.
7. Hancher Auditorium
Hancher Auditorium is another place where you can see incredible art. The auditorium has world-class acoustics, a beautiful architecture and it is home to plenty of premium performances.
This auditorium was named after Virgil M. Hancher, one of the most significant presidents of the University of Iowa, and was opened in 1972. In 2008, the building suffered severe damage due to a flood and it was built again in 2016.
You can purchase tickets online or by phone but also at the Hancher box office. Make sure you book the tickets in advance because this is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists.
Find the Hancher Auditorium at the address 141 East Park Road, Iowa City IA 52242-1132.
8. Iowa Avenue Literary Walk
If you love books and literature, the Literary Walk in Iowa City is for you! This sidewalk path brings to light famous authors that are somehow connected to Iowa.
The Literary Walk presents a series of bronze panels set along Iowa Avenue. Each panel has a quote or a book excerpt from a famous author and you will find some that you already love and read. You will find names that are native Iowans but also authors that graduated from the University of Iowa.
This Lit Sidewalk is accessible the entire year and there is no admission fee. It is the perfect place to take a walk and learn about local literature figures.
9. Devonian Fossil Gorge
The Devonian Fossil Gorge is an ancient sea bed located in Coralville Lake. It reveals the Devonian Period fossils which allow you to go back in time with 375 million years. Paleontologists and children alike are fascinated by this place and you will not regret checking it out either.
The Devonian Fossil Gorge became an accessible site in 1993 and it was revealed completely in 2008 after two major flooding events. It became an educational site fast and tourists as well as locals started to discover its beauties.
Here you can not just see but also touch fossils of marine creatures such as gastropods, corals, crinoids and brachiopods.
There is no fee for visiting this site and it is open the entire year.
10. Iowa Children’s Museum
Attractions made especially for children don’t come easy but this Iowa Children’s Museum is exactly what you need. Children of all ages will love this interactive museum as it has plenty of exhibits that help them learn new things through playtime.
The Iowa Children’s Museum is located in Coralville just a few miles from Iowa City, and it has everything a child needs to be inspired and explore their creative side.
The museum is open Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm and the admission fee is $10 for both children and adults. Children under 1 year have free entrance.
11. Prairie Lights
Prairie Lights is a place dedicated to literature enthusiasts. This bookstore offers regular author readings and a cozy cafe to relax at. You can enjoy a generous selection of books and spend several hours here.
The size of the bookstore is impressive by itself, with three and a half floors full of culture. You can find the latest bestseller books or rare novels and even unique works by Iowan authors. Iowa City has a status as a UNESCO City of Literature and Prairie Lights honors this title entirely.
The bookstore is open Monday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
12. The University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art
The Stanley Museum houses a generous selection of over 14,000 items that are representative of the history of art. It covers the artistic field from ancient times to contemporary art. The museum was founded in 1969 and it became one of the best university art collections in America.
The museum hosts the best African art collection and paintings by famous artists such as Pablo Picasso, Grant Wood and Henri Matisse.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday and it is closed Monday. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday you can visit between 10:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
On Thursdays, the visiting hours are 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and Sundays the museum is open from 12:00 pm to 4:40 p.m.
13. Haunted Iowa City Tour
If you are looking for a good scare, there is nothing better than a haunted tour in Iowa City. The city has many ghost stories to unveil alone or with your favorite friends. The haunted Iowa City tours are often led by researchers and authors that can help you understand and appreciate the entire experience.
Such a tour will take you through the eerie side of Iowa City, and you will discover ghostly sightings and tales that will captivate you. If you are a fan of supernatural and historic sites, you will most likely appreciate this side of Iowa City.
These tours are a great adventure for participants of all ages, but some intense stories might not be recommended for young children. Such a tour also takes a lot of walking, so make sure you are ready for the journey. Dress in comfortable clothes and wear the most comfortable shoes you have.
You will find more tours available during the Halloween season, but regardless of the time of the year you plan to join, it is wise to book your ticket in advance to make sure you catch a tour.
14. Kinnick Stadium
If you like football and sports in general, the Kinnick Stadium should definitely be on your to-do list while you are in Iowa City. This stadium is home to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes and each game here has an electric energy that will captivate everyone.
The Kinnick Stadium was founded in 1929, and it was originally known as the Iowa Stadium. It acquired its current name in 1972, in honor of Nile Kinnick who was the winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1939 and the only winner that comes from the University of Iowa.
You will be charmed by the design of the stadium which is in the shape of a bowl which creates an intimate atmosphere that makes all games even more intense. Find this stadium on the west side of the University of Iowa campus and book your ticket online!
15. Amana Colonies
The colonies were founded by German Pietists, in the 19th century. They were established as a separate, religious society within the United States. All seven villages are High Amana, Middle Amana, Homestead, Amana (or Main Amana), East Amana, West Amana, and South Amana. People here lived in a communal structure, outside the American system, until the 20th century.