A pretty Mississippi River enclave, Dubuque is the oldest city in the state and has a strong Victorian ambience. The city is part of a picturesque, hilly region that offers recreational activities such as winter skiing and spelunking.

To get a good overview of the area, including the Mississippi and the neighboring states of Illinois and Wisconsin, ride the Fenelon Place Elevator—this inclined railway was built in 1882 and is billed as the world's shortest, steepest scenic railway. The city's historic architecture is on display at Cable Car Square, an area of restored homes that now houses antiques stores and arts-and-crafts shops. The Old Jail Art Gallery is a cast-iron building from the 1850s—it's one of only a handful of Egyptian revival buildings still in existence. Another unusual building is the Old Shot Tower, located on the Mississippi, which was originally used for molding lead shot in the 1800s.

The Mississippi riverfront in Dubuque has undergone a dramatic transformation in recent years. Its centerpiece is the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. Its exhibits explore the cultural and natural history of America's most famous river. Don't miss the display of playful otters. You can also walk the decks of the William M. Black, a restored dredge boat almost the size of a football field. Explore the river on board the Celebration Belle, the Spirit of Dubuque (an authentic paddlewheeler), or the Miss Dubuque. Spend the night at the Grand Harbor Resort and Indoor Waterpark, a hotel with enclosed water rides, for a splashing good time no matter the time of year. Dubuque also has many historic inns and bed and breakfasts.

There are some good spots to get outdoors in the Dubuque area. We enjoyed the roses and other indigenous plants at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, located in Marshall Park. During summer, the park hosts free Sunday-evening concerts. Eagle Point Park is located on a high ridge that yields good views of the Mississippi and surrounding countryside. Mines of Spain Recreation Area has 8 mi/13 km of hiking trails that traverse an area of limestone bluffs along the Mississippi. And the Heritage Trail is a 26-mi/40-km hike-and-bike route that follows an old rail line. Indian mounds and abandoned mines can be seen from the trail. Dubuquefest, an arts festival with live entertainment, is held in the city each May.

Not far from Dubuque is New Melleray Abbey, home to a community of 30 Trappist monks. Its beautiful stone church welcomes visitors. Crystal Lake Cave is also just outside town. It contains rare crystal formations known as cave flowers. About 15 mi/25 km southeast of Dubuque is St. Donatus, a village settled by immigrants from Luxembourg. Among its attractions is the lovely Outdoor Way of the Cross, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. And 20 mi/32 km south of Dubuque is Bellevue, home of the Bellevue Butterfly Garden with hundreds of live butterflies. Dubuque is 70 mi/115 km north of Davenport.

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