If you’re looking for the best things to do in Iowa City, IA, then you’ve come to the right place!
I was born and raised in Ohio, and I’ve spent a lot of time traveling around the Midwest.
Iowa is a state that often gets overlooked when people are planning vacations and places to visit in the Midwest.
But it really shouldn’t be! There are tons of unique and fun things to do in Iowa, and that includes exploring Iowa City.
Iowa City is in eastern Iowa and is the home of the University of Iowa.
However, there’s more to this charming Iowa town than just the university.
You’ll also find museums, the state’s first Capitol Building, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and so much more.
If you’re looking for a unique vacation getaway in the Midwest, then you’ll want to consider a visit to Iowa City.
So, let’s take a look at 15 of the best things to do in Iowa City, IA.
15 Things To Do In Iowa City IA You shouldn’t Miss
Explore The Devonian Fossil Gorge
One of the coolest activities in Iowa City is taking a trip to the Devonian False Gorge.
The Devonian Fossil Gorge is located in Iowa City, near Coralville Lake.
In fact, the fossil gorge was discovered in 1993 when the lake flooded, and then again in 2008.
So what exactly is the Devonian Fossil Gorge?
Well, about 375 million, yes, million, years ago, it was part of the ocean floor!
That means that these fossils are 200 million years older than dinosaurs.
Today, you can explore the gorge and see these truly ancient fossils.
There is a guided trail that takes you through the gorge where you’ll find information on some of the most intact fossils.
There are few places in the US where you can see examples of life before the dinosaurs even roamed the earth. And one of the coolest places to go camping in Iowa.
So, it’s pretty cool that one of them is this unique attraction in Iowa City!
Learn About The History Of Iowa At The Old Capitol Museum
Many people don’t know that Iowa City was actually the first capital city of Iowa.
When it was the capital city, the Capitol Building was built.
Today, it’s known as the Old Capitol Building. That’s because the capital eventually moved to Des Moines, which is another cool Iowa city to explore.
The Old Capitol Building was built in 1842 and became a Nationally Registered Historic Landmark in 1976.
It’s now part of the University of Iowa campus and is one of the most easily recognizable buildings in Iowa.
Inside the building today, you’ll find a museum dedicated to the history of Iowa and Iowa City.
The museum is open to the public and has free admission for self-guided tours.
However, you’ll only be able to visit on Friday or Saturday, from 10 am to 5 pm.
If you want to visit on a weekday, you’ll need to arrange a special tour.
The Old Capitol Building is one of the most prominent Iowa City attractions and you’ll definitely want to check it out.
The Museum Of Natural History Is One Of The Best Things To Do In Iowa City
You’ll find the Museum of Natural History on the University of Iowa campus.
The museum was originally founded in 1858 and has continually grown in size since then.
Today, it is one of the best things to do in Iowa City, especially if you are visiting with kids.
Like the Old Capitol Building, the museum is only open on Friday and Saturday, from 10 am to 5 pm.
Entrance to the museum is free, but it’s suggested that you make at least a $5 donation to help keep the museum running.
Inside, you’ll find tons of exhibits that detail the natural history of Iowa and the city of Iowa City.
There is the Iowa Hall, which is a hallway that takes you through 500 million years of natural Iowa history.
They also have a hall of birds, which features now extinct examples of birds, and the Biosphere Discovery Hub.
You could easily spend a few hours exploring this attraction in Iowa City.
Visit The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library And Museum
The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is actually just outside of Iowa City, in West Branch.
It’s just a short 15-minute drive west of the city of Iowa City.
So, while it’s not directly in Iowa City, it’s worth the short drive to visit.
Herbert Hoover was the 31st President of the United States and was inaugurated in 1929.
The museum and library are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm and cost $10 to enter.
Inside, you’ll find exhibits on Hoover’s personal life, his presidential accomplishments, and more.
History lovers will really enjoy exploring this attraction while spending time in Iowa City.
Explore The Iowa Avenue Literary Walk
Iowa City is actually one of only 2 US cities to be a designated UNESCO Literary City.
That’s because Iowa, and the city of Iowa City, have a long list of authors with ties to the state and city.
There are 49 poets, novelists, playwrights, and journalists with ties to Iowa and Iowa City.
To honor those ties, the city created the Iowa Avenue Literary Walk in 2000.
The designated trail is full of examples of literature, art, and informational stations regarding the 49 authors.
Each stop features a quote either by the author or their most famous work, a picture or painting, and some basic information about the author.
Along the trail, you’ll also be able to stop at independent book stores and other boutiques within the city.
It’s a one-of-a-kind activity in Iowa City that everyone will enjoy, especially on a pretty day!
Experience Roadside America And See The World’s Largest Wooden Nickel
One thing that makes traveling in the Midwest, and the US in general, is the many fun roadside hidden attractions.
The US is a huge country, and sometimes you can drive for miles and miles and not see a single thing.
So, as highways began sprouting up across the country, fun roadside attractions quickly followed.
They include things like large balls of yarn, giant metal grasshoppers, or if you’re in Iowa City, the World’s Largest Wooden Nickel.
The World’s Largest Nickel was erected in Iowa City in 2006, as a protest against the widening of the highway that is right by the nickel.
It’s made from southern yellow pine and weighs around 4,000 pounds.
If you’re looking for fun things to do in Iowa City, you can’t go wrong taking a brief trip to see the World’s Largest Wooden Nickel.
Walk Through The Oakland Cemetery And Visit The Black Angel
The Oakland Cemetery has become one of the more popular Iowa City attractions over the years.
It was first established in 1843 and has been the main cemetery in the city since then.
However, that’s not why people have started visiting this 40-acre cemetery.
What has made the Oakland Cemetery so popular to visit is the stunning Black Angel sculpture.
The Black Angel was erected in the cemetery in 1913 as a memorial for a man named Nicholas Feldevert.
Along with the Black Angel are the ashes of several members of the Feldevert family.
Over the years, it has become a well-visited piece of art by students and locals in Iowa City.
On Halloween night, people gather around the statue and indulge in the superstitions that now surround the stunning sculptural piece.
If you’re looking for an adventure that is a little spooky, then this is easily one of the top things to do at night in Iowa City.
The Stanley Museum Of Art Is One Of The Most Fun Things To Do In Iowa City
The Stanley Museum of Art is an incredibly new art museum in Iowa City.
In fact, it doesn’t fully open until August 2022!
It’s being rebuilt 14 years after being closed due to a devastating flood in its original building on the University of Iowa campus.
While the building is being completed, the art museum is hosting events in other spaces on the campus of the University of Iowa.
The galleries are open from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4:30 pm, and Sundays from 12 pm to 4:30 pm. On Thursdays, the galleries stay open late, until 8 pm.
Inside the museum, you’ll find a wide variety of art from collections that have been in the possession of the art gallery since the 1940s.
Artists in the collection include Jackson Pollock, Joan Miro, Ansel Adams, Chunghi Choo, and more.
There are examples of sculpture, photography, paintings, drawings, and ceramics.
The museum and gallery also have art from Africa, Asia, the Oceanic region, and Indigenous peoples.
You’ll be able to see a wide variety of cultures and artworks when you explore this brand new Iowa City attraction.
Learn About Iowa’s German Heritage At The Amana Colonies
The Amana Colonies are another thing to do in Iowa City that is actually not directly in the city.
You’ll find the Amana Colonies in Amana, which is about 30 minutes away from the heart of Iowa City.
However, it’s a short drive, which makes it one of the most visited attractions near Iowa City.
The Amana Colonies are actually 7 different villages located on over 26,000 acres, which is right by the city of Iowa City.
When you cross the border of the Amana Colonies, you’ll instantly feel like you’ve been transported to a quaint German village.
The colonies have a wide variety of attractions and activities to explore.
There are restaurants, unique boutiques, art galleries, and history museums located within the different colonies.
Throughout the year, they also host a variety of German-inspired festivals that are fun for the whole family.
Spend The Day At Coralville Lake
When the sun is shining, a great Iowa City activity is going swimming at Coralville Lake.
Coralville Lake is a man-made lake in the city of Iowa City, IA.
Its main purpose is to provide flood control for the area, using the Coralville Dam.
However, it’s also a top recreation area in the city.
Coralville Lake has a nice park with a playground, areas for swimming, boating, and over 500 campsites.
Because it’s so big and offers so many different Iowa City activities in one spot, it’s a really popular place to hang out in the warm months.
Stop by one of the many restaurants in Iowa City to grab a picnic lunch, or pack your own, and spend the day exploring Coralville Lake.
A day at Coralville Lake can easily be transformed into a romantic outing. Which also makes it one of the best things to do for couples in Iowa City.
Walk Around The University Of Iowa Campus
If you’re looking for a fun thing to do in Iowa City that is free, consider exploring the University of Iowa campus.
The university was founded in 1847 and the campus is full of some stunning pieces of architecture.
While you walk around campus, you’ll see architectural examples from all kinds of different styles.
There are more traditional buildings, like the Old Capitol Building, or more modern pieces of architecture like the Iowa Advanced Technology Laboratories.
The IATL building was designed by the famed modern architect, Frank Gehry.
You can also see some beautifully landscaped lawns, museums, and more to explore on the University of Iowa campus.
Learn About Early Iowa History At The Plum Grove Historic House
The Plum Grove Historic House is an important piece of Iowa City history.
That’s because the house belonged to Robert Lucas and his family.
Lucas was the first Governor of the Territory of Iowa and was appointed by President Van Buren in 1838.
Robert Lucas served as Governor until 1841, and then after a few years of living in Ohio, he and his family returned to Iowa.
When they returned in 1844, they built Plum Grove on over 360 acres of land.
Robert Lucas and his family lived in the home until Robert’s death in 1853. Years later, his wife sold the remaining land and the home.
The state of Iowa bought the home in the 1940s and after years of restoration, the house was opened to the public in 1946.
It has been restored to look how it would have when the Lucas family originally lived there in the 1840s and 1850s.
You can tour the house for free and learn more about the Lucas family and Iowa when it was a territory at this unique Iowa City attraction.
Take The Whole Family To The Iowa Children’s Museum
If you’re traveling to the city of Iowa City with the whole family, I suggest taking a trip to the Iowa Children’s Museum.
The museum is actually located in Coralville, which is right on the outskirts of the city.
So, it’s just a short 15-minute drive to get there, and definitely worth it.
You can visit the museum Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm and the admission fee is $9 each.
Inside, you’ll find tons of cool exhibits that make this one of the best things to do in Iowa City.
Kids can explore the huge learning laboratory, make their own songs in the music room, create pieces of art in the studio, and so much more.
You and your family could easily spend a few hours exploring the different rooms and hands-on exhibits at this super fun Iowa City attraction.
Strolling Through Hickory Hill Park Is One Of The Best Things To Do In Iowa City
You’ll find Hickory Hill Park in northeast Iowa City.
It is a massive park that includes over 190 acres of beautiful woods, fields, and prairies.
A stroll through Hickory Hill Park is a great thing to do for couples in Iowa City because the landscape is so pretty.
It’s a perfect and simple date idea!
There are plenty of walking trails, picnic pavilions, and benches to sit and enjoy the views.
As you walk the trails, you’ll be able to see plenty of native plants and animals, especially if you visit on a nice day.
It’s a simple Iowa City activity, but it’s also one of the best!
Learn About Automobile History At The Antique Car Museum Of Iowa
The Antique Car Museum of Iowa is just outside of Iowa City, in Coralville.
It’s just a short drive from the heart of the city of Iowa City to the museum in Coralville.
If you are a lover of automobiles and automotive history, then it’s worth the short drive to Coralville.
The museum has over 80 automobiles on display. Some of them date from 1899 and the newest in the collection is from 1965.
Inside the museum, there is also an original Skelly Gas Station and a large collection of antique Iowa license plates on display.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday from 12 pm to 5 pm.
To visit the museum, there is a $10 admission fee for adults and $5 for children aged 7 to 12.
It’s a super cool thing to do in Iowa City and you’ll have a ton of fun looking at how automobiles have changed throughout the years.
Packing List When Searching For Things To Do In Iowa City IA
If you are searching, here are some tips on how to pack lightly when packing to visit Iowa City.
A concealed travel pouch may be one of the most important items you bring along when traveling to Iowa City. It is always important to protect your personal information. Identity thieves are everywhere.
This unisex RFID blocking concealed travel pouch is lightweight and comes in several colors. It has lots of organization to give you peace of mind. You can place it under your clothes next to your body to carry your ID safely.
If you have a pouch already that does not come with the RFID protection, as I do, these RFID sleeves are the perfect solution.
If you are planning on taking a lot of pictures with your phone you will definitely want to consider an external charging battery. This Anker high-speed phone charging battery is the exact one I carry with me on all of my trips.
I like that it holds its charging capabilities for several uses so I do not have to worry about it while out and about, and if I forget to recharge it at night, it will still be good to go the next day.
My daughter gifted me with this FugeTek selfie stick and tripod setup for my birthday. I absolutely love it! It is made of lightweight aluminum and is so easy to use.
It has Bluetooth connectivity and is a breeze to use for taking Insta-worthy selfies while attending events in Iowa City Iowa.
I never much believed in using packing cubes when traveling. That is until I tried them. Now I am hooked. These are the exact cubes I use to stay organized when I pack for a trip!
You will want to bring your own refillable water bottle with you.
I never leave home on a trip without my Bobble filtration bottle. The 18.5-ounce size is perfect for your adventures and it fits nicely in the pocket of a backpack.
Perhaps you are traveling a long distance and packing space is a premium in your suitcase, or in your car. Then this set of collapsible silicone foldable water bottles would work well for you. Would not take up much space at all.
You will want a backpack or daypack with you to store snacks, your water bottle, phone, extra clothes, etc.. . No matter the time of day or evening.
This foldable water-resistant backpack would be great. And it comes in many different colors.
Many of the things to do in Iowa City center around its long and unique history.
There are few places in the Midwest where you’ll be able to see 350 million-year-old fossils.
Or a Capitol Building that was built in 1842, and examples of modern architecture in one place.
That’s part of what makes Iowa City attractions so unique and fun to explore!