Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Iowa is a Heartland Tapestry

When people think of Iowa, few expect to find a tapestry of culture, history and lively waterfront cities. But that describes eastern Iowa.

Bordered by the Mississippi River, the region encompasses far more than farmland — think museums, cultural sites, centuries-old buildings and impressive cuisine, although agritourism endeavors worthy of group tours are also part of the mix. Hollywood film locations, beautiful bluff country and worldly attractions are sure to pleasantly surprise any group.


Decorah is best known for its bluffs and its Norwegian American heritage.

The town is in the Driftless Area, the Midwestern region left untouched by glaciers.

“We have an outdoor playground all around us,” said Alyssa Ritter, marketing and community engagement specialist at Visit Decorah. “There’s lots of outdoor opportunities to enjoy and spend your time doing.”

One of Decorah’s most beautiful natural attractions, Dunning’s Spring Park, is home to one of three waterfalls near the city. A short, paved walkway leads to the 200-foot waterfall. There’s also a scenic overlook and trails suitable for active groups.

“We also have a lot of arts, cultural events, entertainment and a fantastic downtown district with numerous restaurants and small businesses,” Ritter said.

In that downtown district, the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum is one of Decorah’s most popular attractions, with more than 33,000 artifacts related to the area’s Norwegian immigrants and their descendants. The museum includes historic buildings, a heritage park, a museum store and a folk-art school where groups can take workshops and make art. The downtown district also has restaurants and shops for groups to explore.

Group-riendly restaurants include Mabe’s Pizza, a family-owned pizzeria, and Rubaiyat, a downtown bistro. Just outside the city, groups can sample what’s on tap at Toppling Goliath Brewery.

Another popular group attraction is Seed Savers Exchange, a seed bank that saves and shares heirloom seeds with farmers and educates the public about farming practices. Groups can buy seeds, attend events and learn what drives the operation’s success.

Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids, bisected by the Cedar River, is a hub of culture in Eastern Iowa. Home to the National Czech and Slovak Library and Museum and The District: Czech Village and New Bohemia, its history has been shaped by Czech and other immigrants. Groups can tour the library and museum, then shop in the district’s specialty stores, boutiques and restaurants.

“We have amazing museums and a culture that has shaped our community,” said Emily Thole, sales and event manager at Cedar Rapids Tourism. “Lots of people who come here have found it’s such a welcoming community. ‘Welcome’ is our language.”

In addition to celebrating its Czech heritage, Cedar Rapids is home to the African American Museum of Iowa, which explores the history and legacy of African Americans in the state.

The community has also been shaped by art. Grant Wood, who painted the iconic portrait “American Gothic,” had a studio in Cedar Rapids, which groups can visit. They can also tour the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art to see the work of many other contemporary artists. Public art is also on display throughout Cedar Rapids.

Architecture and history buffs will want to visit the Paramount Theatre, nearly a century old, lovingly restored to honor its original design and still staging performances; and Brucemore, a 140-year-old opulent mansion on 26 acres that’s open for tours.

Groups can reconnect with nature at Indian Creek Nature Center, surrounded by serene trails. Or, they can head to Cedar Ridge Distillery, which produces Iowa’s number one bourbon. Other dining options for group meals include Pickle Palace, Lacayo Restaurant and Black Sheep Social Club.

Iowa City

Once the state capital, Iowa City is now best known for the University of Iowa. The university’s esteemed writing program has made Iowa City the first in the U.S. to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature, and its art scene pays homage to its literary heritage. Among the tour options is a literary walking tour of downtown.

“Iowa City has the number one highest walkability score in Iowa,” said Stacey Houseman, vice president of sales and event experience at Think Iowa City. “We try to make things very accessible.”

Downtown Iowa City encompasses the University of Iowa’s campus, with plenty of restaurants, public art and nightlife to reflect the lively university’s presence. In the warmer months, the Northside downtown district closes off an entire city block to traffic and brings in extra seating so patrons can eat al fresco. Restaurants that welcome groups for a casual meal include George’s Buffet, a dive bar known for its cheeseburgers, and Bluebird Diner, which serves traditional diner fare.

Neighboring Coralville is also a playground for groups, with high-end shops and local businesses that are accessible and walkable.

Major area attractions include the University of Iowa Stanley Museum, with works of notable artists such as Jackson Pollock; the Old Capitol Museum, for an interesting look into the state’s past; and live theater performances that get audiences involved through improv.

While renowned for its arts, literature and athletics, Iowa City also has great agritourism opportunities. At Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, groups can spend time outside, pick their own produce, shop in the farm’s market, and visit the bakery and cider house.


Established in 1833 by Julien Dubuque, Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city and predates Iowa statehood. It’s located right on the Mississippi River, which played an integral role in its milling and mining industries. Dubuque is home to many historic buildings, which groups can visit during Historic Progressive Dinners.

During one of these dining events, a step-on guide from Travel Dubuque will accompany a group to several buildings of historic significance. At each location, a different course is served. Among the buildings seen on the dining tour are Steeple Square, formerly St. Mary’s Church; the up-and-coming Historic Millwork District; and the Fannie Stout House, a restored Victorian home with stunning architecture. The excursion lasts three to four hours.

The “Field of Dreams” Movie Site is another popular Dubuque-area attraction. The location of the 1989 film starring Kevin Costner includes the house, baseball diamond and the farm seen in the movie. Tours, a catered lunch or an appearance of “Ghost Players” from the movie can be arranged. At another iconic Dubuque site, the Fenelon Place Elevator Company, groups can take in views of the tri-state area.

At mealtimes, groups can turn to the Morocco Supper Club and Timmerman’s Supper Club, or try out a local brewery.

“Groups should come to Dubuque because it really allows people to see the not-so-ordinary Iowa,” said Becky Carkeek of Travel Dubuque. “We are right along the Mississippi River, so we have the natural limestone bluffs and the steep hills. And Dubuque as a community did so well preserving our history while also trying to gain more in the arts and culture.”

Quad Cities

Comprising four cities, two in Iowa and two in Illinois, the Quad Cities are a bustling region with plenty for groups to do and see.

“We like to call the Quad Cities a must-see regional destination positioned on the Mississippi River,” said Nicki Brus, business growth and service manager at Visit Quad Cities. “It’s a few communities, the largest being Davenport, Iowa.”

Davenport and nearby Bettendorf have a lot of history and culture, evident in museums like the Figge Art Museum, the German American Heritage Center and Museum and the Putnam Museum and Science Center.

The Mississippi River is another major draw, with several riverboat cruise companies to choose from. Among the most popular are the Riverboat Twilight and Celebration River Cruises. On Celebration River Cruises’ Celebration Belle, groups can enjoy a lunch, dinner or sightseeing cruise. Themed cruises are also offered. The Riverboat Twilight offers days-long excursions along the Mississippi.

For an experience paired with a delicious meal, groups can catch a Broadway-caliber performance, complete with elaborate sets, costumes, talented actors and a tasty, multicourse meal, at the Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse.

At Cinnamon Ridge Farms, which has been family-owned for three generations, groups can learn about technological innovations like robotic milking. Farm-to-table meals or charcuterie boards with wine or beer pairings are also options.

Other popular group-friendly restaurants include the Machine Shed and Maid-Rite in Davenport.