Tulip Time Festival Parade of Pella, Iowa. Image credit yosmoes815 via Shutterstock

8 Best Towns in Iowa to Visit in 2024

Steeped in a rich tapestry of cultural heritage and blessed with breathtaking landscapes, Iowa's small towns are like pages from a storybook. Discover the Dutch charm of Pella and the scenic riverbanks of McGregor and the natural splendor of its surroundings. Explore the German-influenced Amana Colonies with their communal past, or delve into the Norwegian roots of Decorah. Dubuque and Le Claire  will charm visitors with their riverside beauty and intriguing histories, while Bentonsport and Winterset will charm you with their well-preserved 19th-century architecture and iconic covered bridges.

These eight towns in Iowa to visit in 2024 are not just destinations; they are gateways to experiencing the heart and soul of the Midwest, offering picturesque landscapes and a rich historical journey.


The Central Park in Pella, Iowa.
The Central Park in Pella, Iowa.

Discover Pella, Iowa, a town where Dutch heritage vividly comes to life. Known as "America's Dutch Treasure," Pella embodies a deep connection with its roots, visible in landmarks such as the Vermeer Windmill, the largest working windmill in the US. Stroll through Pella's streets and uncover a slice of the Netherlands, with each building reflecting a unique piece of this rich cultural mosaic.

Each spring, the Tulip Time Festival transforms Pella into a celebration of Dutch culture, with streets blooming in colorful tulips, traditional costumes, and the sound of wooden shoes tapping rhythmically. This festival is not just a display of flowers; it's a living tribute to the town's founders and their enduring legacy.

The Pella Opera House stands as a beacon of the town's commitment to preserving its cultural heritage. This historic venue hosts a variety of performances and events, offering visitors a chance to engage with Pella's artistic side. Other notable historic landmarks include the Scholte House Museum and Gardens, the Historical Village, and the Klokkenspel clock tower.


Fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.
Fish hatchery in Decorah, Iowa.

Decorah, nestled in Iowa's Driftless Area, is a town where Norwegian culture and natural splendor coexist harmoniously. The Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, the largest of its kind in the US, serves as a gateway to understanding Decorah's rich immigrant history. The annual Nordic Fest is a colorful showcase of Norwegian traditions, enlivening the streets with cultural displays.

Decorah is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. The Upper Iowa River, ideal for canoeing and kayaking, winds through the town, while the Trout Run Trail has picturesque biking and walking paths. Dunning's Spring Park, with its striking waterfall, is a natural gem within the town's limits.

The culinary and cultural scene in Decorah is influenced significantly by Luther College, noted for its music programs. Local breweries like Pulpit Rock and Toppling Goliath complement the town's vibrant downtown area, adorned with murals and local shops that reflect Decorah's artistic and community spirit.

Amana Colonies

Amana Colonies in Iowa with May poles decorating the Main Street on May Day as per German tradition.
Amana Colonies in Iowa with May poles decorating the Main Street on May Day.Image credit EWY Media via Shutterstock.com

The Amana Colonies, a group of six villages in Iowa, showcase a living history of German heritage and communal traditions. These colonies, a National Historic Landmark, were established by German settlers seeking religious freedom in the mid-19th century.

The colonies are celebrated for their distinctive cuisine, with family-style restaurants and food shops offering an authentic taste of Germany. Visitors can savor dishes like hearty pork meals and Amana pancakes, and enjoy local delicacies at the Amana Meat Shop and Smokehouse.

The Amana Heritage Museum is an essential stop to delve into the colonies' rich history. The communal lifestyle of the settlers is brought to life through various exhibits and artifacts. Throughout the year, the colonies host festivals such as Maifest and Oktoberfest, celebrating different aspects of their cultural heritage.

Nature enthusiasts can explore the Amana Colonies Trail, a 17-mile path connecting the villages, or enjoy the nearby nature trails along the Iowa River. The Millstream Brewing Co., Iowa's oldest brewery, offers a glimpse into the local brewing traditions.


Overlooking a small Railway in Dubuque, Iowa.
Overlooking a small railway in Dubuque, Iowa.

Dubuque, Iowa's oldest city, sits majestically along the Mississippi River, showcasing a rich array of historical landmarks and architectural wonders. The Mississippi Riverwalk at the city's riverfront provides stunning views and leads to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, a deep dive into the river's ecological and cultural importance.

The Fenelon Place Elevator, a unique funicular railway, boasts an unparalleled view of Dubuque's cityscape. The city's historic districts, like Cable Car Square, are a treasure trove of 19th-century buildings and vibrant cultural scenes.

Dubuque's natural attractions include Eagle Point Park, which overlooks the Mississippi River and offers stunning vistas. The city also serves as a starting point for regional outdoor activities, such as hiking, biking, and winter sports.

Le Claire

Cody Road Historic District is the main street through Le Claire
Cody Road Historic District is the main street through Le Claire, Iowa. Image credit Kepper66, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Le Claire, on the banks of the Mississippi River, merges historical significance with contemporary entertainment. It is known as the birthplace of Buffalo Bill Cody, whose life and times are celebrated at the Buffalo Bill Museum. The museum also sheds light on local Native American history and river life.

The town's riverfront is ideal for bird watching, and its historical river pilot homes are a testament to its past as a busy river port. Le Claire's fame is boosted by being the setting for the TV show "American Pickers," with the Antique Archaeology store attracting fans and curiosity seekers. The town's event calendar is filled with must-visit festivals, such as the LeClaire Eagle Festival and the Tug Fest, a river tug-of-war.


Bridge in Bentonsport, Iowa
Bridge in Bentonsport, Iowa. Image credit Jon Roanhaus, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Bentonsport, part of the Villages of Van Buren, captures the essence of 19th-century America with its preserved architecture and peaceful riverside ambience. The main street features distinctive shops, such as Iron and Lace, known for its ironwork and pottery.

The 1882 Bentonsport Bridge, now a pedestrian walkway, offers scenic views of the Des Moines River. The Mason House Inn, with its rich history as a steamboat inn and a stop on the Underground Railroad, adds a unique dimension to the village's story. The village also has a riverside campground, making it an ideal spot for a peaceful retreat.


The Hogback Covered Bridge, Madison County, Iowa.
The Hogback Covered Bridge, Madison County, Iowa. 

Winterset in Madison County is renowned for its covered bridges, including the Roseman and Holliwell bridges, which symbolize the county's heritage. These bridges, set against the Middle River, offer picturesque views and a connection to the past.

The John Wayne Birthplace Museum is a tribute to the iconic actor, featuring a collection of memorabilia and insights into his life and career. Pammel State Park and the Madison County Historical Complex in Winterset offer outdoor and historical experiences, showcasing the beauty and history of the area.

The Madison County Covered Bridge Festival, a highlight of the year, brings the community together to celebrate their history and landmarks through guided tours, arts, music, and local cuisine.


Downtown McGregor, Iowa.
Downtown McGregor, Iowa. Image credit Peter Van den Bossche from Mechelen, Belgium, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

McGregor, situated in a valley along the Mississippi River, blends historical significance with stunning natural scenery. Its history as a shipping depot is showcased at the McGregor Historical Museum, highlighting local contributions. The museum's exhibits include historical art, and local contributions such as Andrew Clemens’ sand bottles and Emma Big Bear’s baskets. The town's location along the Mississippi offers recreational opportunities like fishing and boating; south of town is Pikes Peak State Park.

From Pella's vibrant Dutch heritage to Winterset's iconic bridges, each Iowa town presents a mix of history, culture, and natural beauty. Decorah's Norwegian roots, the communal history of the Amana Colonies, and the riverside charm of Dubuque and Le Claire invite exploration and discovery. Bentonsport's serene riverside and McGregor's picturesque scenery offer insights into America's past, while each town calls visitors in 2024 to experience the rich tapestry of Iowa's culture and landscapes.

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