20 Towns and Cities in Iowa

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In the midst of America’s Heartland, Iowa is a vital agricultural hub and one of the most scenic travelling destinations in the country. The state is home to vibrant metro areas such as Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, as well as tiny rural towns such as McGregor and Bentonsport, providing eager travellers with the best of both worlds.

Iowa has long been seen as nothing more than a flyover state, however, the world has quickly caught on to this unassuming state’s stunning natural beauty, rustic charm and Midwest friendliness. From the shimmering lakes surrounding Okoboji to the skyscrapers of Des Moines, there’s a whole world of amazing attractions and great outdoor landmarks to be discovered in the Hawkeye State. Here are the best towns and cities in Iowa to visit. 

Towns and Cities in Iowa

20 Iowa Cities And Towns To Visit

1- Des Moines

cities in iowa des moines
Of all the cities in Iowa, Des Moines is the most well-known.

Des Moines is Iowa’s state and the state’s beating heart when it comes to its economy, politics, culture and nightlife.

As Iowa’s biggest city, Des Moines is usually the first stop for most visitors to the state and, for good reason, as this city in Iowa is packed with tons of great things to see and do.

The city is situated right in the state’s centre and is within a day’s drive from some of the biggest cities in the Midwest, such as Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Omaha.

From the stately Iowa Capitol and the Iowa State Fair to the Des Moines Art Center and scenic Salisbury House & Gardens, Des Moines is one of the best cities to visit in the great state of Iowa.

2- Iowa City

A vibrant college town with an artsy edge, visiting Iowa City is one of the highlights of any trip to Iowa.

The city has been declared a UNESCO City of Literature and home to some of America’s greatest writers and poets.

Iowa City is dominated by the University of Iowa’s significant presence in this eastern Iowa city, with virtually everything in Iowa City functioning in harmony with one of the state’s biggest and most prestigious schools.

From the always-rocking Kinnick Stadium to the incredibly historic Amana Colonies, Iowa City places visitors right on the doorstep of top attractions and sights in the Midwest.

3- Cedar Rapids

cities in iowa cedar rapids
Cedar Rapids is one of the best cities in Iowa for arts and culture and the state’s second-largest city.

Cedar Rapids is Iowa’s second-largest city and is conveniently situated just up the road from Iowa City.

The city is often described as uniquely European thanks to the city’s architecture and many Slovak, Czech and Moravian immigrants, which gives Cedar Rapids a vibrant history and culture that’s hard to come by anywhere else in Iowa.

The city is a haven for the arts and was the home of renowned 20th-century artist Grant Wood, who painted some of his most famous works whilst living in Cedar Rapids.

Top spots in Cedar Rapids include the state-of-the-art Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, and the Brucemore estate.

4- Davenport

A delightful Iowa city with strong German roots, Davenport is the Midwest gem on the Mississippi River, home to a harmonious balance between the arts and the great outdoors.

Davenport is home to over 50 public parks filled with nature trails and biking paths, making this Iowa city an absolute dream destination for active and outdoorsy travellers.

From the world-class Davenport Skybridge to the sprawling Figge Art Museum, Davenport has lots to do and explore, so be sure not to miss out on this delightful riverfront city.

5- Winterset

Winterset is a charming Iowa city situated just 36 miles (58 km) southwest of downtown Des Moines that’s renowned throughout the Midwest, thanks to the city’s strong ties to Hollywood.

This idyllic small Iowa city was placed on the map when the 1995 classic ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep was filmed in Winterset.

Winterset was also the birthplace of American icon John Wayne, and you can learn all about the fascinating John Wayne Birthplace & Museum when in Winterset.

6- Dubuque

cities in iowa dubuque
Dubuque is an Iowa city on the Mississippi River.

Low-key and steeped in Iowa history, Dubuque is a fascinating Midwest city with humble beginnings.

Dubuque started out as a small lead mining town when the city was founded before growing into an important port city along the Mississippi River during the 19th century.

Dubuque is today a cosmopolitan city in Iowa with cultural and entertainment options to discover.

It has a nice waterfront area and a collection of museums and art galleries to explore, making it one of Iowa’s best places to visit.

7- Bettendorf

cities in iowa Bettendorf
Bettendorf is one of the Quad Cities in Iowa.

A member of the Davenport-Bettendorf-Moline-Rock Island quartet that makes up the popular Quad Cities area on the Iowa-Illinois state border, Bettendorf is filled with attractions. 

The city is home to many things to see and is within a stone’s throw away from downtown Davenport and its equally impressive landmarks.

From the scenic Riverfront Trail to the city’s many craft breweries, Bettendorf is one of Iowa’s must-visit cities and one of America’s most scenic urban areas.

8- Pella

Pella is one of the most remarkable cities Iowa has to offer, a bustling mid-sized city jam-packed with family-friendly attractions, canals, and a buzzing craft beer scene.

Pella is neatly situated right on the doorstep of Lake Red Rock, the largest freshwater lake in Iowa, making Pella a haven for fishing, boating, kayaking, and all sorts of other lakeside recreational activities.

The city has a uniquely Dutch atmosphere and even hosts an annual tulip festival in May.

Not only is Pella one of the safest, cleanest and most picturesque cities in Iowa, but it’s also ranked as one of the top three best places to live in the United States by USA Today.

9- Sioux City

cities in iowa Sioux City
Sioux City is another of the charming cities in Iowa to tick off your to-see list.

Sioux City enjoys the honour of being Iowa’s fourth-largest city and a central regional hub in western Iowa.

The city straddles the Iowa-Nebraska state border, roughly halfway between Omaha, Nebraska and Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

A once major stop along the Lewis and Clark expedition, the city features many unique attractions and landmarks to visit, making it a popular road trip destination for Iowans heading west.

Stop by the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, the Sioux City Railroad Museum or the Fourth Street Historic District to get the most out of your visit to Sioux City.

10- Amana

Situated just a quick drive outside downtown Iowa City and home to the Amana Colonies and the Amana Heritage Museum, Amana is an incredibly historic city and one of the most unique places to visit in the Midwest.

The city was established by a wave of German immigrants whose descendants still populate the area today.

Amana treats travellers to the best German customs in the United States, including traditional German lagers, German shops and even German festivals.

Amana and all its seven interconnected villages are truly must-see destinations in the United States and are always great places to stop by whenever you’re travelling through Iowa.

11- Ames

Ames is a college town 30 miles (48 km) north of downtown Des Moines, home to the main campus of Iowa State University, the largest university in Iowa.

While the city is home to many bars and live entertainment options to satisfy the urges of the city’s large young adult population, Ames is also a hotbed for the outdoors and the arts.

Check out the Brunnier Art Museum, the Reiman Gardens, the city’s various craft breweries and the campus of ISU. 

12- Burlington

Home to several unique attractions and landmarks, Burlington is the ideal day-trip destination thanks to the city’s proximity to Cedar Rapids, Peoria, Chicago and Des Moines.

The infamous Snake Alley, a notoriously twisty road featured on Ripley’s Believe It or Not!, is one of the highlights of any trip to Burlington, however, it’s far from being the city’s only great attraction.

There’s also the Garrett-Phelps House Museum, the Art Center of Burlington and the Catfish Bend Casino to stop by, so be sure to add Burlington to your itinerary the next time you’re headed to Iowa.

13- Cedar Falls

Cedar Falls is an incredibly idyllic and slow-paced city sandwiched between Minneapolis, Des Moines and Milwaukee, three of the Midwest’s largest cities.

The city sits just a couple of miles north of Cedar Rapids and forms part of the Cedar Falls-Waterloo metro area.

The city is home to many great places to explore, including the scenic Big Woods Lake Recreation Area, the Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center and the Hearst Center for the Arts.

The downtown area is filled with shops and restaurants.

14- Decorah

Situated in Iowa’s scenic Winneshiek County, Decorah is a mid-sized Iowa city that boasts some of the best restaurants, outdoor spaces and charming neighbourhoods in the entire state.

Decorah has long been a haven for city slickers from Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, thanks to the city’s breadth of fabulous attractions.

Hotspots include the Dunnings Spring Park, the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, the Porter House Museum and the Fort Atkinson State Preserve.

15- Council Bluffs

safest cities in iowa Council Bluffs
One of the cities in Iowa to visit is Council Bluffs.

Council Bluffs is a popular Iowa tourist destination thanks to the city’s proximity to downtown Omaha and the scenic Missouri River, which cuts right through this vibrant mid-sized city.

The city forms part of the broader Omaha-Council Bluffs metro area and is known as the start of the Mormon Trail and features a thriving public art community.

Home to attractions such as the Mid-America Center, the Historic General Dodge House and the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, Council Bluffs is one Iowa city you wouldn’t want to miss out on when travelling around this great Midwest state.

16- Okoboji

Known as the summer holiday destination for Iowans across the state, Okoboji is a stunning mid-sized city nestled between some of the best lakes and outdoor parks the Midwest offers.

Okoboji is dotted with countless vintage buildings and old-school attractions and is home to family favourites such as amusement parks, outdoor concerts and unbeatable views of five different freshwater lakes.

Situated roughly 200 miles (322 km) from downtown Des Moines, Okoboji is the ideal weekend getaway destination in the Midwest. 

17- Waterloo

Nestled in Iowa’s Black Hawk County, Waterloo is a fascinating mid-sized city that sits next to Cedar Falls.

Waterloo serves as the doorstep to some of Iowa’s most stunning outdoor parks, including the George Wyth State Park and the Cedar Valley Nature Trail, and is home to a charming downtown area filled with superb cafes and shops.

Waterloo forms part of the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area, one of Iowa’s largest cities.

Both cities share a love affair for arts and culture, as is evident through attractions such as the Cedar Valley Arboretum & Botanic Gardens and the Waterloo Center for the Arts.

Waterloo is also the home of the John Deere Tractor and Engine Museum and the Lost Island Waterpark, making Waterloo a family-friendly Iowa destination with a little something for everyone to enjoy.

18- Orange City

Orange City is a one-of-a-kind Iowa destination that’s a little slice of the Netherlands in northwest Iowa.

The city has a large Dutch-decent population and an authentic Dutch windmill called the Vogel Old Mill.

It hosts an annual tulip festival with unique attractions like the Dutch American Heritage Museum, the Stadscentrum and several scenic canals.

Orange City is one of the only places in America where you can buy traditional Dutch clogs, making it one of the must-visit cities in Iowa.

19- Bentonsport

A quaint Iowa city with a permanent population of less than 100, Bentonsport is more like a rustic rural village than a city, however, it’s one of the most scenic places to visit in the Midwest.

What the town lacks in size and appeal, it more than makes up for with fun, family-friendly attractions such as Twisted River Gifts & Antiques, the Mason House Inn and Caboose Cottage, and the town’s pedestrian-only truss bridge.

The entire town is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, making it a great destination to escape the hustle and bustle of busy city life.

20- McGregor

cities in iowa
Find out our picks of the best towns and cities in Iowa.

The incredibly scenic city of McGregor lies between the tall bluffs of Northeast Iowa and the mighty Mississippi River.

It sits right at the doorstep of Iowa’s popular Pike’s Peak State Park.

McGregor might not be the biggest city in Iowa but it boasts a surprisingly broad range of attractions to enjoy, such as the McGregor-Marquette Center for the Arts, the Stauer House and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

From its low-key downtown area to the stunning hills and rivers of rural Iowa, McGregor is a picturesque Iowa city that is well worth adding to any itinerary when travelling around Iowa. 

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Jessica Shaw is a storyteller who has lived in four U.S. states - Missouri, Georgia, Ohio and Illinois - and has visited many others. She loves history and nature and is a big fan of road tripping.