Hip and urbane, Iowa City is a prominent college town primarily known as the home of the University of Iowa. Along with its adjacent suburb of Coralville, just to the west, Iowa City sits at the center of a metro area home to well over 100,000 people in the I-380 Corridor region of Eastern Iowa.
Iowa City was the first capital of the State of Iowa, established in 1839 by the then-Territory of Iowa, which at the time was rapidly expanding westward from the Mississippi River. Within 20 years the capital was again moved westward, this time to the more centralized location of Des Moines, where it remains. But before the capital left, the University of Iowa was established and thus was the town's future course set.
Today Iowa City is widely recognized as one of the most educated cities in the United States, with day-to-day life revolving around the University of Iowa, which is frequently regarded as one of the best public universities in the nation. The university has a major effect on the culture and economy of Iowa City, with an enrollment of over 30,000 students. Many of the town's jobs are associated with the university and its teaching hospital, with other large employers including educational service companies ACT and Pearson.
Iowa City is also noted for the university's Writer's Workshop, a celebrated creative writing program that has produced many a noted author. The Writer's Workshop established a strong literary community in the area, which is reflected in the town's literary festivals and the famed Prairie Lights bookstore. All of this led to Iowa City being named the third UNESCO City of Literature, so far the only such city in North America.
Iowa City can be reached by I-80 from Chicago to the east and Des Moines to the west. I-380 brings in traffic from Cedar Rapids and Waterloo to the north. Especially in the fall and winter, expect traffic delays from university games as there are very few main roads or entrances/exits to I-80.
The nearest commercial airport, the Eastern Iowa Airport (CID IATA), is in Cedar Rapids, about 20 miles to the north on I-380. A taxi to Iowa City may cost $40; a shuttle $25. Sometimes lower-cost flights are available into Moline (MLI IATA) or Des Moines (DSM IATA).
- Greyhound and Burlington Trailways offer bus service to a variety of cities, mostly ones along Interstate 80. They operate from the 1 Court Street Transportation Center, located at the northeast corner of East Court Street and South Dubuque Street in Downtown Iowa City.
Walking is the easiest way to get around Downtown Iowa City; the main campus of the university is right in the middle of Downtown and is very integrated with the town. West Campus, on the other side of the river, is more sprawling and hilly and is home to the hospital campus and most of the athletic stadiums and facilities. Bicycling is also a common way of getting around town; the university's biking page has a good list of resources for bicyclers.
For greater distances, there is an extensive bus system called Iowa City Transit; fare is $1. The university's Cambus system covers most campus buildings and is free and open to the public; the most useful routes for visitors are the Red and Blue, which loop between Downtown and West Campus clockwise and counterclockwise, respectively. Coralville Transit handles bus transit between Iowa City and Coralville; fare is $1.
- 1 Old Capitol Museum, 21 Old Capitol (Iowa Ave & Clinton St.), ☏ . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Th 10AM-8PM, Su 1PM-5PM. Tour Iowa's first capitol building in the center of the Pentacrest. Inside you'll find three floors of exhibits linked by a beautiful spiral staircase within the building's rotunda. The original Senate and Legislature Chambers are open as well as a couple of galleries which host changing exhibitions. Gift shop. Free.
- 2 University of Iowa Museum of Art, 125 North Madison Street (inside the Visual Classroom on the 3rd floor of the Iowa Memorial Union), ☏ . Tu-F 10AM-5PM, Th 10AM-9PM, Sa-Su noon-5PM. This museum's collection includes some European paintings, a large collection of African and Mesoamerican art, and some modern art among other objects. The old museum location was flooded in 2008, so a changing selection of works from the collection is held inside a temporary space in the Iowa Memorial Union. The rest of the collection is housed at the in the Figge Art Museum in Davenport, 50 miles from Iowa City. As of June 2019, a new permanent home is expected to open in 2022. Free.
- 3 University of Iowa Museum of Natural History, 11 Macbride Hall (inside MacBride Hall at the corner of Jefferson and Clinton Sts), ☏ . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Th 10AM-8PM, Su 1PM-5PM. One of the oldest museums west of the Mississippi, this place has many well-crafted displays of taxidermy figures, prehistoric artifacts, and exhibits on Iowa's geology and ecology, as well as the state's Native American cultures. Among the highlights of the museum are a reconstruction of a giant Ice Age sloth, a complete whale skeleton, and an extensive Bird Hall with over a thousand birds on display, including a marvelous cyclorama (a 360-degree diorama) depicting bird life on a remote Pacific island. Gift shop. Free.
- 4 University of Iowa Athletics Hall of Fame, 2425 Prairie Meadow Dr (inside the Roy G. Karro Building, Mormon Trek Blvd and Prairie Meadow), ☏ , toll-free: . M-Th 9AM-5PM, F 9AM-6PM, Sa 10AM-6PM, Su noon-5PM. Displays about the history of the Hawkeye teams, including Nile Kinnick's Heisman Trophy. Free.
- 5 The Black Angel, Oakland Cemetery, 1000 Brown Street (off North Governor Street). An oft-noted local attraction, the Black Angel is a statue in Oakland Cemetery. Designed by famed sculptor Mario Korbel, the statue is 8.5 feet tall and depicts a dark angel of death guarding over a grave. The beautiful yet eerie angel has been a source of local urban legend since its construction. Many legends say that if anyone kisses the statue, he or she will be struck dead unless they are a virgin. Despite this, the Angel and her folklore have been embraced.
- 6 Pedestrian Mall (Ped Mall), Dubuque St & College St. A pedestrian-only plaza in the middle of Downtown that is home to many locally-owned restaurants, bars, and stores, as well as the Iowa City Public Library. The Ped Mall serves as a pleasant gathering spot for locals, and plays host to public art displays and events.
- 7 Antique Car Museum of Iowa, 860 Quarry Rd, Coralville (I-80, exit 242), ☏ . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. Over 90 automobiles dating from since 1899, with a replica of an early Skelly gas station. $5.
- Johnson County Historical Society Museum, 860 Quarry Rd, Coralville (in the same building as the Antique Car Museum), ☏ . Tu-Sa 10AM-5PM, Su noon-5PM. Permanent and rotating exhibits on the history of Iowa City and the surrounding county, with displays on farm life, the Native American history of the region, and the development of Iowa City. The society also maintains a collection of historic buildings scattered around Iowa City and Coralville which are opened on a limited basis, including Plum Grove, the house of the first governor of Iowa. $5; includes admission to the Antique Car Museum.
- 1 City Park, 200 E. Park Road. A large riverside park with lots of amenities for families, including picnic shelters, ponds, playgrounds, athletic facilities, a boat ramp, a small amusement park for little kids that's open in the summer months, and an outdoor Shakespeare theater.
- 2 Hickory Hill Park. A large natural wooded area on the northeast corner of town, past Oakland Cemetery, with lots of trails meandering through woods, reconstructed prairie and wetlands. Popular with day hikers and picnickers in the summer and cross-country skiers and sledders in the winter.
- Only minutes to the north, Lake MacBride and Coralville Lake offer beaches, camping, hiking, and boating.
- Twenty minutes west of Iowa City on Highway 6 lies F.W. Kent State Park, another popular camping destination with a small lake and beach.
- 3 Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St, ☏ . A historic theatre, first opened in 1912, now operates as a stage for plays, comedy and music performances, and community events. Also home to a small gallery showcasing local artwork.
- 4 Riverside Theatre, 213 N. Gilbert St, ☏ . Iowa City's resident professional theatre presents both classic and contemporary theatre. Most popular are Shakespeare plays, which are performed each summer at City Park's Shakespeare Theater.
- 5 FilmScene, 118 E. College Street (on the Ped Mall), ☏ . An independent movie theater that shows many indie, arthouse, and foreign films, as well as special events such as film discussions and community screenings. The theater also shows film screenings by the student-operated Bijou Cinema, which offers free movies for students and showcases student work.
- 6 Gabe's (formerly The Picador), 330 E Washington St, ☏ . Iowa City's most popular music venue offers performances by local, regional, and national bands and musicians. Some all ages shows but mostly 19+.
- 7 The Mill Restaurant, 120 E Burlington St, ☏ . Both a restaurant and a venue for live music, The Mill is home to performances by local and regional musicians. Every Monday is open mic night. Almost all shows 19+.
- 8 Blue Moose Tap House (formerly The Q and The Industry), 211 Iowa Ave. Bar and live music venue, with local and national music acts. Most shows 19+.
The university's athletic teams, the Iowa Hawkeyes, are a major draw, particularly the football and basketball teams, though the wrestling and gymnastic teams have also enjoyed much success. The Hawkeyes play in the Big Ten Conference, which gets them a lot of exposure on the national level.
- 9 Kinnick Stadium, 825 Stadium Dr (Hawkins Dr & Melrose Ave, on the West Campus), ☏ . Home to the Hawkeyes football team. Tickets $70-$85.
- 10 Carver–Hawkeye Arena, 1 Elliot Dr (Elliot Dr & Newton Road, on the West Campus), ☏ . Home to the Hawkeyes basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, and wrestling teams. Wrestling tickets $10-$15; volleyball/gymnastic tickets $6.
Events and Festivals
- One Book Two Book. Last weekend of February. A celebration of children's literature, with lots of family activities, workshops for kids, a book fair, and even readings of work by children and students.
- Mission Creek Festival, Downtown Iowa City. Early April. Nationally-known acts, indie bands, and local musicians perform at various venues downtown. Literary readings by authors at local bookstores and coffee shops. $115 for All Access pass, $60 for limited passes.
- Friday Night Concert Series, Pedestrian Mall, Dubuque & College. Mid May-late Aug on F 6:30PM-9:30PM. Free.
- Saturday Night Free Movie Series, on the wall at the Pentacrest on the corner of Jefferson and Clinton Sts. June-Aug on Sa sunset-end. Free.
- Iowa Arts Festival, Downtown Iowa City. First weekend in June. Popular three-day community celebration of local and regional artists, including open admission to downtown's art galleries, live music, local food vendors, and other activities. Free.
- Iowa City Pride, City Park and Downtown Iowa City. June. Gay pride parade, run, and festival. Free.
- Iowa City Jazz Festival, Downtown Iowa City. First weekend in July. Live jazz groups, both local and from around the world play on stages set up around downtown Iowa City. Free.
- Iowa City Book Festival, Downtown Iowa City. Mid-October. The city's premier literary event, a multi-day celebration of the written word with lots of readings, discussions, demonstrations, and a book fair.
- Iowa Artisans Gallery Walks, Downtown Iowa City. Three times yearly (March, May, and October), F 5-8. 20 downtown galleries showcase the works of local and regional artists. free.
- 1 Coral Ridge Mall, 1451 Coral Ridge Ave, Coralville, ☏ , toll-free: . M-Sa 10AM-9PM, Su 11AM-6PM. A large upscale mall in adjacent Coralville. Anchor stores include Dillard's, Younkers, JCPenny, Target, and Best Buy, and the mall also has a movie theater, a carousel, and an indoor ice skating rink.
- 2 Prairie Lights, 15 S Dubuque St, ☏ . M-Sa 10AM-9PM, Su 10AM-6PM. This large bookstore downtown is frequently hailed as one of the finest bookstores in the nation and regularly features readings by nationally and internationally known authors. The store is spread over three floors, with a children's section in the bottom floor. The top floor holds a nice cafe with views over the street.
- 1 Bread Garden Market, 225 S Linn St (on the Ped Mall), ☏ . Daily 6:30AM-10PM. An organic grocery store with some good lunch options, including some excellent soups and breads as well as a salad and buffet bar. Tends to be on the pricey side, but is a good spot for a quick lunch or snack.
- 2 Chez Grace (formerly Cafe Z), 89 2nd St. #3, Coralville, ☏ . T-Sa 5-9:30, Su 5-9. French cuisine.
- 3 Devotay, 117 N. Linn St.. lunch M-Sa 11-2, dinner Su-Th 5-9, F-Sa 5-10. Tapas restaurant, also offers wine tastings.
- 4 The Hamburg Inn No. 2, 214 N Linn St, ☏ . Daily 6:30AM-11PM. Hamburgers, soups, a large selection of omelets and more. An Iowa City institution, noted for often being a stop for politicians during campaign season.
- 5 Masala, 9 S Dubuque St, ☏ . Open daily 10AM-2:30PM, 5PM-9:30PM. East Indian food. This place is leagues above the other Indian restaurant in town.
- 6 The Motley Cow Cafe, 160 N. Linn St, ☏ . M-Sa 5-10PM. Constantly changing menu featuring many dishes made with local meat and produce.
- 7 Oasis, 206 N. Linn Street, ☏ . Daily 11am-9pm. Popular local mediterranean food. Serving falafel, hummus, babba ganoush, tabbouleh.
- 8 Pagliai's Pizza, 302 E Bloomington St (various locations in the state), ☏ . M-Sa 4PM-midnight, Su 4PM-11PM. Pizza from family recipes. Thin-crust style.
- 9 Short's Burger, 18 South Clinton Street, ☏ . Su-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM. Serving marvelously thick burgers and sandwiches, with only Iowa-made beers and ciders on tap.
- 10 Z'Mariks Noodle Cafe, 19 S Dubuque St, ☏ . Asian, Greek and Italian noodle dishes.
Because of the university, downtown is very busy on weekend nights. With thousands of college-aged people (and older folks staying around for home games) drinking within a few blocks of each other, use caution when walking to or visiting establishments. There is a bar for all types. State law requires alcohol purchases to be made before 2AM. After 10PM non-exempt drinking establishments only allow persons 21 years of age and older, unless accompanied by a parent, guardian, spouse or domestic partner.
Student crowd (21+)
- 1 Brothers Bar and Grill, 125 S Dubuque St (on the Ped Mall), ☏ . Due to the large cover for those yet to turn 21 years of age, it caters to an older crowd. There's a dance floor and it's pretty upbeat.
- 2 Atlas Restaurant, 127 Iowa Ave, ☏ . lunch 11-5, dinner 5-10. Classy place. Great wine and cuisine.
Student crowd (19+)
- 3 Studio 13, 13 S Linn St. Iowa City's only gay bar and dance club. DJs most nights of the week, plus fun drag shows, karaoke, theme parties and contests. Mainly college-aged (19+).
- 4 The Airliner, 22 S Clinton St, ☏ . A staple bar for decades. It's known for incredible pizza ($1.50/slice on Sundays) and cheap drinks. Visited by Tom Brokaw in May 2008 when his favorite booth as a student was dedicated to him with a plaque.
- 5 Joe's Place, 115 Iowa Ave, ☏ . Located downtown and generally caters to an older crowd. Fairly laid-back atmosphere.
- Blue Moose Tap House (formerly The Q and The Industry), 211 Iowa Ave, ☏ . 4PM-2AM daily. Good place to play pool and get cheap beer. Draws a fairly diverse crowd and has great music with frequent shows upstairs.
- 6 George's Buffet (everyone just calls it George's), 312 E Market St, ☏ . A dark dive bar, not a buffet. However, they do make the best burgers in Iowa City. Filled with locals and students from the Writers' Workshop. If you go in the afternoon, you'll probably spot more than one aspiring writer filling up a notebook.
- 7 Dave's Fox Head Tavern (everyone just calls it The Fox Head), 402 E Market St, ☏ . One block away from George's. Often considered the "fiction bar," to George's supposed allegiance within the poetry division. In reality, students from each of the disciplines frequent both locations. Divey, with a popular pool table, a jukebox, and a taxidermied fox behind the bar.
- 8 Sports Column, 12 S. Dubuque St., ☏ . Variety of cheap drinks. Great place to watch football and basketball games. It gets pretty chaotic on the weekends.
- 9 The Vine, 330 E Prentiss St, ☏ . Wings and beer, busier on game day.
- 1 Hotel Vetro, 201 S Linn St, toll-free: . New, modern, hotel downtown on the Pedestrian Mall, in Iowa City's tallest building.
- 2 Coralville Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, 300 E 9th St, Coralville (I-80, exit 242), ☏ . Large new hotel and conference center in Coralville, with river views.
- Hilton Garden Inn Downtown University (Hilton Garden Inn), 328 South Clinton Street, ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: 11AM. Opened in 2017, 100% smoke free, close to downtown.
- 3 Iowa House Hotel (at the Iowa Memorial Union), 125 N Madison St, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. On the campus of the university, inside the Memorial Union building. Few frills, but the location is hard to beat for the price. $85+.
- Iowa City Press-Citizen is Iowa City's biggest daily newspaper.
- Daily Iowan U of I's daily newspaper.
- The seven historic villages of the Amana Colonies are 25 miles west on Highway 6.
- Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, 210 Parkside Dr., West Branch (I-80 east to exit 254, north on Parkside), ☏ . 9-5. Located 15 minutes east of Iowa City. Exhibits about the life of former President Herbert Hoover and temporary exhibits about American history and culture. Tours of Hoover's birthsite cottage, a blacksmith shop, a Quaker meeting house, and the Hoovers' gravesite. Gift shop. $6 ages 16-61, $3 ages 62+, free under 16.
- 8 Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, also in West Branch, ☏ .
|Routes through Iowa City|
|Des Moines ← Grinnell ← Jct N ←||W E||→ Davenport → Chicago|
|Waterloo ← Cedar Rapids ←||N S||→ END|
|Des Moines ← Amana Colonies ←||W E||→ Davenport → Joliet|
|Waterloo ← Cedar Rapids ←||N S||→ Keokuk → END|
|Anamosa ←||N S||→ Kalona → Fairfield|